Foster carers, most of whom receive no pay or very low pay for their work, are often dependant on welfare benefits to make ends meet, writes Madeleine Tearse. However the current system is complex and can be incompatible with the day to day reality of fostering.
Foster carers can claim income support (IS) when they have a child under 16 in placement. However, if there is a gap between one child leaving and the next one arriving, which happens frequently, they have to move immediately onto jobseekers’ allowance (JSA).
Once on JSA they are required to look for work, yet this may be incompatible with their duty as foster carers to be available to take in a looked-after child. It is also now a requirement of many fostering services that one adult in a fostering household does not work outside the home in order to focus full time on fostering.
While the new universal credit will do away with the need to transfer from income support to jobseekers allowance, this will not come in until 2013 at the earliest. In the meantime we are seeking two key and straightforward changes to the Welfare Reform Bill, which has just had its second reading in the Commons.
Firstly, we are calling for an eight-week grace period after a foster placement ends for foster carers claiming IS, so they do not have to switch to JSA immediately. This will give them more time to receive another child into the household without disrupting their financial arrangements.
Secondly, we want Job Centre Plus staff to be given specific guidance about applying the requirement to seek work (work search conditionality) in a way that fits with foster care. Job Centre Plus staff must have the information they need to deal appropriately with foster carers’ claims, and this means being clear about the differences between foster care and parenting. This is important now, and will matter even more when tighter work search requirements in the Government’s proposals are introduced.
We believe these proposals will fit with the Government’s stated intention of meeting the complex needs of foster carers when combining benefits claims with fostering.
Madeleine Tearse is policy manager at The Fostering Network
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