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Schools Information

Gingerbread NI recognises the need to educate and inform all members of our community about issues affecting lone parents and Gingerbread NI as an organisation. Therefore, we have an active schools programme and welcome enquiries from teachers and pupils.

Gingerbread would be pleased to visit your school to provide you with a general talk on the organisation or one which is more tailored to those students looking at lone parenting and/or Gingerbread in relation to their studies.

Teachers, please contact the Membership Co-ordinator on 028 9023 1417 or email to discuss your requirements and for further information. 

Some Questions Frequently Asked by Schools

  • The Purpose and Function of Gingerbread NI
  • What is a one-parent family?
  • How Gingerbread got started
  • Structure and Organisation of Gingerbread NI
  • The Services offered by Gingerbread NI
  • Who uses Gingerbread NI’s services and how they gain access
  • How the organisation is funded locally and nationally
  • How Gingerbread NI’s work relates to formal and informal carers
  • The effect government legislation and reform has on Gingerbread NI
  • Gingerbread NI’s interaction/co-ordination with other organisations locally and nationally and how it is managed
  • The public and clients’ influence on the practices of Gingerbread NI

The Purpose and Function of Gingerbread NI

Mission Statement

Gingerbread NI is the lead agency working with and for one-parent families.

Gingerbread NI respects and promotes the integrity and life choices of one-parent families, challenges injustices, advocates for rights and positively responds to social change.”

Gingerbread NI operates as:

  • An independent, not for profit organisation, which belongs to one-parent families
  • An advocate for all one-parent families
  • An organisation promoting self-help and mutual aid
  • An organisation providing needs led services, which are appropriate and accessible

Gingerbread NI’s strategic aims are:

  • To represent one-parent families in Northern Ireland
  • Ensure the provision of appropriate services to meet the identified needs of one-parent families
  • Initiate and influence policy development at all government levels
  • Further develop a regional infrastructure (increase group network)
  • Enhance public understanding of Gingerbread NI and its work
  • Consolidate the development of Gingerbread NI, promoting quality and good practice.

Gingerbread NI develops and delivers services including:

  • Advice
  • Information provision
  • Vocational training
  • Personal development
  • Group support
  • Young people’s services
  • What is a one-parent family?

Parents with dependent children who are:

  • Divorced
  • Separated
  • Widowed
  • Single
  • Have partners in long-term institutional care (Long-term care may be defined as: relating to a prisoner sentenced to 4 years or more or relating to hospital care - a patient in hospital for 6 weeks or more).
  • Women who are single and pregnant

Lone Parent Vital Statistics

There are approximately 91,126 one-parent families in Northern Ireland incorporating 150,000+ dependent children (aged 0-18 years). This equates to 1 in 5 families with dependent children.

  • 87% of families are headed by a mother
  • 13% of families are headed by a father
  • 47% are single parents
  • 46% are separated or divorced
  • 7% are widowed
  • 9.5% are under 24 years old
These figures have been taken from the 2001 National Census and the Continuous Household Survey's latest sample information 2002-03.

Traditionally in Northern Ireland more lone parents are separated (29%) rather than divorced (17%). This means that a common exit route out of lone parenthood, remarriage, is not available to them. Therefore, children in one-parent families can remain in this state for a significant period.

With no significant other adult in the family children often take on a semi-caring role. They look after younger siblings or they become part of the decision making process within the family.

Gingerbread NI as an organisation believes that children must have an effective voice in both public and private law. Where relationships break down children are very often not heard or not heard effectively.


Living on Benefits

Following are details of how much a lone parent may receive from the state in the form of Child Benefit and Income Support:

  • Lone parent under 18 plus one child
    (Child Benefit £16.05 + Income Support £33.50 + Child Tax Credit £41.72)
    Total Income: - £91.72/week
  • Lone Parent over 18 plus one child
    (Child Benefit £16.05 + Income Support £55.65 + Child Tax Credit £41.72)
    Total Income: - £113.87/week
  • Lone Parent over 18 plus two children
    (Child Benefit £27.55 + Income Support £55.65 + Child Tax Credit £72.94)
    Total Income: - £156.14/week

Depending on the circumstances, a parent may or may not receive assistance with housing costs.

The total income figure is, according to the government, the least that a family in the above circumstances should have per week to live on - this is sometimes referred to as the “poverty line”.

Most additional income eg maintenance/Child Support payments will be deducted in full from Income Support and will not therefore benefit the family.

When in receipt of Income Support a claimant can work up to 15 hours per week but can only keep £20.00 per week of the income from this - anything above this will be deducted in full from Income Support.

Income Support cannot be paid with any work of 16 hours or more.

Benefits and Tax Credits

Tax Credits are part of the Welfare Reform and Modernisation programme and are intended to support families by making work pay.  The Tax Credits system is intended to create a seamless system of support for families, and children,  They are administered by the Inland Revenue.

There are two tax credits:

Working Tax Credit (WTC)

a means-tested tax credit for working people on low incomes .

Child Tax Credit (CTC)

a means-tested tax credit for people with children.

Both tax credits are claimed on the same form and can be claimed online at the Inland Revenue’s website: .

Working Tax Credit (WTC)

Working Tax Credit acts as a top up for wages.  A lone parent would qualify for WTC if:

  • they have a child (under 16, or under 19 and still in full-time education)
  • they are working at least 16 hours a week*.
  • they are not subject to immigration control (with certain exceptions)

*The number of hours is the number actually worked - if the lone parent works regular overtime then this will be included.  There are special rules for term time only school workers, women on Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance, people on Statutory Paternity or Adoption Pay, and people off work sick and getting Statutory Sick Pay.

WTC can include extra amounts for:

  • disabled workers
  • those who are working more than 30 hours a week
  • approved childcare costs.

Child Tax Credit (CTC)

Child Tax Credit can be claimed by anyone with a dependant child.  Lone Parents can apply whether they work or not and it is paid in addition to Child Benefit.

It is made up of a basic family element (paid at a higher rate if the parent has at least one child under 1 years of age) and amounts for each child. Parents may receive increased CTC if they have a child with a disability. This is because an extra amount is added to the calculation for each child who is on DLA or who is registered blind. If a child gets the highest rate of DLA care component a further amount is also added.

Lone Parents can claim if :

  • they have a child (under 16, or under 19 and still in full-time education)
  • their income is below the income threshold, or no more than a set amount above.
  • they are not subject to immigration control (with certain exceptions)

CTC is paid directly into a parent's bank account, either weekly or four weekly, whichever is choosen. Payment of CTC continues while a child is in hospital and for eight weeks after the death of a child.

How Tax Credits are worked out:

The amount of tax credits that a lone parent will get is usually based on their annual taxable income for the previous tax year and the amount of Tax Credits will therefore depend on income.

In the current tax year a lone parent can earn up to £2,500 more than the income for the previous tax year without this extra amount effecting the current award but anything over £2,500 will reduce entitlements for the current year and could result in an overpayment. This means the Inland Revenue will take back some of the next award. Overpayment can be avoided by reporting any relevant changes when they happen.  A parent is guaranteed some Child Tax Credit as long as their income is less than £58,000 or £66,000 they have a baby under 1.

If a parent is in receipt of DLA for more than one child and have substantial childcare costs they may get tax credits even if their income is above these figures.  Unlike most other means tested benefits there is no capital limit – this means that money such as savings are not taken into account.

Sample calculations on how this affects Lone Parents are below:

Lone Parent working 16 hours per week @ £4.85* per hour £77.60
Entitlement to Working Tax/Child Tax Credit £101.57
Child Benefit £16.05
Total Income per week based on one child £195.67

Lone Parent working 16 hours per week @ £4.85* per hour £77.60
Entitlement to Working Tax/Child Tax Credit £132.79
Child Benefit £27.55
Total Income per week based on one child £237.94

Lone Parent working 30 hours per week @ £4.85* per hour £145.50
Payment for Tax and National Insurance £ 13.27
Entitlement to Working Tax/Child Tax Credit £96.04
Child Benefit £16.50
Total Income per week based on one child £244.77

Lone Parent working 30 hours per week @ £4.85* per hour £145.50
Payment for Tax and National Insurance £ 13.27
Entitlement to Working Tax/Child Tax Credit £127.26
Child Benefit £27.55
Total Income per week based on two children £287.04

*Minimum wage for those aged 22 and over from 1 October 2004. Workers aged 18-21 inclusive are entitled to £4.10/hour and 16 - 17 year olds £3.10/hour.  This will increase in October 05.

Child Support Reforms

A simple method for working out maintenance is as follows:

For a non–resident parent earning £200+ per week Child Support will be worked out at a flat rate as follows:

  • 15 % of net income for one child
  • 20% of net income for two children
  • 25 % of net income for three or more children

Non-resident parents with an income of £100 per week or less or who are on benefits will pay a flat rate of £5.00 per week

For those non-resident parents earning between the two bands (ie £100-£200/week) the rate will be calculated at a reduced level. Should it be necessary further details of this can be obtained from our Advice team.

At the Advice Service in Gingerbread NI we deal with a range of Child Support cases including appeal hearings – we expect that it may be some time before most Lone Parents are transferred to the new scheme. There is no need for those who currently receive Child Support to apply to be transferred to the new system, as the Child Support Agency (CSA) will do this automatically.

Gingerbread NI has been lobbying the CSA and Government to try to ensure the reforms are implemented in full as soon as possible – we will continue to monitor the ongoing reform process.

How Gingerbread got started

Tess Fothergill began the charity in London in 1971 after her marriage broke down and she was left with two young sons in an expensive flat. She approached her local authority for help with her circumstances and all they could do was to take her two boys into residential care while she searched for less expensive accommodation.

Knowing that a fraction of the cost of residential care would be adequate to keep her family and home together she decided to begin a “self-help” organisation. She wrote a letter to a national Sunday newspaper (The Sunday Times) outlining her situation and received an overwhelming response from readers, many just like her, and this gave birth to Gingerbread in England.

Tess lived near a restaurant called ‘The Golden Age of Gingerbread’ and felt that Gingerbread would make a good name.

  • ‘Ginger’ for gingering up support from authorities
  • ‘Bread’ for the money that one-parent families need to support themselves and each other

Purpose & Function of Gingerbread England & Wales

Gingerbread’s objectives are:

  • To deliver quality services for lone parents and their children
  • Offer lone parents and their children practical and emotional support
  • Speak out for lone parents in the media and politics
  • Represent lone parents needs and views in the national debate.

Gingerbread England & Wales helps lone parents protect their children from the effects of poverty and disadvantage and overcome the social stigma, isolation and exclusion that are a daily fact of life for many.

Gingerbread England & Wales offers lone parents:

  • A freephone advice line dealing with a range of lone parent issues
  • A membership service offering discount vouchers for family entertainment, holidays and household services; national fun days, handbooks, fact sheets and newsletters
  • Group network of self help support groups
  • Outreach support and training to the group network through regional offices
  • An on-line virtual forum for lone parents to discuss issues with one another and through the website provide a comprehensive information service to lone parents and those interested in the issues facing lone parents.

In addition to the above Gingerbread offers those interested in the issues facing lone parents:

  • Policy work through which members can make their views known and assist government by consulting on the impact and implications of government policies
  • Social Policy Research is undertaken in response to identified gaps in lone parent family provision and report findings through conferences and briefing papers for professionals
  • Delivery of training, support and consultancy on user involvement, lone parent awareness and family friendly employment practices

For further information on Gingerbread in England & Wales please contact them at:
7 Sovereign Close
Sovereign Court London
T: 020 7488 9300
F: 020 7488 9333

In Scotland the equivalent organisations are One Plus and One Parent Families Scotland and their contact details are as follows:

One Plus:
One Parent Families
55 Renfrew Street
G2 3BD
T: 0141 333 1450
F: 0141 333 1399
One Parent Families Scotland
13 Gayfield Square
T: 0131 556 3899
F: 0131 557 7899


Gingerbread in Northern Ireland

Lone parents in the Suffolk area of Belfast and Cookstown in County Tyrone met to form a support network. In considering the ethos of the Gingerbread organisation already operating in England, they decided to form a sister network in Northern Ireland. It began in 1978. The organisation in Northern Ireland although sharing the same ethos of Gingerbread in England is completely independent and funded separately.

Gingerbread NI opened its first office above Ballynafeigh Community House at 291 Ormeau Road. The office had two rooms, which accommodated two members of staff and a number of volunteers. By 1982 the rapidly developing Gingerbread NI needed much larger premises. These were found at 171 University Street, which functioned as the Central Office for some six years.

The demand for the services of Gingerbread NI determined its rapid growth in its early stages. The commitment, voluntary effort and active participation of its membership gave the organisation dynamism and acted as a catalyst for its development.

By 1988 the organisation's continuing level of development meant that existing premises could not house all the new services or the growing staff team. The organisation moved into the larger premises at 169 University Street in 1989. This large Victorian house was extensively refurbished and now serves as Gingerbread NI Central Office.

Gingerbread NI has also set up offices in Derry (1996) and Ballymena (1999), serving the western and northern areas of Northern Ireland respectively. Their contact details are below:

5a Greenvale Street
Co Antrim
T: 028 2563 8086
F: 028 2565 0199
7 Bayview Terrace
Co Londonderry
T: 028 7137 7066
F: 028 7137 4296

Structure and Organisation of Gingerbread NI

Gingerbread NI is the sister organisation of Gingerbread UK, however it is managed and funded independently as a stand-alone organisation.

Gingerbread NI is made up of Gingerbread in Belfast, which is the Central Office (169 University St), Gingerbread NI in Derry, which is the Western Area Centre (7 Bayview Terrace) and Gingerbread NI in Ballymena, which is the Northern Area Centre (5a Greenvale Street).

Gingerbread NI’s Decision Making Process

Gingerbread NI’s Board of Directors is made up of up to 15 members appointed on the following basis:

  • Up to 12 members, being from throughout NI, elected by and from amongst the Lone Parent Members, by such procedures as the Board shall from time to time prescribe
  • Up to 3 persons of special experience and expertise co-opted by the elected members of the Board of Directors who shall become Associate Members; these Associate Members shall be entitled to full voting rights on the Board.

The Board is charged with responsibility for:

  • the policy
  • direction
  • financial and staff management of Gingerbread NI and is accountable to the membership through general meetings and the AGM

The Annual General Meeting is open to all. However, only Lone Parent Members of Gingerbread NI have voting rights and can:

  • elect the new board, with the exception of the co-optee’s
  • consider the previous year’s accounts
  • hear reports from the Board and staff
  • discuss policy issues and take decisions on other matters pertinent to the membership.

Special general meetings can be called to discuss urgent key issues at any time during the year.


Membership of Gingerbread NI

Gingerbread NI is a charity and legally is a company limited by guarantee. Members must subscribe to the objectives of the organisation and may apply for membership under TWO categories:

Lone Parent Membership:
This form of membership is open to any lone parent with sole custody of dependant children.

A lone parent maybe widowed, separated, divorced, single (never having married), single and pregnant or have a spouse in long-term institutional care**. Therefore, Lone Parent Gingerbread NI members are the parents who have or will have (in the case of single and pregnant women) sole day-to-day care of dependant children.

**Long-term care may be defined as: relating to a prisoner sentenced to 4 years or more or relating to hospital care - a patient in hospital for 6 weeks or more.

A dependant is:

  1. any child under the age of 18 years
  2. a person who is over 18 years and due to a physical or mental disability is unable to become independent of his/her parent
  3. a person pursuing education/training who is unable to become independent of his/her parent.

Lone parents who are Lone Parent Members of Gingerbread NI will be contacted on a regular basis through our newsletter, they’ll be kept informed of issues affecting them and their children, receive copies of publications by Gingerbread NI and have full voting rights at the organisation’s AGM (generally in November each year).

Associate Membership
Individuals, groups or organisations (private, statutory and voluntary), which support the aims and values of Gingerbread NI, are eligible to join as Associate Members. They will all subscribe to the aims and values of Gingerbread NI. Associate Members will be contacted on a regular basis through our newsletter, kept up-to-date on issues affecting lone parents and their children and receive copies of publications by Gingerbread NI. This membership will not carry any voting rights.

Gingerbread NI’s Management

The day-to-day activities of Gingerbread NI is co-ordinated and managed by the Director who, together with the Assistant Directors, is responsible for strategic and operational planning and decision-making

Gingerbread NI’s staffs are divided into three units:

  • Services and Development
    managed by Assistant Director for Services and Development
  • Organisational Development
    managed by Assistant Director for Organisational Development
  • Advice
    managed by the Director

The Services Offered by Gingerbread NI

Gingerbread NI’s services are provided as a physical method of reaching the aims and objectives of the organisation, providing better services for lone parents, and ultimately improving Lone Parent’s position in Northern Ireland society. The services that are provided fall under four headings:

  • Advice and Support
  • Training Services
  • Communication and Advocacy
  • Youth Services

Advice and Support

Gingerbread NI’s Advice Service is a fundamental part of the organisation’s range of services. It offers:

  • A drop-in / appointment based advice service in Belfast and Derry
  • A Free Phone Advice Line covering all of Northern Ireland

The advice service is available at both the Belfast centre and the Derry centre offering free, confidential and impartial advice to lone parents. Qualified and experienced advice workers can provide advice on issues such as:

  • Social Security
  • Separation/children’s rights
  • Maintenance/child support
  • Housing
  • Debt
  • Employment Rights
  • Returning to Work
  • Legal Issues
  • Consumer Issues
  • Lone Parent Issues

Gingerbread NI advice workers can also offer representation at appeals tribunals for lone parents.

There is a FreePhone Advice Line – 0808 808 8090.

The number of calls to the Freephone Advice Helpline has increased in each year that it has been open demonstrating that many lone parents continue to need a high level of support and advice

Over £1,000,000 in previously unclaimed or under-claimed benefits, grants and other income was identified and claimed by lone parents in 2003/2004 as a result of advice from the Freephone Advice Helpline and advice service.

As with all the services provided by Gingerbread NI, The Advice Service is limited due to funding restraints. The National Lottery Community Fund currently funds the Advice Service. We currently employ two part-time Advice Workers (one in Derry and one in Belfast) together with a full-time Advice Manager. The continued increase of clients using the service puts continued pressure on the human resources. However, limited funding prevents us from expanding. Volunteers provide excellent, but limited support to the services. Due to the legal restraints on Advice Work in law, each volunteer must undertake six months of advice training. This ensures quality provision, but often makes it more difficult to recruit volunteers. We currently have a number of volunteers in training and an outreach programme to expand the advice volunteer base is being developed.

Issues facing the Advice Service:

  • Funding
  • Human Resources (Volunteers)
  • Training

Training Services

Some background statistics

“All Alone”, a research project undertaken on behalf of Gingerbread NI (1996) into the health and social conditions of loneparents in the Northern Health and Social Services Region, highlighted that:

  • ¾ lone parents were not in paid employment
  • 90% were living on less than £150 per week
  • Over 60% were in debt
  • Nearly all suffered from money worries

Gingerbread’s research, supported by government statistics, indicates that over 90% of lone parents wish to work outside of the home at some stage. Recently “New TSN – the way forward” revealed 67% of lone parents live on an average of £156 per week.

Gingerbread NI provides a range of supported training and work placement opportunities to help lone parents become work ready. We also provide help to select the right course or training option and advice with career planning.

IT Training

We provide IT training leading to recognised qualifications (including the OCR accredited New CLAIT and Word Processing together with BCS’s ECDL) from our centres in Ballymena, Belfast and Derry.

The training is delivered in a relaxed, lone parent friendly environment with fully qualified and experienced tutors. A free onsite crèche is available to those with pre-school age children in Belfast and Derry whilst help with the cost of childcare is available to those participating in Ballymena. At all centres help is available towards the cost of travel. The training in Derry is available through the New Deal for Lone Parents initiative, which means trainees, can receive up to £15 per week training premium.

There are three intakes per year per centre, enabling up to sixty lone parents to gain a combination of IT qualifications.

Training to be a Trainer

Accredited by the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) and delivered by Gingerbread, the Certificate in Training Practice (CTP), is a Level 3 qualification, which will help a lone parent become a qualified trainer.

Delivered in Gingerbread’s Belfast Centre, the course runs from September to June with a half day attendance per week. It is open to lone parents currently employed in a role which involves an element of training and development or those interested in developing a career in this field.

  • FREE CIPD recognised training
  • FREE on-site Crèches (or help with other childcare costs)
  • Help with travel costs
  • All training materials provided
  • CIPD membership fees paid for one year
  • Meet other lone parents in a relaxed and friendly environment
  • Enhance your career prospects
  • FREE on-site advice service


Open to lone parents who are returning to training and education, the best part about CHOICES is that lone parents can choose a course in their own area and get help to cover the costs associated with training. Traineeswill also take part in a work experience placement with, where possible, the employer of their choice.

  • Help to choose the right course
  • Attend a local College
  • Help with finding childcare
  • Help with course fees and the cost of childcare, travel and other expenses
  • Ongoing support from Gingerbread staff through visits and telephone contact
  • Careers advice and guidance

Gingerbread NI Training Statistics

147 lone parents took part in Gingerbread training during 2002/03

  • 71% went on to further education or training
  • 7% were successful in securing employment

Funding Information

  • The IT Training in Derry is available through the New Deal for Lone Parents initiative
  • Ballymena’s IT training is funded by the Community Fund
  • Belfast’s IT training and the Certificate in Training Practice are both supported by the Belfast Local Strategy Partnership (BLSP) under the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation (PEACE11)
  • The CHOICES project is funded through the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation (PEACE11).

Communication and Advocacy

Gingerbread NI is committed to communicating to wider society the real issues, which impact on the lives of lone parents. This is done through active communication and advocacy work.

Gingerbread NI Online
Gingerbread NI’s website aims to highlight the issues of lone parents in Northern Ireland on the worldwide web.

Choices 3
Gingerbread NI worked in partnership with the Social Security Agency in producing this magazine, which highlights the services available to lone parents. With a distribution of 50,000, Choices 3 proved to be a resounding success from a lone parent perspective when it was launched and distributed at the end of June 04.

Representatives from Gingerbread NI undertake speaking engagements with a wide range of people/organisations (eg: health visitors, schools, Mother’s Union, Social Security Offices) who would be in contact with or interested in Lone Parents in order to promote information on and for Lone Parents in Northern Ireland.

Public Relations
Gingerbread NI actively seeks to promote its aims and values to the wider community by liaising closely with the media in Northern Ireland.

Internal Communications
A quarterly newsletter is produced and distributed to all Gingerbread NI members keeping them up-to-date with what’s happening within the organisation.

Gingerbread NI highlights and challenging policies and procedures, which are unjust and unequal for members of one-parent families, on an ongoing basis, by contacts with politicians and the media.

Childcare Services

The crèche facilities offered by Gingerbread NI aim to allow lone parents the opportunity to leave their child with fully qualified staff for a period of time.

The Gingerbread NI crèches are currently available at Central Office (169 University St, Belfast), the Northern Area Centre (5a Greenvale St, Ballymena) and the Western Area Centre in Derry (7 Bayview Terrace).

Gingerbread NI’s crèches offer a high quality of care including the following:

  • Respite Facilities
  • Caring Staff
  • Quality Play
  • Social Interaction
  • Safe environment

Who uses Gingerbread NI’s services and how they gain access

Those who use Gingerbread NI include those professionals/family/ friends who would come into contact with lone parents and their families, lone parents and the children of lone parents.

Lone parents and the children of lone parents can be referred to Gingerbread NI via several channels including:

  • Department of Health and Social Services & Public Safety (eg Lone Parent Advisors at Social Security Offices and Job Centres)
  • G.P.’s and other health workers (eg midwives/health visitors)
  • Help groups and organisations
  • Friends and Family
  • Self-referral

Gingerbread NI can be contacted by:

  • Telephone – freephone advice helpline on 0808 808 8090; initial training enquires 028 9023 1417
  • Fax - 028 9024 0740
  • Letter – 169 University Street, Belfast, BT7 1HR / 7 Bayview Terrace, Derry, Co Londonderry, BT48 7EE
  • E-mail
  • Appointment (Belfast or Derry); and/or
  • Visit by Gingerbread personnel, where necessary.

Barriers faced by Lone Parents

Financial Barriers:

  • Lone parents may have lack of access to public and private transport due to financial hardship, however once a lone parent is on any of the schemes that Gingerbread NI offers, Gingerbread NI pays for their travel expenses
  • Lone parents may also have lack of access to a telephone because of the financial implications however they can phone the freephone advice line from any pay phone (not mobiles) free of charge: Tel 0808 808 8090.

Language/Literacy Barriers:

  • Gingerbread NI has a translation service available. The translation service on the advice line would be in the form of a three-way call with a translator and for a face-to-face interview the translator would be present. This language line allows staff to communicate instantly with people whose English is poor or non-existent. It enables staff to offer equality of access to services to people of various ethnic communities.
  • For some lone parents the completion of the many forms necessary to obtain benefits/grants or sort out debt issues can be difficult due to their emotional state and/or poor literacy levels. Our advice workers help complete the forms in an efficient and sympathetic manner helping to overcome this barrier faced.

Geographic / location of services barriers:

  • For lone parents who live outside the direct catchment areas of Gingerbread NI (ie Belfast, Derry and Ballymena) there is a network of Gingerbread NI self-help groups. These groups are set up around Northern Ireland so that they can be easily accessible to lone parents within Northern Ireland. If there is a particular area that does not have support for lone parents, Gingerbread NI will help Lone Parents in that area and give advice on starting up their own group
  • The freephone advice helpline is available to all lone parents in Northern Ireland regardless of where they live. Being free, the worry of the cost (referred to above) of a call is taken off the lone parent’s shoulders
  • The regional training programme, CHOICES, is open to all lone parents in receipt of benefits who wish to return to training and education. It’s flexibility allows lone parents to choose a course in their own area and they’ll get help to cover the costs associated with the training. Trainees will also take part in a work experience placement with, where possible, the employer of their choice in their area. This eliminates the need to travel to one of Gingerbread’s centres for training

Emotional and Psychological barriers:

  • Some lone parents have a fear of being stigmatised by attending an organisation for lone parents. If a lone parent was in an abusive relationship of any type they may have little or not self esteem and therefore may not be comfortable visiting an organisation such as Gingerbread NI. A high percentage of lone parents who suffer from depression, anxiety and stress and these factors may discourage lone parents from attending the organisation. By providing a non-judgemental and confidential environment, lone parents may feel more at ease contacting Gingerbread NI.

How the organisation is funded locally and nationally

Gingerbread NI’s various elements receive funding from a variety of sources.

The main source(s) of funding Northern Ireland wide are as follows:
Statutory - Dept Health, Social Services & Public Safety, Northern Health and Social Services Board, Dept of Employment and Learning, Foyle Health and Social Services Trust, Dept Social Development, Social Security Agency, Youth Council (NI), European Union, PROTEUS,.

Voluntary - Community Foundation NI, NI Pre-School Play Group Association and The Training for Women Network.

Charitable Trusts - The Community Fund, BBC Children in Need Appeal, Lloyds TSB, The Co-Op Community Award, Atlantic Philanthropies.

Core Funding
The central office in Belfast is core funded by the Department of Health and Social Services and Public Safety (DHSS&PS). Central Office also receives funding from the EU’s European Social Fund (ESF). The Derry office is core funded by the Londonderry Regeneration Initiative (LRI). Derry has also received gap funding from Western Health & Social Services Board (WHSSB) for running costs and salaries whilst the Northern Health & Social Services Board (NHSSB) funds Ballymena.

Advice Service
Gingerbread NI’s Advice Service, which is located in the Western Regional Centre, Derry and at Central Office in Belfast, is funded by the ‘Community Fund’.

Training Service
The Training Service is funded from a variety of different sources. The 'IT Training' scheme in Derry is funded by the Department of Employment and Learning through their New Deal for Lone Parent's initiative, whilst in Belfast 'IT Training' is funded through the Belfast Local Strategy Partnership (BLSP) and the EU’s Programme for Peace and Reconciliation. In Ballymena, funding comes from The Community Fund (Peace 2). CHOICES is funded by the EU’s Programme for Peace and Reconciliation.

Childcare Services
The Crèche in Derry is funded by the Foyle Trust whilst the crèche in Belfast secured gap funding from the Department of Health and Social Services for the next 2-3 years.

Breakdown of Funding
Gingerbread NI recognises the significance of multilateral provision, through partnership of Government, Voluntary, and Private Sectors. This is echoed in the breakdown of funding.

In 2003/04 income for Gingerbread NI from European statutory sources constituted a total of £222,533.32 (41%) of our total income. This came mainly from the European Social Fund, which underpinned training and development activities of the organisation.

Government Sources constituted 54% (£336,556.08) of total income. Most of this is derived from The Department of Health and Social Services. Social Security Agency (Dept of Social Development) funded the publication of Choices II magazine. A further breakdown of Government funding sources can be seen in our Annual Report 2004. Meanwhile, Trust and Charitable sources made up 5% of our funding during 2003/04. A breakdown of Gingerbread NI’s Financial Activities can be viewed in our Annual Report 2004 (page 15).

Gingerbread NI is a not-for-profit voluntary organisation, and remains independent from any of its funding partners. The advancement of knowledge and understanding of issues facing one-parent families, and the services that we provide is core to the organisation’s objectives. As such we willingly provide information, presentations and services. As Northern Ireland’s only lone parent focussed organisation we regularly would receive request for referral from SSA (lone parent advisors in particular).

We have received increased requests from schools, generally Home Economics and AVCE Health and Social care classes. We are delighted, as this is a very effective way of highlighting issues affecting lone parents in the province, as well as encouraging a greater understanding.

How Gingerbread NI’s work relates to formal and informal carers

Lone parents can be referred to any number of formal carers. For example, through the advice service, lone parents may be referred to counsellors, G.P.’s, teachers, social workers etc.

Lone parents and children of lone parents may also be referred to formal carers through the crèche service. Advice workers with Gingerbread NI can form strong links with local voluntary organisations and also Government organisations so that these referrals can be made easily.

The Gingerbread NI advice line would often receive calls from the parents of young lone parents looking for advice on their behalf and also from friends.

Gingerbread NI can give advice to these informal carers and can also refer them to the relevant agencies. The child of an ill lone parent can also contact Gingerbread NI for support. Gingerbread NI can offer that child advice and also refer him or her to the appropriate agency or organisation.

Gingerbread NI does not provide a counselling service, but they do provide an advice line. However, Gingerbread NI has a comprehensive referral list that is used so therefore the person who is calling can speak to the best possible person for them.

The effect government legislation and reform has on Gingerbread NI

As both a service provider and an advocate new Government Policy or change in legislation always affects the work of Gingerbread NI. It can affect the provision of services to young people, advice, and training to the work of the Communications Department. It is useful to analyse the impact at two levels:

  • Service provision; and
  • Advocacy/policy levels

Service Provision

As with all youth services the facility provision of the crèche is tightly governed by Child Protection Policies, and Health and Safety Policies, all necessitated under the statutes of the Children’s Order (NI) 1995, and the guidelines outlined in the Department of Health and Social Services Document, Children First (The Northern Ireland Childcare Strategy 1999).

All leaders are fully trained and registered childcare workers, and have been vetted under the guidelines of the Children’s Order. The crèche requires at least two leaders at a time, a guideline clearly emphasised in the Order, and the Children First document. Health and Safety Policies have been drafted and implemented, and equality and multi-cultural is to the fore of provision in our crèches. The Children’s Order provides a system of quality assurance, with registration subject to inspection and continued assessment.

While government policies and legislation governing childcare and youth provision will inevitably continue to impact on our service provision, it must also be stated that Gingerbread NI as an organisation was an advocate for such child protection legislation, and has always monitored staff who have access to young people through the organisation. This is essential if we are to provide lone parents with the appropriately high quality childcare, in which they can trust.

Training Services provided by Gingerbread NI are also subject to Government policy and reform. We are independent providers of the New Deal for lone parents and as such we are subject to Government benefit reform. This partnership, however does not remove Gingerbread NI’s independence. It was through a system of appraisal, undertaken at a management level that we as an organisation decided to undertake the provision of New Deal. We recognised the improvement it made to provision and access.

It was a reform, which heralded an attitude change for the better at Government level and while it certainly is not perfect, the core of it has increased access for lone parents to employment. At the instigation of New Deal Gingerbread NI, as an interested party, was engaged in a process of consultation, which gave us the ability to comment on aspects of the programme, which could and should be improved. For example, at its launch New Deal had no training or childcare provision. It was through focus group input by agencies such as Disability Action and Gingerbread NI that these features became part of the Government package.

As an agency, Gingerbread NI’s ability to provide services is made easier through the partnership developed with the Social Security Agency and Training & Employment Agency. While, as an organisation we will continue to advocate improvements where improvements are needed, the relationship developed enables us to provide quality services to those we work for and with – namely lone parents.

There is no specific Government legislation governing the provision of Advice Services in Northern Ireland, Government reform of matters upon which we would advise has a direct impact on the advice given to clients.

The Advice Line is not a counselling line. Its purpose is to provide adequate and professional financial, legal, and benefit advice to our client grouping. The advice covers social security legislation, basic divorce legislation, employment legislation and rights, minimum wage, housing legislation and the Child Support Legislation. Any changes in legislation then will have direct impact on the training requirements of the Advice workers and volunteers as well as their time in dealing with lone parents’ requests/concerns. While there is no legal requirement for training of advice workers, Gingerbread NI is a responsible adviser, we require all advice workers to be trained to Citizen Advice Bureau or Law Centre standard. This makes it difficult in recruiting volunteers, but it does allow the organisation the assurance that the advice given is of high quality.

New Tax Credit Scheme (launched Apr 03)
The introduction, in April 2003, of the new tax credit scheme by the Government impacted greatly on Gingerbread NI’s Advice Service. There was a significant year on year increase in the number of calls during the height of the problems the delay in payments caused (April – May 03). Through these calls advice workers witnessed at first hand the concerns of low income families as significant delays in assessment and payment caused a great deal of anxiety and genuine hardship. Gingerbread NI believes that Tax Credits can play an important role in tackling poverty but efficient administrative systems and accessible advice and information are essential to ensure Tax Credits provide a reliable source of income for working families. Gingerbread NI has made representations to the government pertaining to this and will continue to do so.

Child Support Reforms
The introduction of Child Support Reforms will impact upon our Advice centre’s work, as a new set of guidelines will have to be disseminated and understood. Our volunteers will then need to be trained on this information.

At present the introduction of these reforms has been delayed and although this provides further time for dissemination and training we are concerned that this delay will have a detrimental effect on one-parent families and their children. We believe that the delay in the simplification of Child Support assessments that would have been brought about by the reforms means that lone parents seeking Child Support will continue to be subject to assessments under the current system which has been shown to be difficult to operate and enforce. We believe that this will mean that many lone parents will continue to experience financial hardship and frustration due to the operational problems in the current system.

The new Child Maintenance Premium allows an extra £10 per week in benefit where Child Support is paid to a parent in receipt of Income Support. Gingerbread has welcomed the introduction of the Child Maintenance Premium although we believe that the premium should have been set at a higher rate. A delay of six months to a year means that lone parents in receipt of Income Support will lose from £260 - £520 in terms of benefit entitlements. During that period Income Support is regarded as a subsistence benefit and the delay will add to the financial hardship already experienced by those families that would benefit most from the additional income. We would argue that the Child Maintenance Premium should apply to all Child Support recipients in receipt of Income Support from the agreed implementation date of 22 April 2002 and have brought this matter to the government’s attention.

Other areas
Gingerbread NI has been engaged in the shaping of policy through advocacy and consultation on numerous legislative proposals. Representatives of the organisation have sat on lobby groups at local, national, and European level, which provides us with the forum, both to remain up to speed on policy development, but also to make submissions and suggestions around it. Both our Director and Chairperson sat on the “European Network on One Parent Families”, a European Union recognised network of organisations. This allowed us to have an input into European level discussions on the issues facing lone parents. We also have an internal Social Policy Forum, which is constituted by various staff in the organisation, representing the different services we provide. This enables the organisation as a whole to remain aware of any policy changes, and to keep our membership informed, and to make submissions if deemed appropriate.

The most recent legislation to be introduced refers to the introduction of the final phase in the Disability Discrimination Act. The Act covers the definition of disability, employment issues, access to goods and services, education, transport and vehicles and the setting up of National Disability Councils (Equality Commission in NI). All employers, employees, apprentices, agency workers, the self-employed and users of a service in the UK are covered by the Act.

Consequently, since the first phase was introduced in 1999 through until the final phase 1 October 2004 Gingerbread has been adhering to the Act and making reasonable adjustments where able to do so. For example at Central Office a ramp has been built at the front of the office to facilitate easier access for someone using a wheelchair and a wheelchair friendly bathroom has been fitted. The newsletter has been altered so that the font size is at 14 to assist those with a visual impairment. Choices 3 – the magazine for lone parents, was produced again in font size 14 and is available in other mediums (eg Braille/audio/extra large print). Finally, a member of staff has had “Disability Awareness Training” from Adapt NI which has been relayed to other members of staff.

Gingerbread NI’s interaction/co-ordination with other organisations locally and nationally and how it is managed

Gingerbread NI interacts with a number of organisations at a local, national and European level.

Locally, Gingerbread would interact with other voluntary organisations such as Women’s Aid on mutual referrals to our respective advice services. Women’s Aid would also refer their clients to Gingerbread’s training services as a possible next step.

We would liaise with the Social Security Agency on all "benefits" matters and the social fund for the community care grants, crisis loans and budgeting loans. With regards to the community care grants our advice team would help with the completion of forms, submit the completed forms and should the need arise we would assist in calling for a review (this is an appeals procedure) if the grant application was rejected. The community care grants may be obtained every six months for a diverse range of needs such as clothing and household items. Lone parents would apply for this grant on the basis of a family under exceptional pressure (eg family medical conditions or problems with ex-partners).

Our advice service would also interact with a number of Credit Agencies to assist clients in repaying any debts which they have incurred (eg mortgage/rent arrears, utility bills, store cards, credit cards). With our client's authority, we would contact the relevant credit agency asking them to hold off on legal proceedings and to provide us with an up-to-date balance. In the meantime, we discuss in detail with the client their monthly income and expenditure and develop a financial statement showing where savings might be made and determining any monies which might be available to help with repayment of debt. The amount left over is then divided between the creditors on a priority and pro-rata basis. We approach our client's creditors with details of our proposed repayment schedule and usually this is accepted immediately, however, we do negotiate with creditors on the payment amounts if necessary. If the client has a bank account a direct debt is put in place, if not payment may be issued through the post office (eg NIE electricity card) or via postal orders to the creditor.

Another example would be the work we've carried out with the Department of Social Development in promoting “New Deal for Lone Parents” through the publication of the various Choices magazines (most recently June 04) which had a print run of 50,000 and was distributed to all lone parents in receipt of income support as well as to doctor’s surgeries, dentists and the SSA’s Lone Parent Advisers. This project was managed by a team from Gingerbread which included the organisation’s Director, Assistant Director (Organisational Development) and Communications Officer

Further to this Gingerbread’s IT training programme, in our Western Regional Centre, is supported by New Deal. This is managed through Services & Development. For the Western Regional Centre’s “Steps to Work” programme the SSA allocates funding for a period of 13 weeks to support lone parents taking the course. Gingerbread NI promotes the IT training courses to our members in the Western Area Centre’s area and works with Lone Parent Advisers in the area to direct lone parents interested in developing their IT skill to it. The courses are highly publicised in local newspapers, through doctor/dentist’s surgeries and in local schools.

Winter 04/05 sees the development of links with Marks & Spencer in Northern Ireland to promote the “parents returning to work” initiative. It is aimed at parents who have been away from the workplace while raising children. The scheme will help provide opportunities to update skills and build confidence through work experience placements. We will be promoting this initiative through our membership network in the coming months.

Gingerbread NI is a member of European Network of One-Parent Families (ENOPF), and Gingerbread NI’s Director, Marie Cavanagh, works closely with this organisation.

The clients’ influence on the practices of Gingerbread NI

Ultimately, Gingerbread NI is a membership organisation. Thus, our Individual Members (ie lone parents) of 550+, participate fully in shaping the services of the organisation. Our service provision has emerged from such consultation and has developed as a result of such consultation.

Childcare Provision
The provision of on-site crèche facilities for both training and respite care came as a result of feedback received from trainees participating in our IT courses and clients attending interviews with our advice workers. Some lone parents who were keen to train/re-train experienced great difficulty in obtaining good quality, suitable childcare and consequently found attending the courses problematic. The views of trainees were taken into account and then gathered together to submit in applications for funding to provide crèche facilities in Belfast and Derry. Equally, clients were having difficulty attending interviews because they didn’t have short-term drop in childcare available to them and were reluctant to have their children with then during interviews which might last some time. This need was clearly identified and as a result short-term respite care at a nominal fee (£2.00 per child per session) is provided. Parents are confident their child is being looked after in a secure environment and they are close at hand should they be needed.

Research Projects
Gingerbread NI also engages in Research Projects, which attempt to analyse and make suggestions at addressing the needs of lone parents. Gingerbread NI’s research projects, such as “All Alone?” , “Wise Heads on Young Shoulders” , “Obstacles to Employment” and “From Strength to Strength” include huge elements of qualitative research. It is important for the organisation to address issues as they occur for lone parents. To do that, it is essential for the organisation to listen to the needs of its members and the public.

Development of Services in the Northern Board Area
The “All Alone? – the health and social care needs of lone parents” research took place in the Northern Health and Social Services Board area in 1996. Nearly 200 lone parents with dependant child(ren) in the Board’s area completed a detailed questionnaire and subsequently a focus group was brought together.

A number of conclusions and recommendations were presented regarding lone parents in the Northern Board area and poverty, need for services, family support services, self-help support groups, counselling and advice services, mediation and disability. The information garnered from this research meant Gingerbread NI was in a very strong position when it came to apply for funding to help open an office in Ballymena and develop services specifically for lone parents in the area. This goal was achieve in 1999 and was greatly aided by the influence of lone parents in the area who had participated in our research.