Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence





Case Study 1

  Tracy, one child, two years of age, lone parent—Income Support. Interested in Employment Zone but reluctant to give up Income Support book and move onto Income based JSA. Has been reassured that when she moves out of Employment Zone she can return to same level of Income Support if she hasn't found employment or moved into Higher Education. Despite all attempts to persuade her otherwise she still has deep rooted reservations about "giving up my book". She is aware of all the benefits that E/Zone offers and would be willing to enter but only if she could retain Income Support.

Case Study 2

  Elizabeth, lone parent, one pre-school, one school child—Income Support. Was keen to move onto Employment Zone but changed her mind when she discovered she would have to re-apply for Housing Benefit as part of her entry onto E/Zone. She had recently moved house and was having problems getting H/B sorted out and was reluctant to re-apply despite assurances from E/Zone Caseworker that it should not be an issue.

Case Study 3

  Gael, lone parent, three year old son—Income Support. Doing HND in Music and Audio Technology, used ILA to buy equipment and childcare costs paid. Couldn't have done course without help from E/Zone. Eager to go onto E/Zone but when she went for PE1 at Job Centre she was kept waiting for one hour 30 minutes with her child before she saw E/Zone Payments Clerk. The Clerk at the Job Centre was unsure of procedure that should be followed and the Benefits Office where the woman went to transfer from Income Support, was also unsure of procedure that should be followed when a woman was handing in her Income Support Book. There was also a problem with Housing Benefit Office. The lone parent persevered and is now very happy with her time on E/Zone, but these barriers almost caused her to abandon her course.

Case Study 4

  Sandra, single parent, six year old and nine year old children, and Carole, lone parent, 9 year old and 11 year old children, both on Income Support.

  Entered E/Zone having been reassured that Job Seekers Allowance payments would be on time and there would be no delay in payment. Unfortunately the first payment by Giro was late arriving and caused both a lot of distress and worry. They both had to borrow money, therefore both women had a very negative experience that has coloured their view of the Zone and they were both reluctant to recommend it initially to other lone parents. Sandra and Carole have stayed with the Zone and are now very settled in their provision despite initial problems. They both say unless One Plus hadn't helped with their financial shortfall they'd have given up their course.


Administrative Barriers

  Two lone parents were interviewed at Paisley partnership on 15 March 1999 to take place on the Social Care Course (SVQ level II). Both were advised to go to the Job Centre to see their Lone Parent Adviser and ask to be transferred onto 18-25 New Deal Option, as they were presently on Income Support and therefore unable to access its programmes.

  Both women saw their New Deal for Lone Parents Advisor the following week, but there seems to have been a lapse in transferring them to the New Deal for Young People Advisors as their first interview with them was held on 20 April 1999. One Plus staff were in contact with the Job Centre throughout this time explaining the importance of getting the interviews as soon as possible as the course was due to commence on 19 April. However due to the long waiting time for the appointments, the paperwork was not in place to allow them to start on time. Their New Deal for Young People pre-start interviews will now not be held until Monday 26 and Thursday 29 April. They will not be allowed to start until these have taken place.

  As well as trying to organise earlier interviews with the Job Centre, we have also tried to gain permission for the candidates to start the course with no payment from the Job Centre until their claims have been processed. This was not allowed.

Transferring from Income Support to Jobseekers Allowance

  One of the main concerns for Lone Parents joining the mainstream New Deal or Training for Work is the time between transfer from Lone Parent Income Support to Job Seekers Allowance. The situation has arisen where candidates have handed in their Income Support Book and have had to wait for a further two weeks before getting their Job Seekers Allowance to be paid, leaving the candidate without money for approximately one week.

  This problem has been present in the four New Deal candidates One Plus had enrolled for the Paisley course. In one case the candidate has been without her Benefit for two weeks and when her Giro came through it contained money for one week. She was then told that she would have to sign on the Job Centre and would not receive her money for a further two weeks, thus leaving her no money for three weeks. Another woman went to the Benefits office for a Hardship Loan to cover this period, but again when her Giro came through, it was not correct.

  The two remaining lone parents have received an interim payment from One Plus to ensure they do not face hardships, but as they are technically not allowed to join us until their New Deal paperwork has been completed, they are under no obligation to pay this back if they decide not to join the course. When interviewed by the Lone Parent Advisor Manager, one candidate was informed that there would be no interruption to her payments and this would be a seamless transfer. As stated above, this has obviously not been the case.

  There also seems to be some confusion as to who pays the childcare costs and how it is administered. The options are that One Plus pay the childcare and then claims the allowable amount back from Employment Services or that Employment Services pay their portion and we pay the remainder. Each Advisor has given a different option to either One Plus or the candidates.

  As the New Deal Option requires Registered Childcare to be provided, One Plus has often found that it is not an affordable option for candidates unless they are lucky enough to have an organisation like One Plus willing to pay the remainder, as all childminders now charge £3 per hour and the maximum Employment Service will pay is £60 per week for one child and £110 per week for two.


Susan: Easterhouse Glasgow, twins 12 years of age

  The New Deal for Lone Parents was introduced in eight pilot areas in July 1997. I was interviewed by a Lone Parent Adviser in May 1998 who discussed with me what the advantages of being in work would be. My situation was such that I was already considering returning to work but was not sure whether I would be any better off financially. While I was told what Benefits I would be entitled to claim, I did not find this particularly reassuring. What I really needed was to be told the absolute minimum I required to earn in order to be significantly better off. My main concerns were childcare and housing. If I lost Housing Benefit I may well end up spending most or all of my earnings on housing costs. I was told about the help with childcare costs, but as the mother of 12 year old twins I was not eligible. I did not qualify for the Back to Work Bonus or the Maintenance Bonus, but would be entitled to Family Credit. The jobs I was being advised to apply for were not sufficiently well paid to make me any better off. My first criticism is that no calculations were done prior to selecting suitable vacancies and as a result a lone parent could find themselves wasting their time and that of an employer attending an interview for a job that was not financially viable, or for which the hours were not suitable.

  My other main criticism of the New Deal is that the help with Childcare stops when the child reaches 12 (soon to be 14 years). What happens to these children, particularly during the longer summer break? Does the Government want us to produce a nation of latchkey children who can subsequently be blamed for the rising crime rate! The Childcare factor is a positive step towards ability to work, but parental responsibility does not end when a child reaches 14 years, nor are children always of the same level of maturity at the same age. So taking a job when your child is 10 may be worthwhile when you receive help with Childcare, but is it sustainable four years later? Another major criticism is that advisers do not seem to understand that hours of work are important to lone parents because they have to allow time to get both children and themselves ready, travelling time, school pick ups etc.

  My situation was such that I was ready to return to work and that my children were able to cope with my returning to work. I would not have been happy about being compelled to take part in any interview about my employment prospects. In an interview about my employment prospects, I had many fears about the practical aspects of returning to work, mainly—how to survive until I got paid, how long would it take to sort out Benefit Claims and Childcare. Most of all, I think it is important that you and your children are emotionally prepared to return to work. I think that the New Deal is in principle a good idea, but greater understanding of issues affecting lone parents and work need to be applied so that it does not become a punishment that forces lone parents from one poverty trap into another.

Case Studies of Lone Parents on IS where a work focused interview is not appropriate

  (1)   Lone Mum, two kids lives in Carnwadric, Glasgow, is on Income Support, has neighbours from hell who have previously put used condoms through child's bedroom windows. Now has to keep windows shut tight in the summer and winter. Virtually a prisoner in her own home. Her kids are bullied and beaten up. There is graffiti of slander and abuse written on her walls. She had started a course in Social Care but could not cope with the pressure. Now getting medical treatment for health and she is scared she will be forced to work and not be around for the children.

  (2)   Lone Parent living in Hamilton her husband committed suicide and she is now widowed. She has four children, a six year old, and four year old triplets. One child has been sexually abused while in the park in July 1998. The woman is suffering from depression and is on anti-depressants. She is trying to move house, as her house is right next to the park where the children were abused. She is also having HIV test results for her children. A work focused interview is the last thing this Lone Parent need to face along with all the other issues she is having to face.

  (3)   Christine lives in Airdrie, Lanarkshire with her two children (nine and six). Her social worker contacted One Plus for advice. It seems that when her youngest child was a baby, she was beaten up so badly by her partner that he was imprisoned for six months. The couple are now separated and she has become a lone parent. The CSA asked her to attend an interview and threatened her with a Benefit Cut. Christine did go to the interview with her social worker in attendance. The social worker explained the background of violence and she was exempted from giving the required information to the CSA. However, she did sign the form.

  A few weeks later her house was raided by her ex-partner who threatened both herself and the two children. He has now contacted a lawyer to contest for access, for which he is receiving Legal Aid. Christine's primary concern was her fear for her life, and she has had threatening phone calls from friends of her ex-partner. Her secondary concern, which nonetheless are very important, revolve round harsh financial penalties which she now has to face. She will have to change her phone number, may face a bill to move house, and will have to contest her ex-partner's pursuit of access to the children.

  Christine's life is in turmoil, a compulsory work-focused interview will only add to the family's strain and have no beneficial role in improving her situation. Only when she has moved again and is free from the fear of her partner's behaviour will Christine be able to look at her future options.

  (4)   Lindsay lives in Paisley and has two children, 12 years and 14 years. Although she has been separated from her husband for eight years, she is still extremely frightened of him, and had her telephone number changed to avoid his threats. He continually cruises around her house in his car and on occasions, has taken her children off in the car at death defying speeds as if he were aiming to crash the car. Lindsay actually put a stop to divorce proceedings, such is the threatening hold he has over her. She phoned One Plus in tears, as she'd read information about the "Back to Work Scheme" in the Evening Times. Lindsay was worried that she would be forced to work and wouldn't be available for her children when they came home from school. One Plus reassured Lindsay that she wouldn't be made to work. Women's Aid leaflets were also forwarded with information on how to obtain an interdict with powers of arrest.

  (5)   Tricia is only 19 years old, lives in Kilmarnock and has a small baby of just a few months of age. One Plus was contacted by her mother who said that her daughter was refusing to claim Income Support as a lone mother because she was afraid that the Benefits Agency would contact the CSA, who would intervene in her case and contact the father of her child. Tricia lived in two refuges and greatly fears for her life at the hands of the child's father. In the meantime, by refusing extra Income Support, Tricia is existing on only £39.85 per week (single person's rate). She loses out on £38.85 weekly benefit and the £100 maternity payment. This lone parent is clearly facing trauma and upheaval in her life. A work-focused interview is clearly inappropriate.

  (6)   Joan is a lone parent with a six year old son. She has been contacted by the CSA and authorised them to contact her son's father. She didn't use the undue harm and distress exemption because she felt it may stigmatise her son if "official" organisations knew about his father—particularly the school.

  Joan had lived with her child's father for six months during which period he was extremely threatening to her. He also smashed up the house and kicked the baby's cot around (witnessed by her mother, sister and sister-in-law). This terrorising, coupled with cancer, had taken its toll on Joan's health and she was extemely stressed. Since the child's father was contacted by the CSA, she has been receiving phone calls in the middle of the night, and has received a letter from the father's solicitor demanding access to the boy, even although he has never seen the child since the separation.

  Joan is fearful that her child's father will pick him up from school and so makes sure either she or her mother pick him up. She would like to work part-time but is worried about what she would do during school holidays. A work focused interview will only add further stress to Joan who has had successful treatment for cancer but whose mental and physical health is still fragile.

Cases where Lone Parents are in work and facing difficulties

  1.   Norma: Works full-time—just over limit for Family Credit—gets no maintenance.

  Has after school care costs for two kids—these have just risen from £130 to £160 per month—this has thrown out her carefully worked out budget. She feels very aggrieved that she is doing everything she is supposed to do ie out at work full-time and cooperating with CSA and she is scrimping and scraping for every penny. Thinking about giving up work.

  2.   Mary: Works full-time—two kids (three years and five years)

  Starts work 8 am—relationship broke up—no-one to help take one kid to nursery and other to school. No after shcool care place available. Family Credit is £59 but she has lost much of her HB and CTB and has accumulated both Rent and Council Tax arrears. Rent arrears at Summary Warrant/Notice to Quit stage. Planning to give up work.

  3.   Angela: Was on sick and then had to leave work. Got £63 wage on 23 April but no wage slip—made claim for Income Support. As of 20 May 1998 has not received any benefit. Living on Family Credit and Child Benefit. using credit card to buy food and other essentials—up at limit for that.

  4.   Jackie: Lives in Housing Cooperative home given "notice to quit" because of approximately £1,000 rent arrears. Working full-time—by time she buys food, fuel, clothes, travel to sick mother—no money left for any treats —very depressed as a result. Will be homeless and forced to give up work.

  5.   Angela: Sacked because she took time off as her child was sick. Suing for unfair dismissal—last wage £62. No wage slip. Can not get Income Support—seeing Welfare Right Officer. Was employed by a legal firm and can not get her P45 or wage slip from them.

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Prepared 8 July 1999