In work, better off: next steps to
YWCA is the leading charity working with the most disadvantaged young women
in England and Wales. Young women face unique problems in today’s society.
They are largely unheard and lack influence. We want a future where they can
overcome prejudice and take charge of their own lives. We run services to
support them and campaign with them to combat the discrimination they face.
YWCA welcomes the opportunity to respond to this consultation. We work with
many young lone mothers. Young mothers aged 16-24 account for 7% of all lone 1parent families. We have been campaigning for better skills and work
opportunities for disadvantaged young women as part of our campaign, ‘More
than one rung’ http://www.ywca.org.uk/morethanonerung/. This draws
attention to the fact that, despite their potential, thousands of disadvantaged
young women are trapped on the bottom rung of the career ladder.
? YWCA favours the use of carrots over sticks to increase lone parent
employment. We congratulate the Government on their success to date,
which has largely been a result of financial incentives, childcare and
flexible working policies.
? We are very concerned about proposals to reduce lone parents entitlement
to Income Support from when their youngest child is aged 12 and
eventually 7. We feel this is inappropriate and will be ineffective.
? As the majority of lone parents are women, 90%, they will overwhelmingly
be affected. This is not recognised in the document.
? We are against any proposals to sanction lone mothers, whose children
face a 50% risk of being in poverty, compared to a 23% risk for children in
two parent families. We are especially concerned about the sanctioning of
younger lone mothers who receive lower benefit rates than those over 25.
? We feel that the existing proposals are rigid and punitive. We feel that a
much better system of support lies in that available for those with a
sickness or disability.
? It is vital that lone mothers are able to enter well-paid employment.
Tackling stereotypes and making lone mothers aware of pay differentials
in different sectors should be a central commitment of the adult careers
service. Quality training, including apprenticeships, will also be essential.
? The government should make the right to request flexible working
available to parents of children of all ages.
1 Escott, K. and Buckner, L. (2006) ‘Young women’s employment: growing up poor in England and Wales’, Oxford, YWCA England & Wales
Question 1: At the moment, lone parents are entitled to Income Support until their youngest child is 16. Is it right that this age should be reduced?
YWCA congratulates the government on their success to date in supporting lone
parents into work. We feel that support through financial incentives, flexible
working policies and increased availability and affordability of childcare is the
most effective way to increase lone parent employment rates.
We are very concerned that lone parents may be forced into work through a
removal of entitlement to Income Support when their youngest child is 12 and
eventually 7. We feel that this would be both inappropriate and ineffective.
Firstly, the value of lone parent’s caring responsibilities has to be recognized. In
some cases caring responsibilities can increase as children get older and enter
youth. We are also concerned that childcare services for older children are 2 sparse.
Secondly, increasing the caseload of advisors could result in decreasing the
overall effectiveness of the programme by increasing time pressures on them. It
could also hamper the personal advisor-client relationship, which is often
positively referred to by lone mothers. Trials of a Jobseekers Allowance (JSA)
type regime for lone parents, whereby attendance at the Jobcentre every two
weeks and engagement in work search was rewarded by a ?20 ‘work search
premium’ resulted in scepticism: “The conditionality associated with WSP [Work
Search Premium] is viewed as a deterrent for many lone parents and an 3administrative burden by advisers.”
Thirdly, we feel that the differing approach to lone mothers, partners of the
unemployed and second earners serves to stigmatise lone mothers. Second
earners and partners of the unemployed do not face the same pressures to enter
work. This disparity is unfair and labelling.
It is also unfair to expect lone mothers to enter work when childcare is lacking,
when they are not better off in work and when jobs with flexible working
arrangements are not available. We appreciate that the Government has done a
lot to make progress in these areas but we are still aware of problems on the
These proposals will overwhelmingly affect women as over 90% of lone parents
are mothers. This is not recognised in the report, which is very gender neutral.
The only reference to women is in reference to increasing the employment rates
of Bangladeshi and Pakistani women.
Question 2: What would the minimum age be?
We feel that a lone parent should not be expected to enter work until they are in
a position to do so. This means ensuring that their needs are met. Despite the
government’s recent efforts, a lack of flexible working opportunities, low pay and
a lack of quality, affordable childcare, especially for older children, remain
barriers to lone mothers employment. In light of this we believe it is right to
stick to the existing arrangement whereby lone mothers can remain on income
support until their youngest is aged 16.
2 Haux T (2007) Lone parents with older children and welfare reform – CASP Working Paper CASP, University of Bath, available at: http://www.bath.ac.uk/casp/assets/LoneParentst.pdf 3 Hosain M and Breen E (2007) New Deal Plus for Lone Parents Qualitative Evaluation Department for Work and Pensions research report no. 426 CDS.
Question 3: Should we do more to ensure that our support for lone parents is
accessible and useful for all groups, in particular those with disabled children and
those from certain disadvantaged groups and areas?
Particular issues around accessibility may include language difficulties, transport
and literacy problems, especially for the most disadvantaged. Evidence suggests
that outreach work, going out to where lone parents are in the community, via
children’s centers, schools and voluntary and community organisations can be
effective in engaging lone parents. It may be helpful to consult lone mothers on
the barriers they face in accessing services and how useful they find information.
Engaging them in this way could also serve to build relationships locally.
Question 4: More frequent Work Focused Interviews are currently offered to
lone parents in the two years before their eligibility to Income Support is lost. As
the age of the youngest child is reduced, should other forms of support be
provided, and over what period prior to loss of eligibility?
YWCA is very concerned about the effect of moving lone mothers onto Jobseekers
Allowance. While lone parents must currently attend the Jobcentre for a Work
Focused Interview twice a year, and quarterly from when their youngest child is
twelve, JSA claimants must attend interviews fortnightly. While lone parents can
be sanctioned for failure to attend, losing twenty per cent of their benefit, JSA
claimants can lose their entire benefit for failure to attend, failure to carry out a
Jobseeker’s Direction, for failing to avail themselves of employment, and for
voluntarily leaving employment in the first place. This could put lone mothers and
their children at an even greater risk of poverty and would fail DWP’s child
poverty proof test. We are particularly concerned about the effect this could have
on younger lone mothers who receive lower benefit rates than older mothers and 4 who are 3 times more likely to be poor than mothers in their 30’s.
We feel that the suggested arrangements are too rigid, with support only being
available after a set time period. For example, it seems that the skills check and
access to the adult careers service and training are only available from the
Gateway stage i.e. once a lone mother has been on Jobseekers Allowance for 6
months. We feel greater flexibility is needed to enable lone mothers to access this
support when they are ready to, without placing other work-related requirements
on them that form part of the Gateway stage. In particular, access to the careers
service may help a lone mother to explore the options open to her under less
time pressure, and thereby help her find a job she is more likely to stick with. We
are concerned that existing proposals suggest that lone mothers will have to limit
their job search to focus on wage, travel to work and hours rather than
employment preference, after just 3 months of being on JSA.
Question 5: For lone parents who move onto Jobseeker’s Allowance when they
lose Income Support eligibility, what forms of support (in addition to those
provided to Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants who are not lone parents) should be
available, and over what timescale?
We feel that a much better system of support into employment lies in that
available for those with a sickness or disability. This would mean that:
? Rather than being asked to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, new lone parent
benefit claimants would claim Income Support but be asked to complete a
work focused interview at 8 weeks whereby any conditions making it
difficult to engage in employment (bereavement, disability issues,
domestic violence) would be assessed. These parents would be asked to
4 Mayhew, E. and Bradshaw, J. (2005) Mothers, babies and the risks of poverty. Poverty, 121, 13-16
return for a further interview after six months to assess whether these
constraints still exist.
? After three months lone parents would be automatically caseloaded onto
the New Deal for Lone Parents, and, asked to attend monthly Work
Focused Interviews and undertake work related activity.
? After six months of NDLP participation (nine months of claim), parents
would be referred to a specialist provider who would have greater flexibility
around work related activity.
? All lone parents returning to work would gain access to the In Work Credit.
The good practice we have developed through delivering Entry to Employment
also outlines the kinds of support disadvantaged young women need. (see qu 8)
Looking at the characteristics of lone mothers with older children says a lot about
the additional types of support they might need. Access to skills and training is
essential. Lone parents whose youngest child is aged 11 are four times more
likely to have no qualifications (40 per cent of those on Income Support) and yet
there is an under spend in the NDLP training budget. This is disappointing. While
‘In work better off’ mentions that those who are in need of skills will be able to
access training we want to know what type of training will be available to them
and at what level. We feel that it is important that training to level 3 is available
to lone mothers, as this is where an increase in wages can be identified. We also
feel that lone mothers should be able to access training earlier on in their claim,
rather than having to wait for 6 months until they have entered the Gateway
Enabling lone mothers access to an apprenticeship will also be important.
Evidence suggests that those who do apprenticeships are then more likely to own 5 and their own home, be in a managerial position and run their own businesswage returns can be substantial, especially for those entering male-dominated 6sectors. We hope that the jobs pledge will be used to try and extend apprenticeship as well as work places for the most disadvantaged.
Question 6: Jobseeker‘s Allowance recipients can, in certain circumstances,
restrict their search for work to a minimum of 16 hours per week. Should
additional flexibilities be available if the proposed changes are made?
Qualitative evidence suggests that lone parents are keen to access jobs of shorter
hours when returning to employment. A recent report by Bell, Brewer and Phillips
found that mini-jobs of under 16 hours could be helpful in enabling the
Government to meet its targets but that changes in the tax credit and benefit 7system would be necessary to reduce the existing financial disincentives. These
types of job could enable lone mothers to better juggle work and family life.
However, we are concerned about the quality of mini-jobs. The evidence suggests
that they are generally low skilled and less stable than both longer hours part-8time jobs and full-time employment. They are also likely to be lower paid. Our
research has shown that a young woman aged 20 to 29 working part time earns
on average ?3.03 less an hour than her male full-time working counterpart,
5 Perez-del-Aguila, Rossana, Helen Monteiro and Maria Hughes (2006) Career Paths of Former Apprentices, Learning and Skills Development Agency 6 McIntosh, S. (2007) ‘A cost benefit analysis of apprenticeships and other vocational qualifications’ DfES research report RR834 available at http://www.dfes.gov.uk/research/data/uploadfiles/RR834.pdf 7 Bell, K.; Brewer, M and Phillips, D (2007) ‘Lone Parents and ‘mini-jobs’’, York, Joseph Rowntree Foundation 8 Ibid.
9 We feel that the quality of these jobs resulting in a large hourly gender pay gap.must be improved if they are to be a desirable option for lone mothers.
Question 7: What form might a ‘better off in work’ assurance for lone parents
This would outline the cash benefits of work, the available training opportunities and opportunities to progress in employment. It might also include the minimum
lone mothers can expect from a job in terms of holiday entitlement, flexible
working arrangements and pension schemes and the possibility of joining a union.
This would help to reinforce work rights and limit exploitation. We feel that the right to work flexibly will be particularly important for lone mothers making it
timely for the government to extend the right to request flexible working to
parents of older children.
It is unclear from the document whether those who are not assured they will be
better off in work will be required to enter employment. We hope that those who
are not assured will not be expected to engage in work.
Question 8: In addition to the improvements in childcare provision and the right
to request flexible working, is there further support that should be provided to
help lone parents into work and support them whilst there?
YWCA supports young women into work and training through Entry to
Employment. Our experience of working with disadvantaged young women tells
us that the following are important for successful transitions:
? Holistic and tailored support to meet individual needs
? Tackling gender stereotypes about work
? Sufficient financial support
? Women only spaces
? A welcoming and respectful environment
? Trained and supportive staff
We have produced a good practice guide, which we enclose for your consideration.
We have found that a woman-only setting offers a safe space for young women to
explore their needs for the future. We have also found that visits to local college construction sites and getting young women to explore pay differentials in
different sectors and opportunities for progression, can help them make informed
decisions that they are more likely to stick with.
Holistic support where young women can receive advice on a range of issues is
important. This can help retain them in employment as personal issues may be
resolved when they arise. We also try to cushion the transition into work or
college as much as possible. For example, by introducing young women to a
mentor or support officer before they start work or college.
Support needs to continue once a young woman enters work. This would ideally
be delivered from someone inside and outside of the work place. Equipping lone
mothers with the skills to deal with problems in work and training to boost self-
esteem will also be important, as will access to funds for new work clothes to help increase the confidence of the young woman.
The Local Employment Partnerships will provide a useful fora to share best
practice on supporting disadvantaged groups in work, such as that from the
9 Escott, K. and Buckner, L. (2006) ‘Young women’s employment: growing up poor in England and Wales’, Oxford, YWCA England & Wales
Marks and Starts programme. Ensuring that employers offer flexible working
hours, that they are prepared to train staff and that they understand the needs of
lone mothers will be essential.
Question 9: What more could we do to help working families – especially those
from the most disadvantaged backgrounds – improve their earnings and lift
themselves out of poverty?
We are concerned about the low pay received by many young women, lone
mothers included. The gender pay gap, in part-time work, is of particular concern.
Tackling this will be important to ensure that mothers are able to access work
that will lift them out of poverty. We also feel that younger women without
children would be better able to lift themselves out of poverty if they could access
Working Tax Credit, and if their entitlement to the National Minimum Wage was
increased to align it with the adult rate.
It is also important to tackle stereotypes in work so that women are able to enter
better-paid work in the male dominated sectors. For example, the average hourly
wage for sales assistants and retail cashiers, three quarters of whom are female,
is ?5.44. This compares to ?7.03 per hour for elementary goods storage 10 An opportunity to do occupations, where over 80 per cent of workers are male.this lies in the new adult careers service. We hope that tackling stereotypes is a
central commitment of the service and that guidance and standards produced
reflect this. Given that young women are more likely to consider non-traditional work when they are a bit older and have developed more confidence, there is a
unique opportunity here for the service to make a difference to gender
segregation in work.
Covering the costs of free school meals for those in low paid employment would
also help. The loss of this entitlement when a person comes off Income Support
can be a disincentive to entering work for parents. Helping with transport costs
and addressing financial disincentives that exist as a result of Housing Benefit
rules could also make a difference. Some of the young women we work with have
identified transport costs as a particular barrier to work, especially when there is
a lack of work in the locality.
Question 10: What more could we do to help ethnic minority women, particularly of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, overcome specific barriers they
YWCA works with a significant number of BME young women. Our experience of
working with Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, tells us that cultural
responsibilities such as caring for an extended family, looking after the household
and religious activities can put limits on young women’s time. A concern that young women will form relationships at work can also result in their families being
anxious about them entering employment. Government initiatives will need to be
very sensitive to this. Our work with Bangladeshi and Pakistani young women in
Doncaster tells us that the following are important:
? Safe women-only space. The young women we work with tell us they feel
more comfortable to talk about their lives, express their views and to try new
things when there aren’t any young men around. Some girls will not attend
youth groups where men go because it is not appropriate for cultural or
religious reasons. ? Materials in the right languages and translators if necessary.
10 Women and Work Commission (2006) ‘Shaping a Fairer Future’ available at http://www.womenandequalityunit.gov.uk/publications/ wwc_shaping_fairer_future06.pdf
? Gaining the trust and respect of community elders. This leads to young
women from their communities being allowed to attend groups and courses
? Money to pay for public transport, refreshments, and an on-site crèche. Some
young women do not have their own money for this.
Discrimination from employers will also be an important area to tackle, as 11 This will involve suggested by research by the Equal Opportunities Commission.tackling discrimination on grounds of gender as well as race. We are concerned
that many young women tell us that they have been sacked or refused a job
when they have become pregnant.
Question 11: In exchange for more specialist support, are we right to ask more
of those who have been unemployed and receiving benefit the longest?
This depends on the reason for a young woman not being in work. If it is that she
cannot find suitable childcare, flexible working arrangements, or good enough
wage returns then it may not be appropriate to place more demands on her. Also,
in cases of domestic violence, bereavement and disability. It will be very
important that advisers are able to effectively identify the barriers to work for
lone parents. In the case of domestic violence, this will require careful training for 12staff, as have been applied in the US.
There is also a danger that this kind of treatment will be ineffective if it results in
young women being pushed into inappropriate work, resulting in more ‘cycling’
between jobs. The correct matching of lone mothers with jobs will be key to
Question 12: Should there be any exceptions to this approach of increased
conditionality and increased support?
We feel the suggested approach of moving lone mothers onto JSA will result in
more conditionality and less support. The cases we have outlined above are those
we are particularly concerned about. These should definitely not be subject to this
Question 13: Is a structured, progressive regime of support and conditionality
at fixed intervals the right approach?
We work with young women in a personal way that fits their individual needs.
We are concerned that a more rigid scheme, as suggested, is unresponsive to
needs and may be deemed as punitive, making it ineffective. For example, some
lone mothers will need to access training and a skills health check sooner than
the Gateway period. They may also benefit from access to the specialist support
offered after 12 months, sooner. If this is not available it may result in lone
mothers staying on benefit for longer so that they can access the support they
feel is right for them. This is a flaw in the design.
Question 14: Should some people be enabled or required to enter the Gateway
stage more quickly than others, taking account of their employment history or
needs? Which groups should be ‘fast-tracked’?
11 Equal Opportunities Commission (2007) ‘Moving on up? The way forward. Report of the EOC’s investigation into Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Black Caribbean women and work available at http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/Documents/Race/Employment/bme_final_report2007.pdf 12 Lloyd, S. (1998) ‘The effects of domestic violence on women’s employment’, Law and Policy, 19, 139-168
Enabling lone mothers to access the support offered in the Gateway stage earlier on, i.e. the skills health check and appropriate training, would be sensible, particularly for those with low qualifications. Otherwise they will waste 3 months looking for a job and subsequently have their work search narrowed, when they could have in fact gone straight into a course. This also risks pushing lone mothers into jobs which are below their potential skill level, and which could result in them becoming trapped into low skilled work. We feel it would be better to empower young women by giving them quality skills which enable them to enter quality jobs. Again, we would be very concerned if lone mothers were sanctioned for failure to comply.
Question 15: Should we require a period of work experience from those who do
not succeed in getting work after benefiting from a more intensive level of help from specialist providers? How can we best ensure that this work experience is beneficial?
A period of work experience could be beneficial if it is a positive experience, if it raises self-esteem, is inspiring and shows a young woman the array of opportunities available in the organisation. It will also be important that a young woman feels that the work experience is relevant to them, that they have had some say in the type of placement and organisation. A number of young women have told us they were given a choice between hairdressing and childcare as work experience options in school, which simply serves to narrow aspirations and reinforce gender stereotypes. Recruiting a range of employers to this type of activity through the Jobs Pledge will be vital. Providing short bursts of work experience in different sectors, traditionally male and female, would also be helpful to move towards some of the aspirations of the Women and Work Commission.
It will also be important that a mother has the option to take part in work experience flexibly. The suggestion in the consultation document that they will required to take part in a period of full-time work experience is concerning. We would also want to know how long this would be for and what pay would be received. If it was for too extended a period of time and was simply in exchange for benefits it could be deemed as exploitative which could result in it being a negative experience and therefore counter-productive.
YWCA England & Wales
Director, Policy, Research and Campaigns
YWCA England & Wales
52 Cornmarket Street
Phone 01865 304213