Lone Parents and Welfare-to-Work in England: A Spatial Analysis of Outcomes and Drivers

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Abstract

Mirroring changes across nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, recent UK governments have redrawn lone parents' entitlement to social assistance benefits ever tighter around participation in the labour market. A radical shift since 2008 has been the gradual transfer of most non-employed lone parents into the ‘activating’ Jobseekers' Allowance (JSA) regime. The enhanced conditionality requirements of this JSA regime have been justified by both paternalistic and contractualist arguments but, however justified, are built on the premise that behavioural factors drive lone parent employment outcomes, a view made increasingly forcefully under the current Coalition government. This article uses up-to-date administrative data at local authority level across England to provide a geographical perspective into the sub-national changes in lone parent employment outcomes since the transfer to JSA from 2008, as well as the relevant importance of the alternative structural and behavioural accounts to these outcomes. The findings suggest that the JSA transfer has increased lone parent employment, that structural rather than behavioural drivers are more relevant causal factors and that there is good reason to be concerned about the effect of the reforms on the well-being of lone parents and their children.

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