Since 2008 single parents have been encouraged to move into work. When your child reaches five, and you are claiming out of work benefits, you are expected to become a jobseeker. However, a new Government rule, introduced on the 28th April 2014, means greater pressure is put on single parents to prepare for work when their child is younger than five. The idea is that single parents early preparation will make them more job ready when their child reaches five and starts school. At the Single Parent Action Network (SPAN) we know that many single parents already prepare for work when their children are younger including attending our training courses in Bristol or our online courses to improve their skills. Single parents use the time when their children are pre-school to increase their qualifications and skills to give them a better chance of gaining sustainable work in the future.
Single parents on Income Support (who have a child under 5) already need to attend the Jobcentre for Work Focused Interviews. The new system will mean that once your child is aged over one you can be mandated (made to or you face a financial sanction) to attend the Jobcentre more frequently. In addition once your child reaches three years of age you can also be instructed to carry out Work Related Activity such as training or work experience by your Adviser.
Whilst we think that it is positive that single parents are given the opportunity to improve their skills we have concerns about the basic level of skills training on offer at Jobcentres . We also think that any direction to carry out Work Related Activity is matched with suitable support and proper care to protect the well-being of your children. Although children may have a nursery place it is likely to be for a morning or afternoon session that might not fit with training or work experience. Additional hours may be hard to secure in an existing nursery setting and provision in a different childcare environment might be unsettling for young children (and is only paid for at the discretion of an adviser). It is important that you state your childâ€™s existing nursery or other childcare provision and try to secure appointments and mandated activities during this time.
Single parents with a child aged 1-3 will be expected to attend a minimum of two Work Focused Interviews (WFIâ€™s) each year, and single parents of children aged 4 will be expected to attend at least two WFIâ€™s in the year although you are likely to be asked to attend more frequently in preparation for their children starting school. The frequency of WFIâ€™s will be at the discretion of the Adviser. An initial WFI is likely to help establish your level of qualifications and employment history. You should also use this as an opportunity to identify what training and skills you think you need to move into work (although this is unlikely to be funded by the Jobcentre). It will be a good idea to be prepared with your ideas about external training or courses that you think would help progress you into work and your longer term work aspirations. Your Adviser should give you a factsheet on work related activity (for when your child reaches three). It is important at meetings with your Adviser that you make them aware of your childrenâ€™s needs (including whether they have a disability or special needs) and if they attend nursery the hours of the provision over the week (and whether this is just in term time). You should also let them know if there are personal circumstances that make your participation difficult (allowances can be made for instance if you have experienced domestic violence). You should also tell them if you have a health condition or disability that would make your participation more challenging.
Work Related Activity (WRA) can be one or a number of activities to help you move towards work. However, the rules mean that it is ultimately up to your Adviser to determine what is appropriate. For instance they can decide that you need to undertake a basic skills course (such as literacy and maths). However, the WRA is not a job seeking requirement, you cannot be made to apply for work. If you are not happy with the WRA that you have been asked to do then you have the right to request for this instruction to be reconsidered by a different adviser.
If you do not attend an agreed Work Focused Interview (WFI) or Work Related Activity (WRA) then you can be sanctioned by the Jobcentre and lose a proportion of your benefits. However, you can appeal the decision if you show a â€˜good causeâ€™ for not attending and do this within the stated timescales (usually five days). There is no set definition of a â€˜good causeâ€™ but this relates to your personal circumstances that have caused you difficulty in attending an interview or undertaking an activity. Examples of a â€˜good causeâ€™ can include domestic violence, needing to attend a medical or dental appointment or accompanying a person who is in your care to such an appointment, one of your dependents is suddenly unwell, attendance at a funeral of a close friend or relative, transport difficulties, attending a job interview, the customs and practices of your religion prevent you attending at the specific time, or you misunderstood the instruction or were given misleading information about your appointment by your Adviser. These examples are not exhaustive.
At SPAN we are interested to hear about your experience of the new rules. Do let us know through our online forum Onespace about your experience of WFIâ€™s and WRA. We would like to know (and so will your fellow single parents) if you find these useful or how they might be improved? Do you think that the appointments and support reflected your need to also care for your child or children? Let us know on www.onespace.org.uk
Senior Policy and Parliamentary Officer
Single Parent Action Network