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Left Behind: Single parents with pre-school aged children and job-seeking under Universal Credit in London

Author: Laura Dewar, Policy Officer, Gingerbread, Elizabeth Clery, Social Research Consultant

Drawing on analysis of Labour Force Survey data, qualitative interviews with 16 single parents in London and discussions with Jobcentre Plus Partnership Managers, this report from Gingerbread and funded by Trust for London explores the impact of extending the job-seeking requirement under Universal Credit to parents whose youngest child is aged three or four, focusing on single parents in London.

It presents an overview of the characteristics of the group of single parents who will be affected by this policy, discusses their attitudes to and experience of the new requirement and makes a series of recommendations for a range of governmental departments and bodies, to improve the long-term work outcomes for this group.

Single parents with pre-school aged children in London are a relatively distinct group in terms of their employment rate and level of education, factors which inevitably make job-seeking more challenging. Single parents tend to see the new work requirement for those with pre-school aged children as unrealistic, describing a shortage of suitable jobs, difficulties in finding matched childcare and the availability of limited technology to job-seek. Their experiences of Jobcentre Plus support have been varied and there is little evidence that flexibilities for this group are being widely communicated. The Covid-19 crisis is set to exacerbate some of these difficulties, and so make single parents’ fulfilment of the job-seeking requirement even more challenging.

  • Just 50% of single parents in London who will be affected by the policy are currently in employment, compared to 58% in the UK. They are less likely to be well-qualified; 42% have a qualification below Level 2, compared with 28% of single parents in the UK (and 13% of couple parents, across both areas).
  • Single parents express mixed views as to the desirability of the new job-seeking requirement. While some think that the specified age at which it applies is too young, others believe it to be too generic, not accounting for the diverse circumstances of single parents.
  • Single parents have found the requirement to secure 16 hours of work per week to be challenging, due to a shortage of suitable jobs that fit in with childcare, travel and other commitments, the challenge of securing matched childcare, and having limited technology available to job-seek. Experiences of Jobcentre Plus support have been mixed, with a lack of information and clarify in relation to the new requirement, inconsistent involvement of work coaches and a widespread perception that the system does not take into account individual circumstaces. Single parents are not being told about the available flexibility to have their job-seeking turned off for a year in order to train, although there is considerable interest in pursuing this.
  • Single parents describe a number of impacts of the Covid-19 crisis including having to work and care without childcare or wider support, a drop in work and income and less contact with work coaches. The decline in job vacancies and childcare places resulting from the Crisis, and anticipated rise in unemployment and demand for Universal Credit, will make job-seeking even more challenging for this group.

Gingerbread want the government to deliver on the personalised support that it promised for single parents on Universal Credit with pre-school aged children and is calling for recommendations for change from both national and local government in London.

  • The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) must provide clear written communication about the easements and flexibilities that are open to single parents with pre-school aged children. All single parents must be provided with this information in writing, prior to agreeing to a claimant commitment, and must also have access to a named work coach.
  • Claimant commitments should be agreed as part of a genuine two-way process, taking into account the circumstances of single parents and how they might be supported into work.
  • Job centres should provide specialist provision for single parents or work coaches should make referrals to specialist providers and career coaching.
  • Single parents with limited technology should be allowed priority access in libraries and job centres to computers.
  • The Department for Education (DfE) must urgently review the current operation of the 30 hour offer to make it more compatible with the realities of seeking a job and working.
  • The Departments for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Work and Pensions (DWP) must work together to open up opportunities for more part-time and flexible work including incentivising businesses to open up vacancies on a job-share basis through their ‘find a job’ website.
  • The DWP should pilot a London-wide Childcare Deposit Scheme for pre–school aged childcare including deposits and the first month’s advance payment for those parents on UC who are entering or increasing their hours of work. This could be based on the successful scheme devised by Gingerbread and developed by the Greater London Authority (GLA).
  • Regional JCP London Managers should better co-ordinate support for single parents with pre-school aged children from specialist providers and ensure that this support is publicised so that parents can more consistently benefit from these schemes.
  • Regional JCP London Managers should publicise the training flexibility that is open to these single parents to train for up to a year. The GLA, London Councils and Regional JCP London Managers should work together to improve the support offered to single parents with pre-school aged children post Covid-19.
  • Local Councils should consider a register of employers in the London Boroughs who offer flexible and part-time work including school hours.
Left Behind, Gingerbread report cover

29 September 2020

Left Behind: Single parents with pre-school aged children and job-seeking under Universal Credit in London