Journal of Social Policy


Choice and Welfare Reform: Lone Parents’ Decision Making around Paid Work and Family Life


a1 European Work and Employment Research Centre (EWERC), Manchester Business School, Manchester M15 6PB

a2 School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, Queen's University, Belfast BT7 1NN email:


Welfare-to-work policy in the UK sees ‘choice’ regarding lone parents’ employment decisions increasingly defined in terms of powers of selection between options within active labour market programmes, with constraints on the option of non-market activity progressively tightened. In this paper, we examine the wider choice agenda in public services in relation to lone-parent employment, focusing on the period following the 2007 Freud Review of welfare provision. (Freud, 2007) Survey data are used to estimate the extent to which recent policies promoting compulsory job search by youngest dependent child age map onto lone parents' own stated decision-making regarding if and when to enter the labour market. The findings indicate a substantial proportion of lone parents targeted by policy reform currently do not want a job and that their main reported reason is that they are looking after their children. Economically inactive lone mothers also remain more likely to have other chronic employment barriers, which traverse dependent child age categories. Some problems, such as poor health, sickness or disability, are particularly acute among those with older dependent children who are the target of recent activation policy.

(Online publication February 14 2011)