The Department for Work and Pensions sanctioned around 40,000 lone parents with pre-school aged children over the course of a year, new figures show.
The statistics, which relate to people claiming Income Support, follow warnings by church groups last year that 100,000 children across Britain were going hungry after their parents faced sanctions.
People in the Income Support Lone Parent (ISLP) group all have children under five years old and are lone parents with a low income.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith castigated low income parents in October last year, warning that they should not “assume” the Government would support them.
He said proposed cuts to tax credits, now rolled into the forthcoming Universal Credit benefit, were “about bringing home to parents the reality that children cost money”.
“If you have more kids you have to make the choices others make and not assume taxpayers money lets you avoid the consequences of such choices,” he said.
Single parents with very young children getting income support are required attend regular jobcentre interviews and often to attend training or work experience – even though their children are not yet in school and childcare can be expensive.
Sanctions are imposed when parents fail to comply with the conditions set. The full rate of income support is £73.10 a week but is lower for people under 25. People sanctioned lose about £15 a week for an indefinite period.
The number of sanctions as a proportion of lone parents with very young children claiming the benefit has been rising in each financial year since 2012, though it previously reached a higher peak in 2009.
Dalia Ben-Galim, director of policy for the charity Gingerbread, said sanctions were often unfairly applied and that they caused severe financial hardship.
“Our research has found single parents are more likely to be incorrectly sanctioned than others. It’s likely many of the families who have had their support cut will have been wrongly sanctioned,” she said.
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat
“What’s worrying is that the proposed reforms to universal credit will mean those single parents with young children will face even tougher conditionality rules, similar to Jobseeker’s Allowance.
“Sanctions cause severe financial hardship for those affected, particularly for single parents who are cut off from the financial support they need for themselves and their children. This forces them to cut back on the essentials like food and heating for their families.
“The system focusses far too much on delivering sanctions, which are too often wrongfully applied, instead of offering the support that would help people back to work. Gingerbread is concerned that wrongful sanctions will rise in line with increased universal credit conditionality.”
The new figures relate to the 12 months to September 2015. They show 42,100 sanctions imposed in the 12 month period, or 5.8 per cent of all claimants. 39,600 individual claimaints have been sanctioned, with some sanctioned more than once.
6 per cent of all claimants in the group were sanctioned in the latest full financial year of 2014-15, up from 5.6 per cent in 2013-14 and 5.4 per cent in 2012-13.
The latest figures to September 2015 are not directly comparable to the financial year figures as they include overlap of previous periods.
The DWP says claimants are only sanctioned as a “last resort” when they do not give a good reason for attending a so-called “work-focused interview”.
A DWP spokesperson said the actions only affected a “a very small minority” of parents.
“Our reforms to extend free childcare, flexible working and increase the amount of money people earn before paying tax are helping more lone parents get into work and gain the security of a regular wage,” she said.
“Only a very small minority of lone parents face a sanction for not taking up the job support we offer in return for benefits, and the proportion of sanctions has fallen.”