Tomorrow's Budget is very worrying for single parents. Rumours have been flying around for weeks about what will be announced as part of the government's £12billionn welfare cuts - the news has gone from bad to worse for single parents this weekend with the Chancellor's announcement that the benefit cap will be lowered to £20,000 for those outside London.
We've been hearing from single parents who are incredibly worried about the cuts they are hearing about in the media and are anxiously waiting to hear where the axe will fall in the Chancellor's statement.
The most consistently mentioned cut in the media is to tax credits. The Resolution Foundation have calculated that if child tax credits are cut back to 2003-4 levels, a single parent working part-time on a low wage with two children could lose as much as £1,690 over a year. That's a staggering amount of money for one small family to lose. The IFS predicts that it could push 300,000 children below the poverty line.
The government has committed itself to cutting vast amounts from the welfare bill and we fear the burden of the cuts will again fall hardest on those who can least afford it. We've seen working poverty among single parent families rise and with single parents twice as likely to be low paid as other workers, any cut to tax credits would hit them and their children particularly hard.
Most working single parents tell us that getting by financially is already a constant struggle at best, we can't be in any doubt that cuts to tax credits would push many of these families into crisis. The government does not have a clear position on how it expects these working people to cope; single parents, many of whom have worked for all their lives, are frightened of the consequences of such sweeping cuts.
We know that the government already plans to reduce the benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000 and has now announced a further reduction to £20,000 for families outside London. This is a cap which already disproportionately affects single parent families. They make up three in five of the households affected, and seven in 10 of the single parent families affected have at least one child aged under five. Lowering the cap will affect even more single parent families and the risk of further poverty is high.
The government says that the cap incentivises people to move into work, but for single parents with very young children, this undermines their ability to decide what's best for their young family: whether to stay at home to care for their pre-schooler, or to work. What's more, for those who do decide they want to return to work, it also fails to recognise how difficult it can be to find a suitable job and the available and affordable childcare. That's why we're calling on the government to exempt single parents with pre-school children from the cap.
In terms of what we hope to see included tomorrow, we'll be looking for the government to deliver on its promise to increase support with childcare costs for low-earners from 70% to 85%. Technically, families should be able to benefit from this pledge next spring - but it will be limited to those who move on to universal credit - and for many families this won't happen for another four years. We don't think parents should have to wait because of government delays, which is why the Chancellor should give access to this extra support as quickly as possible.
Single parents want the best for their families and they are working hard to achieve it, but the rug is being pulled from under their feet. One single parent, who is a nurse, told me last week that she just can't escape the poverty trap, no matter how many hours she works. She's not alone, and she is exactly the type of person the government should be looking to help, not hurt with this budget.
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