Lone parents make up around 10% of households in this country. Demonised in the media as responsible for many of society’s ills including the breakdown in law and order, the facts do not fit the stereotype of teenage girls in a feral underclass getting pregnant and taking all the social housing. Divorce and separation are the real factors behind the growth in numbers.
People take different views on David Cameron’s call that ‘runaway dads’ should be ‘stigmatised’ in the same way as drink-drivers and face ‘the full force of shame’, but a new report from the Fawcett Society prepared by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that lone parents are being hit hardest by the government’s cuts. Lone parents may, as Cameron said, be doing ‘a heroic job against the odds’ but he is stacking the odds against them in a highly damaging way. Far from being the father of the nation, Cameron is the nearest political equivalent to the runaway dad.
The report shows that lone parents, 92% of whom are women, are suffering the greatest cumulative loss as a result of the cuts in public services. Reductions in housing benefit are a major factor as single women are particularly reliant on HB either because they do not work or because they are in casual or part-time work and rely on HB as an in-work benefit.
Lone parents will come under increasing pressure to work – the expectation that they will work will shortly be reduced to those with children over 5 – just as rents are rising, housing benefit is being cut, working tax credit coverage of child care costs is being reduced. Lack of childcare is already a particular barrier to lone parents wishing to work. As the report states: “At the same time as the coalition government introduces wide-scale welfare reform with the intention of “making work pay”, they are reducing the level of support for childcare and training costs that help lone parents into work.”
The report highlights the contradictions in government policy and how cutting the deficit is a much higher priority than other objectives such as helping people into work or improving educational attainment. The contradiction in policy says Fawcett “fails to recognize the needs, interests and circumstances of the diverse women who fall into each group and risks reinforcing outdated stereotypes and penalizing those who do not conform to them.” Quite.