Fair Start Scotland – a fair start for all?
A response from OPFS on published statistics for the first six months of Fair Start Scotland.
Scotland’s new devolved employment service, Fair Start Scotland, has helped almost 5,000 people move towards employment since it began earlier this year. The latest research by Scottish Government provides statistics for the first six months of the programme. However, Scotland’s national organisation for single parents says the new scheme doesn’t track single parent outcomes in Fair Start – participation in which is an important route out of poverty. One Parent Families Scotland also point out this is a gender issue as 93% of single parents are women.
The reason this is important is because children in single parent families are a key group in the Scottish Government’s Child Poverty Action Plan to reduce child poverty and to achieve this, their parents need the training, further education and work experience to move into well paid, decent work. This is an urgent priority. Almost 50% of children in Scotland living in single parent households are in poverty but even worse it’s predicted that will increase to 62% by 2021.
Although 68% of single parents are in paid work, the majority enter the three lowest paid occupational groups and are more likely to be stuck there. This is reinforced by the shortage of appropriate, affordable, flexible childcare; the lack of family friendly flexible working within those occupations, and particularly at the lower levels of pay. The increase in shift work and zero hours contracts, which require parents to be available as and when required, means reconciling home and work life for single parents is often an impossible juggling act. Single Parents can’t ‘shift parent’ in the way couple families can, one person dropping off, the other picking up.
OPFS Director, Satwat Rehman, said:
“We welcome the positive start that Fair Start Scotland has made. We are concerned however that government are unable to say how many single parents have been helped to gain employment through this programme. We would like to see the impact of Fair Start on the drivers of poverty and how we support single parents. Are they accessing it? Is it appropriate? To personalise and tailor employment services, we need to know who is and isn’t benefiting and the reasons for that and how we address those reasons. In order to know that we need to have the data and we need to be able to do some of that number crunching as well as looking at the quality of the experience of individuals.
The lack of jobs that offer flexible working can mean single parents get stuck in part-time work, which is often low-paid, and makes it difficult to balance work and family life. With access to good quality and accessible childcare over a third of single mothers would work more hours. Collectively we need to look at how we use social security powers, wider powers across government including employability and mainstream services to work together to tackle child poverty. Reducing costs, increasing income, support to overcome barriers whilst making changes to delivery mechanisms, structures and employment practices are all crucial.
We need to put in place what families that we work with have been asking for and speaking about for years, the same issues are raised time and again – access to training, childcare, transport, costs of working, suitability of work, the living wage and a social security system which prevents poverty, treats people with dignity and respect and supports everyone to flourish. And when asked what is it that would be the ultimate aim, it’s really simple. Single Parents should have the same quality of life that many of us take for granted. And I think that’s really important for us to bear in mind, enough money for an adequate standard of living and the ability to make their own choices and not be told what’s good for them.”