Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Gingerbread

1. This paper explains Gingerbread's reservations concerning the requirement for lone parent claimants of Income Support to participate in the Single Work Focused Gateway and to attend an interview within three days of submitting a claim.

2. We feel this initiative prejudices the New Deal for Lone Parents, which in our view is more likely to succeed in encouraging and supporting more lone parents back to work. If the government insists on requiring lone parents to participate in the Single Work Focused Gateway, we argue that lone parents should be able to defer their interview for a minimum of three months. This is particularly important for new lone parents.

3. Lone parents have special needs because they care for children. They may need childcare, school hours working and, after years out of the workforce, many will need training. The interview should be conducted by a specialist able to offer relevant advice and support, like the specially trained New Deal for Lone Parent Advisers.


4. It is important that the government takes a long-term view in its approach to lone parent families and access to work for lone mothers.

5. The government is working against a background of several years of anti-lone parent statements and media coverage which has led to resentment, increased isolation and scepticism regarding government intentions. This negative stereotyping was compounded by a fall in living standards and decline in services for the majority of lone parent families over a similar period. The design and presentation of initiatives are very important if these barriers are to be broken down.

The Single Work Focused Gateway and the new deal for Lone Parents

6. The Single Work Focused Gateway is being introduced shortly after the national roll out of the New Deal for Lone Parents. The main advantages of the NDLP initiative are the role and training of the personal advisers and the fact that it is voluntary. Gingerbread believes the Single Work Focused Gateway complicates and threatens the positive development of the NDLP.

7. The Single Work Focused Gateway rests on the concept that "one size fits all" by promoting a work focused interview. This appears simple and clear but there are relevant and quite fundamental differences in concerns and experience between, for example, a lone mother with sole care of dependent children and a young unattached man.

8. We are impressed by the commitment of the New Deal Personal Advisers we have been involved in training and welcome the level of expertise and information which they are bringing to the NDLP. We are concerned about the level of expertise the Personal Adviser of an 'omnibus' service such as the Single Work Focused Gateway can realistically achieve and therefore about the quality of service which will be available to lone parents.

9. The NDLP embodies the right approach. Feedback is increasingly favourable from lone parents. There are a number of policies which will be implemented shortly and which will combine to support the NDLP. These are continuing publicity and outreach work; policies such as the Working Families Tax Credit, Childcare Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit; wider availability of good quality, affordable childcare through the Childcare Strategy and more training and education.

10. The NDLP needs time to develop within an improved and positive policy framework. This should include more family friendly employment and policies to actively address important equal opportunities issues such as job segregation and low pay amongst women workers.


11. Our second concern relates to the compulsory element in the Single Work Focused Gateway. The government has emphasised that the purpose of the interview will be to give information to lone parent claimants about returning to work. There will be no compulsion to actually return to work for lone parents. Many people do not read the detail of government policy and will not distinguish between compulsion to receive information and to return to work.

12. Compulsion raises a barrier of suspicion and fear and reinforces a negative view of government and agencies, which many lone parents hold because of past experiences. It demoralises and takes away the power to make decisions from adults, predominantly women. The voluntary character of the New Deal for Lone Parents, by contrast, reassures them.

13. It may appear reasonable and clear for lone parents to attend an interview to listen to information about returning to work and that 'therefore' the benefit penalty will rarely be incurred. However, such a penalty could actually be incurred by the most vulnerable people, especially those who have recently given birth been separated, divorced or bereaved or fled domestic violence or child abuse. They may have had to uproot themselves and their children, change schools, lose contact with friends and family, become homeless or face problems in accessing suitable housing. They may be involved in legal proceedings.

14. At this stage, life can be very difficult and chaotic and attending an interview to listen to information about work may not seem a priority. On the other hand, the rapid processing of an Income Support claim is absolutely crucial—a lifeline in fact.

15. Three days after applying for Income Support will not be the best time to give lone parents information about returning to work. Later they may be more receptive and more able to use the information.

16. We are extremely concerned about the impact of benefit reductions on the fragile finances of lone parent families, on morale and on child poverty.

Parenting, Training and Work

17. Lone parents have to balance caring for their children with providing financially for them. There are many reasons why they may not want to return to work immediately. This may be because there are practical issues which take precedence, for example, housing problems. It may be because of emotional strains caused by recent bereavement or separation, which has disturbed either parent or children or both. It maybe because they strongly believe that the parent of a young child should be a full time carer. Until recently this was unambiguously the overwhelming view of society including its official institutions. Some lone parents may change their views if they see other lone parents making a successful transition into work without this having a negative impact on children.

18. However, the responsibility for making the decision about when and whether to work must remain with the lone parent. We consider that the compulsory element in the Single Work Focused Gateway is a worrying step in the direction of undermining this.

19. A greater emphasis is now being placed on lone parents responsibility finding paid employment. However, Government policies also place much greater responsibility on the shoulders of parents. Lone parents prioritise caring for their children. They need the time to do so effectively.

20. This raises important issues about presentation. The launch of the Single Work Focused Gateway referred to it as part of a strategy to end the "something for nothing society". We hope it will be accepted that this underlines the problems with the "one size fits all" approach. Such statements debase the parenting being carried out by lone parents on IS-Parenting should be valued.

21. It is well established that lone parents frequently need to access education or training in order to return confidently to the workforce. Skills and qualifications are important if work is to be sustained and lone parents become independent of in-work benefits and significantly improve their quality of life. It is not clear what role training and education play in the Single Work Focused Gateway.

22. Both parenting and training are important issues for lone parents. Work is not always the only or the most productive focus.


23. The evidence suggests that lone parents do not need compulsion to find work. Some need time to overcome the immediate emotional and practical aftermath of separation or they may be waiting for their children to get older or they may need more support from the implementation of positive policies and wider availability of childcare services to overcome barriers to work.

24. Lone parents should be exempted from the requirement to attend an immediate interview for at least three months.

25. Accessible information should be available for lone parents making clear the right to deferral of the interview, to consult independent sources such as Gingerbread or CAB and to be accompanied at interview by a friend or adviser.

May 1999

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