Recent welfare reforms in the UK have sent shock waves across Europe. Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith announced that Income Support is to be cut from 2011; forcing single parents whose youngest child is seven or older back into the job market or they coiuld risk facing benefit cuts.
Single parents could find themselves in a tight spot financially as new reforms in the UK look set to cut Income Support.
This change has huge implications for other lone parents across Europe, with Spain, France and Italy debating policy reforms that could affect single parent families in similar ways.
Parents and poverty
In comparison to other EU member states, the UK currently has the highest number of single parent families – nearly a quarter of all parents of working age in Britain are single parents. And it is a similar story in Europe. Research by Dr Susy Giullari, Policy and Research Manager at the Single Parents Action Network (SPAN) found that data from the European Community Household Panel stated that in 1996 there were 4.6million lone parent households in the EU.
The number continued to rise, and in 2001 Sweden had the most single parent families with 22% of households, which has now been overtaken by the UK. Research suggests there is a shocking correlation between child poverty and lone parents who are not working.
Inevitably, the income of a two-parent household will be considerably more than a single parent household, but the figures speak for themselves. Single parents in the UK who are aged 18 or over currently receive £65.45 a week in Income Support. Living off that amount is hard enough without reducing it further.
Data from SPAN categorically states that the coalition government’s emergency budget proposals for lone parents do not address the needs of the children involved. Sue Cohen, SPAN Chief Executive said: “the emergency budget’s priorities do not address the needs of children in poverty, nor the needs of the three million children who are being brought up in a single parent household ... These are already struggling families with 52% of their children living in poverty. Many will be worse off under the proposed measures.”
According to figures from the Department of Work and Pensions in the UK, the number of lone parents claiming Income Support has decreased by 44,000 to 690,000 in between 2009 and February 2010. But the British coalition government wants to reduce this figure further by offering an ultimatum – go back to work or have your benefits cut. Either way, governments across Europe are criticized by lone parent families for not understanding the reality of bringing up children alone, and this could be seen as one more example.