Changes to Universal Credit conditionality: Gingerbread’s response

Posted 26 October 2023

On Wednesday this week, the government announced stricter requirements on ‘conditionality’. These requirements will affect parents on Universal Credit with children aged 3-12. This is a change we have been opposing since the government announced it in the Spring Budget.
We have repeatedly asked the government for clarity on the new rules. So we are particularly dismayed that we were given no notice of this week’s announcement.
This is a particular challenge to staff on our advice line. We were expecting more advance information from the government, so that we could prepare to advise single parents.

What does the change mean?

Under the changes, parents of 3 to 12-year-olds will now have to spend more time in work or applying for jobs. This could be up to a maximum of 30 hours a week. Parents will need to meet these new conditions to be eligible for Universal Credit.
Previously, parents of 3 and 4 year olds were expected to work, or be looking for work, for a maximum of 16 hours a week. Parents of children aged 5 to 12 had to commit to work or looking for work for a maximum of 25 hours a week. 
From July, those with children under 3 have been required to meet with work coaches more frequently. For parents of children aged 1, this is every three months as opposed to six. While for parents of children aged 2, this is now monthly, as opposed to quarterly.
The DWP have said that work commitments will be tailored to the individual and their personal circumstances. However, we have not yet seen the Jobcentre Plus guidelines on this. So we have concerns about how tailoring will work in practice.

Why are we opposed to it?

The vast majority of single parents are either in work, or want to work more hours. This was confirmed by our Single Parent Employment Challenge Report. There are many barriers to single parents working. One problem is the lack of affordable, available childcare. Another challenge is the shortage of part-time/ flexible roles.
Parents need childcare if they are going to meet these new requirements. But we know that the childcare provision is not in place. Less than half of Local Authorities have enough childcare for all parents working full time. The situation is even worse for families with disabilities. Only 18% of Local Authorities have enough childcare provision for disabled children.
Work-related activity includes attending job interviews, which are often offered at short notice. It’s particularly difficult to find childcare to cover these situations. The Government have announced changes to childcare affordability. However, they are assuming availability that doesn’t exist in practice.
These changes also assume that part time work is available, when we know that this isn’t the case.  The volume of people wanting part- time work is outstripping the number of part-time jobs 4:1. Without the jobs and childcare available, these changes simply won’t work.
Conditionality changes will also mean that single parents end up in jobs that aren’t suitable. Single parents want jobs that match their skills, interests and aspirations. But these changes could mean that people will have to accept the first job they can find. The government’s own research shows that conditionality forces people into poorly paid jobs. A five-year academic study of welfare conditionality published in 2018 found that sanctions were ineffective. They also impacted on people’s wellbeing and pushed them further into poverty.
Single parents don’t need to be forced into jobs that don’t suit them. They need tailored advice from work coaches so they can find the jobs, and hours, that work for them. This is why we are continuing to call on the DWP to introduce specialist Jobcentre Plus work coaches. Single parents need work coaches who understand their childcare and flexible working needs.
Many single parents are helping their children to cope with dramatic life changes. These could include bereavement, a challenging separation or domestic abuse. We’re concerned that the new changes don’t take into account these extra difficulties. Families who are already experiencing so much could find themselves subject to sanctions.

What next

Our advice pages will be updated with more information about the new requirements as soon as possible. Our helpline may not be able to give you detailed advice at this stage as we are waiting for DWP to publish detailed guidance on the changes.

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