Policymakers in liberal welfare states like the UK have prioritised extending the reach of compulsory activation to target vulnerable jobseeker groups, such as lone parents. However, such interventions – especially when combined with intensified welfare conditionality – appear to have had limited positive effects on lone parents' employability, while often negatively impacting wellbeing. This article argues that the problem is a disconnect between the complex barriers to employability faced by lone parents (including their need to balance work and caring) and the content of 'work-first' activation favoured by successive UK Governments. We report positive findings from in-depth interviews with lone parents and key stakeholders involved in more person-centred, non-compulsory local employability services. Multi-agency service delivery, collaborative governance and a clear role for user voice in programme design were important facilitators of positive experiences. Our analysis points to the need for services that empower lone parents to make choices to progress towards employment while supporting family life.
- labour market
- single parents