Last year, there were significant changes proposed to the UK’s welfare system debated in parliament under the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. Gingerbread worked hard to amend some of the proposals. Key changes included a lowering of the benefit cap and a new requirement that single parents look for work when their children reach three years old as a condition of receiving benefits.
Below are details on what we did to ensure single parents get a fair deal.
*If you’re a single parent and would like to better understand what they might mean for you please read our summary.*
In 2010, the Child Poverty Act committed the government to measure and act on the number of children in low income households, because money matters to children’s lives and children's outcomes. The government proposed changes to what measures are used to assess levels of child poverty, including removing any need to consider how much money families have.
The End Child Poverty coalition, which Gingerbread is a member of, launched a campaign Money Matters in November 2015, calling on the government to maintain the income-related measures of child poverty.
We asked supporters to lobby a Peer, encouraging them to keep income-based reporting on child poverty. An amazing 2,559 emails were sent from supporters across the coalition, we also held briefing events to explain what the changes would mean. Then in January 2016, the House of Lords debated the issue and voted 290 to 198 in favour of retaining income-measures of child poverty. This was a fantastic result. The Bill then returned to the House of Commons, but MPs voted 310 to 277 in favour of scrapping income as a measure of child poverty.
However, following the vote, the government put forward an amendment that would legally oblige them to publish details of household income. In this way, child poverty would be measured in relation to family finances. We are thrilled that the House of Lords accepted this amendment. The Welfare Reform and Work Bill has therefore been amended such that the government will be legally obliged to publish details of household income. In this way, we can still measure child poverty in relation to family finances.
Although this was welcomed news, the government needs to go further in order to tackle the real root causes of child poverty, and address the fact that the majority of children growing up poor in the UK are living in families where parents are working, but not earning enough to pay the bills. We continue to campaign with the coalition to end child poverty in the UK.
A ‘cap’ on the amount of money any individual can receive in benefits was introduced under the previous government and set at £26,000 per year, to match average incomes. New plans would see this reduced to £23,000 in London and £20,000 in the rest of the country.
We are concerned the two main ways people can ‘escape’ the cap – moving to reduce their housing costs (rent is often the biggest slice of people’s benefit payments) or finding work of at least 16 hours a week (so they qualify for working tax credit which is exempt from the cap) are not easy options for single parents, especially those with very young children.
We briefed both Members of Parliament and Peers in the House of Lords on the difficulty single parents have in moving to cheaper housing or finding work of at least 16 hours that fits with looking after their children. Our evidence of the negative impact on single parents was extensively quoted in the parliamentary debates. Unfortunately, the plans went through.
However, it was agreed that women who are in the late stages of pregnancy, and who have a baby under nine months need additional support to cope with these changes, including making sure they receive Discretionary Housing Payments where appropriate. Gingerbread will continue to press for this to be a reality including in guidance to local authorities.
We will be watching carefully as the lower benefit cap is introduced at the end of 2016. We know that of the adults who will be affected, 59 per cent will be single mothers (see point eight of our briefing), and an increasing amount of housing will become unaffordable for these families.
If you are affected by the lowering of the benefit cap, we are really keen to hear your experience. We would be interested to know how you are told about the changes and the support you were offered to move home or into work. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Currently, people caring for children who have not yet reached school age do not have to look for work as a condition of claiming income support (IS) or job seekers allowance (JSA).
New plans would see this change, with carers expected to look for jobs from their child’s third birthday. This increased ‘conditionality’ takes no account of the local childcare situation – whether it’s available, accessible and affordable. Single parents are set to make up 75 per cent of those affected by this change (see point 26 of our briefing).
We are very worried this proposal does not recognise the difficulty single parents can have in finding paid work that fits with looking after young children, or childcare that fits with their working hours. We are also very concerned that this increased conditionality takes away from single parents’ ability to make the best choice for their family.
Gingerbread wrote briefings that informed debates in the House of Commons and in the House of Lords. We were able to highlight the direct experiences of single parents from our helpline, including concerns about the lack of childcare for the change for parents of younger children and the impact on the well-being of children. In the House of Lords, we pressed for greater protection for the well-being of children in the agreements that single parents have to sign at jobcentres. We have been invited to meet the Government Minister in the House of Lords to discuss children’s well-being and job seeking plans for parents. We will also be pressing for appropriate childcare to match the change in job seeking requirements for parents of three and four year olds. We would also like the 30 hours free childcare offer to be open to parents who train or study as well as those who work the required sixteen hours at national minimum wage.
Last year, the government proposed a range of changes to the way the tax credits system works; similar and in some cases more severe cuts were proposed to the payments that will replace tax credits under the new universal credit system.
Following a big campaign which saw a range of people and organisations including Gingerbread speak out against the cuts, the House of Lords voted to delay many of the proposals. The Chancellor then announced he was scrapping the first wave of cuts, in particular plans to reduce the amount you can earn before tax credits start to be withdrawn, and to steepen the rate at which they are taken away. You can read more detail about this announcement here.
However, the ‘second wave’ of cuts, including reducing the extra amount given for a family’s first child and restricting child allowances to a households first two children are still set to go through (under both the tax credits and the universal credit system).
Under universal credit, plans to severely cut the amount people can earn (the ‘work allowance’) before their payments start to be withdrawn are also expected to come into force.
Gingerbread is very concerned these changes will make it much harder for single parents to earn a living, despite the government’s desire to ensure work always pays.
Our research has found that a million single parents will be affected by the changes; compared to the current system working single parents will lose £800 a year on average.
We are especially concerned that working single parents in the poorest households are set lose the most as a proportion of their income. You can see more detail on our research here.
To understand what these changes in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill means for single parents please see here.
These major changes to welfare have been of great concern to us and many single parents across the country. But together, we have achieved change. We have campaigned to stop the proposed cuts to tax credits that were set to go ahead in April 2016. We have also shown the government the importance of measuring income as an indicator of child poverty demonstrating that they cannot simply ignore the 3.7 million children living in poverty in the UK through the vote in the House of Lords.
We have seen some fantastic results, but know that there’s still much more to do. We will ensure we keep you updated on what changes are taking place, how we’re campaigning to ensure single parents are treated fairly and equally, and how you can get involved to support single parent families.
Since the plans were unveiled in the Chancellor’s Summer Budget in 2015, Gingerbread campaigned to:
We also talked to single parents to tell us why tax credits are important them and their families, and promoting these on our campaign blog.
We are keen to hear from single parents who would like to share their stories - if you’d be interested in writing a blog for us, please email our Campaigns Officer: email@example.com