I’m the founder of Mothers Uncovered, a peer-led organisation that supports mothers in matrescence. I set up a petition in April, when I heard there were changes planned for universal credit in the autumn. Parents were required to work 16 hours week in order to claim any benefits once their youngest child turned three, this was now set to rise to 30 hours. Last night, in the middle of half term, the petition closed with over 23,000k signatures. Today the DWP have announced the changes with immediate effect.
I think there’s many things wrong with this policy. The government states that there is 30 hours of funded childcare available. But this is termtime only. So when that’s averaged over a year it’s around 21 hours a week. The bulk of parents on UC are single and most of those are mothers, so I’m using a mother as an example. I’m not sure you could find a job that has at least 13 weeks paid holiday a year, so that mother will need to work every week of the year in order to make enough money to cover the weeks that aren’t covered by benefits. Not only that, but she’ll have to work a 40 hour week, plus include the time for commuting, so her three year old will need to be in childcare from 8.00-6.00 every day of the week and only see her at the weekends when she is trying to do all the other work of the household.
Now consider that this mother might also have an older child at primary school. Many schools don’t have breakfast clubs and after school clubs, therefore she will have to pay a costly childminder to take and collect her child to and from school. We must not also forget the Data from Coram Family and Childcare which reveals that only 66% of local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales have enough for the current 30 hour entitlement. Who knows what this mother will do if she is ill, or if her child has additional needs, or is simply not ready to be in childcare all day. I am all about choice and in supporting mothers to work, but this is not supportive, it is punitive. From when her child turns 2, the mother will be obliged to meet with a work coach every month to keep her benefits and there is no childcare provided for that.
Let’s not forget that pregnant women and new mothers were one of the seven priority groups in the government’s recent suicide prevention strategy. What do we think this new ruling will do to their mental health? I have met hundreds of mothers who are breaking point, this has a very real chance of pushing them over the edge. For those who think you shouldn’t have children if you can’t afford them, try having empathy for those who are vulnerable. If they are a single parent, it might be due to bereavement or escaping domestic violence. And I’ve also been contacted by many mothers who have partners and can also not manage. The cost of living crisis has had a devastating effect.
Lastly, this new ruling devalues parenting. The talk of investment in the early years sounds incredibly hollow, when the DWP are placing such undue stress on families. Parenting is work. It’s incredibly valuable work. The bonding in early years is vital. Children are not in isolation from society, they are the next generation. They deserve better.