UK businesses missing out on single parents' skills, says new report

By agency reporter
February 12, 2020

A report published by Gingerbread, the charity that supports single parent families, reveals that UK businesses are missing out on valuable workplace skills due to structural barriers which limit opportunities for single parents to progress in their jobs.

The majority of single parents in the UK are in work (70 per cent), but they are more likely to be low paid and less likely to progress out of low pay, compared with other groups, including parents in couples.

Today’s report shows that single parents are an untapped resource for many workplaces, and evidence suggests that ‘job re-design’ has the potential to open up progression opportunities for those who tend to work part-time or require more flexibility in their hours of work, including single parents. With some simple, practical changes the UK economy could benefit from valuable skills and the lives of many single parent families could be improved.

Laura Dewar, Policy Officer at Gingerbread and author of the report said: “Across the country record numbers of single parents are in work, but too many are still trapped in low paid jobs, unable to progress and struggling with financial hardship. With children in single parent families more than twice as likely to be living in poverty as those in couple-parent families, it is more important than ever to address this imbalance.

“Both employers and the government have a valuable role to play in addressing the barriers to decent, flexible work for single parents, ensuring that single parents have equal opportunities to progress.”

It is particularly notable that part time working and a lack of flexibility linked to caring responsibilities are clear barriers to in-work progression. These barriers are much more likely to be experienced by single parents, even compared with other parents. Research shows that there is a lack of quality part time jobs – particularly senior level roles.

Many single parents rely on part-time and flexible work to enable them to meet their responsibilities as the primary carer for their children.  The result is that even where they have the skills and desire to progress, single parents are stuck in low-paid jobs in order to stay in roles that offer the working patterns they need.

Gingerbread is calling on employers to offer more senior level roles with part-time and flexible hours.  By offering access to progression within part-time and flexible roles, employers will be able to access an untapped pool of single parents who have previously been unable to move out of low-paid work.

In addition, employers should learn from good practice examples on in-work progression which clearly demonstrate the benefits of supporting and developing existing staff. For instance, the Pets at Home project led by Timewise opened up more management roles for part-time workers and the Institute for Employment Studies project demonstrated the positive role of employers in providing up-skilling.

While it is clear that UK businesses can take steps to make the most of single parent skills within their workforces and to support in-work progression of their employees, Gingerbread is also calling for change at a policy level.

Gingerbread recommends:

  • The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy should introduce a duty on employers to publish flexible working options in job adverts and give workers the right to take up the advertised flexibility from day one
  • The Department for Education should urgently review the childcare cap which limits the total amount that parents can receive and was set back in April 2003. This level has not kept up with rising childcare costs and prevents the promised 85 per cent support for childcare under Universal Credit.
  • The Department for Work and Pensions should target career support and advice to single parents at key stages of their children’s lives, in particular when their youngest child begins primary or secondary school.

* Read Untapped talent: Single parents and in-work progression here

* Gingerbread https://www.gingerbread.org.uk/


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