Focus Group in Hillingdon – a discussion with single parents about universal credit rules to look for when their children are pre-school age
By Laura Dewar, Policy Officer, Gingerbread
In the middle of November GRoW kindly hosted a focus group of single parents at a library in Hillingdon. There are just under 100,000 single parents who have moved onto universal credit in London and new rules for those with pre-school children to become job seekers. The purpose of the focus group was to talk with single parents with young children about the practicalities of moving into work. Gingerbread has just started a year-long research project on this issue and the focus group was an opportunity to hear about the key issues.
Whilst single parents were keen to work they also thought that there were few part-time jobs to apply for and had concerns about childcare matching jobs. Single parents talked about most jobs being advertised full-time. There was fierce competition for any job advertised within school hours and these jobs were rare. Single parents also talked about the difficulty of having to deal with the on-line journal and apply for jobs on-line. Most of the parents do not have a personal computer and have to rely on applying for jobs from their phone. The technology is limited and it can be hard to complete applications on a mobile phone. Single parents talked of the difficulty of jobcentres not allowing access to computers.
In terms of childcare single parents talked about the high cost of childcare for pre-school children. A single parent talked about her son being happily in nursery of fifteen hours but if she moved into a job, and she accessed the thirty hours of free childcare, that there was not space for her to do that at his nursery. So if she moved into work she would have to change her son’s childcare (and she does not know if there are places elsewhere) and settle him into a new setting when he was happy at his current nursery.
The single parents who had already moved onto Universal Credit were not aware that there were different rules for those with pre-school aged children. They were just told to find a job of at least sixteen hours. None were told about the flexibility that could allow them to train for up to a year. A single parent was at university. She felt under pressure under universal credit to look for work even though she is studying. The single parent gets some help with her childcare costs but has to work as a cleaner at the weekends in order to meet the shortfall in childcare costs.
Single parents in the group were unclear how much money they would keep when they moved into a job. Work coaches did not provide calculations in how much better off you might be if you moved into work.
A number of the single parents have children with disabilities and claimed additional benefits to support their child. There was a lack of knowledge about how much these single parents could work before they lost benefits. Again the financial gains of working were not made clear by work coaches.
The focus group was a valuable way of talking with single parents about universal credit. The single parents shared their experience of looking for a job, accessing childcare and the jobcentre. The single parents were keen to work (many thought this was more reasonable when their children were at school age) or to study to improve their job prospects. Many were left confused by the universal credit rules and how much better off or not they would be moving into work. The focus group was a vital first step in Gingerbread’s research project and we are incredibly grateful to the single parents who shared their lived experience.