Single mothers are just as likely to be in work as women who have no children, official figures show, busting preconceived myths that they are more dependent on state welfare.
More than two-thirds (67.8 per cent) of single parents – overwhelmingly women – are now in employment, up from 43.8 per cent just over 20 years ago.
By comparison, the percentage of women without children, or who have grown-up children, and have jobs sits at just one point higher (68.6 per cent).
Three out of four married or cohabiting mothers have jobs, according to the Office for National Statistics figures, published this summer to reflect the period between January and March.
Responding to the figures, Paul Gregg, a board member of the Social Mobility Commission, said single mothers had long been “demonised” by the government and media, but that the “link between long-term welfare dependency and lone parenthood has been fundamentally solved”.
Single mothers have historically been labelled “benefits scroungers” as a result of societal attitudes towards those who relied on help from state welfare.
UK news in pictures UK news in pictures
“The Conservative Party back then declared war on lone mothers and lone mothers won – with the help of social policy reforms,” said Mr Gregg.
At a 1993 Tory party conference, former secretary for social security Peter Lilley labelled such women “benefits-driven” and “undeserving”.
Incentives introduced by the Labour government, such as tax credits and increased childcare spending, followed by a move towards withdrawing benefits from those able to work, led to an increase in the number of single parents getting back into work.
“The 1980s and early 90s saw a very sharp increase in the numbers of lone parents, and with their very low employment rate contributed heavily to both the fact that one in five children was growing up in a workless household and to the huge rise in child poverty,” said Mr Gregg.
“Lone mothers were demonised by the then Conservative Party and sympathetic media and were widely seen as the major social policy problem of the day.
“Since then… tax credits [for] part-time work, supported by increasingly available childcare, [has made it] financially viable for lone mothers.
“From 2008, conditionality for mothers to actively seek work has produced a transformational change in lone mothers’ employment and workless poverty. The problem now is working poverty on low wages and low hours,” he added.