Tag Archives: Social security benefits

Unfrozen: a hollow victory for new parents?

In this guest post, Abi Wood of NCT argues that the Government has to do more for new parents than simply exempt maternity and parental pay from its benefits freeze.

Politicians usually love to talk about families, and their commitment to supporting them. After all, who isn’t in favour of motherhood and apple pie? But, unusually, there wasn’t a single mention of working families in last week’s Queen’s Speech.

Rumours had been circulating about where the £12 billion of cuts in welfare spending would fall, causing concern that they could hit new parents by reducing benefits such as statutory maternity and paternity pay. So you might expect charities that support new parents, such as NCT, to be relieved by the news that, while the rates of most working-age benefits will indeed be frozen for two years from 2016-17 under the Full Employment & Welfare Benefits Bill, statutory maternity, paternity, shared parental leave and adoption pay will be exempted.

But this simply isn’t good enough. Parents taking time away from work to raise the next generation currently receive a shockingly low £138 per week in statutory parental pay. That is almost £100 less than they would receive if they were working full-time on the minimum wage. And anyone who’s spent time with a baby knows that looking after them takes more than 40 hours a week.

On top of this, maternity and paternity pay has been losing value for the last few years. Since 2013, annual increases have been capped at one per cent, rather than going up in line with inflation. Research commissioned by NCT from the think-tank IPPR revealed that, as a result of this cap on annual increases, parents receive £224 less over their maternity or paternity leave. The study also showed that this cut hits the poorest fifth of families hardest.

Decently paid parental leave is vital to enable new mothers to recover from birth, and to enable both mothers and fathers to take time away from the workplace to bond and care for their new baby. The struggle to make ends meet increases the strain on families and can force parents to return to work before they are ready. One new mother told us: “I’m currently on leave but only able to take 14 weeks off as statutory pay is just not enough for me to pay the bills. This has affected everything, particularly not being able to breastfeed for as long as I would have liked to.”

So, while the Government might be expecting a positive reaction from the family sector for exempting maternity and parental pay from the freeze, they’re going to have to do a lot better than that. NCT will be campaigning for changes to help new parents, and we hope that next year’s Queen’s Speech will have some genuinely good news for them.

Abi Wood is Public Affairs Manager at NCT.

Finding financial help for working families

In this guest post, Emma Lamberton sets out why Turn2Us is running its ‘Benefits Awareness Month’ campaign.

“Despite working full time, my wages simply weren’t enough to support my family, and we started to fall behind on our rent and bills. Affording the right food for our children and even keeping the house warm became too much of a stretch.” Isaac

Sadly the problems experienced by Isaac and his family are indicative of growing numbers of families across the UK. Despite being in work, parents are struggling financially as they are hit by a lack of stable employment, a fall in real wages and the rising cost of living. In fact, Joseph Rowntree Foundation research shows that nationally, for the first time ever, there are now more working households living in poverty than there are non-working households.

It is clear that the impact of economic improvements has yet to reach these families and we recently found that over three-fifths (62 per cent) of working parents on low incomes feel their financial situation has worsened in the last year. Shockingly, almost half (49 per cent) say that their outgoings now outweigh their earnings.

The toll this is taking is severe, with almost half (48 per cent) of parents in work forced to cut back on food and other essentials, nearly two-fifths (38 per cent) saying they have been unable to sleep and almost a third (30 per cent) reporting depression as a result of their situation.

We know from speaking to the people we help that there is often a lack of awareness and a reluctance to claim the financial support available. This is the case for many working parents who may not realise that they could be eligible for help in the form of Working Tax Credit and other welfare benefits. Yet our recent research has shown the value of checking potential entitlements, with 85 per cent of working families who currently claim saying benefits have had a positive impact on their lives, helping with bills, childcare costs and even avoiding debt.

Through our current campaign Benefits Awareness Month, we want to raise awareness of in work benefits and help more people in need to access financial support. We are encouraging people to take a few minutes out of their day to use our free Benefits Calculator and check what financial support they could be entitled to. Even if people have checked their eligibility before, it is always worth doing so again, especially if they have recently experienced a change in circumstances such as a decrease in income, having a baby or separated from a partner.

Our website also features information on other support available for each employment group, so that people can access further help whether they are employed full time or part time, are self-employed, on a zero hour contract or on long term leave.

Throughout the campaign we are also encouraging people to visit our website to share their own experiences of struggling despite being in work to help us build a picture of what life is really like for people living on low incomes.

Through hearing about Turn2us, Isaac managed to make a successful claim for Housing Benefit, at around £400 per month. He says this extra income has ‘helped his family enormously’ with their food and heating costs and that they are ‘able to cope better with everyday life’. Through our campaign, we hope that more families experiencing similar issues will be able to access the financial support available to them.

Benefits Awareness Month, which runs until 16 May, is being supported by a number of charities and organisations across the UK, including Working Families. For more information, please visit the Be Aware section of the Turn2Us website or join us on Facebook or Twitter.