Saturday, September 13, 2008

Should lone parents be forced back to work?

From Lord Avebury P0811093

020-7274 4617

September 11, 2008

Dear Stephen,
I attach an email I had from Ms Barbara Stark, Chair of Action for Home Education Group (AHEd) about the draft SI The Social Security (Lone Parents and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2008, which compels lone parents to go back to work as soon as their youngest child reaches the age of 10, in 2009) and then 7 in 2010. My impression is that these ages have been chosen arbitrarily by the government with the sole object of reducing the social security bill, and are not based on any evidence that the Order will achieve better outcomes for children or parents. On the contrary, there may be serious disadvantages in families with several children, where supervision by the lone parent through adolescence is necessary to keep the children in order and help them through the later stages of their school careers. Already, far too many children go off the rails in their early teens with drugs, alcohol and crime, and reducing the ability of a lone parent to counter these tendencies isn’t likely to improve the children’s prospects.
I personally believe that changes on the lines of this Order shouldn’t be accepted by Parliament unless and until there has been consultation on the possible social consequences, instead of the Procrustean assumption of No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility, that everyone except the most severely disabled people or others with full-time caring responsibilities is expected to work. The lone parent does have the important caring responsibility of ensuring that her children become good citizens, maximising their potential contribution to society through education, and respecting other people. We can already see the consequences of our failure to think about these values, and I fear that your policy is calculated to make things worse,

The Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP,
Department for Work & PPensions,
4th floor, Caxton House,
Tothill Street,
London SW1H 2NS

Barbara Stark

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Dear Lord Avebury,

It was with great pleasure that AHEd [1] noted your statement during the July debate on the Education and Skills Bill, that "We ought to acknowledge that work in the home, particularly work as a mother, is every bit as valuable as work outside the home. Raising the next generation of citizens and workers is an honourable and very demanding occupation and should be recognised as such."

It is in light of such sentiment that we appeal to you to oppose The Statutory Instrument - The Social Security (Lone Parents and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2008 which is to be laid before both Houses, and to encourage other members of the House to do the same.

The regulations propose, from November 2008, to remove the safety net of Income Support (IS) from lone parents whose youngest child is aged 12 years. This age threshold will be further reduced by 2010, requiring lone parents to actively seek work when their youngest child reaches seven. Parents will be placed on job seekers allowance and face the threat of cuts in benefit. As you know, these regulations are part of the government's fundamental reforms to create a new welfare to work system.

AHEd members are very concerned that whilst the Government claims it will help to "lift children out of poverty", the move promises to cause extreme stress and hardship for many families, including those who home educate, those whose children have special needs or disabilities and those who have been abandoned by partners, as well as widowed parents and mothers fleeing domestic violence.

These proposals were first brought to our attention in January 2007 by a parent in Scotland who was concerned that lone parents home educating their children - often through necessity as a result of bullying or because the school system could not cater for their children's special needs or disabilities - would have their Income Support withdrawn if they did not make themselves available for paid employment.

Tom Clarke MP subsequently obtained assurances from the then Minister John Hutton that home educating lone parents' responsibilities would be fully recognised. However the Government has now indicated that no such exceptions will be made. In addition, it was strongly expressed by participants during the 'In Work Better Off' consultation, that there should be no extension of conditionality for these groups. Many of our members have contacted their MPs and there is concern amongst those MPs that these regulations will indeed cause hardship, yet so far we have failed to halt this roller coaster. Despite warnings from individuals and organisations representing
vulnerable families, that children will be further impoverished by these Regulations, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has indicated that it will press on and force lone parents to seek work as soon as their children reach the designated age, leaving it up to the discretion of Jobcentre staff to decide whether to allow any
flexibility within the Jobseekers Allowance system in response to individual circumstances.

We are receiving reports from frightened parents who have been called in for work focused interviews and told they will have to take paid employment or lose benefit; some of these are parents among the few who should be exempt, such as pregnant mothers, mothers of children below the threshold age, and parents in receipt of disability benefits for themselves and/or their children, who are being misinformed by
Jobcentre Plus staff seeking to impose blanket enforcement on all lone parents regardless of circumstances.

AHEd is concerned for all of the families who are rendered vulnerable by this proposal, but our primary concern is that, where a parent has chosen to home educate their child, they must not have this choice removed by the threat of severe poverty created by these Regulations. Parents do not make this choice lightly and in many instances there truly is no alternative for their child's educational well-being.

It must remain the responsibility of parents to decide if the need to be available for their children and the demands of paid employment can be reconciled. In removing the responsibility for this decision from parents and putting it into the hands of advisors at Jobcentre Plus, the government will be leaving families with stark choices between financial, educational and perhaps emotional poverty.

Thank you for considering our concerns and we look forward to your support.

Yours sincerely,

Barbara Stark
(Chair, AHEd.) For the committee and membership of AHEd Action for Home Education Group.

[1] Action for Home Education Group.

(Signed with an electronic signature in accordance with subsection 7(3)
of the Electronic Communications Act 2000.)

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