Benefits are a lifeline for many single parents, whether in work or not. Barriers to entering and progressing in work, high living costs and unpaid child maintenance all add to the financial strain on single parent families, which means state support is often vital.
Single parents have been the hardest hit household type by recent changes to welfare. Cuts under the 2010-2015 coalition government meant single parents lost over 6 per cent of their income a year – even after separate tax gains. The average single parent will also lose over 7 per cent of their annual income by 2020, due to further reforms under the 2015-2017 government.
While working single parents have not been spared, there’s been a particular focus on out-of-work benefit cuts to reduce welfare spending and ‘encourage’ people into work. However, most non-working single parents are out of work because they are caring for very young children, studying or unable to work – they’re therefore unfairly hit by cuts which bear no relation to their intention or ability to work.
- Single parents will lose around £1,300 (7.6 per cent) annually by 2020, due to changes under the 2015-2017 government
- Single parents face a higher risk of unfair sanctions – 62 per cent of formal challenges to single parent sanctions were successful, compared with 53 per cent of other challenges
- The cut to the universal credit work allowance means the average single parent loses £800 a year – some will lose over £2,000 compared to current benefits.
Gingerbread supports the intention to simplify the benefit system and ensure work always pays through the introduction of universal credit, but we’re concerned that the government won’t deliver on these promises.
Single parents are likely, on average, to be worse off and gain less from work under universal credit. Single parents with pre-school children will need to seek work regardless of the local availability of childcare or flexible work, putting them at risk of unfair sanctions.
We believe the current welfare system focuses too much on pushing people into any job, leaving single parents exposed to poor quality, unsustainable work. And regardless of employment status, state support should be sufficient for basic living costs and recognise the additional needs faced by single parents.
Our goals for change
Gingerbread wants to see a benefit system which is fit for purpose – one that is linked to financial and personal need, minimises the use of benefit limits or suspensions and genuinely makes work pay.
Universal credit must be reformed to ensure financial security for families. As a matter of priority, the government should:
- Reverse cuts to the universal credit work allowance for single parents to strengthen work incentives
- Reduce delays to the first universal credit payment, to avoid risking families being tipped into debt
- Assess the quality of jobcentre provision to ensure single parents’ needs are recognised.
Of course, many families will remain on tax credits for some time – full universal credit roll-out isn’t expected until at least 2022. The extra support promised for childcare under universal credit (for 85 per cent, rather than 70 per cent of childcare costs) should be provided under tax credits for families struggling now.
We want to see an end to cuts in vital support as a way of ‘incentivising’ or pushing parents into work. This includes reforming sanctions policy to introduce a genuine ‘yellow card’ system (where parents can receive a warning before it’s too late) and introducing exemptions to the benefit cap.
Gingerbread also calls for improved personalised employment support – particularly improving access to higher level training courses and apprenticeships, to increase routes into more secure and longer term work.