The Danczuks, The Dangerous Dogs Act & Those Enduring Myths About Lone Parents #GE2015 #RaceForNumber10

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“In a political arena in which words are carefully chosen, PR narratives carefully designed, and human frailties rarely admitted, the Danczuks stick out.  They both come from broken families, in which dependence on benefits was par for the course.

Karen, one of five children, was the only one to carry on her education after school and says she lives a life that her siblings wouldn’t recognise.”

“Danczuk has been an outspoken critic of politics geared towards the metropolitan elite.  On welfare, he and his wife agree that Labour isn’t tough enough.  “Instead of people being sat around on benefits, if they are capable of work why not have them make a contribution locally and keep them in mind for work,” Simon says. “If you want to call it hard-line, so be it.” ”

“The reason people should listen to them, they say, whether it is on child abuse or the problems of welfare, is that their views come from experience.  “If my mum had been forced to work and not live her life as a single parent on benefits, she would have had a job and friends and a better life, which would have benefited me,” Karen says.”

We’ll keep telling it like it is on welfare, immigration and the liberal elite

Well, Karen, in my experience your kind of subjective approach to policy making leads to Dangerous Dogs Act outcomes.  Personally, speaking, again from experience, I think we have already had quite enough of that sort of ‘informed’ approach to Social Security and Welfare to Work.

Alas, for Simon and Karen, I am not a member of the metropolitan, liberal elite, although I do live in a metropolitan county.  I was, though, Birmingham and Solihull’s lead Employment Service Implementation Manager for New Deal for Lone Parents in 1998 and a deputy Childcare Partnership Manager for the same area in the late 2000s.  I know a fair bit about Children’s Centres, I have worked alongside Gingerbread and the National Council for One Parent Families, I have worked with groups supporting lone parents, groups of lone parents and I have even interviewed a fair few lone parents in my time.  I suspect that gives me as much, if not more insight than the Danczuks into the challenges facing lone parents, but I would not say enough of an insight to be able, on my own, to draft policies addressing those challenges.  I may know most of the questions to ask, but few of the answers to them.  I know my limitations!

In over two decades I only ever came across one person who regarded herself as married to the State.  Frankly, I was gob smacked that anyone would want to be a lone parent until they claimed their State Pension at 60, but this person was very much the exception to the rule.  I did segue into the dependant on the State line on the grounds that surely she would not want to bring up more children on just Income Support.  What about their quality of life?  I say more children as she was in front of me, because her youngest child had reached 16 and so she had no option, but to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance.  She seemed more than a bit put out by the requirement to be both available for and actively seeking work.  She took the line that at 40 or so it was too late to take up employment hence the discussion of possible alternatives to paid work.

Now, Karen and Simon would it really be a good idea to build our party’s (that is Labour’s, by the way, and not ukip’s) policies for lone parents on that interview alone?  You certainly seem to think that your personal experiences are representative evidence of the behaviour of the typical (tabloid) single parent and thus the basis on which to formulate a tougher Social Security regime for lone parents.  Or would it be better to adopt an evidence based approach?  One starting with the facts (listed below) about single parents, courtesy of Gingerbread, an organisation that thinks discussions about lone parents (a very diverse group) should be based on reality and not myths.

Incidentally, Karen is Simon’s second wife and he had two children with his first partner so I guess he knows a bit about making lone parent families (see fourth bullet point in the list below), if nothing else about them.  A policy of tough on lone parents, but not tough on those who put many in that position, eh, Simon?  And what happened to sticking with one’s husband or wife through thick and thin until death do you part, eh, Simon?  Surely, a big problem is the ease with which one may get divorced, eh, Simon?  Now is it not the liberal elite which was responsible for making divorce easier, eh, Simon?  Shame on you Simon, a working class boy, for allowing yourself to be seduced from the path of righteousness into the path of divorce.

Simon, some days I wish I had been born a decade or so earlier than I was so I might enjoy the experience of living through the 1960s first hand.  I get the distinct impression that you (like Farage, Howard and Blair) wish that decade had never happened.  Well it did, get over it and move on.  And, I have no problem with your divorce or the divorce laws, but I do with your hypocrisy.

Roy Jenkins was a real Socialist when it came to addressing the social issues of the 1960s.  He saw through Parliament, when Home Secretary, the permanent abolition of hanging, the relaxation of the licensing laws, the ending of theatre censorship and introduced a ground breaking Race Relations Bill.  He secured government time to ensure the passage of Private Members’ Bills on both homosexuality, finally legalising it and abortion.  He ended flogging in prisons.

In 1976 he told the Police Federation conference that for many prisoners, prison did not work.  He urged them to look at the evidence and to recognise how little the widespread use of prison reduces crime or deals effectively with the individuals concerned.  Faced with concerted booing, he gave his hostile audience a lecture on democracy.  The rule of law in a democratic society did not mean our pet prejudices, but the rule of Parliament as applied by the courts.  One cannot have a rule of law while dismissing with disparagement Parliament, the courts and those who practise in them.  The job of the police and that of the Home Secretary, he told them, is to apply the law as it is and not to decry it.

Roy Jenkins was one of the most reforming Home Secretaries of all time.  He was in favour of evidence based policy.  I understand you think people like me are in the wrong party, because we are proud not only of his bringing in such liberal legislation, but because we want to do more?  That our liberal tendencies makes us less socialist than you?  Personally, I think you would be more at home in ukip with its net curtain twitching, back to the 1950s, knee jerk attitudes than in a party which is at its best when it bases policy on evidence not anecdote.  Evidence, Karen, tinged with more than just a little empathy for those worse off than ourselves.

And now for those facts about single parents

There are 2 million single parents in Britain today (1) – they make up a quarter of families with children, a figure which has remained consistent for the past decade (2)

Less than 2 per cent of single parents are teenagers (3)

The median age of single parents is 38.1 (4)

Around half of single parents had their children within marriage – 49 per cent are separated from marriage, divorced or widowed (5)

63.4 per cent of single parents are in work, up 19.6 percentage points since 1996 (6)

The employment rate for single parents varies depending on the age of their youngest child.  Once their children are 12 or over, single parents’ employment rate is similar to, or higher than, the employment rate for mothers in couples (71 per cent of single parents whose child is 11-15 are in work) (7)

Who are single parents?

There are 3 million children living in a single parent household (23% per cent of all dependent children) (8)

Around 8 per cent of single parents (186,000) are fathers (9)

The average duration of single parenthood is around 5 years (10)

Only 6.5 per cent of all births are registered alone, and 10 per cent are registered to two parents who live apart (11)

Single fathers are more likely to be widowed than single mothers (12 per cent of single fathers are widowed, compared with 5 per cent of single mothers), and their children tend to be older (12)

Just under half of couples divorcing in 2009 had at least one child aged under 16.  Over a fifth (21 per cent) of the children in 2009 were under five and 63 per cent were under eleven (13)

The proportion of single parent families has increased since the 1970s, but it hasn’t changed much in the last ten years

In 1971 just 8 per cent of families with children were single parent families (14)

In 1998 24 per cent of families with children were single parent families (15)

In 2011 26 per cent of families with children were single parent families (16)

Single parent families and poverty:

Children in single parent families are nearly twice as likely as children in couple families to live in relative poverty.  Over four in every 10 (42 per cent) children in single parent families are poor, compared to just over two in 10 (23 per cent) of children in couple families (17)

Paid work is not a guaranteed route out of poverty for single parent families; the poverty rate for children in single parent families where the parent works part-time is 30 per cent, and 22 per cent where the parent works full-time (18).

The median weekly income for working single parent families doing 16 hours a week or more is £337, compared with £491 for couple families with one worker and £700 where both parents work (19)

43 per cent of single parents are social housing tenants compared to 12 per cent of couples (20)

71 per cent of all single parent renters receive housing benefit compared to 25 per cent of all couple renters (21)

Single parent households are the most likely to be in arrears on one or more household bills, mortgage or non-mortgage borrowing commitment (31 per cent) (22)

38 per cent of single parents said that money always runs out before the end of the week/month compared to 19 per cent of couples (23)

63 per cent of single parents have no savings compared to 34 per cent of couples (24)

Work and childcare

Where single parents are not working, this is often because there are health issues that make work difficult: 33 per cent of unemployed single parents have a disability or long-standing illness (25) and 34 per cent have a child with a disability (26)

Over half of single parents are in work (59.2 per cent), up 14.5 percentage points since 1997.  In the same period, the employment rate of mothers in couples has risen three percentage points to 71 per cent (27)

Single parents rely heavily on informal childcare.  Of those using childcare, 46 per cent said it was informal. (28)  For single parents working 16 hours a week or more 34 per cent had a childcare arrangement with the child’s grandparents, and 17 per cent had an arrangement with their ex-partner (29)

Working single parents paying for childcare are much more likely than working couples paying for childcare to find it difficult to meet childcare costs (32% compared to 22% of couples where one partner is in work, and 20% of couples where both work) (30)

Child maintenance

Only two-fifths (38 per cent) of single parents receive maintenance from their child’s other parent (31)

For all those with an agreement for child maintenance (both through the CSA and private arrangement) the median weekly amount received is £46 per family (32)

The average amount of child maintenance liable to be paid through the CSA is currently £33.50 per week (£22.50 if all cases with a weekly assessment of zero are included in the average). (33)  Among parents with care in receipt of income-related benefits, the average amount is £23 (excluding cases with a weekly assessment of zero) (34)

Of single parents receiving child maintenance through the CSA, 40 per cent receive less than £10 per week, 38 per cent receive between £10 and £50 per week and 22 per cent receive more than £50 per week (35)

Family life

At least 9 per cent of single parents share the care of their child equally, or nearly equally, with the other parent (36)

The majority of children have face to face contact with their other parent.  71 per cent of resident parents said that their child had direct contact with the other parent (37)

65 per cent of those with contact said this included overnight stays, usually at least monthly (38)

Only 20 per cent of all resident parents say that their child has no contact with their other parent (39).  Of these, 63 per cent said there had been no contact since the parental relationship ended (40)

Parental separation by itself is not considered predictive of poor outcomes in children (41)  Parental conflict has been identified as a key mediating variable in producing negative outcomes in children.  A comparison between couple families experiencing high levels of conflict with single parent families found that children fared less well in conflicted couple families, demonstrating that family functioning has a greater impact than family structure in contributing to child outcomes (42)

Parental separation and the resulting single parent status often leads to financial hardship.  That resulting poverty may be a significant factor in explaining poorer child outcomes rather than family structure (43)

References

    1. Families and households 2014, Office for National Statistics, 2015
    2. Families and households 2014, Office for National Statistics, 2015
    3. Figure produced for Gingerbread by the Fertility and Family Analysis Unit, Office of National Statistic and derived from the Annual Population Survey (APS), (Labour Force Survey plus boost), 2009 data
    4. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
    5. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
    6. Working and Workless Households, 2014, Table P. Office for National Statistics, October 2014
    7. Families with children in Britain: Findings from the 2008 Families and children study (FACS), Table 3.2. Department for Work and Pensions, 2010
    8. Households Below Average Income, An analysis of the income distribution 1994/95 – 2009/10, Table 4.1ts. Department for Work and Pensions, 2011
    9. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
    10. Leaving Lone Parenthood: Analysis of the repartnering patterns of lone mothers in the U.K. Skew, A., Berrington, A., Falkingham, J. 2008, on data from 2005
    11. Derived from Households and Families, Social Trends 41, Table 6 & 7. ONS, 2011. Data from 2009
    12. Analysis of Labour Force Survey data from June 2006 produced for Gingerbread by ONS
    13. Divorces in England and Wales 2009. ONS Statistical Bulletin, February 2011
    14. General Household Survey 2007, Table 3.6. ONS, 2009
    15. General Lifestyle Survey, 2009, Table 3.6. ONS, 2011
    16. Lone parents with dependent children, January 2012, Office for National Statistics
    17. Households below average income (HBAI): 1994/95 to 2012/13,Table 4.14ts. Department for Work and Pensions, 2014
    18. Households below average income (HBAI): 1994/95 to 2012/13,Table 4.14ts. Department for Work and Pensions, 2014
    19. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 6.3. DWP, 2010
    20. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 9.1. DWP, 2010
    21. English Housing Survey, Household Report 2009 – 10, Table 3.6. Department for Communities and Local Government, 2011
    22. Wealth in Great Britain. Main Results from the Wealth and Assets Survey 2006/08, p.108. ONS, 2009
    23. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 8.8. DWP, 2010
    24. Family Resource Survey UK, 2008-2009, Table 4.10. Department for Work and Pensions, 2010
    25. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 3.2. DWP, 2010
    26. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 12.5. DWP, 2010
    27. Working and Workless Households, 2012, Table P. ONS Statistical Bulletin, August 2012
    28. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 16.5. DWP, 2010
    29. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 16.1. DWP, 2010
    30. Childcare and early years survey of parents 2009, p.83. NatCen/Department for Education, 2010. Research Report DFE-RR054
    31. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 15.1. DWP, 2010
    32. Family and Children Survey 2008, Table 15.4b. DWP, 2010
    33. Child Support Agency national statistics, June 2011. CMEC/DWP, 2011
    34. Parliamentary Question, Hansard 24/03/2011, col 1242W
    35. PQ response to Karen Buck, March 2011, Letter from Stephen Geraghty (CMEC), 17/3/11 Col 566W
    36. Problematic contact after separation and divorce. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2008
    37. I’m not saying it was easy…Contact problems in separated families. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2009
    38. I’m not saying it was easy…Contact problems in separated families. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2009
    39. Problematic contact after separation and divorce. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2008
    40. I’m not saying it was easy . . . Contact problems in separated families. Peacey, V., Hunt, J. Gingerbread, 2009
    41. Impact of Family Breakdown on Children’s Well-Being. Mooney, A., Oliver, C., Smith, M. Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 2009
    42. Impact of Family Breakdown on Children’s Well-Being. Mooney, A., Oliver, C., Smith, M. Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 2009
    43. Impact of Family Breakdown on Children’s Well-Being. Mooney, A., Oliver, C., Smith, M. Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 2009