Tackle child poverty by letting mums work
London is the child poverty capital of the UK, with more poor children living in London than in Wales and Scotland combined. These numbers are driven up by a jobs market that is not working for mothers. Women with children are less likely to be employed in London than elsewhere in the country. We need to see London Mayor’s taking the lead in tackling the barriers to maternal employment so that families and the city’s economy benefit from a fair and efficient labour market.
London is a fantastic city, with fantastic opportunity, but poverty is stunting the ability of almost 4 in 10 of our children to share in this. The capital’s poverty rate is higher than any other region in the UK. That means London’s children are at greater risk of living in poor quality housing, being cold to save on fuel bills, watching parents skip meals, and not being able to afford to have friends around for tea. Poverty is often treated as a fact of life in London, but there’s nothing inevitable about this damage to the childhoods and life chances of the next generation of Londoners.
Families tell us why poverty rates are so high: London does not work for working families. The barriers of expensive childcare and transport, lack of part time work, low wages and lack of support for career progression pile on top of each other to mean that balancing work and family inevitably hits families in the pocket. This was backed up by the London Child Poverty Commission’s report of 2008 which concluded that the causes of poverty in London are ‘surprisingly simple – the employment rate among parents, in particular mothers, is much lower than elsewhere in the country driven in part by a lack of part-time jobs and flexible childcare, as well as higher housing, childcare, and living costs.’
Employment rates for women with children are 12 percentage points lower than the national average. This means 100,000 fewer mothers are in work than would be the case if the capital achieved the same parental employment rates as the rest of the country.
There are clear reasons why mothers are finding it harder to work.
- Childcare in London for under-2s is 26 per cent more expensive than the national average.
- Only 3 percent of vacancies in London are for part time roles with a full time salary of £20k or more.
- The support parents receive to help them access the job market is not always adequate. Parents in workless households say that they often don’t feel the Jobcentre Plus support they receive understands the additional barriers they face to entering the job market, including a lack of self-confidence after having been out of work for a couple of years. There is no statutory support available to potential second earners if one parent is working.
This paints a grim picture, but these are all issues that can be fixed, and the Mayor of London can lead the way. The Mayor has huge influence with employers who could be encouraged or incentivised to offer high quality part time or flexible vacancies. And the Mayor could encourage innovative solutions to make it easier for parents to access and afford childcare. The extreme inequality in London is not inevitable; it can be changed, and the change would benefit all Londoners.
This blog post was originally published on the Changing London blog