Over the last week we’ve seen a barrage of new reports published which collectively show what we’ve been seeing at Gingerbread for some time – many families are being pushed to breaking point by the squeeze from austerity measures, and none more so than single parent families.
The latest research from the TUC shows that single parents will be particularly hard hit by forthcoming cuts to public services – with working single parents losing the equivalent of just over 18% of their household income in services lost up to 2017/2018, and single parents not in work losing the equivalent of almost 33% of their income. Additional research showed that single parent families would also be hardest hit overall by a benefit freeze if the Chancellor goes ahead with this, as widely predicted, in his autumn statement.
The government’s generic response, somewhat inevitably, is that people should go out to work to earn their own income rather than enjoying a “lifestyle on benefits” – a distressingly stigmatising phrase used both by Employment Minister Lord Freud and the Chancellor George Osborne in recent weeks. Lord Freud’s comments triggered howls of protest from single parents via our website and social media:
“To assume that single parents on benefits live an easy life is such an insult. I am sure that I speak for every single parent, male and female, who currently finds themselves unemployed when I say that they would love nothing more than to gain employment in order to make a better life for themselves and their children. There needs to be less of the finger-pointing and less of the stereotyping.”
“The majority of single parents work. The benefits these parents receive are purely to boost low incomes and only just allow them to scrape by. There is nothing extra to pay for treats or holidays. Single parents are also often excluded socially as well as being society’s scapegoat. Would you choose this as your life?”
Meanwhile, the much-vaunted commitment to make every hour of work pay under universal credit looks set to remain a distant ambition for some, with recent Gingerbread research highlighting that some single parents – particularly those with high childcare or housing costs – may lose out if they are on low to medium wages and seeking to work over part-time hours. And that’s assuming they can get a job at all; last week’s Work Programme statistics showed all too clearly that one of the government’s biggest problems is providing the right support to get people into work in the first place (and the jobs to go with it).
On the eve of the autumn statement, where does this leave us? Fearful that the government will go ahead with further welfare cuts – risking “a tragedy for millions” as warned by a coalition of over 50 charities, unions and academics. And if it does, very concerned for what this will mean for hundreds of thousands of families who could be facing a bleak Christmas indeed.