Stakeholder organisations have made a range of recommendations for government on how to address the issues that lone parent families in child poverty face. A recent briefing by Public Health Scotland makes specific recommendations for local authorities and Health Boards.
A key recommendation emerging directly from discussion with One Parent Families Scotland is "single parent proofing" policy and service design:
"If we listen to and involve parents, then their direct evidence of experience highlights new issues and new connections. The challenges and problems that single parent families confront when trying to escape poverty, retain a work-life balance and sustain employment, illuminate many of the difficulties faced by all low income families. Policies and practices that enable a single parent to provide and care for their children are more likely to have beneficial effects for two parent families. A 'single parent proofed' initiative is a family proofed initiative."
The majority of single parents are women. Therefore, it has been suggested that the use of sex-disaggregated data across policy interventions would contribute to the measurement of impact of policy on single parents.
- Support anchor institutions (such as local authorities and Health Boards) to create more quality (in terms of protecting them from poverty), flexible (offering hours that suit single parents) vacancies, directly and through procurement and economic development.
- Support employers in the private sector to create more quality, flexible vacancies
- Make use of the new Parental Employability Support Fund to ensure more tailored and holistic programmes, such as an employability pathway specifically for single parents.
- Ensure single parents have support to gain access to new jobs created in the Early Learning and Childcare workforce and Out of School Care workforce
- Provide skills and training programmes, apprenticeships and other work placements with the ability to move into full time employment.
- Ensure an emphasis is placed on helping lone parents to access this childcare as and when they need it, including improving advice and support systems available to help lone parents navigate the childcare system.
- Develop childcare infrastructure that meets the needs of families providing an appropriate amount of funded, good quality and flexible education and childcare for all children across the age range (from pre-school to school age).
- Assess the feasibility of further expansion of universal entitlement of childcare from age 3 to early secondary This could include:
- increased provision of high-quality flexible out-of-school childcare
- increased choice and flexibility in childcare for eligible families with children from the age of 1 year
- ensuring that local childcare providers are well informed and supported to deal with the Universal Credit approach to childcare costs
- continued evaluation of childcare expansion, to ensure it contributes to reducing child poverty.
- Many single parents on low incomes only have a 'pay as you go' mobiles. There is an urgent need for access to either tablets or laptops as well as WI-FI and help with mobile costs.
- A consistent, centralised national effort is required to ensure access for all. Within this, families with children must be prioritised to ensure they have the online connectivity and devices they need.
- Beyond this, government should support families with ongoing costs of accessing digital tools and putting pressure on providers to freeze bills. Families also need training on using devices.
Cost of the school day
- Increase school clothing grant payments to cover the realistic cost, by a standard amount across Scotland.
- Consider expanding free school meals to every child where a parent is receiving universal credit, or to include all 7 to 16 year olds. Cash payments, when in lieu of school meals, should be paid at the same level to parents across Scotland.
Social security and benefits in kind
- Maximise take-up of benefits
- Improve the advice and support available to help single parents navigate the child maintenance system.
- The Scottish Child Payment is set at a flat rate. When fully implemented, consideration should be given in the payment structure to those families who face higher levels of child poverty such as single parents, young parents and families with a disabled child.
- Increase awareness of the support available from the Scottish Welfare Fund, ensure it delivers support to people as quickly and effectively as possible, and review whether the levels of funding are adequate to meet demand.
- Best Start Grant and Best Start Foods are an efficient and effective way to get money to families with young children. Consideration should be given to whether their value could be increased.
- Increase the Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) budget, and direct local authorities to target additional funds towards those affected by the benefit cap. By increasing the DHP budget, the benefit cap could be fully mitigated.
Recommendations for the UK Government
- Reform Universal Credit:
- Improve Universal Credit administration, particularly around childcare costs processes.
- Remove the five week wait when administratively possible, and make advance payments an automatic grant.
- Young single mothers should be paid the same standard allowance for Universal Credit as parents over 25 years.
- Increase the value of Universal Credit, Tax Credits and other benefits paid to families with low incomes to reflect changing living costs.
- Remove policies that penalise single parent families such as the working age benefits freeze, the two-child limit, the benefits cap and benefit sanctions for pregnant women and parents.
- There are many single parents on 'legacy benefits' who will not get the increase the £20 increase for Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits. The £20 increase should be added to the standard allowance for Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance and Jobseeker's Allowance.
- Make the Child Maintenance Service fairer:
- Remove the charges for receiving parents initially enrolling into and continuing to use the Collect and Pay service
- Improved case management and better customer service
- Improve the service for survivors of domestic abuse, to ensure it supports rather than deters families needing assistance.
- Stronger systems and resources to challenge parents who avoid child maintenance and those who do not pay what has been agreed.
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