Allen stated that there is “Nothing set about the family as such” (Allen et al, 2001:20). Indeed this may be an important fact about families within the British society, ever since the dawn of the industrialisation. The pressures and demands on family forms due to the continuing effects of demographic change have ensured that family structures are continually evolving and advancing. This can be witnessed in vast social reconstructions in terms of the widowed, divorcees, separations and so forth (Allen et al 2001). The focus of this essay will be to explore and study the issue on “why the so-called decline of the family is so important to social policy makers” with relevance to lone parents.

Changes in the family structures can have many effects and outcomes. Such reconstructions can pose many new challenges to social policy makers. The most increased in the changes is the occurrence of lone parents. One of the reasons on the dramatic escalate of lone parents is partially to do with the rise of divorce. The beginning of the year 1970, it seen over half of million lone parents and this dramatically increased by 1980 when the year saw over 1 million lone parents (Allen et al 2001). This was largely due to the Divorce Act 1969, which enforced new grounds for the entitlement of divorce as well as “helping to redefine peoples perceptions of what was acceptable within marriage” (Allen et al, 2001: 24).

The rapid increase in the number of families with children headed by lone parents has evidentially expressed a number of negative issues such as, the breakdown of a traditional nuclear family, cause of a culture of dependency, the reason for youth crime and poor educational attainment (Baldock et al 1999). Such rapid changes introduces the welfare state with significant challenges and it can be observed to how such institutions adapt or fail to adapt to demographic change.

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According to the Office for National Statistics 1998 (cited in Baldock et al 1999:182) the term lone parents is defined as “A lone parent consists of a lone parent living with his or her never-married dependant children, provided these children have no children of their own.” However definitions will vary according to purpose such as, benefit assessment, taxation, research surveys and so on (Baldock et al 1999).

At present only 10% of men head lone parent families. Lone fathers tend to be older and have older children and are more likely to be in employment than women. The largest group heading lone families are lone mothers who were previously married. They tend to be older themselves and have older children than other lone mother families (Alcock et al 2003). There is also a rapid increase in lone mothers who are single and who have never married, there are two distinct groups that differentiate amongst them (Alcock et al 2003).

There are those lone mothers who have never married or had a living relationship with the child’s father. 47% of these lone mother tend to be teenagers when having their children thus they are young themselves and have young children. The other half of lone single mothers are those who have been married and are the victims of marriage breakdown resulting in divorce. The mothers and the children have lived with the father and both mother and children tend to be older (Alcock 2003). These differences in the characteristics of lone parents are the two main routes into the world of lone parenthood.

Being a lone parent is the focus of social concern rather than a private matter and there are three main reasons to this. Lone parenthood is seen as a poverty problem, dependency problem and a social problem (Baldock et al 1999).

One of the problems is poverty. Lone parents live in a poverty environment and spend most of their life in this hardship. Parents bringing up their children sacrifice not spending on themselves but giving their children the best life as possible. Even though in a financial difficulty the parent does not want the child to suffer the consequences of being a lone parent. Lone parents and their children make up a significant proportion of the poor. The year 1992-1993 seen that 58% of lone parents were living in poverty (Glennerster 2000)

Although lone parents face a problem of poverty, lone parenthood almost invariably results in turning to the dependency of state welfare. Over a third of lone parents are dependent on income support and the other 80% are dependent by income support, housing benefit or family credit (Glennerster 2000). Lone parenthood is costing a vast amount of public expenditure in respects of social security spending. The year 1989-1990 seen �4 billion in benefit expenditures on lone parents alone, however this dramatically increased when the year 1995-1996 the expenditures rose to almost �10 billion (Glennerster 2000). It is clearly visible from this that lone parents are on reliance from the welfare state which could result in promoting “dependency culture” (Glennerster 2000).

Apart from facing poverty and financial difficulties whist being a lone parent, it is also seen as a social problem. Lone parenthood is seen as an imperfect family and a selfish act carried out by the adults not taking into consideration the impact it may have on the children (Glennerster 2000). Lone parents do their utmost for their children so they don’t feel the absence of the other partner. However, it can be argued that the separation of partners can have a positive or negative effect on children.

It can be said that the effects of being a lone parent can have many positive outcomes because the children become the main priority of the parent and receive their utmost love and attention. The children are the main concern for the parent and they make sure they achieve the highest potential in any task they carry out such as in the educational system. Further, lone parenthood is a more valued option as it increases independence, and offers many benefits and choices that may not be available in more conventional family settings (Baldock et al 2001).

Alternatively single parenthood has many negative aspects, evidently it creates dependency, which leads to an insecure environment for both parent and child. They undergo many hardships and shortages to survive as a normal family within society. Single parents, are also unable to socialise and communicate with their children, due to lack of presence resulting in them having to make single handed decisions, without any consultation (Alcock et al 2000). A mother’s role differs from that of the father’s in the upbringing of the children as hers is a more nurturing character whereas the male has a disciplinary role. Thus the lack of each role in the child’s life can cause instability, leading to social problems. Further, the responsibility of a lone parent increases restricting them from a social life and also refraining from participating in social activities that are costly due to the constricted amount of income (Alcock et al 2000). After looking at such factors we can determine that these characteristics can later become a major concern for social policy makers.

The newly elected Labour government in 1945 introduced the welfare state in Britain. However, it is emphasised that although this was the first comprehensive challenge to creating a functional welfare state it was not an entire new policy. As back in 1601 there was an attempt to implement a state welfare provision – the poor law (Midgley et al 2000). Today Britain is a welfare state and takes primary responsibility for the social welfare.

According to the social policy makers there are certain criteria’s and objectives that they have to meet in relation to lone parents. However it is important to define what a social policy maker is, according to Baldock et al (1999: xxi) a ‘social policy’ can be defined as a “deliberate intervention by the state to redistribute resources amongst its citizens so as to achieve a welfare objective.” Hence social policy makers need to take into consideration the difficulties and problems faced by lone parents and to facilitate them with their needs.

In recent years in the UK due to the rise of divorce and declining families lone parenthood has become very common, this can prove to be inherently risky for the welfare state as they have more families to provide for (Allen et al 2001). Therefore certain aims and strategies are considered important when focusing on single parent families.

Such objectives of social policy to assist lone parents can be that of many issues such as giving lone parents the ability to support their children without the need to work. To discourage the breakdown of marriages and to prevent the births of child out of wedlock, to make sure the absent parent gives their contributions to the upbringing of the children and also to encourage the repartnering of individuals (Alcock et al 2003). However, one of the most important aspects of the policy is to firstly maintain an adequate standard of living for these families and also reduce the extra costs and benefits to decrease inequality.

This is because according to Jorgensen et al (1997) there is more commitment to support single families and high divorce rates inevitably lead to a large bill for the state. This can be further supported by the diagram below extracted from Bradshaw (1989), the graph shows that the increased economic deprivation has led to dependency on state supplementary benefits for lone parents. From this we can see the rapid changes on dependence on supplementary benefits which has increased between 1961-86. Further, analysis shows that prior to1970 the percentage for benefits was approximately 33%, however after the introduction of the divorce act there was an immediate increase of lone parents resulting in a higher demand of dependency on the state that increased the benefit supply to 60%.

During the 1980’s the Conservative Government were in rule and lone parents came under immense scrutiny by them. They debated the fact that single parents were on an intense reliance on the welfare, promoting “dependency culture” (Hill 2000). The dispute concluded that the high increase depending on the welfare results in individuals no longer earning and taking responsibilities for themselves and their children. Lone parents were seen to be amongst the “underclass” individuals who have no proposal to work and no motivation to help themselves (Hill 2000). In result the Conservative Government policy was concerned mostly with reducing the benefit expenditure, an issue that left many lone parents on the poverty line. According to Allen et al (2001) the year 1994 in result saw 45% lone parents were on income support.

In the year 1993 the Conservative Government introduced the “Back to Basics” scheme, which tried to encourage the idea to bring back the concept of a “traditional family” (Midgley et al 2000). However, this new theory was very much against lone parent families and was not in favour to help them in their financial situations or basic need . Consequently when the Labour Government came into power in 1997 they were anxious to help the lone parents welfare and their needs and wants (Fitzpatrick 2001).

The Labour Government were not concerned to the fact that there was much reliance on the welfare but mainly on the issue of how they could improve the status of lone parents. In the year 1997-2001 the government introduced the increase in child benefits, it rose by 26% for the first child and 4% for the subsequent child. The Labour Government encouraged lone parents to work and set up the “New Deal” scheme (Alcock et al 2003). The Labour party stated the “New Deal will close the gap between what young people have to offer, and the needs of employers, with an intensive programme of training, further education and work experience” (Alcock et al 2003). Lone parents with children under the age of 16 had no obligation to work, and in contrast if the parents wanted to work, the “New Deal” scheme would assist them with a personal adviser to arrange a job that suits them, organise childcare and even arrange new training. This scheme shows the concern of the Government and commitment to help parents into paid work. However, the Conservative party do not like the “New deal” scheme and would like it to be replaced with “Britain Works” (Alcock et al 2003). The scheme would reward the contractors for the success of helping unemployed people find their jobs, and employing them.

Thus, declining families can have a negative or positive effect on the welfare state and it is important for social policy makers to be aware of this, such issues will be discussed as follows.

An increase in lone families is an important issue for the state because they have to find means to support them giving them more responsibility. The existing structure of benefits ranges from income support, child benefit, housing benefit and widow benefit (Bradshaw 1989) However, these do not fulfil all the needs and requirements of lone parents as analysed by the Finer committee in 1970. Thus changes were made to tax and benefit system and a parent benefit was introduced alongside child benefit (Bradshaw 1989). From this we can see that the lone parents can be a burden on the state and it is difficult to maintain the extra costs.

It can further be argued that as lone parents take up a lot of state money it can prove to be a disadvantage on other groups in society which receive less support such as two parent families. There is also a problem of maintaining extra costs if single parents are unemployed. Throughout the 1980’s housing became increasingly costly and the rates of unemployment rose, and the proportion of single mothers fell in the employment sector which resulted in complete dependency on income support (Bradshaw 1989).

Therefore the employment of lone parents became very important for social policy makers in order to stabilise the financial issues. The lone parents are expected to seek employment to reduce burdens on the state, in this consideration the Labour Government introduced a new factor of family credit in 1988 (Baldock et al 1999).

The family credit has two main goals, one of that to encourage paid work and the other to keep the working families out of poverty. In the result of this new policy it has been quite a success on both goals. Families who take up this income are of those who are in need and are able to take themselves out of the depth of poverty. It also allows the families a guarantee of six months income (Wilson et al 1991). However there are negative aspects and limitations to this credit as it only assists one in six lone parents to work and the remaining parents stay put on income support. Further the family credit does not improve the status of the lone parent within the labour market and the many problems the parents may come across (Wilson et al 1991).

Another problem occurred is that of the separation of parents has a bigger effect on women and their children than that of men. Therefore the child support Act 1991 was introduced. One of the aims of the act was to encourage the employments of lone parents. In aim to achieve this policy it was not taking into account in the means test for family credit but taking into account all child support in income support (Roll 1992).

However, the child act came under much scrutiny as it was said that the policy that was not achieving its objectives therefore causing many problems. One of problems was that the policy was too complicated and complex and the lack of the potential to assurance to child support alongside family credit makes the issue of out of work income more stable than in work income. In addition the policy has many negative issues, another factor includes the need of the co-operation of the absent partner which can cause disturbance amongst each other. The establishment of the child act legislation has not improved the situation of lone mothers but has caused many concerns (Alcock et al 2003).

Further, even if lone parents happen to be employed there will be less stability for the children and also some parents may have less skill and education and will not be paid high wages. Thus they will still be liable to receive support from the government and the policy will not achieve its sole aim.

The Labour government since being elected in 1997 tackling poverty and social exclusion has been of the main areas of policy commitment. Gordon Brown is the main speaker for the poverty reduction within the Labour party. In a speech on the 2nd June 2000 he said, that the government would promise that there would be an increase in funds to break down the “barriers to opportunity that still exist in Britain today with improved cash allocations, based on agreed targets and securing better results. We are determined to raise aspirations of all our young people” (Guardian Unlimited). In addition, the reforms suggested by the Conservative Party are based on “four Conservative principles.” The government would encourage saving and creating pathways to independence and to get individuals off the dependence on the welfare state. They would also support “common sense values” such as personal responsibility, family and marriage. Further, they would aim to make the system simpler and more straightforward (Guardian Unlimited).

Therefore, in conclusion we can see from the essay that lone parent families have tremendously increased over the years. This has caused a great responsibility or a burden on the state, resulting in many new benefits and acts being introduced in order to support them. There is also much conflict amongst political parties in relation to providing for single parents with state money that could be used more productively. The Conservatives argue that the idea of a ‘traditional family’ should be instilled in the society and they are quite in disagreement with the aspect of supporting families financially (Wilson et al 1991). Alternatively the Labour Government are in favour of supporting lone families and believe that it’s the states responsibility to look after them.

They brought about the New deal scheme, as mentioned earlier, this was derived to slowly allow lone parents to move towards the employment field without burdening them with too much responsibility (Guardian Unlimited). Gordon Brown stated that “we want to give lone parents real choices enabling them to move from welfare to work out poverty” (Guardian Unlimited). However conservatives are against this policy and would prefer to replace it with the ‘Britain work’, which will enable them to provide parents with employment on a quicker basis rather than them depending on the state (Guardian Unlimited). In my opinion I agree with the Labour movement in supporting such families due to their incapability’s to run a professional and personal life. But there is a threat of great dependency and taking advantage of state benefits.

Thus, social policy makers should be concerned if there is a decline in stable families because their policies will be affected and their current policies are failing to achieve its potential aim in relation to lone parents. Also the aspect of lone parents having high expenditure and nobody to share the costs with except the state. Further, this could lead to financial vulnerability, as they have nothing to fall back on to in terms of savings. This should be an area referred to when constructing a policy so that when single parent’s children are at age of 16, the parents should still be able to have access to some money or be given the opportunity to have a good job in order to support themselves. In summary to the essay, single parent families have many positive and negative effects on the state and social policy makers and are a major area of concern.

Bibliography and References


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Alcock, P. (2003 2nd edition) Social Policy in Britain, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Alcock, P., Erskine, A ; May, M. (2003 2nd edition) Social Policy, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Allen, G ; Crow, G. (2001) Families, Households and Society, UK: Palgrave.

Baldock, J., Manning, N., Miller, S ; Vickerstaff, S. (1999) Social Policy, UK: The Bath Press.

Bradshaw, J. (1989) Lone Parents: Policy in the Doldrums, London: Intertype.

Fitzpatrick, T. (2001) Welfare Theory an introduction, New York: Palgrave.

Glennerster, H. ( 2000 2nd edition) British Social Policy since 1945, London : Blackwell Publishers.

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