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The socialist comment
Government attacks single parents
The government's new welfare legislation is demanding that, by the year 2010, single parents who are claiming benefits will have to return to the workplace once their youngest child reaches seven years of age. Initial changes are due to take place in October of this year, when lone parents with a child of 12 years will be expected to work. By 2009 the changes will be implemented when the child is ten.
Jane Harris, Winchester Socialist Party
This massive change in welfare benefits will be strongly felt by the organisations that are expected to support lone parents. But the legislation will hit single parents who receive income support hard. Many will have to go on job seekers allowance (JSA).
But JSA can create a whole set of problems. The government promises that childcare facilities will be in place to take into account the expected growth in employed people who have young children. In many areas, affordable and good childcare is still lacking.
The childcare costs survey, conducted by Daycare Trust, the National Childcare Campaign, found that more than two-thirds (70 per cent) of Children's Information Services in England said that parents had reported a lack of affordable childcare in the last 12 months.
JSA is only paid if the recipient is actively looking for work. This can inhibit people from taking up courses in local colleges, which may take place during the day as this renders them unable to work. However, the government would have us believe that job seekers will be actively encouraged to hone their skills and learn new ones, but preferably in the evenings so as not to disrupt their working day.
And if childcare is available for these parents who have to return to work, the legislation does not take into account that most childcare at 'after school clubs' only provides for children up to age eleven. Many parents rightly feel that their 12 year-old is too young to be left on their own for long periods of time, particularly over the school holiday period.
Not all childcare facilities are suitable for every child and a parent may feel uneasy leaving their child at centres etc. Annual leave for parents is also fraught with problems as most people are only entitled to four or five weeks' annual leave a year and the average school holidays stretch to thirteen weeks, leaving parents of young children with no option but to stick them into the childcare centres for nine weeks of the year, sometimes on a full-time basis.
If a single parent is forced back into the workplace, it is likely that they will need to work 16 hours minimum to be entitled to working tax credit, but they may find that in order to be financially better off they will have to work longer hours and leave their child for longer periods.
New Labour, along with the Tories, is intent on forcing single parents into minimum wage work without providing decent childcare, enacting legislation that brutally punishes Britain's most vulnerable people.
Socialists must demand a guaranteed minimum weekly income for all families and the right to work without compulsion. Childcare should be of high quality and free for all. We need to organise and fight back against a government that wants to push back living standards for working-class families to pay for the failures of capitalism.
In The Socialist 16 July 2008:
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party campaigns
Workplace news and analysis
The Socialist Comment
Socialist Party review