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What Will Happen to Home Educating Lone Parents on Income Support?

STOP PRESS:
An easy way to contact your MP or councillor
www.writetothem.com
sample letters here
sample letter to the head of JobCentre Plus in England
letters from MPs and suggestions for replies

APRIL 2008 UPDATE
EO to meet the Chair of the DWP Lone Parent Policy Unit

On April 29th the Chair of the Department of Work and Pensions Lone Parent Policy Unit will meet Education Otherwise for an urgent re-appraisal of the situation with respect to home educating lone parents on Income Support. EO is now formally recognised as a stakeholder in the Government debate about welfare reform and lone parents.

Social Security Advisory Committee

New regulations on benefit entitlements for lone parents were due to be presented at the Social Security Advisory Committee meeting on April 2nd 2008.

Education Otherwise Government Policy Group wrote to the SSAC on April 3rd to find out any details of the regulations in in advance of publication of the SSAC committee minutes. We also sent a brief background note about our consultation with the Department of Work and Pensions and with the CEO of JobCentre Plus.

We learned that the regulations were not presented to the April meeting and that they have been pencilled in for the May meeting.

The committee usually meets on the first Wednesday of every month and the next meeting is on May 7th.

EO has been invited to speak to the Secretary of the SSAC.

Further details of welfare reform proposals announced in Parliament on April 3rd

On April 3rd 2008 Minister Stephen Timms made a statement in parliament.

Lone Parents

The Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform (Mr. Stephen Timms):

The Government is committed to continuing its work to eradicate child poverty and help all individuals reach their full potential by moving from unemployment and welfare dependency to paid work.

We announced in the command paper “Ready for Work: Full Employment in our Generation” our intention to require lone parents with older children who can work to look for work. This means that lone parents will no longer be entitled to income support solely on the grounds of being a lone parent. Instead, those who are able to look for paid work will make a claim for jobseeker’s allowance and be required to seek suitable employment actively.

We announced our expectation that this change would be introduced from October 2008 for lone parents with a youngest child aged 12 or over, and then from October 2009 and October 2010 when the youngest child turns 10 and 7 respectively.

I now intend that the arrangements for new and repeat lone parent customers with a youngest child of 12 or over will take affect a month later, in November 2008, to allow time to consider some additional flexibilities to jobseeker’s allowance. The Government have been working closely with a range of groups who represent the interests of lone parents and has had early advice from the Social Security Advisory Committee. Additional flexibilities to jobseeker’s allowance have been suggested to meet the specific needs of lone parents.

The Government intend to take forward a number of these suggestions in connection with proposals for regulations that I will provide to the Social Security Advisory Committee. I believe that the proposals will strike the right balance to ensure that jobseeker’s allowance remains focused on helping people look for paid work while accommodating the varied and individual circumstances that lone parents will face. As has been discussed with lone parent stakeholder groups, we intend that existing lone parent recipients of income support with a youngest child aged 12 or over will be progressively moved from income support from early 2009."

Comment on Minister's statement

The Minister is quite specific that the Department is looking at "additional flexibilities" to the Jobseeker's Allowance regime. The Minister has also stated that the Department is taking advice from the Social Security Advisory Committee.

What will happen down at the JobCentre?

EO has written several times to the CEO of JobCentre Plus to ask what is happening with JCP staff, particularly with Lone Parent Advisors giving contradictory advice to home educators in different areas. We believe that a reply may have been delayed while JCP confirms the position with the DWP and the SSAC. The DWP consultations co-ordinator is currently looking into this on behalf of EO.

Background

In December 2007 we reported that the Department of Work and Pensions had published a White Paper entitled Ready For Work, containing the results of the recent Government Green Paper/consultation aimed at getting single parents off Income Support and on to Jobseeker's Allowance.

In the Ministerial Foreword to the December 2007 White Paper consultation report, Secretary of State Peter Hain is quoted as saying that "lone parents who can work will be required to actively seek work once their youngest child is 12 or over from October 2008, 10 or over from 2009 and 7 or over from October 2010, with pre-work preparation and in work support built into a flexible system."

However, the White Paper also stated that "it was strongly felt that increased conditionality was not appropriate for:

  • parents with disabled children or whose children had additional needs;
  • carers of both disabled children and adults;
  • mothers fleeing domestic violence; and
  • parents who choose to home educate."
Page 117.

So where does this leave home educating single parents? The short answer is that we do not know. EO is continuing to take this up with the Department of Work and Pensions and the head of JobCentre Plus and we are also urging people to write to their MPs (a) to express their concerns and (b) to remind the new Secretary of State Stephen Timms that the Government's White Paper said increased conditionality was not appropriate for home educating lone parents. Scroll up to find sample letters at the top of this page.

It is worth signing up for the JobCentre Plus monthly newsletter which gives information to JCP staff.

The March 2008 newsletter says that:

"in December, Jobcentre Plus set out its intention to make changes to the benefits lone parents can receive. From October 2008 a lone parent whose youngest child is aged 12 or over will no longer be entitled to receive Income Support solely on the grounds that he or she is a lone parent. Over time this will be extended to those whose youngest child is aged 10 or over (from October 2009) and aged seven or over (from October 2010). Jobcentre Plus Advisers will discuss lone parents' options with them in the run up to the change, which could include work, claiming Jobseeker's Allowance, or claiming Employment and Support Allowance if they have a health condition or disability. These changes require legislative amendments and are subject to consideration by the Social Security Advisory Committee."
We can see from the above quote that the Government can make these changes via "legislative amendments" which will not require new laws. The most likely way this will be done is via Statutory Instruments.

Here is a link to the Government's 2008 Statutory Instruments.

Secretary of State Stephen Timms attended the March meeting of the Social Security Advisory Committee. The agenda included "Presentation and discussion on changes to entitlement condition for Lone Parents claiming Income Support from October 2008 (in advance of regulations to be presented at April meeting)".

EO Government Policy Group will be monitoring the outcome of the April meeting and we will report on any further developments as soon as possible. Click here to sign up for automatic email notification of updates to the LATEST page.

EO has also been following the work of the Government's Work and Pensions committee which is chaired by Terry Rooney, Labour MP for Bradford North. On March 3rd the Work and Pensions Committee published a report on child poverty analysing the Government's proposals to implement changes in the benefit system. Throughout the report there are submissions from the Child Poverty Action Group and One Parent Families/Gingerbread stating that benefit sanctions should only be applied with extreme caution, and that the Jobseeker's Allowance regime is inflexible and in urgent need of a complete overhaul. It is worth reading the conclusions and recommendations at the end of the report (pages 104-113, particularly around p.109).

Ministers have already said that lone parents claiming Carers' Allowance can stay on Income Support, but CA is only possible if you care for someone receiving middle rate Disability Living Allowance or above. Education Otherwise argues that home education is equivalent to being a full time carer and we EITHER need to be allowed to stay on Income Support OR the Jobseeker's Allowance needs to be specially tailored to our families' needs.

Lone parents on Income Support are not treated in the same way throughout the country, so you may hear of someone else who is being required to do far more or far less than you are. Firstly, new claimants have a different regime of interviews from existing claimants. Secondly, it depends whether you live in a pilot area which is covered by new regulations from the DWP. You can find out more on these two pages.

How to write to your MP

Using the Write to Them facility makes it very easy to locate your MP.

Check out the sample letters at the top of this page.

Don't forget to include personal details of how this will affect you and your children. It is the job of the constituency MP to deal with these issues.

Consider splitting your letter into 2 parts to make it simpler for your MP to grasp eg (1) Your own individual reasons why this will be disastrous for your children and (2) a more detailed Further Information/Background research section to make it easier for your MP to take this further.

Letters should be customised wherever possible in order not to be treated as bulk mail. Your constituency MP should take up your concern with the relevant Government Minister.

A direct letter to the Minister from an individual will probably not receive any response, unless the Minister is also your constituency MP.

The former Secretary of State, Peter Hain said that "there will, of course, be lone parents for whom work is simply not an option and I will ensure that they will be protected."

The Government has said that "from October 2008 a lone parent whose youngest child is aged 12 or over will no longer be entitled to receive Income Support solely on the grounds that he or she is a lone parent."

However, the Government's White Paper also states that "it was strongly felt that increased conditionality was not appropriate for:

  • parents with disabled children or whose children had additional needs;
  • carers of both disabled children and adults;
  • mothers fleeing domestic violence;
  • and parents who choose to home educate."
Page 117.

Home educating parents already have full-time caring responsibilities. Children who go to school are out of the home and away from the direct care of the parent for 30+ hours a week. This is not the case for home educating parents who are full-time carers.

This is obviously even more significant for lone parents who home educate disabled children.

A considerable proportion of disabled children live in one parent households and a growing number of children with learning disabilities are being withdrawn from school because of bullying or schools being categorically unable to meet the child's needs.

Research by Mencap shows that over half of children with learning difficulties have been bullied at school and this issue has also been raised in the House of Lords.

The Government childcare promised by 2010 relies heavily on the provision within extended schools. Home educated children will have extremely limited access to the facilities of extended schools and moreover this could only apply in the 2 hours between 4 and 6pm, which would not give a parent time to take the children, travel to work, do the job and then travel back to the school to collect the children. Please contact EO for more information on home educators' lack of access to the facilities of extended schools as this is an area we have been watching closely.

Sending a child to school would cost the state £5,000 a year + childcare subsidy + working tax credits (eg for someone only working part time 16 hours a week) . One size does not fit all and a family's individual circumstances need to be taken into account. This makes JSA for lone parents much less straightforward to administer. The Government's Work and Pensions Committee Report on Child Poverty, published in March 2008 stated quite clearly that benefit sanctions should only be applied with extreme caution, and that the Jobseeker's Allowance regime is inflexible and in urgent need of a complete overhaul.

These proposals are causing a huge amount of distress to the children of home educating lone parents. Lone parents are already being told at JobCentres that these measures have been decided and that their children will have to be put in schools.

Research has shown that home educated children flourish both educationally and socially with one-to-one support for their learning outside the school system.


Food for Thought:
Home Education for Teenagers

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