From education to employment

An impossible bind – single parent families and Universal Credit

Fran Parry, MD, Bright Sparks

It is with considerable frustration that I am adding to the mountain of words written to plead with the Department for Work and Pensions for a pause and a rethink about the extent and the impact of Universal Credit on numerous client groups.  

I am writing as a Trustee of Gingerbread, a charity dedicated to the support of the two million single parent families in the country. We provide expert advice, practical support and campaign for single mums and dads.

Universal Credit has hit single parent families hard, and in particular those affected by the new job seeking requirements imposed by Universal Credit on parents of children aged three and four. This change will affect 220,000 parents of whom 75% are single parents.

Very few of us would argue that the original policy intent of Universal Credit, Making Work Pay, was a bad one.

Put very basically it was intended that everyone in work would be better off than if they were out of work. So far, so sensible.

Where things have got messy is in the implementation which doesn’t acknowledge the current realities of life. Since Universal Credit was conceived employment levels have continued to rise. This policy, that was meant to support people in to work, is no longer required. For many pay and progression are more important issues.

In the case of single parents with pre-school youngsters there is simply a lack of part time jobs and suitable childcare. This was policy melt down waiting to happen because it was well known that there is a shortage of flexible jobs in the market place and that childcare is expensive and in inadequate supply.

Single parents are now being needlessly exposed to financial sanctions and further poverty. This at a crucial time in their child’s development. It’s Kafkaesque. Parents are being asked to achieve the impossible – find suitably flexible employment that allows them to meet their parental caring responsibilities or risk financial sanctions.

Gingerbread has made recommendations that require urgent implementation if families are not to suffer needless distress:

  • We are calling on Jobcentres to suspend the job-seeking requirements on parents of pre-school children until enough flexible jobs have been created and sufficient childcare is in place.
  • Further we have requested that genuine flexible work opportunities are designed and promoted. This would include an overhaul of the DWP’s Universal Jobmatch job site.
  • In addition, parents of pre-school children should be encouraged by the Government to take up education and training opportunities through the extension of eligibility to 30 hours free childcare to these learners.
  • Finally, the Government must publicise the financial help that will be available under the childcare element of Universal credit and help develop the Family Information Service so that parents can locate combinations of support (such as a nursery and childcare) which will help them move more easily in to work.

My own experience when meeting single parents is that they are keen to work and to do the best by their children. They are undertaking a tricky job in difficult circumstances already. What they don’t need are unnecessary “trip hazards” that with adequate preparation could have been foreseen by DWP.

It’s not too late for the Government to do the right thing by parents of young families. It’s a question of whether there’s an appetite to do so. We hope that good sense will prevail and that our recommendations are implemented.  

You will find the Gingerbread report An impossible bind: requirements to work under Universal Credit here.

Fran Parry is MD of Bright Sparks Consultancy Ltd and a trustee of Gingerbread.

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