Unfair benefit sanctions push single parents further away from employment

Posted 17 April 2018

Unfair benefit sanctions can result in single parents being less likely to find employment and take a severe financial and emotional toll on single parents and their children, with the situation set to worsen under Universal Credit, shows new research published today by Gingerbread.

Unhelpful and unfair? The impact of single parent sanctions, published with the support of Trust for London, highlights that single parents want to work. Yet Gingerbread’s research – based on interviews with single parents and calls to our helpline from those who have received warnings or imposed sanctions – shows that sanctions can make it less likely for parents to achieve that goal. Parents reported practical challenges of being unable to afford to travel to the jobcentre or interviews following a sanction, and highlighted significant financial pressures and emotional difficulties resulting from sanctions and sanction warnings.

Sanctions for job-seeking single parents have been on the rise over the past decade, resulting in single parents losing out on around £31 million since the sanctions regime was introduced. Single parents are also more at risk of unfair sanctions than other groups, with 62 per cent of sanctions for single parents overturned when formally challenged compared to 54 per cent for other claimants.

As one single parent commented:

I think it is unfair to put single parents in a desperate situation because then you are sanctioning the children.

Unhelpful and unfair? also shows the first signs that Universal Credit risks making this situation worse, as more single parents – including those with very young children and those who are in work – are subject to conditions which place them at risk of sanctions under the new benefit system.

Sumi Rabindrakumar, research officer at Gingerbread, comments:

“We’ve heard from single parents who want to work and provide for their children, but are being subjected to sanctions that punish them for factors outside of their control, such as a lack of flexible work or affordable childcare. Despite DWP saying that they will provide tailored support and use sanctions only as a last resort, this is clearly not playing out in reality. Sanctions are being used to police a tick-box approach to job-seeking which fails to recognise the barriers to work faced by single parents, and leave parents in debt, anxious and struggling to feed their children. We urge the government to recognise that sanctions don’t work for single parents, and to focus on providing support to better enable single parents to enter work.”

In the absence of a necessary full rethink of the current sanctions system, Gingerbread calls on the government to urgently act to

  • Reduce financial penalties and introduce a ‘yellow card’ warning system
  • Suspend unrealistic job-seeking requirements, including for parents of three and four year olds until affordable and good quality childcare and flexible work is available locally
  • Overhaul claimant commitments so that they are transparent, flexible and appropriate to single parents’ needs
  • Focus on providing support rather than inflicting sanctions to better enable single parents to enter work such as assisting with upfront childcare costs.
Read the full report