Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Single Parent Action Network

Single parents and organisations supporting one parent families in the four nations ask the question: What is to be gained by a compulsory work-related interview? Many believe that as the Single Gateway unfolds, the general public will begin to have a clearer assessment of how it will impact on the single parents in counter-productive ways. Compulsion through the back-door is distinctly at odds with the voluntary nature of the New Deal for Lone Parents and the caring responsibilities that single parents have for their children.

The Single Gateway for Lone Parents is deeply unpopular with the majority of organisations representing one parent families in the different nations. These organisations have come together to oppose the measure (see list attached). SPAN is also against colluding with a compromise that delays a work related interview for three months after a new claim is made. Reasons put forward by our members are as follows:

1. New Claimants

SPAN members cannot stress too strongly the difference between new single parent claimants and new claimants generally. The majority of new, single parent claimants have either:

    —  suffered a major bereavement due to the break up of a relationship or the death of a partner (there are many similarities);

    —  have just had a baby and are therefore not ready to consider their immediate employment prospects;

    —  are fleeing domestic violence and abuse.

Depression, stress, fragility and uncertainty are common emotions, exacerbated by financial worries. In this environment, how will children gain from the Single Gateway? A parent's first commitment will be to ensure that her or his children will be protected from trauma, which is not the time for considering long-term career prospects.

2. Responsibility for Children

SPAN believes that new single parent claimants have very different pressures and commitments to the majority of other claimants. They are already working, bringing up their children, providing for their physical and emotional needs, ensuring that they have support in their education, are safe from harm etc. (It is demeaning for the government to state that children in one parent families are brought up in "workless" households.)

3. The Effect of Compulsion

On the Single Gateway. Compulsion for a parent who is already working to bring up a family, undermines the necessary trust that needs to be established between Registration and Orientation Officer. A percentage of those attending an interview will distrust the requirement to co-operate and only engage in the process as far as the regulations require them to do so. This will not be the basis for sustainable employment prospects.

On the New Deal. The Single Gateway will also undermine the New Deal for Lone Parents, particularly in the pilot areas where there will be enormous confusion. How will the potential perverse effect of the Single Gateway on the New Deal be monitored when these two programmes run alongside each other in these areas?

The majority of single parents want to balance paid employment with their family responsibilities, particularly when their children are at school. They do not need to be compelled into this by the Single Gateway, but rather supported through improved New Deal initiatives and support systems. The problem is not a lack of interest in employment, but rather the present economic and social infrastructure in which there are still insufficient jobs and where parents with sole responsibility for their children are still unable to access the childcare and family friendly working environments that enable them to take a job.

The stark evidence for this is revealed in the statistical take-up of the New Deal for Lone Parents. 50,404 initial interviews were booked, 41706 agreed to participate. Only 7,311 jobs were obtained by single parents. It is clear from these statistics that forcing people to take a work related interview is not going to lead to long-term employment and could in fact alienate them from the process.

Prospects for the New Deal for Lone Parents will no doubt improve in some years time when the combined effect of the National Childcare Strategy, Working Family Tax Credit and the minimum wage kick in. But with such a low current investment in the New Deal for Lone Parents as opposed to the New Deal for Under 25's, single parents will remain at a competitive disadvantage with other groups of long-term unemployed.

4. Equal Opportunities

SPAN questions whether compelling single parents to attend work-related interviews could be considered equal opportunity proofing of welfare policies, particularly as there are no plans for a work related interview with both partners when a claim is first made by a married couple with children. We also question whether such compulsion marries well with the ethos of family-friendly policies.

5. Training and Education

One parent organisations cannot stress too strongly the importance of a comprehensive package of training and educational programmes to support single parents in developing long-term career prospects. SPAN notes that New Deal projects for lone parents are being promoted as offering a similar package as the New Deal for under 25's but without the funding available to employers. Although these pilot projects will enable single parents to access training support in work situations SPAN questions whether these programmes will have a comparative chance of success. Employers will not be given the weekly allowance given for under 25's for taking a single parent on a work placement, only the overall figure of £750 for training and so are much more likely to avoid single parents.

A mere £250,000 has been made available for training and education under the New Deal for Lone parents so far. Given that 41,706 have joined up to the scheme, this amounts to £5.99 per head. These figures only confirm the deepest fears of single parents: that the majority are expected to take up employment in the low-paid service industries effectively consigning them to the position of modern-day servants.

6. Voluntary Sector Involvement

Enhanced publicity and on-going support especially from the voluntary and educational sectors can help isolated parents to make contact with local educational initiatives but as the attached list highlights, most voluntary organisations supporting one parent families do not want to be involved in initiatives which may be linked to compulsory work-related interviews. There is a growing fear that the voluntary sector is increasingly being leaned on to deliver more compulsory based initiatives, both utilising as well as undermining the grassroots empathy that is one of the sector's greatest strengths. It is easy to see why the promise of funding might encourage organisations to participate, but whether this is in the best interests of those the voluntary organisations are aiming to support, remains open to question.

Sue Cohen, SPAN Coordinator, SPAN

May 1999

Opposition To The Single Gateway Into Employment For Lone Parents

The Undersigned want the government to make a clear statement on the position of lone parents involved in the Single Gateway. We are deeply concerned that lone parents will be compelled to attend a work focused interview at a time of crisis in their lives. As new claimants, single parents are extremely vulnerable due to the recent experience of childbirth, divorce, separation, domestic violence, bereavement. For these reasons we believe that lone parents should be exempt from attending a compulsory work focused interview.

Northern Ireland Gingerbread—Director, Marie Cavanagh

One Parent Families Scotland—Director, Sue Robertson

One Plus - One Parent Families (Glasgow)—Director, John Findlay

Single Parent Action Network UK—Co-ordinator, Sue Cohen

Campaign Against Domestic Violence—Campaign Secretary, Chris Thomas

Manchester One Parent Family Advice Centre—Manager, Carmel O'Connor

460 Project, London—Y Okolo

Hull Women's Centre—Administrator, M Docherty

Gingerbread Wales—Chair, Jeanne Nutt

Communities Initiative Centre, Ashington—Karen Murdie

Bath Place Community Venture, Leamington Spa—Project Manager, S Howarth

South Essex Rape & Incest Crisis Centre—Women's Community Worker, Lee Eggleston

Ballynafeigh Gingerbread—Secretary, Shelley Nabrey

Focus Single Parent Group, Surrey—M Ebanks

Brixham Youth Enquiry Service—R A Mikalauskas

Birmingham Community Association

Creggan Pre-School & Training Association

Birmingham Women's Advice & Information Centre—Co-ordinator, Carole Hart

Multi-skilled Resources, Kirby

Club 4 Kids, Hastings

Castlederg Gingerbread, Co Tyrone, Northern Ireland

Brighton Unemployed Workers Centre Families Project

Wolverhampton & District Gingerbread

Outmates, London

One Love Publications, Birmingham

African Families Support Services, Kingston, Surrey

Wrexham Gingerbread Group

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Prepared 27 July 1999