Single parents ‘set up to fail’

Welfare changes starting today will see up to 111,000 single parents set up to fail as they are forced to seek work – or risk a benefit cut – without availability of jobs, adequate job-search support or childcare help, according to campaign group Gingerbread. 

Welfare changes starting today will see up to 111,000 single parents set up to fail as they are forced to seek work – or risk a benefit cut – without availability of jobs, adequate job-search support or childcare help, according to campaign group Gingerbread. 
The organisation for single parents says today’s reforms mean all single parents with a youngest child aged 7 to 9 will be switched from Income Support to Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). Parents with a youngest aged 12 were moved to the new system in 2008 and those with a youngest aged 10 were moved over in 2009, but, according to Gingerbread, the system is currently not helping single parents to move into jobs. Only an average of 3.5% a month of single parents with a youngest aged 12 to 15 have moved into jobs since they were switched from Income Support to JSA in 2008, it says.
Chief Executive of Gingerbread Fiona Weir said: “The coalition government says it wants to make work pay and to support single parents into work, but the reality is that today thousands of single parents are being set up to fail. Government needs to act fast to improve availability of jobs with flexible working hours, improve the job-search support provided from day one of a claim, and increase access to childcare. 
“Gingerbread welcomes the aim of new welfare reform proposals to make work pay, but the timescale for their implementation is too long for the single parents affected by today’s change. We urge the government to introduce short-term measures to help make short-hours jobs pay, and to review recent decisions to cut help with childcare costs which will create a further barrier for single parents trying to get into work.”
Gingerbread calculates that 57% of single parents are currently in employment, and says most of those on benefits are keen to work but face significant barriers that government needs to address. These include:
– Lack of jobs – last week’s Spending Review outlined nearly half a million job losses across the public sector by 2014/15, and PwC has estimated that a similar number will be lost in the private sector

– Making work pay – Gingerbread says the proposed reforms to the welfare system will take two parliaments to implement in full. This will not help the 111,000 single parents moving onto JSA today, it states

– Finding jobs that pay – it says 21% of children whose single parent is in full-time work still fall below the poverty line, as do 29% of children whose single parent works part time

– Childcare availability and costs – Gingerbread says last week’s announcement of reduced help for childcare costs will create an additional barrier to work, on top of the fact that only 45% of local authorities report sufficient childcare availability for children aged 5-11

It adds that many single parents get poor advice from JobCentres. Its helpline reports recent cases such as:   
– A parent with a youngest under 16 wrongly advised by JobCentre staff that they must work full time
– A parent of a five year old told they must search for work now 
– A parent’s JSA wrongly stopped after leaving a job because appropriate childcare was no longer available 
Fiona Weir added: “Under intense pressure in such a tight labour market, single parents need expert help from JobCentre staff, but some are instead getting inaccurate advice. At the very least all single parents should be given specialist help from a New Deal Lone Parent Adviser from day one of their JSA claim”.


Anand Shukla, acting Chief Executive of Daycare Trust, said the new regime for single parents could not work without more investment in childcare: “There are not many jobs which pay a decent wage and allow employees to work only during school hours; so the absence of wraparound and out-of-hours childcare is a major barrier to employment for lone parents. Existing working hours are almost always 9am to 5pm, and school hours 9am to 3.30pm, which makes it a nightmare, if not actually impossible for lone parents to work, commute and pick their children up during term time.
"Another barrier for lone parents is the thirteen weeks of school holiday spread throughout the calendar year – whilst parents receive on average four weeks leave. Without affordable and flexible holiday childcare, this situation is quite simply unworkable for lone parents.
"Our research shows that more parents than ever are affected by an absence of available and suitable childcare, and with spending cuts hitting local authorities we anticipate this situation will only get worse. This reform will only work if wraparound childcare is available at every primary school, including during school holidays.
"Ensuring childcare is affordable will also be crucial to making this policy a success – yet the cost of out-of-school clubs has shot up drastically over the last year. The decision to reduce the amount of childcare costs payable through Working Tax Credits from 80% to 70%, announced in last week’s Comprehensive Spending Review is also a move in the wrong direction.
"If the government are serious about getting parents back to work, and ‘making work pay’ then they must ensure that the childcare that all parents need is available, affordable and flexible.”

*Gingerbread has published a toolkit and new factsheet for single parents explaining the rules and exemptions that apply in the new regime.

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