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124,000 single parents “collateral damage” in rushed roll-out of welfare reforms

21 May 2012

From today 124,000 single parents with children aged five or six will be moved onto Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) with only eight weeks’ notice, depriving thousands of the chance to start and complete a further education course as their child starts school, vital for their prospects of a decent job in the future.  [1]

Analysis for Gingerbread by the Work Foundation [2], reveals that one in five single parents who find a job are unemployed again within 12 months.  Access to further education is vital to supporting single earner families to get off benefits, out of poverty, and into stable jobs.

Pushed into a labour market with few job opportunities, and even fewer family friendly jobs, the poorly-timed Government reforms kick off 17 months before more support for childcare costs for single parents working fewer than 16 hours a week becomes available.  Single parents with young children are particularly likely to seek shorter hour jobs.

Gingerbread's report 'It's off to work we go?' was released today (see end of release).

Gingerbread’s Chief Executive Fiona Weir said:

“Thousands of single parents have lost the chance to plan ahead and skill up to improve their chances of getting a decent job.  Without qualifications they risk remaining trapped in a cycle of low-paid work and unemployment benefits.  This Government needs to take a longer term approach and allow single parents starting Further Education training to complete their course before seeking a job.”

New data shows that over two-thirds (68%) of single parents enter one of the three lowest-paying occupational groups [3].  Holding a level 3 qualification is vital to giving single parents a realistic chance of lifting their families out of poverty and reducing their reliance on benefits [4].   Single parents already doing a further education course will be allowed to finish it before seeking work, but single parents moved onto JSA today will only be allowed to start a course if they are willing to give up the course if offered a job.

Given the flat lining economy, lack of flexible family friendly jobs,  rising costs of childcare, Gingerbread is calling on Government to improve opportunities for single parents to develop skills that will help them move into more stable jobs and avoid the high levels of churn between benefits and low paid work that so many currently face.

Dr Neil Lee, Senior Economist from The Work Foundation added:

“Our analysis shows that a significant proportion of single parents who enter employment are struggling to stay in work. On top of strong competition for vacancies, single parents with younger children often face the added difficulty of finding employment that fits with their caring responsibilities. Many will also have been outside the labour market for some time. These factors leave them at a disadvantage when trying to re-enter the labour market.”

Gingerbread is calling for:
- Single parents with children aged five and six who take up further education courses to be treated as fulfilling work search obligations
- Financial help towards childcare costs for those working less than 16 hours a week via the flexible support fund
- Support from Jobcentre Plus advisors trained in single parent issues.
-- ENDS --
Gingerbread spokespeople and case studies are available. For more information or a copy of the report please contact Jayne Phenton, Media Officer, on 020 7428 5416 or 07881 951138 jayne.phenton@gingerbread.org.uk

Notes to Editors:
1. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 ends entitlement to IS for single parents whose youngest child is aged five and six. Instead, single parents will need to make a new claim for JSA or another benefit (such as employment and support allowance).This is an extension of a targeted welfare-to-work policy brought in by the previous government and restricts entitlement to IS for single parents based on the age of their youngest child. On JSA single parents receive the same amount of money each week as they do on IS, but face a substantial increase in conditionality. They are required to attend the jobcentre every fortnight to sign-on and risk a payment sanction if they fail to demonstrate they are actively seeking and available for work.  Previously, single parents were given a full year’s notice that their income support payments would be coming to an end.
2. The three occupational groups are elementary, sales and customer service, and personal service occupations.  Sissons, P. (2012) Quantitative background paper on the introduction of lone parent obligations. Unpublished report.
3. Ibid 2
4. Gaining a level 3 or higher qualification makes a significant difference to the amount of money a single parent can earn and increases their chances of earnings mobility. Jenkins, A. et al (2007) The returns to qualifications in England: updating the evidence base on level 2 and level 3 vocational qualifications. London: Centre for the economics of education. London School of Economics.

Gingerbread is the charity which works nationally and locally for, and with, single parent families to improve their lives. We achieve change by championing their voices and needs and providing support services. www.gingerbread.org.uk

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