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Benefit changes: David Cameron is no longer on the side of single parents

21 May 2012

After the rhetoric comes the bite. Today 124,000 single parents whose youngest child is five or six were moved from income support (IS) to jobseeker's allowance (JSA); they were told only eight weeks ago. The age of one's children when one moves from care to work has bounced down a slide since New Labour; now it lands at five, when In The Night Garden is still the news.

Britain's 1.9 million single parents and their three million children are, statistically speaking, the poorest in society: 46% sit below the poverty line, compared with 24% of families with two parents. They contain a disproportionate number of disabled children (34%) and a disproportionate number of disabled and ill parents (33%).

They are taunted as feckless and workshy, but this is a myth smelted in ignorance and prurience. Only 3% of single mothers are teenagers, a number to make misogynists gawp; 55% had their children within marriage; 57% of them work, an increase of 12% since 1997, and as soon as their children reach the age of 12 this figure rises to 71%, which is also the national average for mothers in relationships – good mothers, if you will. Fifty four percent of single parents of five- and six-year-olds work already, presumably because they want to; the Vicki Pollard manque is a bust. Even so, the Tories wield the axe.

One gets tired of typing out the prime minister's lies but, in case you want to hear it, after the riots David Cameron said this: "If we want to have any hope of mending our broken society, family and parenting is where we've got to start. I want a family test applied to all domestic policy. If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it ... stops families from being together, then we shouldn't do it." (He also said, in 2010: "To that single mother struggling and working her heart out for her children we can now say: 'We're on your side'.") Perhaps this angst printed the parenting vouchers whereby chemist chain Boots delivers £100 worth of parenting lessons to those with children under five. I do not hate this scheme, why should I? – free yoghurt for everyone! – but it is, as ever, a veil for cuts elsewhere.

What will happen? The old scheme, where single parents were gently segued into work with 12 months' notice – essential time to get qualifications while still receiving IS – is over. Educated parents get better jobs, obviously; 68% already enter the lowest paid professions and low-paid parents produce low-paid children. Before September 2011, single parents claiming IS received a fee remission on further education; now they have to fund this themselves. If they are on JSA, however, they will get funding – but they must continue to look for work, and if they are offered a job, they must leave education. A window has closed, a ladder has been kicked away – and this from a government that pondered tax relief for nannies and rejected a "mansion tax" as inhumane.

This policy is sheer spite, because these jobs don't exist. Even the government thinks that only 20% of those moved will find work; perhaps parental anxiety pleases them? There are six unemployed for every vacancy, and part-time jobs suitable for parents with young children are scarcer still. According to the charity Gingerbread's new report, It's Off To Work We Go, only 3% of part-time jobs would, were they full-time, pay £20,000 a year and, when part-time jobs are vacated, only 35% of them endure as part-time jobs. The Tories' response? Deregulate.

And if you do find work, what then? Childcare costs rise, while capacity and funding shrinks. The Tory MP Liz Truss wants to cut red tape but it comes too late for this year's single parents of five-year-olds. (More funding is promised, but not yet).

The cut in child benefit to higher rate taxpayers is due in 2013, and although the government is wobbling hither and thither, it is likely the single parent will suffer. And why should they not? Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice, an awkwardly named organisation if you consider its purpose, states the Tory mindset; it asked today where tax relief for married couples has gone.

This policy comes from the darkest place – women without men (and 92% of single parents are women) deserve no succour. Hence the disgraceful £20 upfront fee for accessing the Child Support Agency and a levy on child support collected at 7% to 12%. The single parent's existence is fraught with uncertainty – and fear.

Twitter: @tanyagold1

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012

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