DWP adviser calls for tougher benefits regime for lone parents

Lone parents with youngest children aged one to seven should be expected to improve their employment prospects as a condition of benefits, a government adviser said today.

In a government-commissioned report on the use of conditionality in the benefits system – where payments are tied to work-focused activity – Professor Paul Gregg said “virtually everyone” claiming out-of-work benefits should be required to take steps back into work.

The Bristol University academic said benefit claimants should be split into three groups:-

  • A ‘work-ready’ group who should take steps to find work, in a regime similar to jobseeker’s allowance (JSA).
  • A ‘progression-to-work’ group for people who could return to work over time, who would receive personalised support. This would be similar to the employment and support allowance (ESA) regime, introduced in October, to replace incapacity benefit.
  • A ‘no conditionality’ group involving a minority of claimants who should not face conditions.

This is in line with the government’s welfare reform agenda, which has over time reduced the number of groups for whom out-of-work benefits are unconditional.

Tougher regime for lone parents

However, Gregg called for a tougher regime for lone parents with youngest children aged one to seven than the government currently envisages.

From 2011, lone parents will have to move from income support to jobseeker’s allowance – placing them under an obligation to seek work in return for their benefit – when their youngest child reaches seven. This age will fall gradually from 16 between now and 2011.

Gregg said lone parents with youngest children aged one to seven should be placed in his progression-to-work group, where they should receive support tailored to their circumstances but take steps to improve their employability. Under the government’s current plans, they would face no conditionality.

No conditionality group limited

He said the “no conditionality” group should be reserved for severely disabled people, lone parents and non-working partners with children aged under one and some carers.

Gregg also said that certain aspects of the government’s approach to conditionality needed to improve. Disabled people or those with a health condition claiming JSA required greater support, he said.

He said more needed to be done to improve take-up of work-focused support among disabled people and lone parents, given the relatively low proportion of each group that engaged with the system.

Greater clarity

Gregg added that sanctions regimes needed greater clarity, through quicker decision-making, an early warning system for those at risk of sanctions and a more towards a system of fixed fines.

The report comes with the government expected to announce a Welfare Reform Bill in tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech.

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