The Health Trap: Poverty, Smoking and Lone Parenthood


This new study concentrates on the most difficult questions raised by Poor Smokers: why do so many lone parents smoke, and what might be done to help them avoid such a costly habit? Using new data tracing how lone parent families change over time, the study shows that the hardship lone parents experience forms a major barrier to giving up smoking. At the same time, the financial and the health burdens imposed by smoking deepen their difficulties. These in turn discourage a return to work. The report argues that a fraction of the huge tax revenues paid out of their social security benefits by the poorest families should be mobilised into new efforts to assist them to quit smoking. Targeting free nicotine replacement patches to them would be a start. But Welfare-to-Work must start with Welfare-to-Health.

As the researchers comment: ‘All our studies of lone parents have indicated that poor health is a hidden hand in keeping many from improving their circumstances. Smoking, and its companion experiences of increased hardship and reduced morale and optimism, must be a major mechanism in this process. We are promised joined up policy thinking. There could be few more effective linkages for Britain’s lone parents than to join up reduced hardship, improved morale and human capital, better income from maintenance payments as well as work.’

Dorsett, R., Marsh, A. (1998) The health trap: poverty, smoking and lone parenthood, (PSI research report 855). London: Policy Studies Institute.

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ISBN: 0853747504 / 9780853748700