Work and Pensions CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Working Families

1. Executive Summary

Jobcentre Plus (JCP) is not sufficiently equipped to provide tailored advice to parents trying to get back to work.

Jobcentre Plus should be more proactive in encouraging employers to design and advertise family-shaped jobs and the new Universal Jobmatch recruitment tool needs to be more sophisticated to help part time job seekers.

Parents of disabled children report a lack of understanding from JCP and are given insufficient support in their search for work.

2. Introduction

2.1 Working Families is the UK’s leading work life balance charity. We provide free legal advice via a telephone helpline to disadvantaged parents and carers who work or wish to work. We hear first hand from parents about their dealings with Jobcentre Plus and we receive referrals from JCP to our helpline. We also work with employers to create family friendly workplaces and showcase best practice through our “Top Employers for Working Families” annual awards. Working Families Chief Executive, Sarah Jackson, has been invited to Chair the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) group “Promoting Flexible Working to Private Sector Employers” and has taken evidence from Jobcentre Plus as part of that work.

3. JCP Role in Identifying and Addressing Barriers to Work

3.1 Working Families recognises the importance of JCP advisers in encouraging parents into work. However, evidence from callers to our helpline suggests that there is a need for training for advisers if they are to offer tailored advice for parents. In particular, many parents identify childcare and the costs of childcare as a key barrier to work but we have cases where Jobcentre Plus advisers have wrongly advised claimants about the potential for help with childcare costs. JCP needs to demonstrate to parents that a move into work will improve their financial position.

A family with children with a joint Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claim went to the Jobcentre for advice about help with childcare costs if the woman returned to work. Her partner had mental health disabilities but was not getting any support with his health problems. He was unable to look after the children when ill. JCP did not advise the couple about moving the partner to Employment Support Allowance (ESA), which may have been appropriate at this point. Instead the couple were simply told that they would get no help with childcare costs if he was not in work and referred them to Working Families’ helpline.

This example demonstrates not only a lack of understanding of the potential support that the family might claim but may also indicate a breach of equality duties by failing to take due account of the man’s disability.

3.2 Jobcentre Plus is responsible for administering Maternity Allowance (MA). Payment of MA is crucial wage replacement for low income mothers who are self employed or who have a close connection with the labour market but who do meet the earnings or service requirements to qualify for Statutory Maternity Ray (SMP). However, we have examples of JCP referring clients to our helpline to discuss MA issues and evidence of a lack of understanding of MA and other benefits:

A self-employed woman rang JCP contact centre to ask what financial help she might get when she had her baby. JCP told her that she would get Maternity Allowance but were rude when she asked for how long—they said “you find out”. When she asked about the Sure Start Maternity Grant the adviser said that she wasn’t on benefits, so she wouldn’t get it. In fact, when she called us, we explained that she could claim child benefit, tax credits and the Sure Start grant when her baby arrived (depending on the level of her tax credits) and we advised her to make a claim within three months of the birth, then again if necessary when her tax credits were finalised.

4. Helping Parents into Part-time Jobs

4.1 Many parents struggle to find part time or flexible work that fits around their caring responsibilities. Too few jobs are advertised on this basis, and the right to request flexible working only applies to employees who have completed 26 weeks service with their employer. JCP should act as a broker between parents and employers, encouraging the latter to consider job redesign when advertising vacancies, and encouraging parents to seek flexibility when being interviewed for jobs. The ability for employers to advertise directly on Universal Jobmatch means that JCP must be more proactive in encouraging employers to consider job design and to advertise jobs flexibly.

4.2 The new Universal Jobmatch only allows a choice of “full time” or “part time” job searches with part time defined as up to 30 hours a week. A more sophisticated search which allows for flexible options—both flexible full time and flexible hours within a part time role—would be helpful to parents and offer a wider recruitment pool to employers.

4.3 Parents of disabled children need flexible hours in order to attend hospital and other appointments with their children. Our survey of 1,000 parents of disabled children1 found that 27% were not in paid work and that 91% of these agreed that finding a job with the right pattern of work would be a barrier to their return to work.

“My daughter has epilepsy, which isn’t controlled. Employers don’t want to employ someone who has to take time off for appointments or when their child is poorly” (parent of disabled child).

“What happens when your child is in hospital? My daughter has spent twice four months as an in patient. It was planned hospital admission and the lack of flexibility of my boss that eventually made me give up work” (parent of disabled child).

The pattern of work was also the principal concern for the working cohort of parents: 61% had tried to change their pattern of work while 56% had tried to change the number of hours that they work. Sixty-two per cent of the working cohort worked less than 30 hours a week and the vast majority of those not working, but expressing a desire to do so, wanted to work for less than 30 hours a week. School hours jobs and term-time working were particularly desired by both those in and out of work given the difficulties these parents face in finding and affording holiday childcare. JCP should encourage employers to offer term time only and school hours jobs.

4.4 An additional problem arises for parents who want to study or retrain to improve their chances to return to work on a part time basis.

A single parent was moved from Income Support (IS) to JSA and wanted to undertake a retraining course for 15 hours a week over two days. However, as the college classed it as a full time course, JCP would not give her JSA: they say she is a full time student. The parent was prepared to look for work for 2.5 days. Our advice was that she should try to find 16 hours of work per week to combine with her course, so that she can claim Working Tax Credit—which would not place the same restrictions on her ability to study.

5. Back to Work Support

5.1 Despite 91% of the non-working parents of disabled children in our survey expressing a desire to do paid work at some level, only 38% had sought assistance from JCP. Over half the parents who were not working had been out of work for at least six years, making it very hard to get back to work. These parents may benefit from retraining, together with a systematic programme of job-seeking skills. Our survey revealed a lack of understanding from JCP of the particular needs of parents of disabled children.

“They don’t help. They just print off a list of low paid jobs without reflecting my qualifications or skills. When I ask why, they tell me I should look at these jobs ‘for now’. But my son’s situation won’t change so there’s no ‘for now’ for me”. (parent of disabled child)

“Zero help. I had to battle it myself all the way. In fact, most professionals/agencies told me that single parents in my situation just don’t work. I refuse to accept that”. (parent of disabled child)

Many parents of disabled children want to work but are unemployed or underemployed, with knock-on effects on their family poverty. JCP should show more understanding of the limits and restrictions on parents with disabled children struggling to balance work and care.

24 May 2013

1 Finding Flexibility: parents of disabled children and paid work, Working Families 2012

Prepared 27th January 2014