Welfare Reform Bill

Tomorrow the House of Lords will meet for the report stage of the Welfare Reform Bill 2011. Over the last 11 months the bill has made plenty of news headlines, but there has been hardly any mention of the effect it will have on home educators.

The Bill will replace a range of existing means-tested benefits and tax credits, starting from 2013. In order to be eligible to receive the new Universal Tax Credit:

  • If you are the responsible carer for a child under the age of one, you are not subject to any work-related requirements.
  • If your child is aged between one or two, you will be subject to work-focused interview requirements only.
  • If your child is aged three or four, you will be subject to work preparation requirements including work placements.
  • Once your child is aged five, you must be available for and search for work.
(See sections 19-22 of the Welfare Reform Bill.)

Claimants who are lone parents with responsibility for a child between the ages of 5 and 12, or for an older child who has exceptional care needs, will be able to restrict their work search and availability to work which:

  • fits with the hours their child is in school;
  • provides reasonable time to take and collect their child from school;
  • takes into account their child’s care needs, including whether child care is available and affordable, in particular during the child’s school holidays.
A couple with a child under 13 will be able to nominate one member of the couple who will be treated in the same way as a lone parent for conditionality purposes (i.e. who will be able to place limitations on their work availability and work search as above). Couples who choose not to nominate and who prefer to share child care and work responsibilities will be able to do so, as long at collectively the couple are looking for work at least equivalent to one person working full-time and one person working as many hours as a lone parent would be expected to. In addition, both members of the couple must continue to have reasonable prospects of finding work within this limitation.

(See Universal Credit Policy Briefing Note 12)

As far as I can tell, the main earner will be expected to work full time (35 hours) at minimum wage or above (currently £6.08 per hour, £212.80 per week). Once the youngest child is 5, the carer/lone parent will also be expected to work 20 hours at minimum wage or above. Once the youngest child is 13, the carer/lone parent will be expected to work 35 hours as well. Claimants should be engaged in work search for at least the number of hours they are expected to be available for work. Self employment will not count unless the claimant is earning equal to the minimum wage for the required number of hours. (I haven’t managed to find official confirmation for some of those figures as the thresholds seem to have been changed several times.)

Many home educators already feel the pinch of surviving on one wage, so withdrawal of tax credits for those who are on a low income will be a big blow. Considering that we are saving the government the cost of education our children (it costs at least £9000 per year to put a child through state education) then surely it wouldn’t be too much to ask for home educators to keep their tax credits! Low income families should not be forced to choose between home education or poverty, nor should the option of homeschooling be limited to high income families only. This Bill seems like a sneaky attempt to discourage home education after the huge opposition to the Badman Report.

What can we do?

As the Bill is already in the late stages of the House of Lords, there is little point in writing to MPs. However you can write to members of the House of Lords. The third day of the report stage is scheduled for tomorrow, after which it will move on to the third and final reading (at least three sitting days after the report stage). Unlike the Commons, amendments can be made at this stage, provided the issue has not been fully considered and voted on at an earlier stage. It will then be sent back to the House of Commons for consideration of amendments, after which it will become law. Please spare a few moments to email or write and encourage others to do so!

Contact a Lord

WriteToThem (allows you to email up to 6 Lords)

Further Information:

Progress of the Bill

Welfare Reform Bill

Universal Credit White Paper

Universal Credit briefing notes

4 Comments

  1. This issue was raised on the Deut group. I understood that if one or the other of you earned a sufficient amount, then the tax credit cut wouldn’t happen to you. But I know there are many out there who either are unemployed or who work full time but do not earn the amount stated. It feels like a stealth attack doesn’t it!

    P.S- the Christisn home ed group are having a house meet at mine next Wednesday if you would like to come :) sure we will all squeeze in somehow…….arrrgghhhh!

    • Sarah

      I read somewhere (no idea if it’s up-to-date) that the current income threshold where conditionality will no longer apply is also the threshold where your household is no longer eligible for the tax credits part of Universal Credit anyway, although they do plan to change that after a few years. All very confusing anyway!

      And yes we’d love to come, thanks. What time and can I bring anything?

  2. Thank you for bringing this issue to people’s attention. It’s also somewhat naive of the government to be trying to force people into work when there is a distinct shortage of employment!

    • Sarah

      Yes it’s all a bit crazy! I can’t help feeling that it would probably be better to encourage more mothers (or fathers) to stay at home, freeing up jobs for other households, rather than trying to force both parents out to work.

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