Report shows single parents held back in their careers and trapped in low paid roles

Posted 4 November 2019

A new Gingerbread report published today reveals that, despite having the skills and motivation to progress in work, single parents are being unfairly blocked from career progression by factors outside of their control.

With nearly half (49%) of children in single parent households living in poverty, low pay and financial hardship is a critical issue for many single parent families.  In-work progression is a key way for single parents to escape a cycle of low pay and financial insecurity.  However, our report, Held Back: single parents and in-work progression in London, highlights a number of barriers that are preventing single parents from progressing in their jobs.

The five interconnected barriers preventing single parents from progressing in their jobs are:

  • Working part-time – Single parents are more likely to be working part-time in order to balance their caring responsibilities.  Often assumed to be incompatible with higher paid roles, working part-time means that single parents are frequently forced to work below their skill level to achieve the flexibility they need.
  • Lack of affordable childcare – 41% of single parents struggle to afford childcare – compared with 14% of parents in couples.  A lack of affordable childcare prevents many single parents from seeking better paid roles and blocks in-work progression.
  • Lack of flexibility – A lack of flexibility forces many single parents to work fixed hours in order to balance work and childcare commitments.  Single parents in London in particular, often have to factor in the additional constraint of commuting.  This lack of flexibility means single parents are not only unable to work additional hours, but they are also blocked from training and the socialising aspect of some jobs – key factors associated with limiting opportunities for progression.
  • Time out of the labour market – Being consistently in work helps people to escape low pay, single parents are more likely to have ‘work gaps’.
  • Relationship between education and job roles – Single parents tend to have fewer educational qualifications than the working-age population as a whole. While lower levels of education will typically limit single parents’ rates of progression, many single parents are over-qualified for the work they are currently undertaking.

While none of the barriers identified are unique to single parents, they are disproportionately experienced by this group and have greater impact on single parent families.

Laura Dewar, Gingerbread Policy Officer said: “Almost all single parents are in work or want to work but our report shows many are being held back in their careers due to structural barriers which trap them in lower paid jobs.  These blocks mean single parents are missing out on more senior roles and businesses are overlooking an untapped pool of talent.  With some simple, practical changes, the UK economy could really benefit from valuable skills and the lives of many single parent families could be improved.”

Gingerbread is calling on the government to:

  • Introduce improved rights for all to support flexible working
  • Offer single parents additional childcare support, in particular with a Childcare Deposit Scheme for parents on Universal Credit with pre-school children based on the successful scheme devised by Gingerbread and developed by the Greater London Authority
  • Improve provision of support and advice to help single parents to progress in work.

Gingerbread calls on employers to:

  • Use their appraisal system to encourage single parents within their workforce to consider progression
  • Offer coaching to build the confidence of single parents enabling them to progress.

4 comments on “Report shows single parents held back in their careers and trapped in low paid roles

  1. Yes … It is incredibly difficult to manage .
    How does the government expect you to manage on Universal Credit, and working -when they take 63p in every pound earned? Then provide you with less financial support even when you have such a low amount to be expected to manage on.
    Am in private rent – with my 2 who are 18 + 19 . Neither of them work for different reasons.
    my rent alone is £1,200. I have £900 this month to manage on – How can this be justified ?

  2. Its about tine this is recognised. I graduated last year which was an amazing achievement alone managing to do it with three young boys, but because of the reasons stated in the report. Now ive graduated i cannot get a job to fit in with the challenges of single parenthood. Childcare, flexibility etc. So many great single parents have great skills too!

  3. The cost of childcare is extortionate and makes returning to work incredibly difficult. The government pays 85% of childcare fees, up to a maximum of £646 per month. This is not a sufficient or realistic amount. I was also told that they could only pay £27 per day towards the initial months’ deposit needed to secure a nursery place when I had enquired about a possible job opportunity. £27 per day?! A decent nursery place costs around £60 per day at a minimum! This is over £1000 a month. Single mums do not have this kind of money to hand over up front. We need the government to take a more realistic approach. Speak to more mothers about their barriers getting back to work and put in place policies that are effective and helping us to get back into the workplace and create a better future for our children.

  4. Career Progression isn’t the sole issue here. Single parents regardless of their work status , be that low-skill work or a skilled profession, should be able to live comfortably. The ‘Living Wage’ is laughable – even working full-time hours on the living wage, single parents still are eligible and, more importantly, require additional financial support by way of Universal Credit or the quickly disappearing Tax Credits – the ‘living wage’ simply isn’t enough to live on, nor is it with extra benefits.

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