Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 70 - 79)

MONDAY 10 MAY 1999



  70. Ladies and gentlemen, you are very welcome. Thank you very much indeed for the written evidence which you have already submitted to us and thank you for coming to this oral session. This is an absolutely crucial area of work for the Government's Making Work Pay strategy as well as for other objectives of theirs. Can I just perhaps ask you each to introduce yourselves very briefly and to tell us a bit about the organisation which you represent. Let us start with Diana first?

  (Ms Whitworth) Good afternoon. Thank you very much for inviting the Carers National Association to give oral evidence. Carers National Association is a membership organisation of carers. We have 15,000 members but we are in touch, through our affiliate groups and branches, with about a quarter of a million carers and around 30,000 carers call our carers' line every year. We are a campaigning organisation representing the interests of carers but also we provide information to carers.

  71. Thank you. John?

  (Mr Findlay) Thank you. I am John Findlay. I am Director of One Plus one parent families. We are a Scottish organisation, although we are the largest lone parent organisation in the UK, but we only work in the west coast of Scotland. I am very glad that you have invited me down here, this is a new experience for me so hopefully I will enjoy it. The organisation itself works with and on behalf of lone parents and it provides support across a spectrum from individual advice and counselling to development of groups, to vocational guidance and counselling, training and a broad range of employment projects that we run. We are in touch with over 7,000 individual lone parents in a year dealing with advice and assistance. We have got a broad range of experience which we can bring to the discussion here today.

  72. Thank you. Natalie?

  (Ms Cronin) I am representing the Children's Society. We are an organisation representing children and young people. We have about 90 projects across England and Wales working with children and young people in communities who experience poverty. We also work with children and young people living on the streets. We are involved in youth justice issues. Those are some of our areas of work.

  73. Thank you very much indeed. Can I roll two questions into one and ask if you could each tell us about the barriers to work to the people that you represent and then, also, just to give us your views as to whether you think the focus on work and encouraging people to keep in touch with the labour market is the right way to approach this problem? Let us start with Natalie first.

  (Ms Cronin) I am going to concentrate on the two groups that we work with, one families with children and within that I would like to talk about families who have very young children who are not of school age and for whom work may not be the most appropriate form of activity at that time, and also I would like to talk about young people who are not in education, training and employment, 16 to 18 year olds, who may be disengaged from the world of work.

  74. Okay. Did you want to add anything more? Forgive us, I think one of my colleagues has just noticed that we are broadcasting, for sound only. I look very good on radio. Do you want to add anything more, Natalie?

  (Ms Cronin) No, I will keep it short.

  75. John?

  (Mr Findlay) I think lone parents face a multitude of problems and barriers if they are to return to work. I think one of the issues that we would like to raise today is that returning to work is not always the best option for a lone parent who has got responsibility for rearing children. That can be for a number of reasons but one is work is not always appropriate after a relationship breakdown or if you have just had a child. For many lone parents who have been on poverty line income for many years there is what is called the hardship trap which makes it very difficult and many other issues have got to be resolved—lack of confidence, lack of current work skills—before they can begin to think about returning to the labour market. That links into the issues of low pay. In fact, for many lone parents low pay is the only jobs that they have got access to and indeed how the benefit system to interact with that situation to make work pay. I think there is still a long way to go in that area. These are the kind of barriers that we feel are facing lone parents wishing to go back to work. The focus on work itself we feel is inappropriate because lone parents need a range of support when they are vulnerable and have come out of a relationship. We think that the Gateway could provide that support as well as support in getting into work.

  76. Diana?

  (Ms Whitworth) I would like to answer the questions in the reverse order because I think the answer about the focus on work depends on what sort of carer you are. Many carers who do not care for substantial hours in terms of 20 or more hours a week would very much welcome the opportunity, I am sure, to go through the Single Work-focused Gateway and there the focus on work is appropriate. Our concerns are actually with the heavier end of the caring spectrum and there the barriers—and they may indeed be barriers for other carers too—are very much to do with the person that they are caring for. They need to have appropriate respite care to enable them to take time off. Appropriate respite care has to be appropriate to the disabled person as well as to the carer. It must be affordable, it must be of the right quality and, in addition, you need to be convinced as a carer or you need to be reassured as a carer that the employer who is going to employ you or who might employ you has got carer friendly employment policies which will allow you to take time off as is necessary to deal with the emergencies that inevitably will come up. Work in this area is only now just beginning and we have been involved in some project work in this area. There are considerable worries and I can talk more at length about those when we perhaps get into this in more detail.

  77. Is it fair to say from what you have told me that although work might be highly desirable as a strategy for dealing with all of the groups of people that you represent, getting people into work is probably far more difficult and complex than perhaps the Government has hitherto anticipated?

  (Ms Whitworth) Yes. I think one of our major concerns is the speed with which this whole project is being undertaken and the implementation of the legislation in April 2000. We have very severe worries about whether or not it is possible to provide the training and support to the personal advisers in order to deliver the service. They are going to have to know an enormous amount, not just about the benefit system and the interaction of benefit system and income but they are going to have to understand what facilities are available locally. What respite care is available locally, what social services policies are in force because they may be different from local authority area to local authority area and they will have to understand their employers very well.
  (Mr Findlay) I think we would agree with that. The personal adviser issue has been a huge one for the New Deal for Lone Parents, there are specially trained personal advisers created for that New Deal and that was the right track to go down. Given the huge range of people that a personal adviser is going to see, it is very difficult to see how they could have the range of knowledge at their fingertips to do that. One other issue I would just like to touch on is, because of the relative poverty of lone parents and the operation of the housing market, lone parents tend to live in areas where there is the lowest labour market demand. What you have got is not just the supply side problem but the demand problem and that is one that if it is not addressed then the whole thing is doomed to failure.

  78. Natalie, did you want to add anything?

  (Ms Cronin) Yes, I would very much like to reiterate that. Some of our projects work in areas where there are three generations of unemployment. It is very difficult to go to a work focused interview when no-one in your family has ever had a job. That touches on the issue of levels of deprivation, one on top of the other, and areas where the transport infrastructure is such that it is very difficult to get to a job in time or to access the jobs which are out of hours, say in the evening or at night, which would require public transport services which are simply not there.

  79. Is it too strong to say that in certain circumstances the problem is not lack of employability but a lack of jobs?

  (Ms Whitworth) Of suitable jobs, yes. But you are right, in some cases it could be that somebody is not actually capable of working in the sense they do not have the time or the energy, but certainly the suitability of employment is important.
  (Mr Findlay) And also employment which enables you to balance your home and work commitments.

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