Press: Welfare reforms not ‘benefitting’ single parents
Press Release: 05 November 2014
Major action on childcare and employment support is urgently needed for the increasing numbers of lone parents moving into work as a result of welfare changes. According to a new report, further efforts are also needed to address transport costs, low pay and the way that support is offered to this substantial group of families in the city.
In Glasgow, 40% of families with children are lone parent families. The Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) reports that lone parent families are six times more likely than couple families to contain no earner. They are also more likely to experience in-work poverty with lone parents’ average earnings one-third of the earnings of couples with children. With one in three children in Glasgow living in poverty and the proportion of lone parent households expected to rise over the next 25 years, action is needed now to support these vulnerable families.
Recent welfare policy changes to Income Support (IS) eligibility have resulted in lone parents on IS moving to Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) when their youngest child is five years old (this was previously 16). Once on JSA, they must seek and be available for work, or face tougher penalties under a new sanctions regime.
These welfare changes are behind the dramatic rise in the numbers of lone parents on JSA and the numbers receiving tougher financial penalties under these new rules. Since 2008 there has been a nine-fold increase in the number of lone parents receiving JSA sanctions in Scotland – reaching 4,546 sanctions in 2013.
Researchers working with the GCPH have studied the implications of the current welfare policy for lone parent families. Headline findings demonstrate that:
- Most lone parents are looking for a job, but need to balance employment with looking after their children.
- The current benefits system ‘pushes’ people into work, without recognition of the implications for children’s wellbeing, and the ability of the job to be sustained in light of childcare responsibilities.
- Adults are required to search for, and take on, work as soon as the youngest child reaches the age of five. Where the child turns five in the months before starting school, availability of sufficient hours of childcare is a challenge, particularly during the summer holidays when free nursery provision ceases.
- Jobcentre staff provided less support and understanding of the situation than the participants felt they needed. Many found ‘signing on’ an unpleasant experience with negative consequences for their wellbeing and involving a range of practical challenges. Consequently, some parents were searching for alternative employment support services.
Despite challenges that included accessing affordable childcare, suffering from poor health and public transport costs (potentially traveling between home, work, nursery and school), none of the lone parents that took part in the GCPH study were discouraged from wanting to (re)enter work:
“I’d like her [daughter] to see me working, I think it would just instil a good work ethic in her when she’s older as well, looking back, that her mum did work and not just stayed on the social.”
– Lone parent, 32 years old, with a child aged five.
James Egan, Public Health Programme Manager at the GCPH, said:
“In Glasgow and across Scotland the proportion of lone parent families is expected to increase over the next 25 years. Compared with couples who have children, we know that lone parents (whether working or not) are much more likely to experience poverty. If lone parents are to avoid moving back and forth between unemployment and temporary low paid, part-time jobs, then it is vital that they are offered the right support services at the right time, as well as the same career support and opportunities as couples.”
Commenting on this new GCPH report, Satwat Rehman, Chief Executive of One Parent Families Scotland said:
“It is shocking that we are witnessing a dramatic rise in the numbers of lone parents being financially penalised as a result of these welfare changes, as well as the other difficulties identified by those that took part in this GCPH study. We need government to address the barriers to paid work that parents face rather than cut already meagre benefits for our poorest families. Millions of single parents up and down the country already face extra hurdles when caring for their children. These struggling families must not be hit any harder, especially at a time when support services are being cut and the costs of the daily shop, childcare and housing are rising.”
 Penalties within the new JSA sanctions regime range from having benefit payments stopped for four weeks (lower level sanctions) up to a potential maximum loss for 156 weeks (higher level sanctions).
- Glasgow has the highest percentage of lone parents of any local authority in Scotland: 40% of families with children in the city are lone parent families (equivalent to almost 26,454 households).
- In Scotland, 28% of families with children are lone parent families (equivalent to 170,000 households).
- In Glasgow, one in three children are living in poverty.
- In Scotland, one in five children are living in poverty.
- Lone parent families are six times more likely than couple families to contain no earner.
- The Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) is a research and development organisation, set up in 2004 to add value to health improvement in Scotland. GCPH generates insights and evidence, creates new solutions and provides leadership for action to improve health and tackle inequality. GCPH is a partnership between NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Glasgow City Council and the University of Glasgow, supported by the Scottish Government. Website: www.gcph.co.uk.
- One Parent Families Scotland (OPFS) aims to encourage and enable parents across Scotland to make the most of the opportunities available to them so they can flourish as happy, healthy and achieving families. OPFS provides help to all single parent families; mums, dads, young parents and kinship carers. Website: www.opfs.org.uk.
- A briefing paper on the key findings from this research is available.
- The full report and literature review (Exploring the impacts of the UK government’s welfare reforms on lone parents moving into work) on which this briefing paper is based are available.
Issued by: Glasgow Centre for Population Health
GCPH Communications Manager
Ph: 0141 287 6268/6959