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Labour will force lone parents of seven year olds back into work

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The Guardian

Patrick Wintour, political editor
Thursday July19, 2007

Child welfare campaigners yesterday accused Peter Hain, the work and pensions secretary, of wielding a big stick to force nearly 300,000 lone parents into work, even though their children may still be of primary school age.
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In a tougher than expected welfare green paper, Mr Hain proposed that by 2010 most lone parents will be required to seek work once their youngest child reaches seven. The government also proposed that claimants out of work for more than 12 months will have to undertake community work or lose benefit.

Ministers have also accepted in principle a proposal to hire private and voluntary contractors to help the long-term unemployed find work, but a detailed scheme has been deferred until the autumn owing to the Treasury's refusal to provide any pilot funding. The proposals represent the government's response to the welfare review by businessman David Freud for the previous work and pensions secretary John Hutton.

Mr Freud had recommended that lone parents with a youngest child 12 or over should be required to seek work by being transferred from income support to job seeker's allowance. At present the requirement does not kick in until the child reaches 16, the most lax regime in Europe.

Mr Hain said he intended to go further than Freud by first requiring from October next year that lone parents with a child aged 12 or over seek work and then, by 2010, place the same requirement on lone parents with children aged seven or over.

Mr Hain said that by 2010 there would be sufficient pre- and after-school facilities to justify the tougher regime. "This is about opportunities, not big sticks."

It should mean that by 2010 40% of 766,000 lone parents on benefit will be forced to seek work by being transferred to the job seeker's allowance and have to attend interviews regularly seeking work. There are 300,000 lone parents on income support with children aged seven to 16.

Lone parents are likely to be given a small payment of £20 a week to help them seek work, and will not be required to take a job if it will leave the lone parent worse off than on benefit. The requirement to seek work will not apply to lone parents receiving carer's allowance for disabled children.

The Conservatives favour lone parents seeking work once a child reaches five and the party's welfare spokesman, Chris Grayling, claimed Mr Hain had watered down the Freud proposals. Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat welfare spokesman condemned the move on lone parents as hasty. The TUC described the proposals as "disappointing".

The Child Poverty Action Group's chief executive, Kate Green, was furious. "Forcing lone parents to face benefit sanctions when their children are still at primary schools is outrageous," she said. "Taking money away from families that are already poor will worsen poverty for many children and put their health and wellbeing at risk."

Chris Pond from One Parent Families warned: "It is extremely worrying that the government is imposing new requirements on parents without detailing any additional form of support. The government has repeatedly emphasised that parents know best when it comes to making choices about how to combine work and family life."