This is definitely the most curious policy included in the Universal Credit reforms. Why does IDS want to meddle with the mighty army of stay-at-home mums?
Under his plan, if mothers with working partners want to claim Universal Credit, they will face the same jobseeking regime applying to single-mothers. With a few important caveats, they’ll effectively be regarded as someone claiming Jobseekers Allowance.
This is a big change. It will mean that these mums (or stay-at-home fathers) will in future have to turn up at the Jobcentre to explain how they’re planning to return to work.
Once their children are aged seven, if they don’t turn up for their “work focussed interview”, they could even have their benefit docked.
For, say, the proud wife of a postman who stays at home because it makes economic sense, turning up at the Jobcentre could be quite a unsettling experience.
What is even more peculiar is the fact that IDS will be toughening the rules and threatening sanctions, while at the same time reducing the financial incentive to work.
Around 330,000 second earners will, after these reforms, face a higher marginal deduction rate. That said, these reforms will make it easier to work fewer hours — one of many positive benefits.
But I struggle to see the advantage of extending a conditionality regime on to stay-at-home mothers in working families. This will cost money, use up the scarce time of jobcentre advisors and be unpopular in many households. What is the point?
For those who are interested, the jargon-heavy official explanation of the policy change is below:
Currently assessments of entitlement to income-related welfare benefits such as Income Support (IS), income-based Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are calculated on a family basis.
Universal credit introduces personalised conditionality where advisers will ensure that the requirements they place on a recipient are reasonable for that person, taking into account their particular capabilities and circumstances. This represents an increased level of conditionality for certain couple groups. The conditions for receiving Universal Credit will require a joint claim from both members of a couple in all cases, i.e. both members of the couple play an equal part in the claim and so are required to undertake the same level of conditionality as for single people without children. For those with children, one member of the couple will be subject to the same conditionality as a single person, whilst the other member will be nominated as the lead carer and therefore be subject to same conditionality as if they were a lone parent (i.e. dependent on the age of their youngest child).
The Government wants to support people to move into and progress into work while supporting those in greatest need. Therefore, all individuals who are able to look for work or prepare for work should be required to do so as a condition for receiving benefit.