Skip to main content

Lone Parents

Volume 474: debated on Monday 31 March 2008

6. What safeguards his Department plans to put in place to ensure that lone parents who cannot find suitable child care will not be required to take up jobs under the jobseeker’s allowance regulatory framework. (197195)

We will be amending regulations to increase the discretion of Jobcentre Plus advisers, so that a lone parent claiming jobseeker’s allowance will not be penalised for leaving or failing to take up a job on the ground that appropriate, affordable child care is not available.

I thank the Minister for that response, but what assurance can he give lone parents that additional costs, such as free or half-price transport in London and the free school meals entitlement under income support, will be taken into account in those calculations, too?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I met lone parent support groups last week and we discussed how the amendment to the regulations to which I have referred might work. Jobcentre Plus will support parents looking for child care and will recognise that other costs might be incurred as well. We want to maximise the opportunity for work and the contribution of work to reducing child poverty. The hon. Gentleman will acknowledge how big that contribution potentially is and how much children’s well-being is improved when their parent is in work. That is the aim of the change that we are making.

The Minister will know that for many lone parents the problem is not so much finding work as the issue of churn—of entering jobs, but finding themselves unable to cope and having to give them up. I welcome what he said about ensuring that child care is taken into account when the conditionality of JSA is considered. Many lone parents will have had bad experiences of struggling with child care, so what steps will be taken to ensure they know that they will not be penalised if they have child care problems, so that they do not act as a disincentive to entering work?

My hon. Friend has taken a lot of interest in the matter, and I welcome the points that she and the lone parent support organisations have made. We are considering the precise form that the regulations will take. She will know that all local authorities in England and Wales will be required from next month to ensure that there is sufficient child care to meet the needs of working parents, particularly those on lower incomes. By 2010 we want all schools to be extended schools. Advisers will be given the discretion to ensure that lone parents will not lose out if no appropriate affordable child care is available for them.

But could the Minister tell the House whether he considers there to be any forms of work that might be inappropriate under the regulations? For example, would it be appropriate to ask a lone parent to do a considerable amount of evening and night work, bearing in mind that their children would be at school all day and not see their parent in the evening, but be left to the child care that the Minister thinks appropriate?

These are matters that advisers will be able to take into account. Lone parents should be able to be good parents as well as enjoy the benefits of employment. There is clear evidence not only that families are better off when a parent is in work, but that their children’s well-being is improved.

My right hon. Friend realises that it is not just lone parents, but all parents who sometimes experience difficulties in finding suitable child care. Will he make it a duty for local authorities or even jobcentres to keep a directory of available child care? Will he also publicise that directory and make it available to the people out there seeking the best child care for their children?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. It is likely that local authorities will want to do that, because all local authorities in England and Wales will from next month be required to

“secure sufficient childcare to meet the needs of working parents”.

Local authorities will certainly want to ensure that information about that provision is widely available in their areas.