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4 August 2017updated 04 Sep 2021 3:15pm

Why does the welfare state target single parents with young children for punishment?

Two-thirds of those affected by the benefit cap are single parent households. 

By Dalia Ben-Galim

New data shows the number of babies and toddlers affected by the government’s benefit cap is rising, despite a High Court ruling that the policy is unlawful. Despite this, the government’s response remains the same.

Overall, almost two-thirds of households that have been capped to date are single parent households, one in five of them with children aged under two. In response to the rising numbers, the government says that “behind these figures are thousands of people who are now better off in work and enjoying the benefits of a regular wage.”

But this bears no resemblance to situations that parents we work with at Gingerbread find themselves in. Today’s figures highlight that seven out of 10 families currently capped are single parent families, the vast majority with pre-school aged children. It is these families who are shouldering the brunt of the benefit cap, a policy that limits the amount of financial support that families out of work can receive from the Government.

Each family that rings Gingerbread’s helpline for support is unique; from parents fleeing domestic abuse, to those recently bereaved; separating parents and those who have lost their job often through no fault of their own. But the distress, financial and emotional hardship that they face as a result of the cap is common. For all these families, the triple whammy of rising cost of living, unaffordable childcare and a lack of flexible work means they will struggle to balance work and caring for their children.

It doesn’t need to be this way; the government has a choice.

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Last month, the government appealed a High Court decision that deemed this policy to discriminate against single parents with children aged under  two. The verdict was unambiguous. Mr Justice Collins, the High Court judge ruled that “the cap is capable of real damage to individuals such as the claimants. They are not workshy but find it, because of the care difficulties, impossible to comply with the work requirement. Most lone parents with children under two are not the sort of households the cap was intended to cover.”

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It’s as though the government appealed by default, showing a complete disregard for the situation that many of these families find themselves in. Due to the appeal, the verdict can be ignored and the benefit cap policy remains the same. This is likely to mean more families facing the harsh cap.

Rather than tackle the underlying reasons for high benefit payments, such as high cost of rents, unaffordable childcare, and insecure work, the government has chosen to make vulnerable families pay. The benefit cap places these families at risk of poverty. Already, nearly half (47 per cent) of children in single parent families are living in poverty – a figure that is forecast to sharply rise.

Single parents want to work and do work. Single parent employment rates are at a record high; but it shouldn’t be work at all costs, nor should people be forced into work when they can’t afford the childcare they need.

Mr Justice Collins was damning in his ruling on the benefit cap. He concluded that “real misery is being caused to no good purpose.” The new data today shows that the government is choosing to inflict this misery on yet more families.

Dalia Ben-Galim is director of policy at Gingerbread. She tweets @dalia_bengalim. Single parents concerned about the benefit cap can call the free Gingerbread helpline (0808 802 0925) or visit our dedicated page.