On 30th November, Federación de Asociaciones de Madres Solteras (FAMS) held an international congress in Madrid, Spain, on one-parent families. UNAF Spain was also present to bring a European perspective to the discussions.
According to a Population Europe brief on lone-parenthood, pathways leading to lone parenthood have diversified in the last decades. Until the 1970’s, most lone parents were wid-owed men and women, or young lone mothers. Nowadays the majority are divorced or separated parents. Although lone father families have become more common, the biggest share of lone parents are still mothers who have physical custody of their child(ren), and many of them lack the financial support of the non-resident father.The role played by parents has also changed substantially over time: Living with one parent does not necessarily imply that the non-resident parent is not actively supporting their child(ren). More and more, children move between two households after parental separation, and parents share financial, care and legal responsibilities more equally. Life course analyses reveal that lone parenthood is becom¬ing a more temporary phase in the life course, as episodes of lone parenthood are becoming shorter than in the past. This is mostly due to an increase in re-partnering and in shared physical custody of children. A major consequence is that it has become more complex for policy makers to make sure this population is not in difficult situations and is suf¬ficiently supported by social protection systems.
As concerns social protection systems and access to childcare, for instance, the 2019 EIGE gender equality index (EIGE is the European Institute for Gender Equality), indicates that families are most likely to report unmet needs for formal childcare services in Spain and the United Kingdom (21-22 %), and least likely in Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic and Denmark (3-5 %). The EIGE report for Spain highlights that as the number of dual-earning and single-parent families grows, new needs for childcare services appear. High quality, available, accessible and affordable childcare services are essential to allow parents to stay in or join the labour market and reduce the gender gap in employment. Around 21 % of households report unmet needs for formal childcare services in Spain, which is the second highest percentage in the EU. Lone mothers are more likely to report higher unmet needs for formal childcare services (31 %), compared to couples with children (22 %). The latest EIGE report also shows that lone parents with children are less likely to be able to afford a car, reporting no alternative mode of transport available to them other than public transport (18 %) or walking (22 %). Lack of access to a car for daily use restricts women’s employment options, while the longer travel times involved in the use of public transport makes it even more difficult for women, particularly lone mothers, to achieve a good work—life balance. As a result, it becomes increasingly necessary to reduce their working time, with consequences for their income levels and financial independence.
In terms of policy, the role played by lone parents on a country’s poverty level has recently been intensively debated. Robust research results indicate that lone parenthood is not a “driving factor” per se of social inequality, and that reducing its scale would not substantially reduce poverty. Family forms are much less relevant than the degree by which social policies support families in precarious situations. An OECD report published in November on treating all children equally, recommends that policies should adapt to changing family realities, to account for “modern family life” which is increasingly diverse and insecure. This report indicates that around 17 of children in the OECD live in single parent families, and a child in a single parent family is three times more likely to be poor than in a couple family.
The COFACE network continues to advocate for all types of families to get access to resources, services and time to be with their families, with targeted support for families in vulnerable situations, which includes one-parent families. See more in our Families on the Edge position paper.
More here about the FAMS congress.