>This briefing paper - the first in a series to be published as part of IPPR' s Condition of Britain programme

Many families in Britain are under strain as the cost of living rises and parents struggle to balance family time and work. While parents have primary responsibility for raising children, the state and wider society create the environment in which families are raised. We therefore need to ask how politics, institutions and policies need to change in response to the social pressures facing post-crash Britain:

  • What role should community institutions like children's centres play in helping parents to overcome isolation and build relationships of support with one another?
  • Should family time be protected from the labour market by more generous paid leave?
  • Would it be better to spend scarce public resources on better childcare and parental leave, rather than maintaining or increasing the value of cash benefits for families?

Drawing on a range of sources, including interviews with a variety of stakeholders, this briefing paper aims to provide a fuller understanding of how families are living now, and how they can be helped to thrive in an era of limited public budgets, uncertain growth and shifting pressures on family life.

The five briefing papers in this series are brought together with a new introduction by Nick Pearce, Graeme Cooke and Kayte Lawton in the Condition of Britain interim report, published in December 2013.

Ziadah's story - an extract

Ziadah is a single mum with two children aged four and nine. The family lives in Wythenshawe, South Manchester. Ziadah gained a degree in youth and community work in 2010 but has struggled to find paid work, and currently volunteers for a local charity. She feels she has not had enough support to get back into work, and the lack of affordable childcare has made her situation particularly difficult.

'I've been volunteering now for seven months. But before that, I had to go to the jobcentre so many times to ask if there is any help that I can get to go back into work or to do voluntary work. But they say there is nothing they can give you, so you have to stay at home and wait until your children are in school. There is nothing for people who are on benefits, even if they want to do something about it, and it shouldn't be like that.'

It wasn't just the practical difficulties of finding a job that troubled Ziadah, but the feeling that, as a single parent, she had to choose between work and family.

'I'm so desperate, I'm ready to do anything that gives me money, but what do I do with my kids? If you have children, that's the end of your life - you can't do anything else. You either choose your career and work without your family or, if you have a family, that's the end of you, and that's not right.'