From 16 to 5 in four years. Hidden effects of the lone parent benefit changes. new blog

It takes children eleven years to go from five to sixteen. But Governments can do the same feat in reverse in just four years. In 2008 the move from Income Support to JSA took place when a Lone Parent’s youngest child was 16. Now it its five. Labour started the trend, taking the age down from 16 to 12 and would have stopped at 7. The Conservatives stood on a platform to bring it down to five and the Coalition have done just that.

In some senses the move is symbolic, saying someone is available for work does not mean that work is available for them. And as lone parents with children under 12 can choose to work part-time school hours, and the number of these jobs available is very small, many are finding it very hard to find the job they want. But by moving onto JSA Lone Parents have to sign a Job Seekers Agreement, sign on regularly, actively seek work and take up a reasonable job offer, even if it means leaving a training course.

Work and Pensions Minister Mrs Fiona Miller said: “We know that work is the best route out of poverty, so we are determined to help more lone parents take their first steps into work.” I do just that working with Lone Parents to help them identify what they want to do, and supporting them to achieve their ambitions. Most want to work. But practical issues make it very difficult.

Strangely for a government that has claimed to want to be the most “family friendly” One of the first things the Coalition did was cut the childcare element of Working Tax Credit from 80% to 70%. Whether you think it costs to much or the  subsidy is too low – take your ideological pick – it’s clear that parents on low pay find childcare costs too high. But it’s not just cost: the number of childcare places is falling as after-school and breakfast clubs take a battering from the austerity agenda.

Low hours contracts and under-employment.
Lone parents want to work part time, but contracts that offer below 16 hours bars those who need to claim Working Tax Credit. Many  big employers who ought to know better are part of the problem, and what is making things worse is that high general levels of unemployment means that  many who would prefer to work full time are taking up the part-time jobs available.

Low skills, no qualifications
We now have an employment structure that is based on requirements for NVQs. Many lone parents do not have these. Fiona Weir Chief Executive of Gingerbread has said “Without qualifications they risk remaining trapped in a cycle of low-paid work and unemployment benefits.” But a lone parent who is on a course would have to leave if they were offered employment. Weir says “The Government needs to take a longer term approach and allow single parents starting further education training to complete their course before seeking a job.

Parents need to know that if they go back to work they will be better off; their children will be well cared for in high quality, affordable childcare, and that they can have a career, so that they can raise their family out of poverty.

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