Lone parent differs so greatly between countries?
In this essay I shall be discussing the government polices on lone parents in the countries Britain, United States of America and Sweden. I shall then go on to consider why it differs from country to country and if there are any similarities between them. However before I can actually start the essay I think that it is necessary to define the term ‘lone parent’.
‘A lone parent is a lone parent living with his or her never
Married dependant children, provided these
Children have no children of their own’.
(Baldock et al)
This definition tells us that a lone parent family is simply one parent looking after his or her children. Although it could be a father looking after his children it is more often than not a mother looking after her children. In Britain only 9 per cent of loan parents are men, 35 per cent are women who have never been married, 31 per cent are divorced, 21 per cent are separated and 4 per cent are widowed. In this essay I shall be referring to lone parents as women. It appears to be very hard for governments to create polices to help loan parents as they have two roles to play, they are the mother and they have to support their children and the government does not appear to be too sure on what way to look at loan mothers, are they a mother or are they a worker, in this essay I will also attempt to answer this question when I discuss different country polices.
In Britain 21 per cent of all families are lone parent families and amongst them there is a very high poverty rate, 30 per cent of lone parents are in poverty compared with 14 per cent of two parent families. In Britain most lone parents are young women who are on benefits. In the USA 29 per cent of all families are loan parents and 51 per cent of those are in poverty compared to 16 per cent of two parent families. In the USA most women who are lone parents are young, black on benefits. In Sweden 18 per cent of all families are lone parent families and they are no more likely to be in poverty than two parent families. In Sweden the lone parents are workingwomen, usually white.
In Britain a policy for ‘the family’ has never really existed as in some other countries although the politicians may talk about family and family values regularly. The Conservative Government in 1993 introduced the ‘Back to Basics’ scheme which tried to bring back the ideas of a ‘traditional’ family, two parents and two point four children, this was therefore very much against the lone parent family and there was not much to help them in the way of child care for working women or extra benefits. However since the Labour Government came to power in 1997 better childcare facilities are appearing. The government has realised that childcare has to be paid for and if a mother is not working then someone needs to support them. The main question that arose from that was should it be the private or the public that helps to fund this care. It was a question of does the state via tax and social security systems help pay, or is it simply left up to the mother, or does the absent parent have to pay.
These were all issues that the government had to face and has tried to do so. There was a married couples tax allowance but this was abolished in favour of social security for lone parents. There was also increased child benefit, this took place from 1997 – 2001, and it went up by 26 per cent for the first child and 4 per cent for subsequent children. A Lone Parent Premium to income support was also introduced, raising the rates of benefits. Lone parents were and still are now encouraged to work, using the ‘New Deal’ scheme, which has been set up by the labour government. If a lone parent has a child under sixteen then they don’t have to work but the ‘New Deal’ scheme helps people get back into work, giving them a personal adviser to help get a job that suits them, organise child care and even arrange new training.
A Working Families Tax Credit was also set up to try and encourage more people back into work. It is a means tested benefit, paid to the parents I n a low paid job which helps to raise the income from employment. Another benefits that loan parents get is the Child Care Tax Credit; this pays 70 per cent of child care costs, with a limit of 135 pounds a week, per child. The National Child Care Strategy was also introduced; this increased the amount of ‘good’ quality childcare faculties for 0-14 year olds.
This showed that the government was concerned about the well being of children and again showed its commitment to help parents into paid work. The Child Support Act of 1993 was set up to ensure that parents took responsibility for their children, in an aim to take strain of state. The Child Support Agency says what the father or in some cases the mother should pay, as an absent parent. In Britain lone parent families cause a great problem for those who still believe in the traditional family and see lone parents as immoral but it also causes problems for the stare, only 11 per cent of two parent families claim Working Families Tax Credit, however 73 per cent of lone parents families claim it.
In the USA there were two distinctive views on lone parent families. Charles Murray believed that they were a drain on state funds, the cost of benefits was too great and that lone parents should be made to work as too many benefits made them dependant on the state. However Gilder and Carson thought the opposite, paying benefits destroyed the fathers role, women’s role was too care for a child so therefore should not be out working but should be at home looking after the children.
Like Britain the USA has a means tested Federal Aid to Families with Dependant Children (AFDC), which gives the family money however this is only paid until the child is three, or in some states one year old, compared to 16 years old in Britain. A lone parent is also entitled to food stamps, if there is no other means of income. Childcare is very costly and not very good, so even if a mother is in work she is likely to still be In poverty because of the cost of child care. However if a woman does not work and there is a job that she can take her benefits will be cut.
In Sweden a lone parent is not seen as a social problem. There are high employment rates, the quality of childcare is also very good and there is generous maternity and paternity leave. There is full employment for all citizens and there is a higher taxation rate, so the wealth is the redistributed to the poorer people. This is order to try and equal the differences between gender and class. It is believed that the responsibility for the children should fall on everyone in society. A Universal Child Benefit was introduced in 1948 (the same time as Britain) for all families. There are not many other benefits that are received, as it is believed that mothers will be paid in work. It is also believed that the absent parent will pay, Advance Maintenance Payments are made by the government and the father picks them up which is a more reliable system than the one in Britain. Local authorities also of excellent quality, usually fund the childcare.
32 per cent of 0-2 year olds are in day care and 79 per cent of 3-6 year olds are in day care. Parents have no right to stay at home long term looking after their children however the leave they get is very generous. A mother or father can have a year and a half off for maternity or paternity leave, on 90 per cent pay, which is open to everyone. This is compared with Britain, when a woman can only have forty weeks if she has worked at the company for more than two yeas, and this does not relate to men, they get nothing. However in the USA maternity leave is twelve weeks, unpaid and only if you work in a large firm. In Sweden a person is also given 122 days a year on 80 per cent pay to look after the children if they are sick.
So it can be seen that in Britain women are supported buy the state but only just enough to live on, Denis and Erdes (1992) used the same approach as the American Gilder that women should not work however in 1995 Morgan believed that women should be encourage to work and that is what is now happening in Britain, however they are not forced too. In the USA women are made to work, however the pay is not enough to get them out of poverty, the childcare is also poor and there is a liberal welfare state. Sweden has a social democratic government and they do not see lone parents as a social problem.
As everyone is in employment and the childcare is good there appears to be little problems for lone parents. I believe this is why the experience of lone parents differs from country to country. It depends on what the governments believes are and how they go about supporting lone parents. Sweden does not give its lone parents any extra benefits yet that is the country that’s lone parents families are better of. Yet the USA gives its lone parents next to nothing and they are in poverty, there needs to be a balance, if they are in work the pay needs to be enough to support the family and pay for childcare.