Single parent work reforms could lead to poverty, warns Gingerbread

Government plans to get single parents into work could founder without proper childcare support, says a new report by Gingerbread.

The Government’s plans to cut the benefits of single parents who do not take part in “work related activity” to Jobcentre Plus deadlines could lead single parents into debt and poverty without proper support, says a new report.
”There’s only one of me” is published today by Gingerbread, the organisation for single parents. It says that under the Welfare Reform Bill, currently in Parliament, will mean Jobcentre Plus advisers will be given the power to cut up to 40 per cent of single parents’ benefits.

It estimates this could affect up to 400,000 single parents with children aged three and over.
The report is based on interviews with 200 single parents. Gingerbread says it reveals “the gulf between the Government’s rhetoric on ‘empowerment’ via reform and the reality of life as a single parent managing the difficult balance of work and parenting alone”.
Gingerbread says the interviews suggest:
– Benefits cuts are proven to have little effect on job-hunting behaviour and are likely to lead single parents into debt and hardship.
– The Government’s promise of a specially tailored package of “personalised” support, is mistrusted by single parents who share experiences of shoddy treatment at Jobcentre Plus, mistakes and wrong benefits payments, which have led to debt and hardship.  
– “Work can be unworkable” for the many single parents who find a shortage of suitable and affordable childcare – especially during the school summer holidays.
– Work doesn’t always pay for many single parents in low-paid jobs, where topping up childcare fees; paying for school dinners; and travelling to work can wipe out the financial advantages of having a job.
– Single parents’ ambitions for a stable career are blighted by strict rules, which mean their options to train while on Job seekers’ Allowance are severely limited, often preventing them from taking up courses beyond Level 2.
Wrong balance
Fiona Weir, Chief Executive of Gingerbread, said: “The Welfare Reform Bill gets the balance wrong. On the one hand there is a concrete regime where single parents can get their benefits cut if they don’t do as they are told by a Jobcentre Plus Adviser. On the other hand, the Government’s promise of a package of “personalised” support remains vague.
“Last week’s amendments to the welfare reform bill indicate that Yvette Cooper understands that this policy needs to be made to work in the real world. The scales are too often weighted against single parents who need help and not hindrance to combine paid work with bringing up children.”
The Government has announced some concessions to critics of its plans, for instance, it says it will offer pay incentives to encourage single parents back into work and will take no sanctions against parents of children younger than seven if no appropriate or affordable childcare is available. It is also reported to be suggesting that lone parents of children between three and six may only be required to seek advice on debt rather than "prepare for work".

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