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Public put lone parents first


Most people in the UK believe lone parents with children should be first in line for government subsidies for childcare and wages, according to research published today by the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr). However, the public also supports measures to encourage single mothers with school age children to take jobs by placing conditions on their benefits.

The chapter on public attitudes by Peter Taylor-Gooby, Professor of Social Policy at the University of Kent, is part of Social Justice: Building a Fairer Britain. It suggests strong support for the principle of ‘something for something’ where spending on groups who are seen as active contributors to society is favoured over ‘passive’ recipients.

He said: ‘The research results illustrate why issues that are high on women’s agendas – child care, work-life balance and low wages – are at the centre of the political battleground this year. Increasing numbers of people support government spending on low income parents – particularly lone mothers – with young children, however they also think lone parents should be encouraged into work as children get older.’

Nearly three quarters (73%) think government should help the childcare costs of single mothers with children under school age. This declines to 60% for single mothers with children at school and to 50% for married mothers.

Contrary to trends in many other areas, there has been a growth in the proportion of people who think the government should help meet childcare costs. In 1994 only 52% agreed with this view. The proportion rose to 57% in 1995 and reached 62% in 1998, since when it has been roughly constant.

Asked whose wages government should supplement, support is much stronger for lone parents (66%) and couples (59%) with children than for single adults or couples without children (26%).

Public attitudes increasingly assume a high degree of gender equality in the public sphere of paid work, but not in the private sphere of the home. The paper concludes this has sombre implications for the ‘double burden’ borne by some women.

The proportion of the public believing that a woman’s primary role is to stay at home has halved during the past fifteen years from about a third to a sixth. At the same time, there is still a widely-held belief that women are responsible for most domestic duties and child care.

Asked about whether mothers should work, 48% think they should stay at home when children are under school age (with 34 supporting part time working). Over 80% think that mothers with children of school age should either work full time (16%) or part time (66%).

Over three quarters (79%) believe lone parents should face some sanction from the benefit authorities should they fail to take action to find a job. This declines to 54% for sick or disabled people and to 48% for carers.

Posie Bogan | alfa
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