Parenthood and Poverty: What Works?

Parenthood and Poverty: What Works?

Tavistock Institute and JRF launch the second briefing in the series on family poverty and relationships.

Tavistock Institute and JRF launch the second briefing in the series on family poverty and relationships.

After having a baby, most parents know how family finances can come under strain and how difficult it can be balancing work and childcare. But for families on low incomes or in poverty these pressures are more acute – especially as families with children are the largest group in poverty in the UK [1]. A new briefing on parenthood and poverty has been launched today (29.06.15) by the Tavistock Institute supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. This is the second in a series on family poverty aimed at policy-makers and practitioners.

When a new baby is born household income drops as one or both parents reduce their time in paid work to care for their child. Current UK policy encourages mothers to be the main child-carers and fathers to be the main earners. However this traditional model of single earner households increases risks of poverty, especially for women caring for children who are also more likely to be in part-time and low-paid work because of childcare responsibilities. It also puts pressure on relationships, as couples adopt more traditional gender roles after having children which increases couple conflict. Father’s choices are also restricted as policies do not realistically allow them to combine paid work and care for their children.

Having a duel earner household – with two earners and two carers – is a route out poverty for families but choices are hampered by unequal paternity and maternity leave. If this were equal it would improve choices for parents and weaken the traditional emphasis of mother as carer and father as earner which is at the heart of family and female poverty risks.

With equal parental leave, mothers could then take up or increase their employment which reduces their risk of poverty as well as maintaining vital work skills by not having to leave employment for lengthy periods. There are also long-term benefits in reducing gender discrimination and the gender pay gap in workplaces. Fathers would also be able to be more involved in childcare which improves outcomes for children, and in the event of a relationship breakdown, they are more likely to remain involved in supporting their children both financially and practically, again reducing poverty risks.

However, Shared Parental Leave introduced on 5th April 2015 is unlikely to have any impact on poverty, parent’s choices or gender equality. Evidence shows that fathers only take up leave if it is non-transferable with part of the leave reserved specifically for them, and paid at a high proportion of previous earnings. UK parental leave is the lowest amount in Europe and below the poverty line, and given that men generally earn more than women, most families cannot afford fathers to take up parental leave unless it is well-paid.

Employment is a route out of poverty but this is not feasible for parents unless there is affordable and good quality childcare available that allows mothers to work. Childcare in the UK is currently the most expensive in Europe. Without affordable childcare, parents – usually mothers – have to leave or reduce their employment to care for children which increases their risk of poverty.

However employment for families in poverty or on low incomes is typically low-paid and insecure. Supplementing low-wages with in-work benefits and tax credits is critical to reduce family poverty risks. But the work allowance for universal credit needs to be raised to make work pay and so more can be earned before benefits are withdrawn. More intensive and ongoing training and support is also needed to overcome long-term poverty risks by supporting people’s progress into stable work and higher wages.

Read the policy briefing on Parenthood and Poverty.

Watch the Animation on the Lifecycle of Poverty & Relationships

To play at full screen – click the icon at the right of player.

Look out for the next policy briefing in the series by following us on Twitter or subscribing to our ‘Personal Relationships and Poverty’ mailing list here.

Project Lead: Laura Stock
[1] DWP (2014a) Households Below Average Income: An analysis of the income distribution 1994/5–2012/13  London: DWP

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