HC 576 Progress towards the implementation of Universal Credit
Written evidence submitted by Grandparents Plus
1. Grandparents Plus is the national charity (England and Wales) which champions the role of grandparents and the wider family in children’s lives, especially when they take on the caring role in difficult family circumstances. We run a peer support network and an advice and information service for grandparents and other family members who are bringing up children when parents cannot.
2. We welcome the opportunity to respond to the Select Committee’s inquiry. This response focuses on the impact on Universal Credit on grandparents and other relatives (kinship carers) who are bringing up children who are not their own.
3. In the UK there are an estimated 200,000 kinship carers (grandparents, older brothers and sisters and other family members) who have taken on the full time caring role for children because parents are unable to do so because of serious family difficulties such as parental death, drug or alcohol misuse, serious illness or disability and child abuse or neglect . Many of the children they are looking after would be in care in their relative had not stepped in.
4. A high proportion - around six in ten - give up work or reduce their hours when children move in, sometimes at the request of children’s services, with around a third reporting living on very low incomes (below £350 a week). Kinship carers encounter significant hurdles to re-enter the labour market whilst also dealing with the multiple challenges of isolation, stigma, and a lack of support from children’s social services and the risk of poverty.
5. A recent survey by Grandparents Plus found that 73% of the carers were working before children moved in, compared with just 36% after taking on this caring responsibility. One in four kinship carers who give up work become dependent on welfare benefits for their main source of income and just one in eight re-enter the labour market. Only a minority are provided with (discretionary) financial support from local authorities.
6. Grandparents Plus welcomes the Government’s decision to exempt kinship carers from conditionality requirements (except work focussed interviews) for the first year after children move in, in order to give them time to settle children who may have experienced major trauma. We remain concerned however that kinship carers will be disproportionately affected by changes to benefits introduced under Universal Credit and that vulnerable children will suffer unintended consequences as a result.
This response focuses on:
Changes to disability benefits for children
Universal credit for couples where one is over pension credit age
Benefits for older people raising children
The Benefit Cap
Free School Meals
Changes to Disability Benefits for Children
7. DWP ha s previously announced that the amount of support for disabled children other than those on the high rate care component of DLA, or those who are severely visually impaired, will be substantially reduced (the maximum rate is to be cut by £28 per week) as a result of the introduction of Universal Credit.
8. A recent survey conducted by Grandparents Plus found that almost half of kinship carers are raising a child with a disability or special needs. For example, 10% are raising a child with Asperger’s syndrome or autism, and 15% have a learning disability. These carers will be disproportionately affected by cuts to disability benefits for children.
9. We believe the Government should reconsider cuts to support for disabled children, and provide a disabled child element within Universal Credit which is equivalent to that currently provided by the disability element of child tax credit.
Universal Credit for kinship carer couples where one is over Pension Credit age
10. The introduction of Universal Credit will change the way that couples are treated where one is a pensioner and the other is of working age - ‘mixed age couples’. Currently as long as one partner in a couple has reached Pension Credit age they are treated as a pensioner couple for the purpose of means-tested benefits. Those already receiving Pension Credit will continue to be entitled but in the future mixed age couples will need to claim Universal Credit.
11. Under Universal Credit mixed aged couples will not be entitled to Pension Credit until the younger person in the couple reaches Pension Credit age . We are concerned that this change will have a disproportionate impact on older grandparents and other kinship carers. A s previously referred to a high proportion of kinship carers leave the labour market when they take on the full time care of children . E specially when they are older and have continuing caring commitments for children, they find it very difficult to re-ente r work . Mixed aged kinship carer couples raising children who claim benefit in the future are likely to have lower income under Universal Credit.
12. Age UK estimate that mixed age couples where neither is working could end up with £100 a week less than under the Pension Credit system – the current standard Pension Credit guarantee rate for a couple is £217.90 whereas it is just £111.45 for ESA or Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). We do not yet know what the impact will be on those with children.
13. A high proportion of kinship carers are caring for an adult with a disability as well as bringing up children. Whilst there will be additional carer and disability elements within Universal Credit these are unlikely to compensate for the loss of Pension Credit.
14. Older kinship carers with a younger partner will also miss out on other support intended for older people such as Cold Weather Payments and may be affected by localisation of council tax support and Housing Benefit restrictions for social tenants considered to have more bedrooms than they need. In both these policy areas the Government said it would protect pensioners. However it appears they will not receive this protection if they have a younger partner because they will be redefined as working age.
15. Grandparents Plus is concerned that older kinship carers could be put in a position where they would be better off living alone, particularly where the young person in the couple is unable to find a job because of their caring responsibilities. There is also a risk that older people who are currently working will have a perverse incentive to stop working before Universal Credit is implemented to prevent them being adversely affected after the changes have been introduced.
Older people raising children
16. We are concerned that older people above state pension age raising children should not be disadvantaged by the introduction of Universal Credit. We would welcome clarification on how payments for children being brought up by people of pension age will be determined in future.
Universal Credit and the Benefit cap
17. We believe kinship carers should be exempted from the benefit cap where they have stepped in raise vulnerable children who cannot live with their birth parents. They will be disproportionately affected by the cap because they often take on sibling groups and may have children of their own living with them, and often have to give up work to provide care. The introduction of the cap is likely to create a major disincentive to kinship carers stepping in bring up children and result in more children being taken into care, and to result in severe hardship for children who are often extremely vulnerable.
18. We are concerned that the introduction of much harsher conditionality penalties under Universal Credit for kinship carers who have been looking aft er a child for more than a year and are not working will further disadvantage vulnerable children.
19. A high proportion of kinship carers are older women (of working age) who are bringing up children on their own. One example of how kinship carers may be harshly affected by tougher conditionality is under new draft regulations under Universal Credit which stipulate that a responsible carer should have up to 48 hours to attend an interview taking into account alternative childcare arrangements. The current regulations allow up to one week, which is reasonable adjustment when a responsible carer may need to organise formal childcare in order to attend an interview. Reducing the additional amount from one week to 48 hours is overly restrictive and that it is unrealistic to expect a carer to be able to organise childcare with only 48 hours’ notice. Failure to find childcare in 48 hours could result in a higher level sanction for non-compliance.
20. We are also concerned that there are no explicit proposals for limiting work search requirements under Universal Credit where a child has been excluded from school or there is no affordable appropriate childcare available during the school holidays.
21. A high proportion of children in kinship care have emotional and behavioural problems arising from trauma or the difficulties they experienced when living with their birth parents. Dealing with the consequences of a school exclusion or complying with a parenting order can be time consuming and stressful. It is important that in these circumstances a responsible carer can focus on their family without the additional pressure of fulfilling work search requirements.
22. Finding and paying for childcare in the school holidays is a significant problem. Childcare coverage is not universal, and is particularly problematic for kinship carers bringing up a child with disabilities, or who live in rural areas. We not believe that kinship carers should face a payment sanction for failing to comply with work search requirements when childcare is not available during the school holidays.
23. Free School Meals
24. We are concerned that vulnerable children growing up in kinship care will be disproportionately affected by proposed changes in eligibility criteria for free school meals.
17 August 2012