Single parent reforms "ill-timed"
Reforms which will mean 124,000 single parents with children aged five or six will be moved onto Jobseeker’s Allowance with only eight weeks’ notice are ill-timed and ill thought out, according to single parent campaign group Gingerbread.
Analysis for Gingerbread by the Work Foundation shows one in five single parents who find a job are unemployed again within 12 months. Gingerbread says access to further education is vital to supporting single earner families to get off benefits, out of poverty and into stable jobs.
However, it says, the reforms won't allow women time to retrain and come at a time of high unemployment and 17 months before more support for childcare costs for single parents working fewer than 16 hours a week becomes available. Single parents with young children are particularly likely to seek shorter hour jobs, says Gingerbread.
Gingerbread’s chief executive Fiona Weir said: “Thousands of single parents have lost the chance to plan ahead and skill up to improve their chances of getting a decent job. Without qualifications they risk remaining trapped in a cycle of low-paid work and unemployment benefits. This Government needs to take a longer term approach and allow single parents starting Further Education training to complete their course before seeking a job.”
Gingerbread cites statistics that show over two-thirds (68%) of single parents enter one of the three lowest-paying occupational groups. Holding a level 3 qualification is vital to giving single parents a realistic chance of lifting their families out of poverty and reducing their reliance on benefits. Single parents already doing a further education course will be allowed to finish it before seeking work, but single parents moved onto JSA today will only be allowed to start a course if they are willing to give up the course if offered a job, says Gingerbread.
Gingerbread is calling on Government to improve opportunities for single parents to develop skills that will help them move into more stable jobs and avoid the high levels of churn between benefits and low paid work that so many currently face.
Dr Neil Lee, Senior Economist from The Work Foundation added: “Our analysis shows that a significant proportion of single parents who enter employment are struggling to stay in work. On top of strong competition for vacancies, single parents with younger children often face the added difficulty of finding employment that fits with their caring responsibilities. Many will also have been outside the labour market for some time. These factors leave them at a disadvantage when trying to re-enter the labour market.”
Gingerbread is calling for:
- Single parents with children aged five and six who take up further education courses to be treated as fulfilling work search obligations
- Financial help towards childcare costs for those working less than 16 hours a week via the flexible support fund
- Support from Jobcentre Plus advisors trained in single parent issues.
In a speech announcing the reforms, the Minister for Disabled People Maria Miller said the aim was to help lone parents into work and lift them out of povertyand added that they would not be made to work if childcare was not available.
However, 4Children Chief Executive Anne Longfield OBE said: "We are concerned that in some areas it is the lack of affordable out of school childcare that will hold lone parents back.
"In some areas we know that there is a chronic shortage of affordable childcare in the school holidays and after school hours. Developing new childcare places and supporting parents to find the childcare they need must be an upmost priority for job centre plus and the local authority. This tailor-made support will be essential if lone parents are to consider moving into work."