Work and Pensions CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Single Parent Action Network

1. Summary

1.1 Single parents are shoehorned into a job-seeking service designed for single people. There is a poor record of Jobcentre Plus (JCP) helping single parents move into sustainable employment.

In particular:

There is not enough account taken of single parents needs to find work that also fits in with their caring responsibilities, or to help them access childcare which is not helped by the scaling back of specialist support (Lone Parent Advisers);

Single parents are likely to have been away from the job market for some years and yet there are few training opportunities including refresher training;

The current Jobsmatch service relies on employers posting vacancies, without contact from JCP to advise on job design, and there are limited part-time and flexible job opportunities advertised; and

Those single parents that are moving into employment are moving into poorer paid and low skilled work (despite their qualifications).

1.2 It is unclear how current practice at Jobcentre Plus will help single parents to become less reliant on welfare benefits in the future including satisfying in-work conditionality. Single parents are receiving an increasing number of benefit sanctions; these are not helping them move into work and can be applied for their caring responsibilities.

1.3 At JCP there is currently too much emphasis on policing job seeking benefits and a lack of application of the legal rights that should take greater account of the needs of single parents and their children.

1.4 We propose recommendations to improve the service by providing a more holistic approach to the support for single parents including:

Specialist support for single parents including the wider involvement of Lone Parent Advisors;

Greater opportunities to access training courses that further sustainable employment;

Improved access to childcare support when seeking employment;

Transparency about rights in Job Seeker Agreements as well as responsibilities;

A review of the sanctions imposed on single parents and why these are applied; and

Working more closely with employers to support a better flexible and part-time job market including in the development of Jobsmatch.

2. Background

2.1 The Single Parent Action Network (SPAN) is a national organisation based in Bristol, helping membership groups and individual single parents through a range of services to empower themselves and move forward in their lives and communities. We also have a national online webservice offering support and online training across the country. The evidence for this submission is drawn from our grassroots delivery as well as two SPAN documents, A Longitudinal Qualitative Study of the Journeys of Single Parents On Jobseekers Allowance (2012) a research study published in collaboration with the University of the West of England and our analysis The longer term experience of single parents on the Work Programme (2013) which includes single parents’ interactions with Jobcentre Plus.

2.2 There are approximately two million single parents (nine out of ten are women) in the UK. The majority are already in employment (59%). Both the previous and current Governments have wanted to further increase this number both to address child poverty and to reduce welfare expenditure. Since 2008, 400,0001 single parents have moved from Income Support to job seeking requirements. Single parents are a significant user group on the Work Programme (WP) making up 7.4% (62,333) of all attachments between June–July 2012.2 They do worse than jobseekers overall at moving into sustained employment. Out of the 31,240 job seekers who have moved into longer-term work 1,650 were single parents (3.7% for all clients compared to 2.7% for single parents).3

2.3 Despite the change in job seeking obligations the employment rate for single parents has not significantly changed. The adequacy of employment services offered at Jobcentre Plus and contracted services such as the Work Programme could play a vital role in improving the employment outcomes for single parents.

2.4 In this submission we concentrate on three key areas for the Inquiry; 1) Addressing job seekers needs and approaches to barriers to employment. 2) The rights and responsibilities of benefit claimants and the sanctions regime and 3) Working with employers and the Jobsmatch service.

3. Addressing Job Seekers needs and Approaches to Barriers to Employment

3.1 In our research study (2012)4 we followed 50 single parents over a three-year period. Of the 50 single parents none got a job as a direct result of their interaction with Jobcentre Plus (JCP). Of the 14 parents who moved into work, their success with finding employment was dependent on how close they were already to the labour market (some already had limited hours with the same employer), the level of support they had from family, travel times to home (most of those who found work did so near to their home) and whether they could find flexible employment to take account of their need to also care for their children.

3.2 In terms of services offered at JCP single parents frequently saw different advisers at each signing-on session, and often had to repeat information. In this context it was difficult to build up a rapport with the advisers. Parents talked about not being sure what reception and assessments were going to be made by the next adviser. Single parents thought some advisers treated these sessions as a box ticking exercise. Other single parents were worried and unclear about being sanctioned for not having fulfilled their obligations:

“I mean I could look at the newspaper and find no particular suitable jobs. Am I supposed to write that down because it’s not exactly something I can prove and is it enough?” (Single parent)

3.3 Single parents have moved into a job seeking service that has largely been designed for the single job seeker rather than a job seeker with sole parenting responsibilities. Single parents thought that Jobcentre Plus staff could fail to link them to jobs that were appropriate to their skills or caring responsibilities. They were also left disappointed by the lack of training opportunities that were open to them on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). This was a particular issue for single parents who had been out of the job market for some time and needed training to move into employment or refresher training to move back into the field of work they had undertaken before having their children. In our research half of the parents had not been in work since their youngest child was born (for at least seven years). Over half of the single parents in the study received no training whilst on JSA.

3.4 Single parents missed the specialist support of Lone Parent Advisers. These advisers were available to parents on Income Support but not Jobseekers Allowance. Autonomy of local Jobcentre Plus services introduced since our research means that offices do not have to provide specialist services to particular user groups. Single parents, many who had been out of employment for years, were keen to have support to move into work but were left confused by how to go about doing so and did not feel supported by advisers. They would have liked advisers to help them in terms of job searching and contacting potential employers about work placements or opportunities to job share.

“…one of the questions she said to me was how was I going to find work and I just looked at her blank and I went and thought that was for you to tell me and she turned round and went no you have got to tell me”. (Single parent)

Single parents felt that the onus to find childcare was placed on them rather than something the Jobcentre helped with. The amount of information given to single parents about how to find childcare varied substantially.

“…my childcare issues aren’t their concern, their concern is getting me off Jobseeker’s and getting me into employment.” (Single parent)

3.5 Recommendations

Reinstate role of Lone Parent Specialists both in Jobcentre Plus and within the specification for contracted services.

Greater emphasis given within Jobcentre Plus to help single parents prepare for work rather than policing their benefit compliance.

Support for training programmes including refresher training for single parents.

More information and support in single parents accessing childcare.

4. The Rights and Responsibilities of Benefit Claimants and the Sanctions Regime

4.1 In terms of rights there are legislative protections for single parents and their children that should allow their job preparation and job search to be different from that of other jobseekers:

The Welfare Reform Act 2008 contains a provision to protect the wellbeing of children in relation to Jobseekers Agreements5 (and this protection is included in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 Claimant Commitment);

Lone Parent Flexibilities, including the right to restrict hours of work to care for a younger dependent child; and

The Public Sector Equality Duty in particular the duty to promote equality of opportunity between men and women in service delivery.

We found from our Analysis (2013)6 that the rights of single parents and their children were not adequately communicated or applied. Similar expectations were placed on them as other job seekers and this could leave them exposed to sanctions as they found it harder to comply with unrealistic job preparation and employment. The threat of sanctions did not help these parents move into work.

4.2 The DWP’s own commissioned research report (2011) found that the majority of single parents “were not aware of the specific flexibilities, a proportion had been told they were allowed to only look for work that was during school hours only (12%) or have the availability and costs of childcare taken into account when working out their availability to work (8%)”.7

4.3 In our Analysis (2013) we found JCP had set unrealistic Jobseekers’ Agreements (JSAg) and this exposed single parents to being sanctioned. For instance one parent’s JSAg states she must work the hours from the moment she drops her child off at school to the moment she picks her up, allowing no time for her travel to a place of work. On top of this she must be prepared to travel 90 minutes each way to work. In JSAg it was common for single parents to have to specify that they are prepared to travel 90 minutes each way for a job, even where their hours of work are restricted (such as school hours) and this is written into JSAgs. This rigidity on long travel times does not lead to sustainable employment. Our longitudinal research (2012) found single parents were more likely to sustain employment when it was local. Moreover, despite the young age of some of the children (one had a child aged five) single parents are still having full-time hours written into their JSAg either without them having a knowledge of the flexibilities or where there is that knowledge, imposed in their JSAg without negotiation.

4.4 Under the Welfare Reform Act 2012 the majority of Lone Parent Flexibilities, which are largely designed to protect the care of children, have been diluted to guidance rather than written into law. Single parents in the near future will have to rely even more heavily on the discretion of advisers at Jobcentre Plus as to how much account is taken of the needs of their children in their job preparation and job search.

4.5 In our Analysis (2013) not one parent had been told about the public sector equality duty at Jobcentre Plus. In 2009 the Equality and Human Rights Commission using their powers under section 31 of the Equality Act carried out an assessment of Jobcentre Plus, functions to see whether they were complying with the previous Public Sector Equality Duties. They concluded that Jobcentre Plus needed to do more in relation to gender equality including moving away from assuming that equal treatment will lead to equal opportunity. We found that not only were services not designed to take account of single parents needs but that the way services were delivered could put single parents at a disadvantage and made it harder for them to comply with instructions from advisers, thus exposing them to threats of sanctions.

4.6 The DWP’s own research identified that some single parents were receiving sanctions that could relate to their caring responsibilities,8 for instance, a single parent being sanctioned when her child was ill and was not able to attend an appointment. Another parent was sanctioned for not applying for six jobs each week (single parents’ restriction on hours means there are likely to be many less jobs available for them to apply for).

4.7 The figures below show the rise of sanctions imposed on single parents since 2008.


Number of JSA lone parent claimants

January 2008–December 2008


January 2009–December 2009


January 2010–December 2010


January 2011–December 2011


January 2012–April 2012


4.8 Recommendations

That the legal rights of single parents and their children are clearly communicated and applied at Jobcentre Plus and that Job-seeking Agreements and the new Claimant Commitment reflect these rights.

That more detailed information is kept on the reasons why single parents are receiving sanctions.

Sanctions are not imposed on single parents due to their caring responsibilities.

5. Working with Employers and the Jobsmatch Service

5.1 Both our Longitudinal Study (2012) and our Analysis (2013) show the shortage of quality part-time and flexible employment open to single parents. Jobcentre Plus need to play a more proactive role in encouraging employers to design and advertise more part-time and flexible jobs and to develop the Jobsmatch service.

5.2 Like all jobseekers who are on a jobseeking benefit there is pressure to take any work. However, single parents have the additional need to find a job that also fits around the care of their children. There are fewer jobs available to them than are open to people who can work full-time. Only employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service with an employer has a right to request flexible working. Jobseekers looking for flexible employment currently have to rely on advertised vacancies. Evidence has shown these jobs are less available and where they exist tend to be lower skilled and poorer paid. A study (Women Like Us, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, March 201210) found that although a quarter of jobs were advertised as part-time roles they were much less likely than full-time jobs to pay at a reasonable level. They found that for every one part-time vacancy paying £20k full-time equivalent, there were 18 full-time vacancies at this level. Without change this will undermine the effectiveness of welfare changes as many single parents are unable to find work that fits with their caring responsibilities or they move into poorly paid employment with on-going in-work financial support from the government.

5.3 Our Longitudinal Study (2012) showed that despite their qualifications single parents moved into low paid work mostly care work, childcare, supermarkets and cleaning. Our Analysis (2013) also showed single parents who had qualifications and experience but were unable to find flexible employment including jobs in the public sector. These jobseekers included a trained psychiatric nurse, qualified teachers and a qualified social worker. There was pressure for parents to take any work irrespective of whether it would secure them a decent wage or fit in with responsibility for their child.

5.4 Whilst smoothing some of the financial transition between benefits and work, the Universal Credit does not address some of the other barriers faced by single parents including the poor choice of flexible employment that is open to them. The Universal Credit will introduce in-work conditionality to push claimants to work more hours and reduce their dependency on benefits. Certain groups like single parents with younger children will be expected to work within school hours. However, in-work conditionality will mean that over time, as their children get older, they will be expected to increase their pay. This will have particular impact on single parents who were pushed into low paid work with few prospects for advancement when their children were younger.

5.5 The Jobsmatch service involves employers posting vacancies online. It is important that JCP staff work with employers before they post vacancies to encourage them to design flexible and part-time vacancies otherwise the system will remain biased towards full-time vacancies. For instance, this week on Jobsmatch if you were looking for a teaching job in London there were 7971 vacancies open to you with full-time hours and 668 with part-time hours.

5.6 Recommendations

Review of the work first agenda for claimants on Jobseekers Allowance with greater emphasis on employment that will sustain parents in the longer term.

That Jobcentre Plus works more closely with local employers to encourage more part-time and flexible vacancies beyond low skilled and low paid work before vacancies are posted on Jobsmatch.

Jobcentre Plus trial a job sharing register of vacancies and incentivise employer take up to encourage a greater spread of vacancies being open to single parents.

24 May 2013

1 C Grayling PQ March 2011 and figures from DWP report 736, May 2010, p11.

2 DWP November 2012

3 Gingerbread analysis of DWP data

4 A Longitudinal Qualitative Study of the Journeys of Single Parents On Jobseekers Allowance (2012).

5 Section 31, Welfare Reform Act 2009.

6 The longer term experience of single parents on the Work Programme (2013).

7 Lone Parent Obligations supporting the journey into work, DWP Research Report 736, May 2011, Page 86

8 Lone Parent Obligations: work, childcare and the Jobseeker’s Allowance regime, May 2012

9 Parliamentary Question HC Deb, 24 October 2012, c955W. Source: JSA Sanctions and Disallowance Decisions Statistics Database; JSA Lone Parent Spells database.

10 Building a Sustainable Quality Part-time Recruitment Market, (2012), Women Like Us, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, London.

Prepared 27th January 2014