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Single parents on benefits being ‘punished’ by Tory policy pushing them to work 30-hour week

Struggling single parents are being “punished” and set up to fail by an “unrealistic” government policy that forces them into near-full-time work when their children turn three, according to parents and new research.

A year after the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, forced parents on benefits to work for 30 hours a week or risk seeing their benefits docked, the vast majority of parents say they cannot make the new system work.

According to a survey of 638 single parents by campaign group Single Parent Rights, supported by Save the Children, 81% said increasing their work hours to near full-time is unmanageable, and would have a negative impact on them and their children.

“Parents who want to work are being set up to fail,” said Becca Lyon, the head of UK child poverty at Save the Children. The research highlights the work barriers parents face, including a lack of childcare, flexible work and single parent employment discrimination.

“It’s clear parents can’t meet the new conditionality requirements which are unrealistic and not bedded in the realities of everyday life – the whole policy needs an urgent rethink.”

Alice*, who lives in Hampshire, has worked 16 hours as an unqualified gymnastics teacher around caring for her three-year-old. Her employer cannot give her more hours, and because of her lack of qualifications she is unable to seek hours elsewhere.

She said she is being put under pressure to go to more meetings and increase her hours – sometimes being told she has to attend when she is supposed to be at work. “It’s incredibly stressful. I’ve had continuous meltdowns over the situation the past couple of months, it’s been really hard work to kind of get myself together and look for a job when I’m feeling how I’m feeling,” she said.

“I’m up for working as much as I can, I want a better life for my child, but because of my circumstances I just can’t at the moment. Come September I’d be able to, but they won’t wait. ”

Under the new policy, parents must meet a job coach every three months – up from every six months – as soon as their child turns one. Parents of two-year-olds have to attend coaching monthly. But the new research found that three-quarters of respondents did not find work coach meetings useful.

“The work coach changes every meeting,” said Alice, who is struggling to save £400 to get a coaching qualification, but feels unsupported. “They don’t work to hear about the training or help, they just want you to work 30 hours, they don’t care what you do. There is no empathy, it feels like we’re being punished.”

Ruth Talbot, the founder of Single Parent Rights, said the policy discriminated against single parents. “Our social security system should be built on genuine support for individuals and their circumstances rather than punishing parents who are struggling,” she added.

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A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said it had “boosted support for parents on universal credit by almost 50%, as well as giving more help to parents of children aged between one and three.

“Not all parents of children over three are expected to work the maximum 30 hours a week, and parents can talk about their circumstances with a work coach to make sure the help is tailored to their unique situation.”

*Names have been changed

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