A reduction in benefits for young single parents under the Universal Credit system based on their age is “unfair and unjustified.”
The campaign to “End the Young Parent Penalty” has been launched by One Parent Families Scotland in time for Mother’s Day, with the aim of highlighting the inequality faced by young mums.
People under 25 are entitled to a lower allowance of benefits than people aged 25 and over, but before Universal Credit was introduced there was a specific exemption for single parents in recognition of the cost of caring for a child alone.
Under Universal Credit the exemption has been removed and young single parent families moving onto the new benefit are up to £66.13 worse off each month as a result.
With the support of nearly 30 other organisations working with women, children, families and disabled people, One Parent Families Scotland is urging the government to restore the adult rate of benefits to single parents under 25.
OPFS chief executive Satwat Rehman said: “We all want all children to have the best start in life – but this isn’t possible when there is inequality built into the safety net which is meant to be there to keep families afloat when times are hard.
“Denying young single parents the same level of social security penalises children based on their parent’s age and pushes young families into poverty. We, and many parents we work with, think this is unfair, unjustified, and needs to be reversed as a matter of urgency. “Children in single parent families are already twice as likely to be living in poverty than other children - the Young Parent Penalty removes support from those who need it most.
“This Mother's Day, we’re urging the government to take action so that no mother is left struggling to make ends meet for her child based on an arbitrary and unjust inequality in the social security system.” Young single parents who are receiving Income Support are moved to Universal Credit automatically when their child turns five. Families in this situation are facing a drop of up to 20% in financial support when this happens because they are offered a lower rate under the new system based on their age. Rehman added: “In most cases, the young parents we work with have been given no warning that they will be receiving less money after the move to Universal Credit. This puts young families in an incredibly difficult position because they are offered no chance to prepare for the loss.” Shannon, a 21-year-old mum in Glasgow was recently moved onto Universal Credit when her child turned five.
Shannon said: “I don’t think it’s right that just because of my age someone older than me that’s got a child the same age as my child is getting more help - we’ve both got a child, we’re both needing to buy the same things and do the same things.
“I didn’t know when I switched over that I was going to lose out on money. It was hard not only going from being paid every week to monthly but also getting less money. That’s hard to try and budget.”
Olivia, a 22-year-old mum in Glasgow, was transferred onto Universal Credit from Jobseeker’s Allowance because she had to claim Housing Benefit for the first time which triggered a move to the new system.
Olivia said: “I don’t understand how someone over 25 gets more for being in the same situation that I am. I go to a group with One Parent Families Scotland and there were a few girls that were also under 25 and they were on Jobseeker’s and I was like ‘how are you getting more than me for being in the same situation?’ It doesn’t make sense at all.
“Even though they’ve put the money up on Universal Credit during the pandemic, it’s not really going to help when the money gets cut again because people are going to get used to having that bit extra money which helps you, and then they’re going to cut it. Even just now I’m struggling with Universal Credit.” The growing list of organisations calling on the government to restore the adult rate of benefits to young single parents includes: Aberlour, the ALLIANCE (health and social care alliance Scotland), Barnardos Scotland, Children 1st, Children in Scotland, CPAG Scotland, Close the Gap, Early Years Scotland, Engender, Fife Gingerbread, Gingerbread, Glasgow Disability Alliance, Home-Start UK, Includem, Inclusion Scotland, Parenting Across Scotland, Poverty Alliance, Pregnant Then Screwed, Save the Children UK, Scottish Women's Aid, Scottish Women's Budget Group, Sikh Sanjog, Single Parent Rights, Single Parents Wellbeing, Surviving Economic Abuse, Women's Budget Group, Young Women’s Movement - YWCA Scotland, Zero Tolerance. Head of policy, projects and participation at Children in Scotland Amy Woodhouse said: “The fact that parents could be penalised financially simply due to their age is shameful. The cost of raising a child does not depend on their parents’ age. Before the roll-out of Universal Credit, which we have been vocal about our opposition to, single parents had the same access to benefits, regardless of age. Changing this has only increased the risk of families facing financial hardship and being trapped in poverty.
“The benefits system is supposed to help families in need, not hinder them. The exemption for young single parents must be reinstated to ensure single parents of all ages get the helping hand they are entitled to and all children get the best start in life.”
A spokesperson for the Women’s Budget Group UK said: “Single mums face a magnified struggle to combine paid work with caring responsibilities and the consequence is that single parents are one of the groups more likely to live in poverty. This lays bare the inadequacy of the UK’s childcare system and the social security safety net. Single parents under 25 face the same costs to raise a family as older parents and it is not right that they should be disadvantaged under Universal Credit.”
Interim Strategic Manager for Fife Gingerbread Laura Millar said: “The cost of raising a child does not differ based on the age of the parent and our welfare system should reflect this. We have been supporting families in Fife since 1987 and, from experience, we know that young parents are often a particularly vulnerable group. The events of the last year have been extraordinary, and unfortunately the impact has often been felt hardest by the most vulnerable.
“Many young lone parent families already face challenges and stigma and we cannot accept that their income is different simply because of their age. A change to this anomaly in Universal Credit will alleviate some of the financial pressures that young lone parent families face and help parents give their child the best possible start in life.” A spokesperson for Zero Tolerance commented: “We condemn the unjust decision to remove the exemption to the lower rate of standard allowance for under 25s who are single parents. The ramifications of this are catastrophic to many women and children who were at a higher risk of poverty even before the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating many pre-existing inequalities and the negative impact of this policy on Black, ethnic minority, disabled and minoritized women will be even more extensive. Taking into consideration the disastrous effect this policy is having on the lives of women and children, we urge the UK Government to end the ‘young parent penalty’.”