Community Links

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Poverty is not just about unemployment

By Guest

Kate Bell is Director of Policy and Communications at Gingerbread

Gingerbread is the national charity working with single parents. Our new Lets Lose the Labels campaign seeks to challenge the myths and stereotypes that surround single parenthood. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve witnessed a spate of news stories that have shown just why this campaign is needed. We’ve seen single parents referred to as ‘welfare amazons’, reference to an ‘epidemic’ of single mothers, and to ‘growing numbers of mothers…choosing to live alone and relying on state benefits which encourage them “not to bother” settling with a life partner’.

One of the common assumptions in these articles is that single mothers are not in paid work. It’s an assumption held by the public too – a poll by YouGov for our campaign launch found that almost two thirds (65%) of the public believes that less than half of single parents have a paid job. In fact, 57 per cent of lone parents now have a paid job, up twelve percentage points from 1997.

But it’s not just single parenthood that wrongly gets linked with worklessness, it’s poverty more broadly. It’s almost tautological to say that having a paid job reduces your risk of being poor. With benefits set well below minimum income standards, for the vast majority of families, paid work will increase the amount of money they have coming into the household. But paid work by no means guarantees a route out of poverty. 33% of children whose lone parent is in work are still living below the poverty line, and only 41% of all poor children live in a household where no-one in their family is in work. (see http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/hbai/hbai2008/excel_files/chapters/chapter_4_comp_hbai09.xls)

Tackling poverty of course means helping more families to access the work they want. But it has to mean more than this, and an over focus on families out of work means that insufficient attention is paid to the type of work that families are in.  Last week the TUC kicked off a campaign focusing on employment status as a means of ensuring that low paid workers realize their rights. Organisations such as London Citizens have done great work in putting pressure on employers to pay a Living Wage, above the Minimum Wage. And the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have recently published research challenging the idea that a low paid ‘flexible’ workforce is necessary for productivity.

But until we challenge the myth that poverty is all about people choosing not to take jobs, these campaigns will not get the impetus they need. Single mothers are at the sharp end of this debate – please take the first steps and sign up to our campaign.

This post is part of Community Links and Church Action on Poverty‘s project looking at working age poverty, contributing to the European Year Against Poverty

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