Switching from income support to jobseekers allowance

Posted 2 October 2017

Single parents on benefits whose youngest child is seven – previously it was ten – are now required to switch from income support to jobseeker’s allowance. This means they must actively seek work. Ann is one such single parent.

Single mum Ann calculates that being a parent to her 13-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter takes 90 hours a week.

Neither of her kids’ dads is around and Ann has brought both children up entirely on her own. “None of my friends or family are close, so I don’t have any help,” she says.

Ann lives on benefits. She would love to work if she could but says there are not enough hours in the day to work full-time or even part-time and still be there for her children.

“My son needs me here when he gets home from school, we talk about his day, share the highs and lows and I help with his homework. I pick up my daughter every day at 3.30. If I was rushing about and we didn’t have the time to sit and talk, I wouldn’t know what was going on in their lives. Issues and problems can emerge slowly, unfold over time, you don’t find out what’s happening during short rushed conversations,” she says.

Seek work

Single parents on benefits whose youngest child is seven – previously it was ten – are now required to switch from income support to jobseeker’s allowance. This means they must actively seek work. Ann is one such single parent.

“What does the government want from us? What do they expect? How many hours is it reasonable for one person to be on the go without becoming ill?” she asks.
Ann was advised by her benefits office to find local childcare, so she could go out to work. She researched 80 childcare providers, none took kids over eight.

“My days are full, being a parent. I never have time to watch TV, I don’t go out in the evenings. I try and sometimes sit and read the paper and have a coffee, but not often. I grow vegetables on an allotment. We live on soup and home-made bread.

I think this policy of expecting single parents of seven-year-olds to go out to work will lead to a lot of kids becoming displaced and lead to problems.

“Make no mistake, mothering is a job. If I died tomorrow, the government would suddenly recognise it as being a job and would then have to pay somebody to do what I do.

Somebody would have to care for and bring up my children – and there is no way the person taking over my job would be allowed to work 52 weeks a year on a 90 hour week, without a single break for years on end.

Persecuting single parents

Why is the government persecuting single parents who work so hard?

Both fathers of my children have swanned off and both earn a good living, providing nothing for my children.
The government do nothing about their failure to provide. In terms of parenting hours, which they have never done, these fathers owe me years,” she says.
Ann’s profession makes her working hours difficult to plan in advance.

“I’m an actress, so it is hard for me to fit work in with the children. If I do get jobs, the hours are crazy, I might need to be on set at 6am.”

She considered studying to improve her work prospects but found obstacles in her way there too.

“I got a place on a degree course in deaf studies, if I’d done it I would be a qualified British sign language interpreter and could earn good money. But I couldn’t take up the place because as a student I won’t get any benefit. I feel trapped, like I will never be able to re-train,” she says.

She is very conscious of needing to look after herself, particularly her mental health, as she suffered severe post-natal depression after both her children were born.

No shirker

“I’m not a shirker, I would like to work if possible, but I don’t want to spread myself too thinly, get stressed and get ill.”

Ann describes single parenthood as tough and relentless. But she knows what keeps her going through the difficult times.

“Me and my children are very close. If I do manage to buy them a small treat, they are so appreciative. They are very aware of the world and how it works, those are good qualities.

My friends say they don’t know any other family who are so skint – but who get on so well.”