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Young Parent Penalty campaign
Charities and MPs condemning a decision to give young parents less financial support because of their age have accused the UK Government of being “wholly ignorant” and of “defending the indefensible”.
This comes after the government dismissed concerns raised in a letter with over 100 signatories representing charities, trade unions and academics, and 60 cross-party MPs that young parents and their children, particularly in single parent families, were being pushed into poverty because of the age-based inequality.
Young parents used to be paid the same rate of benefits as over 25s, but this changed under Universal Credit so they now receive a lower rate. A report last month from Child Poverty Action Group, who also signed the letter, estimated that single parents are £65 worse off per month as a result, while parent couples are £100 worse off per month.
The research also found that paying young parents the adult rate would lift 10,000 children out of poverty.
Charity One Parent Families Scotland is leading the campaign to change the policy back, because they say the impact on young single parent families is “devastating”, throwing many families they work with “into crisis and needing to turn to foodbanks”.
A letter from the UK minister for welfare delivery Will Quince MP in response to the campaign said: “The Government considers that, where possible, it is in the best interests of children to be in working households. The lower rates for younger claimants who are under the age of 25 years reflects the fact that they are more likely to live in someone else's household and have lower earnings expectations.
“This is intended to maintain the incentive for younger people to find work which has been aided by the Department’s £2 billion Kickstart scheme – already creating thousands of high-quality jobs for young people. Universal Credit pays up to 85 per cent of childcare costs, compared to 70 per cent in legacy benefits and can be claimed up to a month before starting a job.”
However, campaigners have hit back at this reply, saying it fails to recognise the circumstances of young parents.
Chief Executive of One Parent Families Scotland Satwat Rehman said: “The UK Government’s response to the serious concerns of charities supporting women, children and families, and those trapped in poverty around the UK is simply not good enough.
“The government says under 25s are more likely to live in someone else’s household, but this woefully misunderstands the reality of young parents’ lives.
“Around two thirds of under 25s claiming Housing Benefit themselves - and therefore living independently - are parents with young children, and nearly three quarters of young people claiming Housing Benefit are women, precisely because young women are more likely to have dependent children.
“In our many years of supporting young parents, overwhelmingly young women, we could count on one hand the number who were living with their parents. The decision to start paying all young people a lower rate of benefits, regardless of whether they have children, flies in the face of the evidence that young families have the same costs as any other family.
“We would urge the government not to defend the indefensible, but to look at the facts and return to the entirely common-sense approach of ensuring young parents are treated by the social security system as the adults they very clearly are.”
Who Cares? Scotland, which works with care experienced people, has also spoken out against the government’s approach.
The charity’s CEO Louise Hunter said: “The response from the UK government is wholly ignorant of the circumstances of many Care Experienced parents across the country. We know from over forty years of working with Care Experienced people that this group don’t always have strong and stable family support on offer. Indeed, for many of them the state is still considered their corporate parent.
“It is vital that the UK Government consider every single young person who could benefit from this policy. In an unsteady time of rising poverty and difficult finances, many families find it difficult to maintain control in these difficult circumstances. Especially those without the vital lifeline of support of stable family connections.
“This is why we are supporting this important campaign to end the young parent penalty by reinstating the exemption for young parents under 25 and would ask the UK Government to reconsider its stance.”
Many of Who Cares? Scotland’s members are young parents, and UK statistics indicate that women with experience of the care system are three times as likely to have a child by the age of 18.
A recent independent review into the care system in Scotland found that tackling poverty was essential to “break the cycle” of intergenerational involvement in the care system.
Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesperson Wendy Chamberlain MP, who is leading the campaign at Westminster, said: “This Government’s indifference to young people is shocking. Their justifications for allowing young people – particularly young parents – less support through social security are callous, and simply do not add up.
“We don’t provide Universal Credit based on earning expectations. To do so would be absurd. And we have no way of knowing if the Kickstart scheme is working for anyone at all with the tiny amount of data which has been published. But even if it is working for young parents – the reality is that they and their children have less funds overall to meet basic needs like putting food on the table because of their lower Universal Credit payments.
“It is in the best interests of children not to be in poverty. We know that 75% of children in poverty are in working households, and that many of those will be receiving universal credit alongside income from employment. Providing less support to young parents simply drives those families further into poverty. That is the legacy of this Government.”
SNP work and pensions spokesperson David Linden MP said: "Despite the British Government's half-hearted response to the ‘One Parent Families Scotland’ campaign, it is clear that the Young Parent Penalty continues to impact thousands of single parents across Scotland.
“Support is urgently required for young, lone parent families who are suffering under the contradictory and confusing rules of the Department of Work and Pensions. The British Government must do the right thing and end the Young Parent Penalty."
Scottish Labour social security spokesperson Pam Duncan-Glancy MSP said: “It is vital that single parents under the age of 25 get the support they need. We know young parents are already one of the groups who are most at risk of poverty, and 39% of children living in poverty in Scotland are living in one parent families.
“There cannot simply be an assumption from the UK Government that young parents will be able to turn to others for support, they should be entitled to the same assistance from social security as everyone else. It should not be handing down this penalty to young parents.
“If the UK Government took action to fix this injustice, it could lift 10,000 children out of poverty. Children deserve the best start in life, and the Government should be doing all it can to make sure parents are properly equipped to give that to them, regardless of what age they are."