Why a stricter Universal Credit regime is bad for mums

In the week the Chancellor said there would be a tougher benefits sanction regime, Maggie Gordon-Walker from Mothers Uncovered outlines why she set up a petition to campaign against forthcoming changes to Universal Credit.

Rising Costs

 

I set up a government petition about the new proposals that parents on Universal Credit must now work 30 hours per week in order to receive benefits, rather than the 16 hours it was before.

For many, especially single parents (usually mothers) this is a dire situation. The petition is nowhere near the 10,000 signatures mark whereby the Government have to officially respond.

In the main, the comments where I’ve promoted it on social media have been positive, but some have remarked that the Government provide funding for childcare, allowing parents to work. The trouble is, the much lauded childcare of 30 hours per week is term-time only, which means there are 13 weeks when no benefits will be received. Most childcare providers (and many do not have the staff to offer these hours, as care work is poorly paid and staff go elsewhere) have spread the hours over the entire year, therefore parents will only get around 21 funded hours per week, yet they will need to work full time in order to pay for the childcare that isn’t covered.

One of the things I find most depressing in this debacle is the fact that it sends out a very clear message that parenting is of no value; the bonding time between parent and infant is of negligible importance and can be farmed out elsewhere. Parenting IS work. I founded Mothers Uncovered in 2008, a peer-led support network for mothers and I’ve met hundreds of women who are broken by the experience of motherhood. They are not rich, spoilt and ungrateful, but women who desperately love their children and want the best for them. They talk of when they ‘go back to work’, as if what they are doing now is spring break.

Many want to take paid employment, but finding a job that fits into nursery and school hours is impossible. A volunteer for Mothers Uncovered, single parent Rachel Limage, who has two children aged six and three, is very worried about the upcoming changes. “It feels now like I have to jump through a lot more hoops to get the support I need.”

The less charitable comments I’ve received are of the, ‘Why do you expect the taxpayers to fund you, you shouldn’t have children if you can’t afford them’ variety. There’s still a prevailing myth of the council estate teen mum getting pregnant to get a flat. Yet for anyone who has claimed benefits knows, it’s not a desirable state to be in. The constant scrutiny, the judgement, the implications of fecklessness. Single parents are not often single by choice. They may have been bereaved or left an abusive situation.

Children are also members of society. Is it right that a child as young as three should be parked in childcare all day and only see their parent at weekends? A parent who is exhausted and petrified about how to pay the bills will struggle to provide a warm, nurturing environment and the resulting mental health crises will end up costing the country far more.

*Maggie Gordon-Walker is founder of Mothers Uncovered.



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