How are lone parents being affected by the recession?
Quick quiz time.
In the first half of 2009, the number of working-age people in workless households in April-June 2009 was 4.8 million, up 500,000 on a year earlier, according to figures from the Labour Force Survey, and the number of children in workless households rose by 170,000 to 1.9 million.
How much do you think employment amongst lone parents decreased over this time by?
It's a trick question.
In fact, employment amongst lone parents increased in the first half of 2009. For working-age people, the employment rate for lone parents was 56.7 per cent, up 0.4 percentage points from the previous year. This continues the increasing trend since comparable estimates are available in 1997, when it stood at 44.6 per cent.
So not only have more single mums and single dads been getting jobs in the middle of the worst recession since the Second World War, but employment amongst lone parents has increased by 12.1% since the Tories lost power in 1997. That's more than 700,000 extra lone parents who are working.
There has been an interesting policy experiment over the last thirty years. Under the Tories, lone parents were told that they ought to get married, treated as a problem, had their benefits cut, services which they relied on underfunded, and were even the subject of songs at Tory Party conference about how they were scroungers.
Under Labour, there were special employment programmes to help them get work, higher benefits for all families, regardless of whether or not they were headed by a married couple, an unmarried couple or a lone parent, and the provision of childcare was massively expanded through Sure Start centres and a whole range of other initiatives.
Beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, even during an economic crisis, the latter approach has proved to be more successful in terms of increasing employment opportunities.
It's worth remembering this when people say there is no difference between Labour and the Tories. What's tragic is that even despite all the evidence, the Tories are still talking about the importance of marriage, about cutting services which lone parent families rely on, and their allies in the press still denounce lone parents as scroungers and agitate for benefits to be cut.