Headlines: December 20th, 2004

Encouraging lone parents into work by adding more conditions on the benefits they receive will lead to improvements for children and the economy as a whole only if jobs are flexible and there is high-quality childcare available, according to a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research published today. It warns that unless there is more support for lone parents, conditions on benefits will put children at risk and increase hardship and poverty.”Sanctions and Sweeteners” assesses the Conservative Party’s proposals aimed at increasing employment amongst lone parents and draws on evidence from America. This, the report says, shows that forcing lone parents into work without improving their skills or career prospects can lock them into dead-end jobs and entrenched poverty. The researchers conclude that other European countries are in a better position to ensure that the demands of work do not lead to harmful side effects for children because they have better childcare and higher benefits.

Kate Stanley, ippr Senior Research Fellow, said cutting the number of workless households could take more than half a million children out of poverty and paid work could have positive results for lone parents’ self-esteem, confidence and well-being that could also benefit their children. “But we have to be very careful when changing policy because lone parent employment rates have increased more than rates for other disadvantaged groups without the need for work conditions. The biggest challenge for welfare reform, where least progress has been made to date, is still the employment of disabled people,” she said.

The report also analyses the effectiveness of the threat of withdrawal of incapacity benefits. It says Government ministers agree that many people on incapacity benefit could work and should be given support but it says job seeking should not be compulsory. Examining Government proposals to cut housing benefit for those responsible for anti-social behaviour, it says the policy would be likely to cause greater problems because it would fail to address the root cause of problem behaviour.