Welfare reform under fire

Plans to force single parents back into work have met stiff resistance in the form of a senior government advisor.

Sir Richard Tilt, head of the social security advisory committee, said the plans could “push people into poverty” in the current economic climate.

Sir Richard said: “Benefit rates are relatively low and if you are going to reduce someone’s benefit for a few weeks by 40 per cent you are pushing people much closer to poverty.

“Of course, the child will suffer, but it’s not the child that has fallen foul of the system.”

Under the reform, set to be implemented next week, single parents will be forced to find work once their youngest child is 12 or face having benefits cut.

Current law allows single parents to claim income support until their youngest child is 16, but the reform would make any benefit after the child’s 12th birthday payable only through Jobseekers Allowance.

The money would be roughly the same, but Jobseekers Allowance payments would be contingent on the parents seeking work. Anyone caught not doing so could see a 40 per cent cut in their benefit.

Sir Richard cited a variety of concerns with the plans, but he made special reference to a lack of childcare availability and the other reasons a parent might choose to stay at home.

“It may be to do with disability or chronic illness, or in some cases it may be to do with behavioural problems,” he said.

“So pushing the lone [parent] in those circumstances into work may actually not be in everybody’s interest.”

The Conservatives are backing the reform, and both main parties closed ranks over Sir Richard’s statements.

Employment minister Tony McNulty said: “Now more than ever it is important to help people prepare for work and move closer to the labour market.

“In the 1980s and 1990s people were moved onto incapacity benefits and left to languish with no help or support to return to work.

“These changes will ensure that lone parents are ready for work whenever jobs become available.”

Shadow work and pensions secretary Chris Grayling said: “It would be disastrous for Britain to do a u-turn on welfare reform. It would have the effect of making poverty worse and condemning millions of people in some of our most deprived communities to endless benefit dependency.

“Right now, when the jobs market is tough, we need real action to help people who’ve been on benefits for a long time to make the journey back into work and not simply assume that because unemployment is rising that there’s no hope for them.”

There are currently 1.8 million lone parents in the UK, of which just over half – 56.3 per cent – are in work.