16. The Green Paper sets out the case for introducing
more work 'conditionality' for lone parents:
"The Harker report maintained that if a strong
package of support was in place for lone parents, including guaranteed
access to affordable and suitable childcare and work that fitted
with family commitments, there would be grounds for 'strengthening
lone parents' responsibility to look for work as the logical next
step'. The Freud report also considered that the time was right
for a move in this direction. Similarly, the Organisation for
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has recommended that,
with the right support in place, the UK should consider further
extending work tests for lone parents. Indeed, the UK is rare
amongst the OCED countries in having a specific benefit for lone
parents with no worksearch conditionality attached. Most countries
have moved, or are moving, towards tougher work obligations on
17. In our Employment Strategy report, we found a
consensus among witnesses that there would need to be further
development of policies aimed at engaging lone parents in the
labour market if the target of moving 70% of lone parents into
work was to be reached. The Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion
"Reaching a 70% employment rate by 2010 looks
difficult unless there is something to cause a change in trend.
The more rapid increases from 2000 and again from 2004 can be
attributed to the development of New Deal for Lone Parents and
the introduction of Tax Credits. This would suggest that further
improvements in programmes and incentives will be needed."
18. The Government had already announced that it
considered as "the right direction of travel" David
Freud's proposal that, from 2008, lone parents with a youngest
child aged 12 or over should no longer be entitled to claim Income
Support solely on the grounds of being a lone parent.
The Green Paper extends this requirement, reasoning:
"on its own, this will only affect around one
in seven lone parents on benefit. Correspondingly, the impact
on child poverty, while important, will be small. We therefore
also propose that this age should be brought down to a youngest
child of seven years old from October 2010. Over time, this will
affect nearly 40% of lone parents currently on Income Support.
By October 2010 the aspiration is that all schools in England
will be extended schools providing a range of activities between
8am and 6pm on weekdays for 48 weeks of the year."
19. This policy change was met by strong criticism
from the voluntary sector. Chris Pond, Chief Executive of One
Parent Families / Gingerbread said:
"Most single parents are already working and
those who are not either want to, but can't find affordable childcare
or a job that fits with school hours, or have very good reasons
for deciding that their children need a parent at home to guide
them for a time.
"One quarter are caring for a disabled child.
Children of all ages can need a parent at home for a period, especially
in the aftermath of divorce or separation. A punitive approach
would only impact badly on youngsters in one parent families -
many of whom have already lost one parent - while alienating work-ready
lone parents from the voluntary New Deal scheme which is doubling
parents' chances of finding work. It is extremely worrying that
the Government is imposing new requirements on parents without
detailing any additional form of support. The Government has repeatedly
emphasised that parents know best when it comes to making choices
about how to combine work and family life."
20. A 2003 report by the National Employment Panel
questioned the effectiveness of the increased use of compulsory
Work Focussed Interviews (WFIs), concluding that they risked "becoming
simply a 'box ticking' exercise for overburdened staff."
Instead, the NEP concluded, "we think it makes more sense
to retain an element of discretion and to place greater focus
on the content and quality of the interaction between Personal
Adviser and lone parent."
21. The Committee concluded in its Employment Strategy
"We recommend that any changes to the system
of benefits for lone parents take account of the fact that paid
work may not be the best option for a lone parent, even if they
have children of secondary school age. There may be a range of
reasons why a lone parent does not wish to work. We recommend
that the DWP concentrate its efforts on providing better support
for the majority of lone parents who do want to work, as discussed
in the chapter on lone parents above.
We recommend that the Government continue to improve
the provision of suitable, affordable childcare in all areas,
which will be essential in order to improve the ability of lone
parents to enter and keep paid work."
22. Questioned about the rationale behind extending
conditionality to lone parents whose youngest child is aged seven
or over, the Minister told us:
"We have to think about how we engage with a
larger number of lone parents in order to support them into work.
Part of the way to do that is to think about reducing it incrementally
to a lower age. There is the international evidence that we are
out of kilter with a lot of support programmes around lone parents
and the point at which conditionality is part of that support,
but also, in terms of our ambitions to tackle child poverty and
meet our full-employment provision, we will not really do that
unless we have policies which are about engagement in a much more
upfront way whilst recognising that with that conditionality there
comes a responsibility on us to recognise how we support [lone
23. Given that increases in the scope of conditionality
are being considered, it is worrying that recent figures show
that the number of sanctions applied to lone parents who fail
to attend a work focused interview has increased, with 40,300
lone parents sanctioned in 2005-06: