The benefit sanctions system is harming single parents and their children
Our report out yesterday, Single parents and sanctions, examines the impact that the sanctions regime is having on single parents, both those with a child under five who are on income support and those with older children who are getting jobseeker’s allowance.
We have found that tens of thousands of single parents are facing wrongful sanctions under a broken regime that is overly focussed on sanctions, at the expense of support that really would help more single parents in to work.
Single parents who are sanctioned face losing up to £290 for a first and minor sanction, such as missing a job centre appointment. That is a terrifying amount of money to lose when you have children to feed and bills to pay. Parents cut back where they can, often on essentials such as food and heating for their family. What’s more, we found that single parents are less likely to be told about hardship payments than other people who are sanctioned and we’re concerned that many could be missing out on this support which is vital to help families stay afloat if they’re sanctioned.
We’re calling for any parent sanctioned to be automatically given hardship payments to ensure some minimum protection for children in families affected.
Government data suggests that single parents are more likely to be wrongly referred for sanction: two in five (41 per cent) sanctions or referrals for sanction against single parents result in ‘non-adverse’ decisions – i.e. they are overturned. If you are sanctioned and challenge the decision, the sanction remains in place until a further decision is made. This means no job seeker’s allowance while your challenge is considered.
Single parents’ caring responsibilities are, in theory, protected by special regulations, which mean those on job seeker’s allowance they can limit their job search to part-time work and within school hours, among other exemptions. Single parents on income support are under no requirement to look for work, but this April they became subject to more expectations to prepare for work with the added risks of sanction attached.
But calls to our helpline show that some job centre advisers aren’t applying these rules for single parents correctly, or sometimes at all. We’ve heard from single parents with babies and toddlers who’ve been threatened with sanctions if they don’t apply for jobs. One parent on job seeker’s allowance was sanctioned for turning down night shifts, she had tried to find childcare for her young daughter overnight, but failed.
With so many single parents being threatened with or referred for sanctions, the risk is that they are pressured into taking a job that they can’t sustain alongside caring for their family.
There is very little evidence to suggest that sanctions – whether correctly or incorrectly applied – actually help people to move in to work. We feel that the time spent on administering sanctions – many of which are then never made or are overturned – is taking time and resources away from action that would do far more to help people into work. For many single parents this would be opportunities and support to go on training courses, gain qualifications and take part in work experience.
There is more to be done to boost single parent employment, but sanctions aren’t helping.