Universal Credit is unfairly hitting young parents in the pocket.
Wendy Chamberlain MP is the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for work and pensions.
For many, life is starting to feel more hopeful. The sun is out, hospitality is open, and we can hug our families. The big question for many is when and where they can take a much-needed break.
But as I raised in Parliament recently, there is a danger that in rushing to positive headlines about the recovery, the government will once again leave disadvantaged groups behind.
Our ability to respond to life changing events varies depending on a number of factors. Do we have a support network we can rely on? How is our health? Do we have caring responsibilities? Do we work? How secure is that work? How secure is the housing we live in?
We have seen the answers to these questions play out throughout the pandemic: where although we may have been in the storm, not everyone was in the same boat.
Young lone parents are particularly at risk of hardship because of life changing events. Having a child is an amazing, terrifying and life changing experience. I know this from raising my own two children, who are now teenagers. Children are, frankly, expensive.
They rightly, particularly when very young, take up a lot of time. This can prevent parents from seeking education, training and employment opportunities. Doing so when you are young and on your own is likely to make it even more challenging.
This means that young single parents and their children need support.
Before the introduction of Universal Credit, there was some acknowledgement in our social security system of the burden placed on single parents – where although most under 25s received payments at a lower rate, single parents received the higher amount as standard. This additional support has shamefully not been transferred to Universal Credit. The cost of raising a child has not decreased, nor is it cheaper if you are younger.
Research by the Learning & Work Institute, Gingerbread, and the Rowntree Foundation Trust from December 2020 found that single parents of all ages were more likely to live in poverty. Due to a freeze in the welfare system in 2015, a single parent with one child is 14% worse off in real terms than they were in 2011/2012. The situation is even more dire for young single parents with their support cut under Universal Credit.
In my constituency, North East Fife, I have been working with Fife Gingerbread, one of the many organisations supporting lone young parents. Their important work highlights that teenage parents can face social, practical, emotional and other barriers when accessing suitable support. Fife Gingerbread’s teen parent project works to empower these young people. They’ve shown that young parents need more support, not less.
Some young lone parents suffering from this absence of financial help are receiving benefits for the first time. Others have transitioned from legacy benefits, where this support was in place but now lost. Several factors could result in a young parent moving to Universal Credit. Their child turning five; or living with a new partner. Whilst there is transitional support for those on a managed move to the new system, nothing exists for those who move for reasons such as these.
The pandemic has worsened an already dire situation. Young parents have been unable to rely on family and social networks for food and support. Many report facing a choice between working – and feeding their families – and childcare.
We must not leave these young parents and their children behind. They, like all receiving Universal Credit, have benefited from the £20 uplift (although those on legacy benefits, predominantly disabled people, have appallingly missed out) – which must be maintained.
But looking forward it is vital that parents under the age of 25 receive benefits at the same level as those over 25 as they did before Universal Credit. This is why I am working with One Parent Family Scotland to call for this change in Parliament. The Secretary of State got a letter on it this week, signed by over 90 charities, leading academics, and MPs from across parliament asking her to rectify this situation. Children are depending on it.