Lone Parent Obligations

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Lone parents and their children have historically experienced worse health and social outcomes than people in two parent families. Studies show that much of this difference is caused by high rates of poverty. Due to childcare and other issues, it is often difficult for lone parents to work, particularly in full-time well-paid jobs. This has meant that lone parents on average have lower incomes than two parent families, and are more likely to be dependent on social security benefits

Governments in other countries have tried to address this issue by introducing policies that require lone parents on benefits to work or to actively seek work, in the hope that this would help to increase their income. How these policies affects lone parent families’ health is not entirely certain, but the evidence from other countries suggests that any effects on health are likely to be very small. There is more certain evidence that the effects on income and employment are small, and that many lone parents remain poor even if they are working.

The UK government changed the rules about benefits for lone parents in 2008. Lone parents of children aged 12 or older were required to prove they were looking for work. This age has been reduced several times since then, and lone parents of children aged three and over are now subject to work requirements. Lone parents’ benefits may also be stopped if they are not seen to be trying hard enough to find work. This policy is known as Lone Parent Obligations (LPO).

There was no evidence from large studies in the UK about how these changes might be affecting lone parents’ health, and we thought it was important to try to find out if there were any effects on health. We used data from a large UK survey called Understanding Society to do this. By comparing lone parents of children of different ages, we were able to find out whether any changes in health for lone parents affected by LPO were larger than changes for lone parents who had been affected by LPO for a long time, or than changes for lone parents not yet affected by LPO. The Lone Parent Obligation - Statistical analysis protocol can be read here.

This analysis suggested that LPO may have had small negative effects on lone parents’ mental health. We cannot be certain of these findings because they were not very many lone parents in our study, and they had not been affected by LPO for very long. We plan to seek funding for further analysis of these data, which will allow us to assess the effect of the drop in child age to three, and the longer-term effects of LPO.

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