Four years ago Gingerbread and The Children’s Society released briefings here outlining expected impacts of the Government’s welfare reform following an updated impact assessment in December 2012.
The introduction of Universal Credit in October 2013 was designed to replace the current in work and out of work benefits and “radically simplify the [welfare] system to make work pay and combat worklessness and poverty”.
However, the analysis in this briefing showed that more single parents will lose than gain after the implementation and the two groups that will lose out substantially could perhaps be considered the most vulnerable: single parents aged under 25 and those who are disabled.
“Under universal credit single parents under the age of 25 will no longer be entitled to receive the higher rate of personal allowance. Instead, they will receive the same rate of allowance as an under-25-year-old without any children. This means that out-of-work single parents between the ages of 18 and 25 will receive £15 per week less than they would under the current system (£780 per year in total).“
This £15 a week reduction in personal allowance for parents under 25 also affects working single parents who would otherwise receive Working Tax Credits, meaning that in total approximately 240,000 single parent families under 25 will be affected by this change.
The briefing pointed out that “the Government has acknowledged that changes to personal allowances for under-25s in universal credit will push 100,000 more people into poverty than would otherwise have been the case” yet there seems to be a real lack of awareness or publicity that this is the case.
At that time I asked young mums what this change will actually mean to them.
Many young mums said that living on benefits was like being in a constant state of “trying to catch up” and, therefore, vulnerability and stress.
They feel the changes will make them unable to prepare for a crisis or unexpected bill and said they will now always be dependent on the next payment.
At the same time, they feel judged by others who assume they have an easy life and no aspirations to move off benefits.
For some young mums, a lack of money for transport means they will be left isolated and lonely.
When asked how a reduction of £15 a week would affect them, they struggled to identify where they could make £15 reductions in spending, as every penny already was accounted for.
Some felt it would simply lead to unavoidable build-up of debts. The Government’s logic, that a parent under 25 would need less to live on than a parent over 25, made no sense to the young mothers I spoke to, and some even suggested that, if anything, younger parents required more money to live on, as they were often less “set up” for supporting a family than their older counterparts.
Others said that the number of nappies, the amount of food, the requirement for warmth, etc, were the same for families, so it made no sense that their families should get a lower rate, simply because they were younger.
Ultimately, the mothers I spoke to felt that a difference in entitlement based on an arbitrary age came down to simple discrimination and stigmatisation of younger mothers.
Some young parents had already been affected by other cuts, such as cuts in service provision and reductions in housing benefits, meaning that, in areas where rents are higher than average and there are no cheaper alternatives, they were having to pay the shortfall out of limited benefits.
These were young mums who were working and studying yet their disposable incomes were getting less and less.
Many young mums felt they were being punished because, as a group, it can be difficult for young parents to make enough noise to get listened to, especially when the general public already has them written off as scroungers.
Shouting about access to benefits will never make us popular, many said, but that shouldn’t mean the Government can get away with caring less about the children of young parents.
All young mums want is equal fair treatment. It’s important that myths, often perpetuated by the media, about young girls getting pregnant on purpose in order to spend a lifetime on benefits are dispelled to ensure that others also understand the unfairness of these changes affecting parents under 25.
Young mums want others to have high expectations of them, rather than writing them off. Support to move into education and work is vital, and this is what we want to be shouting about, but punishing young mums when they are most vulnerable, by reducing benefits, is not the answer and will only add to risks of isolation, depression and disengagement.
Four years later and nothing has changed. We are still shouting about this, and still being ignored. Sign our petition now to reverse these cuts for parents under 25 before it’s too late.