Government benefit cuts are pushing pregnant women and new parents into worsening poverty, says a damning new report.
The report – Valuing families? – from the charity Maternity Action, who provide free advice to parents about welfare benefits and healthcare, found that government welfare cuts are “exacerbating the high rate of poverty among new families”.
Since coming to office in 2010, the Tory-led coalition government has made a number of cuts to benefits and payments available to pregnant women and children. This includes freezing and means-testing Child Benefit; removing the baby element, and capping the annual up-rating of Statutory Maternity (and Paternity) Pay and Maternity Allowance.
The government has also reduced the income cut-off for the family element of Child Tax Credit, removed Sure Start Maternity Grants for all but a family’s first child and abolished both the Child Trust Fund and Health in Pregnancy Grant.
Maternity Action says cuts to welfare benefits and other payments available to families, including for working parents, are “contributing to the growth in personal debt” at a time when the cost of living has increased significantly.
Financial stress can lead to poor mental health among parents and this is linked to potential behavioural difficulties in children, says Maternity Action. The report says “women affected by poverty are less likely to have good nutrition during pregnancy, which contributes to the high rates of low birth weight in the UK”.
The report draws attention to the 2010 Marmot Review, which recommended early intervention to support families on both low and middle-incomes experiencing poor health, as a result of a squeeze on incomes.
Cuts in maternity benefits are pushing women to return to work after maternity sooner than they would like, while the take-up of paternity leave among fathers is affected by family incomes, reducing the likelihood of shared parenting. Maternity Action say this “entrenches the division of caring responsibilities and halts progress in reducing the gender pay gap”.
The charity says reducing maternity benefits is “at odds with evidence-based strategies to address health inequalities”, adding “poverty and poor health are inextricably linked and children born to parents living in poverty are more likely to present with developmental and social problems later in life”.
The report said as many as 60,000 women are forced to leave their jobs every year, because of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. The introduction of employment tribunal fees means that some women face a £1,200 barrier to justice.
More than 600 Sure Start services have closed their doors since Prime Minister David Cameron and his government took office in 2010, reducing the number of available sources of advice and support for new parents.
Maternity Action has called on the government to increase maternity benefits and treat Maternity Allowance as ‘earnings from employment’, within the new Universal Credit system.
The charity is also calling on the government to increase the National Minimum Wage and:
- Assist low to medium income families with the costs of each new baby, by reinstating the Sure Start Maternity Grant for second and subsequent children.
- Provide support for low-income women during pregnancy to ensure a healthy diet, by increasing Healthy Start payments by 14.5% (the increase in the cost of food and non-alcoholic beverages since the benefit was last up-rated in 2010).
- Review access to maternity benefits for pregnant women and new mothers who do not have indefinite leave to remain and for EEA nationals, with the aim of reducing poverty amongst migrant families residing in the UK. This should take into account the impact of extending from two years to five years the period of residency in the UK required for migrants with spouse/partner/fiancé(e) visas to apply for indefinite leave to remain, and restrictions on access to benefits by EEA nationals.
- Take immediate steps to reduce the high rate of pregnancy discrimination to enable pregnant women and new parents to retain their jobs and have the confidence to exercise their maternity and parental rights at work.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 14 Nov 2014
The number of women in the UK who don’t have a job has soared to record levels under the Tory-led coalition government, a new report reveals.
According to figures from the Fawcett Society, a leading charity who campaign on advancing equality rights for women, nearly one million (946,000) remain unemployed while others struggle to get by on poverty wages.
The charity is calling on the government to back its campaign for all workers to be paid the living wage, which currently stands at £8.80 per hour in London and £7.65 per hour across the rest of the UK.
The minimum wage for those aged 21 and over is set to increase by 19p per hour to £6.50 from October 2014. The rate for 18-20 year-olds will increase to £5.13 an hour and £3.79 for 16 and 17 year-olds. Apprentices will get a meagre 5p extra, taking their earnings up to just £2.73 for every hour worked.
The definition of ‘low pay’ (two-thirds of the median full-time average salary) set by the OECD currently stands at anything below £7.71 an hour.
Deputy Director of the Fawcett Society, Dr. Eva Neitzert, said:
“From cleaners, dinnerladies and care assistants to supermarket workers and admin assistants, women undertake crucial work that helps to hold the fabric of society together.
“But rather than benefitting from the economic growth we are seeing, the situation for these women is declining. We urgently need to tackle the low wages paid to women by increasing the value of the national minimum wage.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady added:
“The alarming shift in the UK’s job market towards low pay and casual contracts is hitting women hardest and risks turning the clock back on decades of progress towards equal pay.
“Unless more is done to tackle poverty wages and job insecurity, women will be excluded from the economic recovery.”
Gloria De Piero, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, said:
“It’s clear that this isn’t a recovery for working women. Under David Cameron and Nick Clegg, more women are struggling on low pay, in insecure jobs and not getting the hours they and their families need.
“Only a Labour Government is committed to tackling the scandal of low pay by significantly increasing the minimum wage, providing incentives for employers to pay the living wage and delivering on the promise of equal pay for women and their families across the country.”
Women’s Minister Nicky Morgan said the pay gap is too high, but argued: “It is narrowing – and for full-time workers under 40 is almost zero.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 17 Aug 2014
The Housing Benefit bill is set to spiral out of control due to low wages and rising rents, official figures suggest.
Between 2010/11 to 2018/19 the amount spent on helping struggling households to keep roofs over their heads is set to rocket to a staggering £12.9 billion, or £488 for every household in the UK.
The figures obtained from the Commons Library also show that Housing Benefit paid to people in work is set to more than double, from £2.4 billion in 2010/11 to £5.5 billion in 2018/19.
Stagnating wages will also have a knock on effect on how much is spent supporting low-income households with tax credits. Currently the UK spends £21.2 billion on tax credits, but this is forecast to rise to £23.7 billion by 2018/19.
Speaking in Pudsey, West Yorkshire, Rachel Reeves is expected to say:
“The number of working people claiming housing benefit is set to double because the Tory Government has failed to tackle low pay, insecure work and the cost-of-living crisis.
“Labour will raise the minimum wage, introduce living wage contracts and get 200,000 homes built a year by 2020 to tackle the bill and ensure working people can make ends meet.”
She will also say that Labour may withdraw its support for Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship Universal Credit scheme, unless “urgent action” is immediately taken to prevent “more money being wasted” on the crisis hit programme.
Ms Reeves will say: “Today I want to make a direct appeal to David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith.
“Labour wants Universal Credit to work. But we won’t accept more taxpayers’ money being wasted. It is in crisis and needs urgent action.”
> Yes, Rachel, but what you need to understand is that the problem with Universal Credit is not just that it’s a money pit. Its also the way in which it makes life so much more difficult for people who already have more than enough problems to be going on with.
Are Labour going to deal with those aspects ? Nothing seen so far suggests that they would anything except continue with more of the same.
Earlier this year, Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud described the write-off of a failed £40 million IT system for Universal Credit as “deeply regrettable”.
He insisted that the programme would be delivered on time and within its £2.5 billion budget and that the scheme would benefit taxpayers to the tune of £35 billion.
Minister for Disabled People, Mark Harper MP, told the Daily Mirror that the government had “inherited an out-of-control housing benefit system from Labour”.
He added that the government were working to “build a welfare system that provides a safety net for those in need, while rewarding the willingness to work”.
Source – Welfare News Service, 05 Aug 2014