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More lone parents in work, but concern over high job exit rates


Government targets to get lone parents into work may be frustrated because lone parents are twice as likely to leave their jobs as other newly employed people, a new study shows.

The number of lone parents entering work increased over the 1990s, but high job exit rates are impeding efforts to reach the Government’s target of 70 per cent employment for lone parents by 2010. According to new research published today (September 23 2004), up to 15 per cent of lone parents move into work each year - a rate similar to that of other non-employed people. Currently, 54 per cent of the UK’s 2 million lone parents are in employment, compared to 41 per cent in 1992.

However, research by the University of Bath for the Department for Work and Pensions has found that one in ten working lone parents leave work in any one year, which is more than double the rate of job exit compared to non-lone parents. About 60 per cent of lone parents entering work go into low paid jobs with poor earnings prospects. Low pay and ill-health were found to be associated with poor job retention. Being a home owner, receiving child maintenance from ex-partners and having a car and being able to drive, were identified as helping avoid early exits from jobs.

The study took account of the differences in characteristics, such as type of job and educational background, but found that even after accounting for these differences, a ‘lone parent penalty’ remained. The research suggests that if government could reduce job exits for lone parents by half, it could potentially reach its target without necessarily pushing more lone parents to move into work.

If the exit rate is not reduced, any further gains in employment towards the Government’s 70 per cent target will only be able to be met if the rate at which lone parents go into work moves ahead of the job entry rate for non-lone parents.

Job retention is worst among lone parents who have entered work in the last year, with 16 per cent of new workers quitting over the period of 12 months. But the percentage of lone parents in persistent employment - that is those who stay in work for more than 12 months - has increased from 41 per cent in 1992 to 49 per cent in 2003.

The research was carried out by Dr Martin Evans, Dr Susan Harkness and Ramon Arigoni Oritz from the University’s Centre for the Analysis of Social Policy. Dr Evans, who led the project, said: “The Government have done very well in their programmes to encourage work for lone parents but the danger is that many get new jobs and loose them and can end up in a cycle between employment and benefits which undermines their reasons for going to work in the first place”.

“The finding that the persistent employment rate has risen to almost 50 per cent has to be unqualified good news for a growing overall employment rate. Lone parent employment is a key area of policy concern for the government and it is obvious that current policy is doing a good job and promoting employment opportunities and incentives and lone parents are taking them up.

The problem is that many of the current non-working lone parents have characteristics that make them more likely to leave a job they enter. If we push more of these people into work without changing their likelihood of staying in work then it is less obvious that the current policy mix will necessarily work for a group with greater work constraints.”

Commenting on the report’s findings, Deputy Director of One Parent Families Andy Keen Downs said: "This report shows Government should be applauded for its policies which have resulted in more lone parents being able to work than ever before, but unless it deals with the reasons why so many lone parents leave work, it will jeopardise its chances of achieving a 70 per cent lone parent employment rate and of fulfilling its visionary ambition of eradicating child poverty within a generation.

"If we are serious about ending child poverty, we must make sustainable work a reality for all lone parents who want it. That means granting poor children in one-parent families three wishes: an increase in the national minimum wage, guaranteed child maintenance payments and universally available, flexible, quality childcare."

Andrew McLaughlin | alfa
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