Lone parent employment is at a record high, but should we be celebrating?

Yuliana Topazly says getting more single parents into work isn’t the real issue – it’s supporting them afterwards

The government recently published statistics that revealed the number of lone parents in employment had reached a record high. Of course, it is great to see more single parents in work, who are able to support themselves and their families and become financially stable. Also to be welcomed is the recent introduction of 30 hours’ free childcare for three and four-year-olds, which should help more parents get back to work.

However, from the work we’ve done with parents for the last five years, I have come to realise that being able to obtain work is very different to being able to stay in work or striking the right work-life balance. I have found the inability to balance work and life to be a great challenge, particularly for single parents.

According to the 2016 Working Families Index, working parents are increasingly burning out from the toll of family and work obligations. Nearly a third (29 per cent) of parents said they felt burnt out often or all the time, with many taking annual or sick leave to cope. Family life is a priority for most parents, but work consistently impinges – two in five (40 per cent) reported work-related stress prevented them from helping children with homework or putting them to bed.

The accumulation of work-related stress and the pressures of home place significant pressure on families and, subsequently, employers, which then leads to an increase in staff tiredness and absence. 

This is an even bigger problem for lone parents. When the issues of mental health are combined with other issues, such as being a migrant worker (which many single parents now are), the problems snowball. The story of Vanessa, one of the parents we have worked with, is illustrative of the issues facing many lone parents:

“When I was looking for work, finding the right employer from the perspective of flexible working was my biggest concern, because I had to make sure I was able to get to my daughter when it was needed. Unfortunately, it is even harder to be a lone parent and a migrant in my case; I do not have a family around to support me and have to rely on friends if anything urgent happens. I feel very guilty if I need to leave work because my daughter is sick, and for not being able to support my daughter as much as I could when I go to work. It is a closed circle… companies that understand the needs of working parents and offer the right support will get the best loyalty from them.”

Given this hornet’s nest of issues, the government needs to take a more holistic approach to the problem and work not only with parents and local authorities but also with employers to make sure the best employment practices, especially around flexible-working arrangements, are implemented across all sectors and sizes of organisation. Companies that adopt innovative flexible-working policies, and offer working parents buddy schemes and access to resources, can make a real difference. That is one of the biggest reasons I set up BuddyWith – for organisations and parents to get the right support.

Yuliana Topazly is the founder of BuddyWith, a supportive community of parents and experts who help each other by offering advice and sharing experiences