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London's one-parent families

6 May 2005

Lone parents in London are less likely to be in paid work than those living elsewhere in Britain. New research by Stephen McKay in the School of Geographical Sciences investigates why.

There are 1.75 million one-parent families in Britain, one-quarter of all families, caring for 3 million children.  Lone parents still face poverty, stigma and isolation with 52 per cent of children in one-parent families classified as ‘poor’.  

London has the highest proportion of lone parent households on Income Support (IS) in Britain.  Around 29 per cent of IS claimants in London are lone parents.  In May 2002, it was estimated that almost two-thirds (65.1 per cent) of lone parent households in London were reliant on IS.

The study carried out by researchers at Bristol University investigated the differences in the characteristics of lone parents living in London compared to those living elsewhere, the different patterns of work of lone parents with paid jobs (including their weekly working hours and their occupations and industries), and the extent to which the employment differences between lone mothers in London compared to elsewhere may be explained by differences in their individual characteristics.  It also asked what light could be shed on some of the various explanations for lower rates of employment in London.

More than half the lone mothers living in inner London were local authority tenants, well above the national average of around one third.  Lone mothers in London were less likely than those living elsewhere to be receiving any maintenance, though those who did received more than average.  Lone mothers who receive maintenance or own their own homes (including with mortgages) are among the most likely to work, and each group was less common in London than elsewhere. 

Whilst 94 per cent of lone mothers outside London described themselves as being ‘white’, this was only true of around two-thirds (64 per cent) in outer London, and well under half (41 per cent) in inner London.  About as many lone mothers living in inner London described themselves as ‘Black or Black British’ (40 per cent) as said they were white.  However, it was among white lone mothers that the effect of living in London on lower rates of work appeared strong. 

Lone mothers in London typically work full-time, not part-time

Among working lone mothers in the UK, there has been shift from ‘traditional’ full-time working hours (35-40 hours) towards rather shorter hours (16-29 hours).  In the Labour Force Surveys of 2001-02, over one quarter (27 per cent) of working lone mothers were in paid work for between 16 and 23 hours each week.  This compares with just ten per cent a decade earlier.  Lone mothers living in London typically work full-time, not part-time.

There was an important link between the proportion of married mothers who are in paid work in a given region, and the proportion of lone mothers who work.  The rates of working among married mothers with dependent children are by far the lowest in inner London and below the UK average in outer London.  Areas with above-average rates of lone mother employment also have higher than average employment rates among married mothers.

The growth of part time work among lone mothers seems to have taken place across Britain but not in London.  The net effect over time has been that London’s lone mothers are now less likely to work than those in other regions.  In 1991 London had fairly average rates of paid work among lone mothers but by 2001/2 they were relatively low, and particularly so for inner London.

There are a number of quite clear-cut reasons for this difference.  More lone mothers in London have no work experience, and more of them say they are full-time students.  There are also some strong compositional differences related to lower propensities to be in paid work - more of London’s lone parents live in social rented properties, are not previously married, and are not receiving maintenance.  Lone mothers in London are much more ethnically diverse than in the rest of the UK, but the effect on rates of paid employment of this difference is not strong.

Stephen McKay/Personal Finance Research Centre

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