Poverty, social exclusion and single parent families
Collaborative research compared approaches to addressing social exclusion and poverty relating to single parent families and their children in Cyprus, Greece and the UK. The survey investigated issues relating to poverty and social exclusion using a mixture of semi-structured, in-depth interviews and focus groups with children of single parent families, in parallel with focus groups of single parents. This article summarises the survey’s findings for Cyprus.
The research project, ‘Integrating children’s perspectives in policy-making to combat poverty and social exclusion experienced by single parent families: a transnational comparative approach’, compared social exclusion and poverty in Cyprus, Greece and the UK as they relate to single parent families and their children in particular. The collaborative project, which was funded under the EC Second Transnational Exchange Programme (VP/2004/004), involved the International Childhood and Youth Research Network (ICYRNet), the Single Parent Action Network (SPAN), the Centre for the Study of Childhood and Adolescence (CSCA) at the European University Cyprus (EUC), the National Centre for Social Research (EKKE) in Greece and the University of Lincoln in the UK. A report (3.46Mb PDF) on the project was published in 2007.
Semi-structured, in-depth interviews and focus groups with children of single parent families in parallel with focus groups with single parents were used to investigate issues relating to poverty and social exclusion.
This article presents the project’s findings with respect to Cyprus.
Statistics on single parent families in Cyprus
The proportion of single parent families has been constantly increasing on the island over the last 25 years (see table). Despite the fact that single parent families constitute only a small percentage of all families, there has been a significant increase (3.6% in 1982 to 5.7% in 2001). The majority of heads of single parent families in 2001 were women (5% compared with 0.7% for men).
Given that women are more likely to lose their jobs and are paid less than men, and that 65% of people living below the poverty line are women, the project team concluded that there may be an increase in the number of children who live below the poverty line and are members of a single parent family headed by a woman (Spyrou et al, 2007, p. 132).
In 2001, there was a 41% likelihood that a single parent family (with at least one child) in Cyprus would be living in conditions of poverty. For a two-parent family with one dependent child, this rate was only 6% (European Commission and Eurostat, 2004, p. 182). Of the total number of 12,315 single mothers in Cyprus in 2001, 6,748 were economically active and 5,567 were economically inactive. The number of economically active single fathers was 972 and the number of economic inactive single fathers was 737 (Statistical Service of Cyprus, Census of Population, 2001). In 2004, half of divorced couples in Cyprus had no dependent children under 18 years of age; 26.5% had one, 18% two and 5% three or more dependent children (Spyrou et al, 2007, p. 132).
|Size of household||1976||1982||1992||2001|
|Six or more people||19.2||10.2||5.9||6.0|
|Average size of household||3.95||3.51||3.23||3.06|
|Percentage of single parent families out of all households||n.a.||3.6||4.2||5.7 (5.0 mother with children and 0.7 father with children)|
Source: Spyrou et al (2007, p. 131)
Many single parents and children living in poverty talk about the economic aspect of poverty as well as the issue of ‘time’. Lack of time is a basic problem faced by many single parent families where the parent, struggling to secure financial resources for the family, realises that they are not spending much time with their children.
According to the project report, part-time work and flexible employment should be feasible choices for single parents; however, the state must ensure that the law makes provision for full employment benefits and equality with regard to such jobs. Cheap childcare and easy access to it are a requirement for many single parents who find themselves trapped between the need to work and to gain financial security, and the necessity for childcare (which is often not accessible or is expensive). For the state to be able to offer cheap and accessible childcare, it needs to invest in community childcare establishments and itself cover the costs for needy single parent families.
The financial difficulties faced by many single parent families may drive them below the poverty line, with all the consequences attendant on social exclusion. Most of the children in the individual interviews and focus groups undertaken during the survey indicated not only that they have a financial problem but also that this was the most important or even the only problem for their family. The main problems that emerge from the children’s reports are:
- employment issues for the single parent;
- the housing problem faced by many single parent families;
- the issue of child support which some parents (particularly fathers), often fail to pay, are late in paying, find it difficult to pay or simply ignore for one reason or another.
According to the survey’s findings, political practices must seek to ensure that all single parent families have a basic income commensurate with the size of the family, and grant them tax relief to supplement their income. Political efforts to support single parent families must focus on programmes offering single parents opportunities for part-time or full-time employment. Policies, however, must ensure that the multiple challenges faced by single parents and the problem of lack of time that often accompanies them are balanced out by the benefits involved in being in work.
Policies to combat poverty and social exclusion in Cyprus
The general aim of the government’s objectives is, among other things, to reduce the inequality between men and women in their participation in the labour market and generally to reinforce the conditions that promote social cohesion.
More specifically, the national social inclusion strategy aims to reduce the proportion of people living below the poverty line and to prevent social exclusion of children. The measures to be implemented in order to meet these objectives put the emphasis on single parent families (which are at high risk of poverty) and on job integration of vulnerable population groups such as women and children supported by welfare benefits. More employment opportunities could be achieved in part through on-the-job and vocational training for members of the target groups.
In addition, Cyprus’s social policy involves a number of specific allowances for poor people and their families, thus relieving them of the pressure which poverty places on them. There is, for example, a minimum allowance to ensure a decent life for people with very low or no income.
The survey findings demonstrate that the problems faced by single parent families in Cyprus are serious and diverse. The most important of them centre on deficient childcare and the financial difficulties faced by single parents. There is judged to be a need for better targeting of government policies on childcare infrastructure in order to better reconcile single parent families and work. At the same time, there is a need for better targeting of government allowances and grants to single parent families; this would be an important step towards improving their living conditions. As regards employment, single parents often resort to emergency solutions such as additional casual work or split working days and, as a result, safeguarding their employment rights is not a priority for them.
European Commission and Eurostat, The social situation in the European Union 2004, Luxembourg, Publications Office of the European Union, 2004, available online at http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/social_situation/docs/ssr2004_en.pdf.
Spyrou, S., et al, Integrating children’s perspectives in policy-making to combat poverty and social exclusion experienced by single parent families: A transnational comparative approach, Nicosia, European University in Cyprus, International Childhood and Youth Research Network, 2007, available online at http://www.csca.org.cy/page.php?bid=18.
Polina Stavrou, Cyprus Labour Institute (INEK/PEO)