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Single parents of pre-school children face new sanctions threat

28 April 2014
Single parents with very young children will be put at risk of inappropriate sanctions as the government rolls out new income support rules to overstretched jobcentres today, warns Gingerbread.

Jobcentre advisers today gain new powers to sanction single parents with children under five who claim income support [1]. Single parents with very young children will be required to go to more jobcentre interviews or attend training or work experience, dependent on the age of their child, and will face sanctions if they fail to comply [2]. Gingerbread warns that the new regulations focus too heavily on sanctions, when single parents are already calling out for more support to get work-ready.

Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir said: “Many single parents do want to work before their child reaches school age, some decide that’s not right for their family, and others have little choice financially. Whenever parents decide they’re ready to go to work, they should get support that helps them do just that; but we’re concerned that the new rules will become little more than a tick box exercise with punitive sanctions attached.

“We know that single parents are already often wrongly sanctioned and, based on the calls our helpline is already getting, we fear that this situation will only get worse as these new rules are introduced.”

Gingerbread has already been hearing from single parents with children as young as six months old whose jobcentre advisers have wrongly told them they must start looking for work or face having their benefits cut ahead of the new rules’ introduction [3].

423,000 single parents with children aged under five claim income support [4] and will be affected by the new regulations. If sanctioned, they will lose £14.48 a week for an indefinite period [5].

Wrongful sanctions are already common under jobseeker’s allowance, with four in 10 (38%) of sanction decisions against single parents overturned [6]. The Department for Work and Pensions has committed £500,000 to handling sanctions decisions and appeals [7], money which Gingerbread argues would be better spent on more targeted support to help single parents get work ready.

Earlier this year the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee recommended an independent review of conditionality and sanctions after finding that many benefit claimants were sanctioned inappropriately [8].

Gingerbread is calling for the government to:
•    Ensure all jobcentre advisers understand the new regulations in full
•    Invest in voluntary tailored support and training for single parents

ENDS

Notes to editors
[1] Income support is an income replacement benefit. Claimants are not required to seek, or be available for, work as a condition of entitlement for income support. This policy recognises that moving into work may not be appropriate for this group of claimants because of their caring responsibilities.
[2] Single parents whose child is aged one or over must now attend more work-focussed interviews at the jobcentre and those whose children are three or four can be required to attend courses, volunteer, or undertake other work related activity, by their jobcentre adviser. The Income Support (Work-Related Activity) and Miscellaneous Amendments Regulations 2014
[3] See below for example calls to Gingerbread’s helpline
[4] Income Support caseload August 2013
[5] A sanction on income support means parents have 20 per cent of their income support deducted (income support payments are £72.40 a week for parents aged 25 and over, £57.35 for those aged 16-24). They will be sanctioned for an indefinite period until they take part in /no longer required to take part in a work-related activity or a work focussed interview, or they present new facts that demonstrate they should not have been sanctioned in the first place.
[6] DWP: Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance sanctions: decisions made to September 2013
[7] The Draft Income Support (Work-Related Activity) and Miscellaneous Amendments Regulations 2013, Explanatory memorandum, para 9.3
[8] House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, The role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare system, January 2014

Calls to Gingerbread’s helpline in the last year which exemplify wrong advice given to single parents on income support.

Caller A
Caller A has a one year old child is being pressured to find work. She has been wrongly threatened with a sanction if she doesn’t sign up to Universal Jobmatch or go on a course. Her jobcentre adviser wrongly told her that impending changes to the law mean that she will need to go back to work when her child is two.

Caller B
Caller B has a two year old. Her jobcentre adviser has told her that the law is changing and now that the government is providing free childcare she must get a job.

Caller C
Caller C has a six month old baby and was required to attend a work-focused interview when her baby was 3 months old. She has another work-focused interview coming up and is being pressured to find a job by her adviser.

Caller D
Caller D has a six month old baby and is being required to attend the jobcentre on a monthly basis. She has been told she will be referred to the Work Programme. She was unable to attend her work-focused interview because her child was ill. She was told this was not an adequate reason and her benefits would be stopped if it happened again.

Caller E
Caller E has a two-year old. She is under constant pressure from her jobcentre adviser to get a job. She has been told she must attend the jobcentre every month and must attend CV workshops and apply for jobs.

Caller F
Caller F has an eight month old baby and is being told she must look for work. She is required to attend the jobcentre every month.

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