423,000 Single Parents Face New Benefit Sanctions Threat

Single parents with children under the age of five face the threat of ‘punitive’ benefit sanctions, due to the introduction of tough new rules and over-stretched jobcentre’s, the charity Gingerbread has warned.

Jobcentre staff have been given new powers to remove benefits from single parents with young children in receipt of Income Support, otherwise known as sanctioning, should they fail to adhere to strict new requirements which may include attending more jobcentre appointments, participation in training programmes or work experience placements, depending on the age of their child(ren).

Gingerbread say the new rules ‘focus too heavily on sanctions’ in what the charity has described as a ‘tick box exercise’, rather than providing single parents with tailored support which would enable them ‘to get work ready’.

Single parents with a child aged one or over will be expected to attend a higher number of work-focused interviews at their local jobcentre office, while those with a child between the ages of three and four will be required to attend courses or undertake work-related activity, such as volunteering or government backed work experience programmes.

Failure to comply could result in single-parents having their Income Support payments cut by 20 per cent a week for an ‘indefinite period’. Sanctions will be lifted if and when those parents comply to the requirements imposed upon them or are able to prove their benefits should not have been cut in the first place.

Gingerbread claim that they are already hearing from single parents with children as young as six months who have wrongfully had their benefits sanctioned after being told they must begin looking for work.

The charity has drawn attention to the number of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants who have wrongfully been hit with benefit sanctions and are having those decisions overturned following appeal (nearly four in 10 or 38%). Gingerbread has expressed concerns that 423,000 single-parents in receipt of Income Support could be subjected to the same fate.

Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir said:

“Many single parents do want to work before their child reaches school age, some decide that’s not right for their family, and others have little choice financially. Whenever parents decide they’re ready to go to work, they should get support that helps them do just that; but we’re concerned that the new rules will become little more than a tick box exercise with punitive sanctions attached.

“We know that single parents are already often wrongly sanctioned and, based on the calls our helpline is already getting, we fear that this situation will only get worse as these new rules are introduced.”

Gingerbread have called on the coalition government to ensure that jobcentre staff fully understand the new rules to reduce the probability of single-parents wrongfully having their benefits slashed. They are also urging the government to consider investing in ‘voluntary tailored support and training for single parents’.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee has recently recommended that an independent review be carried out in order to determine whether some benefit claimants are having their payments docked inappropriately.

Referring to the use of benefit sanctions against JSA claimants, chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee Dame Anne Begg said:

“The number of JSA Sanctions are at a 12 month high, and probably the highest ever on record. Yet, we don’t even know if these Sanctions are working. There have been many examples of people being sanctioned and not knowing why. If the aim of a sanction is to change peoples’ behaviour then people need to know why their benefits have been stopped otherwise it is just a punitive punishment which is trying and save money.”