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Barriers to work

5 November 2008
Benefits and tax credits briefing cover

Lone parents and the challenges of working


Barriers to work [ 140 kb]

As part of its drive to end child poverty by 2020, the Government aims to encourage 300,000 more lone parents into work.  A number of questions arise, however, about the measures that this Government is taking to achieve that goal: Are they appropriate?  Will they be effective?  What could be done differently?  This report looks at these questions from the perspective of lone parents who use CAB services.

Lone parents face multiple barriers when they try to move from benefits to work.  Employers are often reluctant to take on lone parents - and lone parents themselves worry about combining work with their childcare responsibilities.  Financial stability is vital, but is often had to achieve: some lone parents moving into low-paid jobs find they are simply worse off in work than living on benefits.  The complexity of the combined benefits and tax credit systems makes it very difficult for others to manage.  Keeping a roof over the family's head is equally critical, but housing often comes under threat as income levels fluctuate.  As well as the financial issues, single parents face significant problems with juggling family needs by themselves, especially finding affordable, good quality childcare.

Since 1997, the Government has been promoting work as the best form of welfare, but has also moved gradually from the use of incentives to sanctions.  Citizens Advice argues that effective support for lone parents lies in breaking down the barriers to work: re-organising the tax and welfare systems to reward work; ensuring appropriate childcare; and working with employers to enable them to provide flexible jobs.

Both the Work and Pensions and the Treasury Select Committee have recently highlighted the problems for low income households caused by the complexity of the benefits, tax and tax credit systems.  Both committees have recommended a wholesale review of these systems.  Our central recommendation in this report is that the Government should set up a Welfare and Poverty Commission to examine the interaction of the benefits, tax credit and tax systems, in order to minimise complexity and to ensure that work pays.

Barriers to work [ 140 kb]