The TUC and single parent charity Gingerbread yesterday condemned the Work and Pensions Secretary Purnell’s decision to press ahead with ‘welfare to work’ plans for single parents with children aged 12 years and over, as well as the disabled, youth and long-term unemployed.
This was despite an appeal from the government’s own advisers, the Social Security Advisory Committee.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘As thousands join the dole queue every day, this is the worst possible time for a further benefits crackdown and introducing “workfare”.
‘If the government continues, more people will be left in poverty, unable to work or claim benefits.
‘And at £60.50 a week, many of those claiming job seekers allowance will still find themselves in poverty.
‘The government must increase job seekers allowance and boost resources at Jobcentre plus to help more people back into work.’
Chief Executive of One Parent Families/Gingerbread, Fiona Weir, said: ‘We are extremely concerned about the possible impacts on children of benefit cuts on those parents who do not take up jobs, and of the ability of Jobcentre Plus to cope with these changes at a time when their services are likely to be pushed to the limit.’
The charity further warned that many parents could end up ‘cycling’ between low paid work and benefits: over 50 per cent of those claiming Jobseekers Allowance are repeat claimants.
Weir added: ‘The government should delay implementing the second phase of the reforms at least until it has evaluated the impact on the first tranche of lone parent families to be affected by the change.’
But Work and Pensions Secretary Purnell insisted that, from Monday, those with children aged 12 and over will no longer be able to make a new claim for income support.
Instead, they will be forced to claim Jobseekers Allowance, which stipulates they must be actively looking for work.
It they refuse to attend ‘work advice’ interviews, they will lose 40 per cent of their benefit.
Social Security Advisory Committee head Richard Tilt said the move could ‘push people into poverty’ as unemployment rises, and called for the changes to be delayed by one or two years.
He said cutting a parent’s benefit would mean ‘the child will suffer, but it’s not the child that has fallen foul of the system.’
He also expressed concern about the availability of suitable, affordable childcare.
In its report last month, the Social Security Advisory Committee stated that: ‘the operation of a sanctions-based benefit regime risks placing lone parents in poverty if they are subject to financial penalties, thus jeopardising the aimed for reduction in child poverty.’