AV poll shows 16-point lead for the No campaign

Support for a Yes vote is collapsing, if a new <em>Guardian</em>/ICM survey is to be believed.

A new Guardian/ICM poll has given the No to AV campaign a 16-point lead. Among those who say they are likely to vote in the 5 May referendum and have made up their minds, the poll shows 58 per cent saying No and 42 per cent saying Yes.

Among all respondents, 44 per cent back No and 33 per cent Yes, with 23 per cent saying they don't know.

This is a huge leap from the last Guardian/ICM poll in February which put the two sides neck-and-neck on the same measure. In the equivalent poll in December, the Yes campaign was points ahead.

While other recent polls have shown the no campaign starting to pull ahead, none of the other pollsters has shown such a big lead. On Sunday, an Independent on Sunday/ComRes poll gave the No campaign a 6-point lead.

Why could this be? Well, for a start, it is the first poll for two months to use a random telephone sample, rather than an online panel. PoliticalBetting suggests that it may have cracked the turnout question by asking about likelihood to vote in local elections.

This group of voters tends to be older and more likely to vote No – perhaps explaining why the lead for the No camp increases once intention to vote is taken into account. That goes against the accepted wisdom that a higher turnout will mean a better result for the Yes camp.

Interestingly, despite the huge jump (10 points more than the ComRes poll), I haven't seen any commentators dismiss it as an outlier. On this, UK Polling Report says:

This is the biggest lead we've so far seen for the No campaign in a question asking the bare referendum question, but is very much in line with the "No-wards" trend we've seen from other pollsters. The only company still showing YES ahead in recent polling is Angus Reid.

The poll will be relief for David Cameron and his camp: the Times (£) reports today on the chaos that could be unleashed on the coalition in the event of a Yes vote. According to its coverage, options being considered by Tory MPs include forcing an early election so that it has to take place under first-past-the-post. If these polls are to be believed, however, this will be unnecessary.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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How can London’s mothers escape the poverty trap?

Despite its booming jobs market, London’s poverty rate is high. What can be done about it?

Why are mothers in London less likely to work than their counterparts across the country, and how can we ensure that having more parents in jobs brings the capital’s high child poverty rates down?

The answers to these two questions, examined in a new CPAG report on parental employment in the capital, may become increasingly nationally significant as policymakers look to ensure jobs growth doesn’t stall and that a job becomes a more much reliable route out of poverty than it is currently – 64 per cent of poor children live in working families.

The choice any parent makes when balancing work and family life is deeply personal.  It’s a choice driven by a wide range of factors but principally by what parents, with their unique viewpoint, regard as best for their families. The man in Whitehall doesn’t know best.

But the personal is also political. Every one of these personal choices is shaped, limited or encouraged by an external context.   Are there suitable jobs out there? Is there childcare available that is affordable and will work for their child(ren)? And what will be the financial gains from working?

In London, 40 per cent of mothers in couples are not working. In the rest of the country, the figure is much lower – 27 per cent. While employment rates amongst lone parents in London have significantly increased in recent years, the proportion of mothers in couples out of work remains stuck at about 12 percentage points higher than the rest of the UK.

The benefits system has played a part in increasing London’s lone parent employment rate. More and more lone parents are expected to seek work. In 2008, there was no obligation on single parents to start looking for work until their youngest child turned 16. Now they need to start looking when their youngest is five (the Welfare Reform and Work Bill would reduce this down to three). But the more stringent “conditionality” regime, while significant, doesn’t wholly explain the higher employment rate. For example, we know more lone parents with much younger children have also moved into jobs.  It also raises the question of what sacrifices families have had to make to meet the new conditionality.  

Mothers in couples in London, who are not mandated to work, have not entered work to the same level as lone parents. So, what is it about the context in London that makes it less likely for mothers in couples to work? Here are four reasons highlighted in our report for policymakers to consider:

1. The higher cost of working in London is likely to play a significant role in this. London parents are much less likely to be able to call on informal (cheaper or free) childcare from family and friends than other parts in the country: only one in nine children in London receives informal childcare compared to an average of one in three for England. And London childcare costs for under 5s dwarf those in the rest of the country, so for many parents support available through tax credits is inadequate.

2. Add to this high housing and transport costs, and parents are left facing a toxic combination of high costs that can mean they see less financial rewards from their work than parents in other parts of the country.

3. Effective employment support can enable parents to enter work, particularly those who might have taken a break from employment while raising children. But whilst workless lone parents and workless couples are be able to access statutory employment support, if you have a working partner, but don’t work yourself, or if you are working on a low wage and want to progress, there is no statutory support available.

4. The nature of the jobs market in London may also be locking mums out. The number of part time jobs in the capital is increasing, but these jobs don’t attract the same London premium as full time work.  That may be partly why London mums who work are more likely to work full time than working mums in other parts of the country. But this leaves London families facing even higher childcare costs.

Parental employment is a thorny issue. Parenting is a 24-hour job in itself which must be balanced with any additional employment and parents’ individual choices should be at the forefront of this debate. Policy must focus on creating the context that enables parents to make positive choices about employment. That means being able to access the right support to help with looking for work, creating a jobs market that works for families, and childcare options that support child development and enable parents to see financial gains from working.

When it comes to helping parents move into jobs they can raise a family on, getting it right for London, may also go a long way to getting it right for the rest of the country.