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One in seven single parents in receipt of benefits have been hit by the Government’s “inflexible” sanctions regime, while even more are at risk of having their benefit payments slashed in the future, according to shocking new research from the Gingerbread charity.

In a new report titled ‘On the rise: single parent sanctions in numbers’, the charity says “single parents increasingly feel punished for being unable to juggle seeking work and looking after their children”, despite claims by government ministers that benefit sanctions are only used in a “tiny minority” of cases and only as a “last resort”.

Gingerbread says the risk of sanction is far higher than the government claims, with around one in five single parents a year being referred for a sanction at its peak, and one in seven having their benefit payments docked.

According to the charity, single parents are at a greater risk of being sanctioned than other jobseekers because of the often unreasonable demands placed on them to find work, whilst also having to care for their children.

However, single parents are also more likely to have a decision to sanction their benefits overturned – almost certainly because of the unfair requirements placed upon them.

Around £40 million in benefit payments have been lost to sanctions since the system was made more stringent by the Tory-led coalition in 2012. Around 160,000 of these have fallen on single parents, affecting an estimated 250,000 children.

Gingerbread’s Research Officer, Sumi Rabindrakumar, said: Single parents want to work – already two-thirds do. We know through our helpline, however, that single parents increasingly feel punished for being unable to juggle seeking work and looking after their children; this report confirms this is in fact a widespread experience.

“Parents not only fall foul of an inflexible system, but are also sanctioned for errors made by the DWP itself – with resulting hardships that risk pushing them further from work.”

The introduction of Universal Credit could see even more single parents at risk of being sanctioned, increasing the reach of the sanctions regime with ‘in-work conditionality’ and putting 165,000 single parents of three and four year olds placed at risk of being sanctioned if they don’t increase their working hours or have enough earnings.

Sumi Rabindrakumar added: “These are sobering findings, at a time when the government is dramatically increasing the reach of sanctions through welfare reform.

“All the evidence suggests that a system that is supposed to help people out of poverty all too often unfairly strips away vital financial support from those who need it most. Unfair sanctions put families under severe strain and waste government resources.

“The government can no longer afford to put off a proper review of the sanctions system.”