Under changes from the UK government, if you are the main carer parent and receive Universal Credit, then starting from when your youngest child celebrates their third birthday, you will be expected to work up to 30 hours per week.
This shift in policy is, reportedly, the government response to labour shortages caused by Brexit; long wait times for routine NHS procedures; and the exodus of older people from the workforce since the pandemic.
The reality of the impact of these changes has been increasingly discussed in recent weeks, with many organisations and research bodies across the country pointing to the significant damage that could be caused.
The New Economics Foundation (NEF) report, recently launched at 54 St James Street, highlights the concerning reality that some parents will face. As women tend to be the main carers, these concerns largely focus on the ways women will be impacted.
Not all women can work full-time. Factors such as unpaid caring responsibilities, children’s health needs, or personal mental health needs, mean that not all women are in a suitable position to commit to full-time employment.
Under new government rules, parents will be rushed back into employment of any kind – up to 30 hours of it, just under the 35 hours the government classes as full-time employment.
Women are a vital asset to the economy but seeing their value as lying in paid employment alone, is overlooking the real, much bigger picture and all of its complexities.
Single parents are due to be disproportionately affected, reports Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the Women’s Budget Group, highlighting that 85% of single parents are mothers.
There are many unrealistic and unworkable conditions to be unearthed in the new rules. The head of child poverty at Save the Children UK, Becca Lyon, discussed how their charity was particularly concerned with the requirements for parents of toddlers – they are expected to meet a job coach every month. However, as mums and parents will know, finding care for your children is difficult and/or expensive, and taking your young children to these appointments is unmanageable. They ask that job centres consider making provisions for childcare at their centres to help parents actually be able to attend appointments, and not be faced with unrelenting ‘no shows’.
Beyond the questionable logistics set out by DWP, there is another more pertinent question mark over the real value that will be brought in by these changes. A government spokesperson who said that work was “the best way to get on”, stated that a single adult on means-tested benefits would be better off by more than £7,600 when in full-time work on the national living wage. However, businesses and campaigners observe different potential outcomes. Campaigners point to these conditions as forcing claimants to take unsuitable and low-paid jobs to meet the criteria set out, at the expense of their childcare, and to the detriment of employers if the skills or ambitions aren’t relevant.
The cost of transport to make appointments or meet job coaches, plus the cost and chaos of juggling childcare, means that the journey to gaining the right employment is difficult before the logistics for an actual job are considered.
What is the reality of the new rules?
For those on Universal Credit, childcare payments will increase and be required to be paid upfront – rather than in arrears.
Jenny Ritson, Personal Development and Skills Facilitator at The Women’s Organisation commented: “I work with a lot of women in the community with children under the age of three and these changes will have a detrimental impact on many families within our local community and across the UK.
“The government has changed the goal posts (the criteria for Universal Credit) without taking into consideration the responsibilities that many women as the primary caregivers face each day.
I feel that the government is setting women up to fail and not giving them the opportunity to return to a job that fits their individual circumstances.”
Kate Andersen, a York University academic with extensive experience researching the state of women’s welfare, responded to claims from a DWP representative who said that the 30-hour expectation could be tailored based on needs and individual circumstances. Andersen said her research showed there was minimal tailoring of benefit conditions to mothers’ personal circumstances.
Commenting on the changes, she said, “It is out of sync with what low-income mums and parents want, it devalues unpaid care and says that your primary societal contribution is paid work.”
Parents who fail to meet the requirements of the 30-hour week set of rules will face the prospect of benefit sanctions which means payments will be reduced/paused, depending on the circumstances.
The latest figures from 2022, up to October, show that 422,000 individuals across the UK received a sanction, with the average penalty being approximately £660.
Ben Harrison from the Work Foundation thinktank stated that these sanctions will impoverish claimants and damage mental health.
What’s the good news?
We continue to do what we can to help women gain access to meaningful training and employment that adds value to their lives and their family’s lives.
We have been given funding by the Smallwood Trust (those who funded the NEF report) to help women in education, job seeking or growing their skills.
The main aims of the Smallwood Grant cover areas such as:
- Supporting an individual’s financial stability and helping to relieve hardship
- Supporting an individual’s employment pathways
- Supporting an individual’s mental health and wellbeing
We know there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and every situation will require a different approach and considerations. Not all women should be forced down the same path.
Through our Mind and Money programme, range of funded courses, and our experienced (and friendly!) team, we will be able to help you if you’re looking ahead with uncertainty or dread.
Know you are not alone – do reach out if you need extra support.