Tackling child poverty delivery plan 2022-2026 - annex 6: what works - evidence review

This annex to the second tackling child poverty delivery plan 2022 to 2026 summarises the latest evidence on what works in tackling child poverty.

3. What works around increasing income from employment

Income raised through employment is a key driver of tackling poverty, directly contributing to a family's available resources. Employment is not just about the labour market, but also people's broader circumstances, including caring responsibilities, family circumstances, life stages or health.

This chapter summarises available evidence around what works to increase income through employment and addressing in-work poverty.

Key findings – what works around increasing income from employment?

  • Enabling and supporting parents to increase their income through paid work and earnings is an important part of tackling child poverty.
  • To address current high levels of in-work poverty, research suggests that further action is required. Recommendations include to improve the quality and flexibility of available employment and ensure childcare availability and flexibility that matches job requirements. Evidence also highlights the need to address structural barriers such as discrimination (unfair treatment) and undervaluation (being paid less for equally demanding job), particularly for women, disabled people and people from minority ethnic groups.
  • While employment law is a reserved matter, there is some scope for the Scottish Government to take action in supporting families both into and further up the job market to boost income from employment.
  • What works in supporting parents into employment? Employability services which acknowledge and support the complexity of parents' lives, are flexible, rooted in the local community, and individually tailored to parents' needs are more likely to be successful.
  • Adding work-related conditions to social security payments as a motivator for parents to enter paid work does not appear to be effective in reducing poverty.
  • What works in tackling in-work poverty? Various options are discussed, with a combination of all of these needed:

    1) Increasing pay through levers such as the Living Wage.

    2) Addressing inequalities, specifically around gender, disability and ethnicity pay gaps.

    3) Supporting in-work progression through cross-industry partnerships and links between Government and employers. Acknowledging though that for individuals it is not always possible.

    4) Enable flexible working, in terms of adjusting to family life and being supported by a reliable childcare infrastructure.

What works? Supporting parents into employment

Being in a family where no-one is in paid work is one of the biggest poverty risks. In Scotland, over half (54%) of those in a workless family are in relative poverty,[116] and a third (32%) of families with children in relative poverty live in a family where no-one is in paid work.[117] The risk is higher for lone parent families, households where someone is disabled, and families with a younger mother (under 25).

Understanding the reasons for not working and the barriers to accessing paid work is important to support families out of poverty. Balancing paid work with childcare commitments is likely to be particularly difficult for lone parents, 92% of whom are women, and parents who are carers for a disabled child or adult. Mothers who are under 25 are more likely than others to have a low level of qualifications[118], and some disabled parents may be unable to work, especially if jobs are not adequately flexible or well supported.[119] Minority ethnic parents may experience racism, discrimination and unconscious or conscious bias when applying for jobs.[120] These barriers to paid work are likely to intersect for many parents, because many are in more than one priority group, making access to paid work particularly problematic. Many mothers under 25, for example, are also lone parents and have someone who is disabled in the household.[121]

As noted earlier, most children in poverty live in a working household (68%). When looking at the composition of families in poverty who are not in paid work, half of them are not working because they are either sick or disabled (27%) or are looking after the family or home (23%). The other half are unemployed (20%) or inactive for another (unknown) reason. A chart showing statistics on the composition of workless households is found in figure 8.

Figure 8 – Composition of children in poverty in workless households by economic status of household head, 2014-20, Scotland [Source: Scottish Government analysis of data from the Family Resources Survey]

Inactive (other): 30%
Sick or disabled: 27%
Looking after family or home: 23% 
Unemployed: 20%

Unemployment rates in Scotland have broadly reduced since 2011. Although unemployment rose sharply in 2020 during COVID-19, it now appears to be reducing again and is almost back to pre-pandemic levels.[122] As of October 2021 there were a record number of job vacancies across the UK,[123] with particular labour shortages in arts, entertainment and recreation, accommodation and hospitality. There may be a mismatch between the jobs that are available, which are concentrated in low-paid sectors on non-secure contracts, and the well-paid, secure jobs which are more likely to help to lift families out of poverty.[173]

Although enabling parents to move into employment is an important aspect of addressing child poverty, focusing solely on moving parents into employment as the solution to child poverty has potential negative consequences. They include increased stigma for those who are unable to do paid work; parents being forced into poor quality work; parents experiencing increased stress from poor work or multiple jobs; loss of choice of whether to care or do paid work; and increased guilt at not being home to look after children. It is, therefore, important to take a holistic approach to work and earnings which seeks to reconcile parents' caring and family commitments with working life.[137][175]

What works to support parents into employment? Employability services

Research with parents who have used employability services and providers highlights the importance of connections with the local community and job market and local employment gaps to ensure that employability connects to real jobs[124] [125]. To increase the likelihood of supporting parents into work, employability services should have the flexibility to be adapted locally so that they can be responsive to local need and the local labour market.[124][126] As well as increasing the chances of supporting parents into appropriate work, this also ensures services can be designed around existing jobs in each area. This localised approach enables service providers from each area, who are already based there, to lead provision – although it assumes that all areas have the infrastructure available. If in place, this can lend credibility to employability services, as they can be based in existing community hubs, and can enable local service providers to take a highly targeted approach.[127] The importance of utilising existing community links has been highlighted by UK projects aiming to support minority ethnic women and women who are refugees into paid employment.[128] [129]

In order to adequately support individuals, employability support should take parents' wider factors and barriers to employment into account, and be individually tailored.[130] For those experiencing multiple disadvantage, who are more likely to be further away from the labour market, acknowledgement of and support for complexity and provision of broader support is likely to be even more important. [131] An evaluation of a peer-support-led employability programme in Wales highlighted the importance of soft targets including confidence, self-esteem and social skills, and reflected that employability targets should be realistic and aligned with participants' needs and preferences.[132] Evidence from Scottish and UK research including lone parents who have used employability services concurs with this, suggesting that employability programmes for lone parents should be personalised, holistic, flexible, and address broader issues such as low confidence, rather than focusing only on job seeking.[125]

Research suggests that having a positive, individualised and consistent relationship with a case worker, and case workers receiving training about the issues facing specific groups, including lone parents, can make a difference to parents' experiences of employability services. This research also points out that without acknowledging and addressing wider barriers (low levels of education, childcare responsibilities, financial support), these relationships alone will not be sufficient. These relationships are more likely to be successful in supporting parents into paid employment for those who were closer to the labour market to begin with.[137]

Examples of learning from employability approaches include:

  • Making It Work is a voluntary employability programme based on personalised service and co-production that operated in five local authorities in Scotland for lone parents. Nearly a third (30%) of Making It Work clients found paid employment following support from one of the five partnerships, including 23% who found employment and no longer required support and 7% who had found employment but still required support. Most (83%) lone parents who found employment were working more than 16 hours per week. The evaluation concluded that collaboration and co-production can provide effective responses to the needs of groups at risk of long-term unemployment, providing alternatives to traditional 'work-first' employment policies. This approach was made possible by a five-year funding cycle with a focus on upfront funding rather than payment by results, which enabled time and resources to be spent on community capacity building, and forming alliances and relationships at the beginning of the project. This enabled a flexible provision model which could be responsive to need. For example, Glasgow Making It Work service focused on supporting lone parents who had experienced domestic violence and those with English as a second language.[136][127]
  • An evaluation of Fair Start Scotland found that while it had successfully centred fairness, dignity, respect and voluntary participation and, to some extent, a person-centred service, there was room for improvement in reaching all segments of the eligible population, further facilitating local alignment and integration of employability services, and supporting those further from the labour market into employment. The service was found to provide a net positive return on investment, outperforming expectations as set out in the original business case. This was, however, found to be driven significantly by the fact that costs were lower than anticipated due to participants being closer to the labour market than originally intended. In Fair Start Scotland's third year, 2,300 people (22% of participants) were parents. 29% of these parents were disabled, 41% were lone parents, 5% were mothers aged under 25, 15% were parents with three or more children, 16% had a child aged under 12 months, and 6% were from a minority ethnic background. For those parents who had the full time to achieve outcomes, 23% sustained employment for at least three months, the same proportion as participants overall. 18% of disabled parents sustained employment for three months, compared to 21% of disabled non-parents, and 26% of non-disabled non-parents. Proportions of other priority parent groups achieving three-month job outcomes were similar to those achieved by participants overall (21% of lone parents, 22% of mothers under 25, 28% of parents with three or more children, and 23% of minority ethnic parents).[ii] [133]

Evaluations of employability programmes or strategies which are not specifically targeted at parents do not always report separately on the numbers or experiences of parents in their services, for example Scottish Government's Health and Work Support pilot and Transitional Employment Services evaluations do not mention parents. It would be helpful to ensure that employability services collect data on participants' parental status to make it possible to better evaluate the impact of employability services on parents and therefore child poverty.

The Parental Employability Support Fund (PESF) is based on many of the principles highlighted by the evidence in this section, and will report on the experiences of parents, including those in priority groups. An implementation evaluation of the No One Left Behind approach, which encompasses PESF, will be published in 2022, with the potential for a separate evaluation of PESF currently under consideration.

What works to support parents into employment? Incentivising paid work

Another possible approach to encouraging parents into employment is through incentivising paid work. Evidence is mixed on whether benefit sanctions can be effective in moving people into employment and there is some indication that any positive impacts in this regard may be short term.[134] They appear to play a part in pushing some, particularly disabled people and those experiencing other specific forms of disadvantage, further from the labour market. Recent UK Government research on Universal Credit found that while the awareness ofsanctions encourages compliance with claimant requirements, there was no evidence that it helped motivate participants to progress in work and could damage the relationship between the Work Coach and participant.[135]

Evidence suggests that 'work-first' policy approaches to employment, also known as 'activation' policies, which are based on high levels of welfare conditionality and, often, compulsory engagement with employability services, which aim to move people into paid work as quickly as possible, may be ineffective at enabling people to escape poverty and gain employment, especially for those experiencing higher levels of disadvantage.[136] A recent evidence review of the impact of employment policies on lone parents across Europe found that 'activation policies' largely do not work to move lone parent families out of poverty, partly because for lone parents, moving into paid work is unlikely to provide enough income to overcome the poverty threshold. The review points out that poverty rates in many European countries have stagnated in lone parent families despite a rise in employment rates. Norway, for example, saw a decrease in disposable income and an increase in poverty for lone parents when activation policies were implemented, due to low earnings and interactions with social security.[137]

Taking on or increasing employment needs to result in financial gain that supports the family structure. For many parents, increasing hours mean spending less time with their children, and using the income boost to pay for childcare. Some claimants feel that Universal Credit does not create a good incentive to increase their hours of employment with benefits subsequently being reduced.[138] A recent review by the Equality and Human Rights Commission expressed concern that the Universal Credit model has reduced incentives for second earners to work more than a small number of hours, discouraging equal participation in the workplace, which may in future have a negative impact on women's progression in work. [139]

It is often argued that increasing income from social security acts as a disincentive to taking on or increasing employment. However, there are also others who claim that it relieves the pressure to take on bad jobs, enables further education and training and leads to better employment in the long run.[140] This may partially depend on the context – namely, the disparity between employment protection and the wage bargaining process in a country, which can influence the extent of attractive job opportunities available. There is some evidence from Poland and Canada that monthly child benefits may somewhat reduce mothers' labour market participation.[141] Conversely, a UK evaluation found that time-limited in-work tax credits for former benefit recipients who move into paid work (in this case, lone parents) can lead to sustained increases in employment.[142] Evidence also highlights that responsiveness to benefit work incentives can vary according to various characteristics: namely, that low-earning, less-educated and lone parents tend to be more responsive.[143]

What works? Tackling in-work poverty

Although paid work can be an effective way out of poverty, having paid work is not always enough to lift families out of poverty; the majority (67%) of children in poverty in Scotland already live in working households.[144]

In-work poverty is more common in minority ethnic families (76% of those in poverty are in paid work), households with three or more children (67%), or households with a baby (65%).[145] Low pay and underemployment are higher in some cities, such as Glasgow, and parts of the Highlands and Islands.[146]

Modelling suggests that moving more parents into paid work is alone unlikely to meet the child poverty targets. Instead, it needs to be supported with policies that address pay and provide targeted social security support. [147] [148] [149]

Evidence suggests that there are two main drivers of in-work poverty. The first, the flexibility and quality of jobs. The second, the current low pay in many sectors.

The main barrier for many parents is balancing childcare and caring responsibilities with paid work. This juggling act often needs some form of flexible working. Flexible working encompasses part-time working, working from home, flexible start and finish times, flexible shift patterns, remote working, term-time working, or job-sharing.

While there are flexible job opportunities in the market, these are more commonly available in low-paid jobs.[150] Part-time work is relatively rare in higher paid roles, while working from home and flexible working (in terms of when paid work takes place) is less common in lower paid jobs.[151] This means that many parents who have caring responsibilities, and particularly those who are sole carers, end up in jobs with fewer hours than they would like, in poor-quality paid work – that which is low-paid, or precarious employment without a stable and predictable income.[152] [149]

'Gig' work is the term used for contingent work commissioned, supervised, delivered and compensated via a digital platform. 'Gig' work has grown rapidly in the UK in recent years.[153] 'Gig' workers report difficulties with this type of paid work, including lack of employee voice or input into decision making, limited opportunities for career progression and minimal training, lack of job security or rights to holiday or sick pay and weekly variability in hours worked and money earned. There also appear to be positives for some, however, such as opportunity for personal development and some control over work schedules.

COVID-19 has allowed many workers greater flexibility and working from home patterns, though it is unknown whether this will become a permanent feature of the job market. Importantly, however, the ratio of flexible jobs has increased more steeply for higher paid jobs than lower paid jobs, because it tends to be easier to accommodate office workers at home, which could exacerbate existing inequalities.[154] Although the pandemic has changed working practices, with more people working from home, it has not yet changed hiring practices; the vast majority (76%) of jobs are still not advertised as flexible.[155]

Evidence indicates that women's position in the labour market has been weakened by COVID-19 and that many mothers who were working at the start of the pandemic are now unemployed or working reduced hours.[156] Young people (aged 16-24) were most affected by job losses, furlough and reduced hours at the beginning of the pandemic, and since then, pay for under-18s has recovered, whereas pay levels of 18-24 year olds has grown much more slowly.[iii] [157]

What works to tackle in-work poverty? Increasing pay

Modelling suggests that paying parents a living wage would have a significant impact on child poverty but is unlikely, alone, to meet the child poverty targets. Modelling by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests that lifting parents onto the living wage would have a significant impact and reduce government expenditure, because social security payments such as the Scottish Child Payment would not need to increase so much to reach the targets.[148] They highlight the potential of a focus on moving parents who are able to move into paid work, and moving those who are currently low-paid onto a living wage, combined with a targeted approach to social security, for example through priority family group supplements.

Since the last Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan in 2018, several Local Authorities in Scotland have become, or are on track to become, Real Living Wage Accredited,[158] but payment of the living wage is still optional. Research has highlighted that in order for the Real Living Wage to have a positive impact on people's lives, there should be a focus on ensuring compliance.[159] Learning from areas with living wage accreditation suggests that several factors can help to encourage wider employer take-up of the living wage, including engaging private sector employers, building collaboration and trust across sectors in local areas, and embedding living wage work into broader place-based strategies.[160]

Even with high levels of compliance, however, moving to the Living Wage is not a 'silver bullet', and further action would be required to ensure the poverty targets are met. Modelling from the Institute of Public Policy Research suggests that a lone parent household with one child earning £9 an hour is unlikely to reach a living income, and even on £15 an hour would have to work full time to reach that bar. UK and European studies have cautioned against the assumption that increasing wages necessarily leads to lower poverty levels, because families can be placed in worse financial situations if wage increases are accompanied by cuts to social security.[161] [162] A UK evaluation of three employers moving to the Living Wage found that factors other than hourly pay, including the size of the household, the number of earners in the household, the number of hours worked, and uptake of in-work benefits, were important determinants of income.[163] This suggests that as well as higher hourly pay, supplements for those who need them, better quality paid work with more security, and help to move into paid work for those who need it, are crucial.

Some US studies suggest that there could be some degree of unintended consequences of implementing a minimum wage, including reductions in hours worked, potentially fewer jobs available, and interactions with social security. These issues are highly context dependent and are therefore likely to vary between countries, so may not be relevant to the Scottish context.[164] [165] Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that the introduction of the National Living Wage in the UK has not negatively affected the number of hours or jobs available, or on household incomes overall. It does highlight, however, that many households with the lowest incomes saw little financial benefit from the introduction of the living wage due to corresponding reductions in income from social security and higher taxes when pay increased.[166]

What works to tackle in-work poverty? Addressing inequalities

Gender and ethnicity pay gaps can be seen partly as a result of which sector women and minority ethnic people are likely to be employed in, and programmes aiming to address imbalances in subject and career choices may help to address this by rebalancing employment sectors.[167] It is, however, crucial to recognise the structural factors that relate to pay gaps in order to meaningfully tackle them. Jobs in some sectors have been undervalued and action could be taken to revalue them. Ways of doing this include through unionisation and collective bargaining; job evaluation (ensuring equal pay for jobs of equal value); minimum standards for publicly funded contracts including no zero-hours contracts; and better pay gap reporting including intersectional reporting on gender, ethnicity and disability.[168]

A research study commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission to explore ethnicity and disability pay-gap reporting found that collecting data that can be analysed by ethnicity and disability can support practical change in the workplace. The study found that employers who analysed their ethnicity and disability pay gaps and found gaps had then taken positive action to address these.[169]

The gender pay gap reflects gender inequalities more widely, including women's disproportionate responsibilities in the home. Implementing gender-neutral parental leave policies may help to address this. In countries which offer equal rights to mothers and fathers to take well-paid parental leave on a non-transferable 'use it or lose it' basis, a high proportion of fathers use this leave (see 'families with a child under 12 months' section in Chapter 2 for further discussion).[170] [171]

While employment law is a reserved matter, the Scottish Specific Duties Regulations provide some scope for the Scottish Government to take action in the public sector, particularly in relation to gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps.

What works to tackle in-work poverty? Supporting in-work progression

Policies that support in-work progression, which may include increasing hours or seeking out progression opportunities such as promotion or a new job elsewhere, can be a way to overcome in-work poverty for some people. A recent review of in-work progression support programmes found that to be successful, these programmes should be flexible enough to enable participation by those already working long hours, be targeted towards those experiencing low pay, take account of the multiple barriers faced by target groups, take a personalised approach, offer one-to-one and holistic support, and track outcomes, including soft outcomes.[172]

Evidence suggests that sectoral approaches to in-work progression, focusing on improving job quality and pay in particular sectors, could improve in-work progression.[173] To be successful, these approaches require cross-industry partnerships and links between Government and employers. Strong employer engagement in in-work progression, partnership working and communication help to improve pathways to progression and ensure they are visible to low-paid employees.[174]

However, in-work progression cannot tackle child poverty alone, and there are greater barriers to in-work progression for some parents in priority groups. Qualitative research with lone parents suggests that progression may not always be a realistic goal, and is not always possible due to family life; staying in a job that enabled lone parents to carry out their family commitments was often a priority, which meant they often ended up staying in low-paid jobs. This research also highlighted that even when progression was possible it did not always lead to financial security, due to pay remaining relatively low and the high cost of living. Academic research in the UK accords with this, highlighting that in-work progression does not always work for lone parents, but that the Universal Credit model assumes lone parents should aim to work, or work more hours, or want to progress.[175]

Another barrier to in-work progression can be lack of skills or education, so providing skills and educational development can support in-work progression.[176] This may be particularly relevant for younger mothers, who are more likely to have a lower level of qualifications, and some minority ethnic parents who require support for English language learning. [177] Scotland's Flexible Workforce Development Fund's first year evaluation demonstrates that employers are using the Fund for a wide range of training, including leadership and management, health and safety, IT and digital, and technical/specialist training. These were the main areas in which employers reported skills gaps. Data about which employees benefitted from the fund are not yet available, so it is not possible to assess the impact on parents or priority groups.[178]

It is, however, important not to overstate the importance of skills development, at the expense of acknowledging the structural issues that affect low pay and lack of progression. Research has highlighted the high number of parents (72,900) in Scotland who work part-time below their skill level,[179] and that while minority ethnic school leavers tend to outperform other pupils, this does not translate into better work outcomes.[180] This suggests that structural changes to workplaces which tackle discrimination and systematic barriers are necessary to enable in-work progression.

Examples of programmes aiming to support in-work progression include:

  • A randomised control trial by the UK Department for Work and Pensions aimed to test the effectiveness of differing intensities of support and conditionality provided to Universal Credit claimants in low-paid work. Participants were assigned to one of three groups, receiving either frequent, moderate or minimal support. Those in the 'frequent' group were more likely than others to report positive progress towards progression at work, and their average weekly earnings were higher 52 weeks after the trial beginning, but the difference was minimal (£5.25 extra per week compared to 'minimal' group for the 'frequent' group) and so is unlikely to have an impact on child poverty. This evaluation was not specifically focused on parents, but the qualitative aspect of this evaluation reported that childcare responsibilities were a barrier to progression for some parents, particularly lone parents, and that work coaches sometimes made impractical suggestions such as taking on evening shifts. This evaluation also reported that lone parents may be particularly likely to report 'horizontal progression', whereby they have completed training or moved jobs so are in a better position to progress, but have not yet done so.[135]
  • The Timewise earnings progression trial supported 102 working parents to progress their earnings, aiming to help them maintain the flexible working practices needed to combine paid work and care. The model included one-to-one holistic advice and guidance support from a 'pre-progression' advisor and employer facing support. Out of the 102 parents supported, 28 progressed through a new job, working more hours, or negotiating a pay rise. 21 clients achieved an earnings progression and seven achieved a progression without increasing their income. At six months post-support the majority had maintained their progression outcomes.

    The programme was resource intensive with individuals requiring different levels of support and lengths of time to achieve progression. Barriers included individual motivation and confidence, and a lack of relevant skills, experience and qualifications. Parents responded well to support that recognised their need to balance paid work and caring responsibilities and that helped them to address this balance. The support model needed to adapt to the specific working and caring needs of clients, offering support that could fit around working hours and through a variety of different modes including online, telephone and out-of-office support.

    Timewise found that individual client support to change jobs was the most effective way of achieving progression. In fewer cases, clients were supported to negotiate pay rises with current employers. It was not possible to work at scale to negotiate groups of flexible roles with employers with a caseload of 102 clients.[181]

The programme was resource intensive with individuals requiring different levels of support and lengths of time to achieve progression. Barriers included individual motivation and confidence, and a lack of relevant skills, experience and qualifications. Parents responded well to support that recognised their need to balance paid work and caring responsibilities and that helped them to address this balance. The support model needed to adapt to the specific working and caring needs of clients, offering support that could fit around working hours and through a variety of different modes including online, telephone and out-of-office support.

Timewise found that individual client support to change jobs was the most effective way of achieving progression. In fewer cases, clients were supported to negotiate pay rises with current employers. It was not possible to work at scale to negotiate groups of flexible roles with employers with a caseload of 102 clients.[181]

What works to tackle in-work poverty? Enabling flexible working

Although employment can be a way out of poverty, in order to enable parents to work, jobs need to be flexible enough to accommodate family life.[125][137] This would make employers 'parent ready', rather than simply requiring parents to be 'employment ready'. In addition to creating flexible jobs, a potential cost-effective change is to ensure that jobs which could be worked flexibly are advertised as flexible, and that the details of the flexibility offered are specified at the point of advertisement.[151] The Scottish Government has been encouraging this enhanced flexibility through its fair work focus. But because employment law is a reserved matter, any advances in flexible working policy coming from the Scottish Government currently rely on voluntary engagement by employers.

An example of working with employers to increase flexibility is the UK Futures Programme. The UK Futures Programme, run by Timewise in partnership with a national retailer, aimed to tackle progression barriers and increase part-time, entry level, female workers' earnings. The model investigated and implemented job redesign to include part-time and flexible working access for first step promotion to managerial roles. To facilitate the organisation-wide culture change needed to underpin this initiative, the retailer provided training to managers to identify and recruit colleagues into the new roles, and to facilitate this new approach to work within teams in stores. The company also adjusted its flexible working policy and created guidance to managers and staff to make explicit that conversations about individual flexibility needs were welcome at any point. The evaluation concluded that to enable flexible working, culture change must be driven by the leadership team within the organisation, job design should consider flexible working possibilities from the outset, and employers should communicate successes in flexible working.[182]

What works? Flexible, affordable childcare

There is clear evidence that the provision of funded childcare can help support parents into employment and/or to maintain employment. However, it is important to be aware that there is inconclusive evidence on whether more hours of childcare are beneficial for children's outcomes.[183]

In England, the first-year evaluation of the national rollout of 30 hours' free childcare considered the impact of the programme in supporting parents' employment outcomes. It found that high proportions of parents using the extended hours believed the policy had supported them to do paid work and had positive impacts on their family finances.[184] These perceived impacts were found to be greatest for families with lower levels of income among those using the extended hours, highlighting the impact that provision of free childcare can have in increasing opportunities for employment in those who need it most.

The evaluation of the rollout of 30 hours' free childcare offer in Wales found that it enabled parents to increase their flexibility in the way they worked. Some parents explained that they were able to increase the hours they worked, which included moving from working part time to working full time. Others explained that they were able to work extra hours when required. Some parents noted that this increased availability to work more hours had helped to further develop their career; either by gaining a promotion with their current employer; by securing a more senior role with a new employer; or by enabling them to consider taking a job further away from where they resided.[185]

Although the Scottish Government has increased the entitlement to funded early learning and childcare to 1,140 hours a year (30 hours a week if taken in term time) for 3 and 4 year olds and eligible 2 year olds, workshops with parents found that these funded hours are not always flexible enough for some parents working non-standard hours.[186] To be most useful for parents, funded childcare should be available for all children, including those below three years old. Evaluation evidence from Glasgow suggests that the provision of statutory funded early learning and childcare, only when children are aged over three years, can inhibit women from participating in the workforce earlier due to difficulties affording the cost of childcare.[187] OECD data from across European countries including the UK suggests that widespread, accessible provision of formal childcare supports gender equality in employment. They highlight the availability, intensity, reliability and affordability of childcare as key, and that cost remains a barrier to accessing childcare for many families, particularly lone parents and those with children under three.[188]

Although childcare provision can support parents to enter or progress in employment, it may not do so equitably. Evidence from Germany suggests that parents with higher socio-economic status are more likely to take up childcare places for children under three, which could further entrench inequalities in the workplace and have a knock-on effect on child poverty rates.[189]

There is evidence from Canada that flexible, affordable childcare can be particularly beneficial for lone parents' employment and hours of work.[190]

A study comparing lone parents' poverty rates and childcare provision across European countries found that the impact of childcare for lone mothers' poverty risk is not straightforward as its impact is highly dependent on the wider policy context. The study points out that market-based childcare systems like the UK's may make poverty more rather than less likely because of the high cost of childcare. Female full-time employment tends to be lower in countries where social security makes it possible to care for children full-time. This study concludes that childcare systems that enable lone parents to do paid work full-time and care for their children, are not market-based, and are provided in conjunction with a universal welfare state, can help to prevent poverty. Whilst this study suggests that childcare provision can enable lone parents to work full-time, it is important to note that not all lone parents are able to do paid work full-time, and that full-time employment is not the only route to addressing child poverty (see cost of living chapter for further discussion of childcare).[191]


Email: TCPU@gov.scot

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