CHAPTER 12 Lone parents

Lone parents are a diverse but quite large population group numbering almost 1¾ million. A significant proportion are on very low incomes and are disadvantaged in the labour market. The majority of lone parents are not in work and many are simply unable to work because of their childcare responsibilities. Only about a third of lone parents are in work, although 60% say they would like to work (and about half this group is ready to start a job). Not being in work means that almost two-thirds rely on Income Support and, as a result, about 40% of lone parents have income that is less than £100 per week – compared with just 4% of those who live as couples.

So, the Government has decided to help lone parents get into the labour market. They can participate in one of the two main New Deal programmes or take advantage of a specifically designed New Deal for Lone Parents that gives guidance, advice and support plus a small range of financial help in getting back to work.

Entry to the New Deal for people aged 18-24 or 25+

If you are a lone parent and aged 18–24 then you can choose to enter the New Deal for 18–24 year olds. If you are aged 25 or over, then you can choose to enter the New Deal for people aged 25+.

You can enter these New Deal programmes only if you "have an established claim to JSA" or National Insurance contribution credits. So if you are claiming Income Support, you must stop claiming and sign on for JSA instead, which means that you will have to show that you are available for and actively seeking work (although you can restrict your availability in certain ways because of your childcare responsibilities).

You will continue to get the same rate of benefit on JSA as you did on Income Support. If you receive the lone parent rate of family premium (which was abolished for new claimants in April 1998), you will continue to receive the premium when you transfer to JSA. The regulations state that "special rules will apply where a lone parent moves without a break in entitlement from Income Support to JSA (income-based) (or vice versa). The lone parent rate of family premium will be able to continue as if there had been no change in benefit, provided that other conditions were not affected" (SS (LPA) Regs, Appen 2, para 17).

You may want to join the New Deal because of the opportunities which are only available through the programme, and because childcare costs are paid if you take a place on an option paying an allowance (see Chapters 5 & 7). However, you should bear in mind the following:

  1. If you are in receipt of family premium at the lone parent rate then you will lose this if you have a break in your Income Support/JSA claim that lasts longer than 12 weeks. This means that if you take up a place on an option which pays a wage and later leave or complete the option and claim benefit again, you will only be able to claim the family premium at the new, lower rate which applies to couples as well.
  2. If, having agreed to join, you decide the New Deal is not for you, you can leave at any time and reclaim Income Support. You may have your JSA cut for leaving, but you can avoid this by terminating your JSA claim, going straight to the Benefits Agency and making a claim for Income Support instead.

New Deal for Lone Parents

For lone parents of any age in receipt of Income Support, the Government has introduced the New Deal for Lone Parents. The aim of the programme is to improve lone parents’ prospects of finding work that suits their particular circumstances. It is a less substantial programme than the New Deal for 18–24 year olds, and mainly offers advice (about available vacancies, jobsearch, childcare and training and education opportunities). It is a purely voluntary programme and you do not have to participate – at any stage and in any way – if you do not wish.

Who is eligible?

The programme is aimed at lone parents who (NDLPG, Ch 1, para 1):

You will be invited to attend the programme once your youngest child is aged 3. However, lone parents with younger children will be allowed to join the programme if they ask to do so.

Entry to the programme

When you become eligible for the New Deal for Lone Parents, you will be sent a letter inviting you to attend an interview with a personal adviser at the ES or the Benefits Agency. If you attend, then you will be given information about the programme and asked if you want to join. Alternatively, you can enquire about the New Deal by telephoning 0800 868 868.

Whether or not you participate will have no effect on your benefit payments. You have a right to receive Income Support because you are a lone parent, and you are not required to be available for work, or to participate in employment or training programmes. If you do not reply to the first letter you are likely to be sent further letters or telephoned, but you are perfectly entitled to ignore them or say that you do not want to participate.

What it involves

The programme consists of a series of one-to-one interviews with a personal adviser who can provide you with help with jobsearch techniques, access to job vacancies and information about the labour market, local childcare facilities and education and training.

At your initial interview, you will be given an Action Pack which offers help about returning to work, with advice on writing letters and CVs and ideas on looking for work and preparing for interviews. It also includes information about training, in-work benefits and help with childcare (NDLPG, Ch 1, para 8). You could also receive details about Jobfinder’s Grant which you can claim even though you are not receiving JSA.

The initial interview will involve reviewing possible work goals, previous work experience, skills and interests and an assessment of your personal circumstances and how they might affect your chances of working.

The interview may also feature an "in-work benefit calculation" for both full-time and part-time work. This gives you an idea of how much you would gain financially from moving into work once in-work benefits are taken into account. You should be careful about interpreting these figures because they are unlikely to take into account a number of factors such as in-work expenses and travel costs which may be ignored by the New Deal personal adviser.

At the end of the interview, you will be asked if you want to participate further in the New Deal. If you do not, the ES will contact you again "some time in the future" to see if you want help at that time (NDLPG, Ch 4, para 34). However, if you want to participate further, the adviser will arrange another appointment and give you a contact phone number.

Caseloading

Face to face interviews are likely to be held on a fortnightly basis at least. If you are "job-ready", your adviser will regularly undertake searches for appropriate vacancies on your behalf and let you know about them promptly.

Your adviser has a "menu" of activities to undertake with you which include (NDLPG, Ch 5, para 7):

Your adviser may also identify ES jobsearch programmes that might help (like Jobclubs or Programme Centres). Lone parents on Income Support are now eligible for programmes that previously were only available to JSA claimants, for example (NDLPG, Ch 7, Appen 4, paras 3-7):

Comprehensive details of all these programmes are given in the Unemployment and Training Rights Handbook.

Change of circumstances

The adviser will also check that you are receiving the right benefits and are declaring any income correctly (NDLPG, Ch 6, para 4). If your circumstances have changed (for example, you move address, a child enters work or training, or your youngest child leaves education) your New Deal personal adviser will take the relevant action. One change that your personal adviser may become aware of – and which has a significant impact on your benefit entitlement – is if you "re-partner" (NDLPG, Ch 6, para 34).

Most importantly, the adviser should take care to alert you to the consequences of the hours in a part-time job going over the 16 hour threshold. This is the point when your entitlement to Income Support ceases and you will have to rely on in-work benefits to top-up any low earnings.

If this happens, you will be asked to sign a statement and your adviser will have to alert the Benefits Agency. If you are paid Income Support by a weekly Order Book, your adviser will give you an envelope to return it to the Benefits Agency and ask you not to cash any more pages.

Financial help

There are a number of expenses that you may incur whilst participating in the New Deal for Lone Parents. ES guidance makes it clear that you should not be worse off financially as a result of your participation (NDLPG, Ch 7, para 2).

Travel expenses to attend interviews may be covered (below a maximum ceiling of £20) and if you are accompanied by a dependent child the child’s fare can also be refunded. If you are engaged in an activity approved by your ES adviser you will receive reimbursement of costs (NDLPG, Ch 7, paras 5-7):

You should remember that education or training opportunities are normally only funded up to and including NVQ/SVQ level 2 (NDLPG, Ch 7, para 8). However, you may be able to take an NVQ/SVQ level 3 if you can achieve the qualification in a year and if your New Deal personal adviser believes it will lead to sustainable employment.

Pilots

A £750 Training Grant will be available on a pilot basis in 24 out of the 142 ES Districts. The grant will enable employers to train lone parents to "appropriate NVQ level in a relevant skill". Funds will also be made available for lone parents to train as childcare workers.

In 1999 there was a tendering exercise open to the public, private and voluntary sectors. Six bids were successful in the first tranche and four in the second tranche. Contracts have been agreed with: