What is the situation of single-parent families across the EU? What are different countries doing to support these families and help them stay in the labour market? A recent seminar organised within the framework of the European Alliance for Families, during this 2010 European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion, examined these issues. The seminar, entitled ‘Supporting Lone Parents: How to Best Integrate Them into the Labour Market?’ was held in Brussels on 2 June 2010 and gathered representatives of the European Commission, EU Member States, and NGOs.
The first part of the seminar was devoted to an overview of the phenomenon of lone parenthood in Europe and a European Commission study titled ‘Poverty and Social Exclusion among lone-parent households’.
“There is an increasing number of single-parent households across the Union, and they are more vulnerable than other types of families”, stressed Marie-Anne Paraskevas, from European Commission’s DG Employment.
The study revealed that almost 20% of European children live in single-parent households and that their poverty risk is almost twice as high as the average poverty risk for all children (34% against 19%). Referring to the reasons behind lone parenthood, Ms Paraskevas pointed out that in Mediterranean countries most lone-parents families result from widowhood, while elsewhere in the EU the main cause is divorce or separation.
Ms Paraskevas also stressed that a great majority of single parents are women who find it difficult to keep their place in the labour market and remain independent from welfare payments. Lone mothers often face a choice between employment and home childcare as result of lack of available childcare services. In response, support policies need to be targeted at lone parents and their children, through financial assistance, social services and through a better integration into the labour market, she said.
In addition, three very different systems of supporting lone parents were presented. Jane Hall, from the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions, stressed that the UK is one of EU Member States with a largest proportion of single parents, and that over half of them are unemployed. She further explained that the UK government is dealing with the issue through measures such as tailored advice and tax credits, as well as through a voluntary government programme designed to encourage single parents to find employment.
Monique Kuunders, from the Netherlands Youth Institute, said that although Dutch single mothers work more than they used to, they work longer hours and struggle to find childcare options. The single parents who receive government support are required to work or actively look for work. The early 2009, the legislation was softened, while encouraging parents to enrol in training.
Phillipe Steck, from the French National Family Fund, talked about the dedicated benefit for lone parents in France and a recently strengthened welfare to work scheme that aims to impose tighter controls on this kind of benefit, which is subject to a higher fraud than other allowances.
The presentations were followed by a discussion during which other representatives talked about the situation of single parents in their countries. Some of the measures put in place to support single parents included a generous universal allowance in Ireland and single-parent programmes offering education and job advice in Denmark. Other countries (Romania, Cyprus) are set to adopt benefits targeted at single parents but there are no specific measures available in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Latvia and Austria.