There is often a sense of disillusionment with politics. Few feel that they have a voice. In the current political context, where Brexit dominates, the opportunity to influence the policy agenda is rare. But this week we made a difference. Single parents are starting to be heard.
The Chancellor reversed the devastating cuts announced in 2015 that decimated the work allowance of Universal Credit. This is a significant concession that will see the work allowance increase by £1000 resulting in about £630 a year more in the pockets of many single parent households. The Chancellor also announced extra investment in supporting people moving onto Universal Credit as the delayed roll-out continues.
These announcements are welcomed. They were secured through rigorous analysis, charities working together, mounting political pressure from MPs and single parents willing to share their experiences.
At times it has been difficult for single parents to tell their stories. When we last spoke to Lynne, she was at risk of being sanctioned for giving up her job. Her shifts were becoming more unpredictable, and she couldn’t make it work with her daughter just having started school.
Gingerbread has and will continue to hear from single parents struggling with debt, fluctuations in their income, access to quality jobs, unaffordable childcare and high housing costs. In the last week alone, parents have been in touch to share their experiences of Universal Credit. Our helpline has been busy advising on the scheme; with many single parents unsure how it could or would work for them.
For single parents like Jessica, who is employed on a zero-hours contract and has found it difficult to pay the nursery fees upfront as required by Universal Credit, the new system simply doesn’t work. As her working hours would change each week, she had to claim on an ad hoc basis. She said, “I got the invoices off the nursery, and they were never the same each week for payments…I took them in to my work coach, scanned them across, then I got a phone call off them saying ‘Oh we don’t need invoices, we need receipts because you’ve got to have paid for it first’…”.
Jessica said that her employer not scheduling work for her that month was a blessing in disguise as the unreimbursed childcare costs would have left her “crippled financially”.
The extra money may help, but Jessica’s experience shows there are substantial flaws in the design and implementation of Universal Credit.
And this is certainly not the end of austerity for low income families. The overall Budget picture is bleak for low income families; those on higher incomes have been the real budget winners while most of the cuts to the wider welfare system have not been reversed.
This is all in the context where the number of single parents on zero-hours contracts has increased tenfold over the past ten years, with over 40,000 single parents employed this way. The rise in precarious work means that employment opportunities that pay a decent wage and offer the flexibility needed are few and far between for single parents who are often the main earners and carers. The Budget announcements are unlikely to reverse the tide towards rising levels of child poverty.
The Government may call people “strivers, grafters and carers” but to us they are simply single parents doing the best for their children. This week we made a difference, but there is more to do.
Dalia Ben-Galim is Director of Policy and Communications at Gingerbread