Budget Aftermath: Year of struggle before lone parents receive benefit bonus

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LONE PARENTS claiming for the first time will have to wait a year before the value of last year's benefits cuts is replaced, putting many in financial hardship, campaigners warned last night.

Benefit for new claimants was cut in December but the Government said that moves in the Budget to increase other benefits would replace the money lost by lone parents.

But campaigners said last night that delays in introducing those rises mean that the mothers will have to wait until April 1999 before they are on a par with other parents - a year in which both they and their children will face hardship.

Last December the Government pushed through the controversial benefit cuts for lone parents, sparking rebellion and a ministerial resignation. The cuts, proposed by the previous Conservative government, left lone parents on income support pounds 4.65 a week worse off.

"This is quite serious if you are a lone parent on income support," said Margaret Creear, policy officer for Gingerbread who is urging the Government to halt the benefit cuts. "We are talking about new claimants here but new claimants tend to be mothers who have just had babies or just separated with all the upheaval that brings and it is pretty expensive."

Maeve Sherlock of the National Council of One Parent Families said: "It may sound like small sums but if you are on less than pounds 100 a week it is huge. If the Government had the courage of its convictions it would do something about this and defer the cuts until next year."

If a lone parent has a child under 11, he or she will receive an extra pounds 2.50 per week in November with the new under-11 child rate. But they will have to wait until the following April to receive another pounds 2.50 per week in family premiums.

"Basically they won't get the reinstatement for a year," Ms Creear said. "It doesn't add up. The Government promised that no low income families would be worse off because of the Budget, but lone parents on income support are going to be worse off for a year.

"This is a big amount for lone parents. Those on income support are amongst the poorest people in the population. More than 30 per cent of them live in severe hardship - that means they don't have enough food for clothing and food.

"So when you are talking about pounds 2.50 - pounds 5 you are talking about food for their child. By next year it may be all right but this is a year out of their life and a year in their child's development and you can't replace that."