Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Letter to the Chairman of the Social Security Select Committee from The Children's Society (SG4)


  Further to the announcement of the above-mentioned Inquiry, I am writing to express The Children's Society's interest and to offer to provide oral evidence to the Inquiry.

  As a national voluntary childcare organisation, with over 90 projects across England and Wales, The Children's Society works extensively with children and families living in disadvantaged communities, and in conditions of poverty. The vast majority of our users are living on benefits and will be affected by the Single Work-focused Gateway.

  We expressed concern at the time of the announcement of the Welfare Reform Bill about the "work-focused interviews" outlined, and produced a briefing for MPs on the subject (please see attached)[1]. Consequently, we warmly welcome the forthcoming Inquiry and hope we will be able to contribute to it the experience of our projects and of the people who use them.

  The Children's Society is concerned that there may be a contradiction between the Government's commitment to providing security for those who cannot work and the compulsory nature of the work-focused interviews.

  Amongst the users of our projects likely to be affected by the Gateway, we are especially concerned about the following:

    —  young people (New Deal for 18-24 year olds)

    —  mothers with young children

    —  mothers with large families (principally from ethnic minorities)

    —  young people with disabilities

    —  lone parents who have recently experienced family breakdown

    —  young people with low literacy skills

  In situations where lone parents have very young children, large families or have recently been involved in family breakdown, or have been victims of domestic violence or a combination of these circumstances, children will particularly need the support and attention of their parent. Not only will they have suffered major family disruption but also the loss of a parent. The added worry of a work-focused interview is unlikely to be appropriate or helpful in these situations. We are also very conscious of the potentially inappropriate nature of a compulsory work-focused interview for young people with disabilities who may be worried about losing existing benefits by engaging in any paid work. Another large constituency we serve are young people not in education, training or employment who live in areas of high unemployment and will be worried about losing their benefits.

  We warmly welcome the personalised face-to-face help for claimants. However, we are also concerned that Benefits Agency staff should receive thorough training to deal with sensitive situations and with clients who may have hearing, speech or sight disabilities. Benefits Agency Offices should also be equipped with baby changing facilities and toilets and be accessible to people with disabilities.

  We also seek assurances from the Government around the timing of the interview. It should not, for example, be too soon after the birth of a child, the breakdown of a relationship, or bereavement or during periods of heavy caring.

  We are also concerned about the emphasis being placed on removing people from benefits, rather than helping them find the most appropriate solution to their current situation. We are particularly concerned about the performance-related pay and rewards for sanctions available to Benefits Agency staff. We would recommend that the interview should also provide advice on the take-up of both in-work and out-of-work benefits.

  The benefit penalty for those not attending the interview concerns us, particularly with regard to the impact this will have on children.

  The Children's Society has provided evidence in the past to the Social Security Select Committee and valued the opportunity to communicate directly the concerns of children, young people, and their families who are living on benefits. We hope to do so again, either orally or in written form.

15 April 1999

1   Not printed. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 8 July 1999