The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is making changes to Universal Credit for parents. Website netmums reported on it – but sadly played down just how punitive the new rules are. Moreover, it didn’t mention the real-world impacts of the new benefits shake-up.
DWP: cracking down on Universal Credit parents
As netmums reported:
The DWP is launching a new Universal Credit (UC) crackdown, and will be targeting some 700,000 parents and carers in a bid to get them back into work.
“Crackdown” is about as close to the knuckle as the netmums article got. It went on to outline the Universal Credit changes. It said:
Under the new rules, those who have babies aged 1 will now have to present themselves for a work-focused meeting every 3 months. It was previously every 6 months.
Those with children aged 2, will be required to see their work coach every month instead of every 3 months.
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From the autumn, the DWP will be rolling out the 2nd phrase of the crackdown, where parents of children aged from 3 to 12 will also be required to increase their preparation and search for work, and make themselves available for work for up to 30 hours a week.
However, it adds that ‘this will be tailored to a parent’s individual circumstances, including the availability of local childcare’.
However, at the heart of these new Universal Credit rules is a major problem.
Making parents worse off
Repeating a DWP quote, netmums said that:
the changes to the rules for out-of-work UC claimant parents ‘builds on support announced in June to boost childcare payments through Universal Credit by 47% and ensures working parents can get upfront childcare costs paid for’.
What it failed to tell readers is that many parents on Universal Credit will actually be worse off in work. As the Canary previously reported the idea that the DWP will cover childcare costs is dubious. On average, parents see a 23% shortfall in the costs they can claim back under Universal Credit. As we previously wrote, DWP secretary Mel Stride’s:
claim of the DWP ‘helping parents re-enter’ work is based on parents effectively being worse off in work.
So, overall the DWP is forcing parents to go back to work, and potentially making some of them poorer in the process. However, this is the thin end of the wedge of this classist policy.
Forcing parents into work
Back in the 1970s, the government paid benefits like the Family Income Supplement up until a child was 16. One adult in the family could work, and the other didn’t have to. However, in recent decades, successive governments have pushed to force parents into work when their children are younger and younger. A good example is Income Support – a benefit which Universal Credit is replacing. As a DWP document noted in 2011:
Income Support (IS) is the main income-replacement benefit for lone parents. Before November 2008, lone parents with a youngest child up to the age of 16 could claim IS as a lone parent. Since then, this threshold age has been reduced first to 12 and then 10. The age reduced to 7 on 25 October 2010.
This was part of a DWP plan to reduce the qualifying age further, to five. In other words, it forced lone parents into work by removing their money. It’s the same story with Universal Credit. To get your benefits, you now have to work – and pack your three-year-old child off to nursery, whether you want to or not. What netmums failed to mention regarding this latest policy is that the DWP will sanction parents who fail to comply. So, parents on Universal Credit will have little choice.
No choice under capitalism
‘Choice’ is the point here – not some rose-tinted nostalgia for a time when one parent was a home-maker. If you’re a middle-class family where one parent is earning enough to keep you all, then the other parent has the choice to stay at home and focus on their children and house. This choice, however, has been taken away from poorer families – for whom it previously, albeit precariously, existed.
Moreover, the type of work poorer parents will end up in is likely to be low-skilled, with unsociable hours – placing a further detriment on family life. “Time poverty” is something that’s rarely discussed, but it’s very real. As the BBC wrote in 2022:
Research suggests that primary caregivers of many kinds – particularly low-income mothers without access to the support structures available to higher earners – are particularly prone to time pressure, and the chronically time poor often find themselves trapped in a cycle of social and economic poverty.
This is a capitalist sleight-of-hand: forcing all parents to work ensures more tax revenue comes in; forcing parents to use childcare creates jobs in that industry, and creating jobs in that industry ensures more tax revenue comes in. Ultimately, though, this is a loss for parents, and more importantly children – for whom the cycle will likely repeat itself again.
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