Single parents could be forced back into work more than 10 years earlier than at present under new plans being drawn up by the government.
Former investment banker David Freud has been asked to look into measures to bring more lone parents into employment as part of his Downing Street-backed welfare review.
Currently, the UK allows single mums and dads to collect welfare benefits without attending job interviews until their children are 16.
But the Department for Work and Pensions is looking at European and Australian systems, where parents with children as young as three have to look for work.
John Hutton, secretary of state for work and pensions, said: “If we are to eradicate child poverty, then I believe we will need to go further in challenging existing assumptions about what point someone should be in work.”
At 57%, the UK has one of the highest proportions of families headed by a lone parent in Europe. It also has one of the lowest lone-parent employment rates of any major European country.
The government aims to have a childcare place available to all children aged between three and 14, from 8am to 6pm each weekday, from 2010.
“As we develop wrap-around childcare and improve the support available, so we should be prepared to look again at the way we help lone parents get ready for a return to the labour market,” said Hutton.