Health benefits for lone parents unlikely from welfare-to-work initiatives

Health benefits for lone parents unlikely from welfare-to-work initiatives

A new Cochrane Review has examined large welfare-to-work studies conducted in North America.

Led by Dr Marcia Gibson from the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, the review looks at a series of welfare-to-work studies, comparing what happened to lone parents who were in welfare-to-work interventions with lone parents who were not.

The review indicates that welfare-to-work interventions probably have little to no effect on the health of lone parents. The study also found that effects on lone parent employment rates were small, as those who were not in the interventions often found work on their own.

The studies included in the Cochrane Review were large welfare-to-work studies, conducted in North America, where welfare reform was implemented in the 1990s.

Key findings included:

  • Although in some countries lawmakers and policy advisors have argued that such policies will have positive health benefits, the Cochrane Review findings indicate that there is probably very little to no effect on health.
  • Poverty and depression remained high among all participants in the studies analyzed, whether they took part in a welfare to work intervention or not. 
  • Lone parents appear to find work by themselves when jobs are available.
  • Economic conditions may have a stronger influence on lone parent employment than interventions in the welfare system that mandate employment. 
  • Employment increased both for parents who were in welfare-to-work programmes and those who were not, but income did not increase.

Lead author of the review Dr Gibson said: “The evidence from our Cochrane Review indicates that welfare to work probably does not change lone parents’ health, and may have negative effects in some cases. In conjunction with evidence from other studies, our findings also suggest that economic conditions are likely to have a stronger influence on lone parent employment.”

Work on the Cochrane Review “Welfare-to-work interventions and their effects on the mental and physical health of lone parents and their children” was funded by the UK Medical Research Council and the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office.

For more information contact Elizabeth McMeekin or Ali Howard in the University of Glasgow Communications and Public Affairs Office on 0141 330 4831 or 0141 330 6557; or email or

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Monday, August 21, 2017