Flexible jobs shortage could hamper government single parent work plans

Government plans to get more single parents back into work could be thrown into jeopardy due to a lack of flexible working arrangements, according to new research.

The Changing the Workplace report of more than 500 lone parents by charity Gingerbread revealed that “family friendly” jobs are considered too rare. Many single parents had seen no or few roles advertised at part-time, within schools hours, as a job share or flexible in some other way.

The Government announced in its emergency Budget that it will require a further 100,000 single parents to seek work in 2011 when their youngest child reaches five, rather than the current age of 10. In October, 120,000 single parents whose youngest child is aged seven will be required to look for work.

Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir said that recent policy changes had focused on pressurising single parents to seek work or risk benefit cuts. “That isn’t what is needed,” she said. “Nationally, nearly 60% of single parents are already in work and most of those on benefits say they want a job. A workplace that works better for single parents is the missing part of the jigsaw. Without action from government and employers many single parents will remain trapped in poverty.”

The charity, which works for and with single parent families, called on employers and the coalition Government to do more to bolster flexible working practices within firms.

Employer recommendations include offering workers a set number of paid days per year for caring for dependents; providing training on managing flexible working to all managers; and offering jobs of 16 hours a week so that parents can claim working tax credit.

The charity is also called on the Government to implement its plans to enable all employees to apply for flexible working before it requires single parents to work once their youngest child is aged five. All jobs in the public sector should be offered on a part-time or flexible basis unless there is a clear business case not to, it recommends.

And a new right to paid parental leave to help parents deal with time off when children are ill should be introduced.

A Department for Business spokesman said all parents with a child aged under six have had the right to request flexible working since April 2003.

He added: “The Government wants to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees and will shortly be consulting on how best to do this. In addition to the statutory route, the Government is also looking at ways of encouraging and supporting employers to offer more flexible working opportunities.

“The public sector needs to be seen as an exemplar in flexible working practice and we are taking forward work across government to explore how we can enhance good practice in this area.”

Read our article on the Government’s plans on extending flexible working rights, including FAQs on flexible working.

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