Neuchâtel's single-parent homes on social assistance in the light of a study by the LIVES research cluster

According to a study by the NCCR LIVES "Overcoming Vulnerability: Life-Course Perspectives", single-parent homes in Neuchâtel on social assistance are generally run by women facing multiple problems. Indeed, interviews with single mothers indicate an accumulation of disadvantages over the life course linked to social origin, incomplete schooling, health problems, migratory experience or inequalities in the life of a couple.

The first part of the study, which is quantitative, provides an overview of the profile of the population concerned for the year 2016 based on the cantonal database of recipients of economic social assistance (ASE). According to this census, in more than 90% of cases, it consists of a single mother of around 40 years of age and her children. These families are more likely to live in the more urbanised areas of the canton. Cases of widowhood are very rare.

Most single parents are in an assistance unit with only one dependent child, and the youngest child is on average 9.5 years old. More than a fifth of the parents are employed and often work part-time. Slightly more than half of the single-parent households receiving ESA in the canton of Neuchâtel are of Swiss nationality, while a quarter are nationals of a European country.

Finally, only a small minority of beneficiaries manage to leave the ASE in less than twelve months, and almost all of the households remain in long-term support. In the beneficiary households headed by fathers, the same profile characteristics of the total population (mothers and fathers) are generally found.

Exit from social assistance impeded by work and health

The second and third parts of the study highlight the factors that may contribute to and exit from welfare. These components are based on interviews with welfare recipients and professionals working in social services. All respondents point to multiple difficulties that accumulate and interlock throughout the life course, until a trigger (job loss, end of unemployment insurance entitlements, separation/divorce, etc.) makes them difficult to manage and leads people to depend on economic social assistance. Thus, the importance of the payment and amounts of alimony and child support is emphasized by both recipients and social work professionals.

The lack of reliable childcare solutions is often mentioned, making it difficult for single parents to pursue a professional activity. Among the factors that can prevent people from leaving the assistance are working in sectors with few jobs, physical health problems or the relatively old age of the beneficiaries for the labour market. In addition, the prospect of becoming subject to seizure in the event of exit from the scheme, for beneficiaries with debts, may create an incentive to stay on welfare.

Prevent, support and educate to get by

The study reveals the importance of working upstream to prevent the accumulation of disadvantages. In this case, it is a question of taking action in multiple areas of life: schooling, mental health, social and professional integration, etc. Furthermore, it is important that the financial support of social assistance be taken into account by family/work reconciliation policies specific to the needs of single parents. From the point of view of the beneficiaries, support solutions better adapted to the different types of beneficiaries would be desirable, depending on the employment sector for example, and in particular in the form of additional training not currently covered by social assistance.

This research was carried out in partnership with the Office for Family Policy and Equality of the Canton of Neuchâtel and led by Dr. Ornella Larenza under the direction of Prof. Laura Bernardi (University of Lausanne, NCCR LIVES). She is studying the multiple facets of single-parent households in Neuchâtel on social assistance. After completing her doctorate at the NCCR LIVES, Dr. Ornella Larenza is now a researcher at the University of Applied Sciences of Ticino (SUPSI).

The complete study is available on our "Reports, partnerships, events" page. Any questions in this regard can be addressed to the author of the study.

Ornella Larenza, PhD


SUPSI - Scuola universitaria professionale della Svizzera italiana
DEASS - Dipartimento economia aziendale, sanità e sociale
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