From September 2016 to August 2018 InterMedia, together with partners from Ireland, Scotland, Czech Republic and Germany worked on the Erasmus + project Achieving work-family balance for single parents.
Our first priority was to ensure the development and dissemination of new learning products and opportunities in the field of adult education, with particular emphasis on single parents and employers. The second horizontal priority is in line with our project objective to facilitate single parents to increase and maintain their skills and employability and remove some of the existing barriers to free movement of single parents within the labour market. Finally the project’s underlying objective is to improve the competences of the target groups across the lifespan using a lifelong learning perspective.
Description of the Project
The project was created in response to the European-wide growing need to integrate single parents into the job market more effectively, lowering the risk of poverty in single parent households and allowing this target group to unlock its full potential in contributing to the European workforce in the 21st century.
The number of single parents in Europe continues to increase steadily. In many European countries, 1/5 to 1/4 children are raised by SP. Across Europe, 10% of all family households are headed by single parents (SP); in some countries (UK) it is up to 19% of all family households. SP face many issues in today’s Europe. The most important problem of SP is poverty: the risk of living in poverty is almost threefold for one-parent families than for couples families (32% vs. 12%, EP report on situation of single mothers, 2011).
Increased risk of poverty is caused by lower employment of single mothers (84.1% vs. 90.6% of mothers with partners, Labour Force Survey 2010 as in Ruggeri & Bird, 2014), lower involvement in professional or highly skilled careers (especially at single mothers with part-time jobs). Young single mothers (<30) with very young children are especially at risk. Even in countries where employment of single mothers is higher than employment of mothers with partner (Czech Republic), their unemployment rate is higher as well.
Single parents often experience in-work poverty. The necessity to balance employment with parenting and the covert discrimination they face at the labour market leads them to seek less qualified, lower paying jobs that enable odd working hours compatible with childcare and/or shared parenting provisions (also known as precarious employment). A UK research shows that even though long-term employment reduces the risk of poverty of single mothers significantly (from 37 to 18% in 3 years), they go on to experience unemployment within 1 year of starting a job more often. They also enter lower skilled and low paid occupations with less opportunities for progression and career development more often: 68% of them work in unskilled, elementary jobs, sales or customer service jobs, or in personal service occupations. Parental poverty and stress have significant detrimental effect on their children’s well-being and long-term outcomes.
The picture of single parenthood is very complex and diverse. This can be attributed to significant changes in family life in the last decades. In all countries, the number of couples families is decreasing. While the majority of single parents are divorced, non-marital births are on the increase (37% in the whole EU, almost 50% in the Czech Republic). Moreover, many SP live in excluded areas, with difficult access to jobs and education.
Previous projects of all partners have focused on helping single parents to progress to paid employment. We have however consistently seen the need to help single parents not only to find a sustainable employment and a living wage, but also to support them to keep this employment. So far, only short-term contact supports (counselling, meetings) were available to single parents in the partners’ countries. In most of them, they were focused on single parents only and didn’t target their employers. Experiences from Germany show, however, that it is possible to offer support to employers to help the single parents they employ.
Employers often don’t know that single parents, in spite of their seemingly impaired work flexibility, can be very loyal and resourceful employees. The obstacles they face help them to grow and they develop many transversal skills of personal efficiency that are applicable in the workplace. Many employers have already discovered this; others want to support single mothers as part of their CSR policy.
What is sorely needed are easily accessible learning tools for both employers (HR specialists, small business owners etc.) and single parents to help them to work more efficiently together and help achieve the considerable potential of single parents.
We identified the following learning needs of single parents: learn about in-work financial support to make work pay; learn their legal rights and obligations towards the employers; learn about available flexible working arrangements and how to negotiate about them; learn to manage home and work life; learn how to ask for help; learn how to overcome gender stereotypes and other types of discrimination in the labour market.
Experience of working with employers shows the following needs: recognize the benefits of employing single parents; learn about how to introduce and work with flexible working arrangements and other measures supporting work-life combination for single parents; learn how to provide individualized support to single parents; learn how to work with employees who share parenting.
For Italian single parents and employers, we prepared Country Specific information that will provide helpful information and data for supporting stronger families and organizations. See: http://google.com