Strong voice for single parents: Rosie Ferguson, chief executive, Gingerbread


Neil Puffett meets Rosie Ferguson, chief executive of charity Gingerbread.

Rosie Ferguson stood down as chief executive of youth work umbrella organisation London Youth in 2016, after 11 years at the network. After a period spent travelling, she was appointed chief executive of lone-parent charity Gingerbread, taking up the post in February.

What attracted you to Gingerbread?

Gingerbread is a core partner of London Youth's Talent Match London programme, so I first met them through that. I was inspired by the creative ways Gingerbread was supporting young single parents into work by reaching them in soft play centres at times that worked for them. Like young people, single parents are a mainstream proportion of our population, with 25 per cent of families with dependent children headed by a single parent. Yet sadly - and also very familiar to those working with young people - the media and society tends to focus on negative stereotypes rather than seeing their current and potential contribution.

At Gingerbread, I want to ensure single parents have the confidence, support and opportunities they need for them and their children to thrive - and that their voices are heard. Personally, I'm keen to develop my own skills and learn from the team at Gingerbread about different ways charities can deliver impact at a national scale, particularly through advice, peer support, policy and campaigning.

What is the current outlook for single parents and their children?

Things are undoubtedly getting tougher for single parents, who are particularly vulnerable during the stagnant economic climate. Living costs continue to rise, while flexible, stable jobs that would cover those costs remain scarce.

Despite two-thirds of single parents being in work, a job by itself is not always enough to secure a decent standard of living. The latest child poverty figures demonstrate how troubling the situation has become. Nearly half (47 per cent) of children in single-parent families now live in poverty - around 140,000 more single-parent children in poverty than the previous year. The biggest increase was among children whose single parents work full time, with a third of children with a working single parent now in poverty. Unfortunately, the government remains committed to a policy of cutting the benefits system as an "incentive" to finding work - despite the evidence that this harms those looking to escape poverty.

Is the government doing enough to support them?

Recent government policies have stripped away support for single parents in employment and, sadly, on this front, problems are likely to get even worse. Universal Credit, which is being rolled out across the country, streamlines all the cuts into a new system which will affect one million single parents, leaving them on average with £800 less [in financial support] per year.

Another issue is child maintenance. The majority of single parents are not receiving payments their children are entitled to. While the government acts tough on benefits, it has been far too lenient on those deliberately avoiding their financial obligations towards their children. Part of the problem has been the collection system itself, with the discredited Child Support Agency replaced with the Child Maintenance Service - but with no coherent strategy of how outstanding debts from the former would be collected by the latter.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is implementing our childcare deposit scheme proposal, meaning that all Greater London Authority organisations are offering assistance with the upfront costs of childcare. This is the kind of pragmatic step we'd like to see implemented more widely, and it highlights one of our key messages: policies that work for single-parent families work for all families.

What changes have you introduced at Gingerbread?

Before introducing changes, I've concentrated on getting to grips with everything Gingerbread does. This has meant spending time in our three offices and visiting frontline service delivery in London, Manchester and Cardiff to understand what we do, and meet staff and single parents.

I have also been meeting trustees and external partners to understand their perspectives on Gingerbread, and I'm beginning to strengthen team work within the board, senior team and between our internal offices and teams.

What are your main priorities for the coming years?

I'm still learning about the challenges and opportunities for single parents, and how Gingerbread can best deliver change in that context. However, there are four things I know for sure that will be key to our future:

  • We will be recruiting a head of impact and learning to help us ensure that we understand, articulate, evaluate and learn from the difference we make and where we can do better.
  • We have an ambitious digital strategy that requires a shift in everything we do to be more relevant and digitally accessible - from how single parents access advice and information to how we communicate internally.
  • We want to continue ensuring single parents have a voice - and that their experience and talent informs and inspires everything we do.
  • We also celebrate our 100th birthday in 2018. This is a great opportunity to celebrate what has been achieved over this time, and to galvanise supporters to continue to back us and single parents for the next 100 years.

 

ROSIE FERGUSON CV

  • February 2017 - Appointed chief executive of Gingerbread
  • 2012-2016 - Chief executive, London Youth
  • 2009-2012 - Operations director, London Youth
  • 2007-2009 - Head of youth action, London Youth
  • 2005-2007 - Youth volunteer training officer, London Youth
  • 2003 - Graduated from University of London with a degree in media and communications

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