The Labour government aims to increase the lone parent employment rate to 70 per cent by 2010. To achieve this aim, it has introduced a state subsidy for childcare in the form of the childcare element of the Working Tax Credit. So far this has been limited to formal childcare despite evidence that lone parents are more likely to use informal childcare. This article investigates the potential of a state subsidy to be extended to support informal childcare. Utilizing evidence from a study of 78 qualitative in-depth interviews with lone parents, it explores preferences for informal care and the way that informal care is negotiated. On the one hand, we found that some lone parents held deeply embedded preferences for informal childcare based on trust, commitment, shared understandings and children's happiness. Thus it can be concluded that it is important for the government to support informal as well as formal care. On the other, we found that the way lone parents actually negotiated informal childcare involved complex notions of obligation, duty and reciprocity, suggesting that a subsidy could potentially intrude upon complex private family relationships. However, the evidence suggests that care was negotiated differently depending on whether it was provided by a grandparent or other family and friends, with lone parents tending to favour paying for childcare provided by other family and friends than grandparents. This has implications for a state subsidy, which needs further investigation
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