Last night I hosted my International Women’s Day event in Parliament, which focused on the particular challenges faced by women-led households as a result of austerity and Universal Credit. I was joined by a group of fantastic women who are all doing their bit to challenge the Tories’ pernicious policies.
As one of our speakers, Kellie Dorrington from the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in Haringey highlighted, women of colour, refugees and women with disabilities are hit hardest by these policies. In her twelve years of experience in the CAB, she said that she had never seen people so destitute as a result of the benefits system, the very purpose of which is to protect the most vulnerable in society.
Tonia Antoniazzi MP told us about her role in bringing to light the particular struggles of single parent families through her work as Co-Chair (with Dr Rupa Huq MP) of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Single Parent Families. The founding of the APPG was inspired by an informal chat with a group of women MPs who also happened to be single parents. They realised that being a single parent and an MP was something of a taboo, with some hiding the fact because of stigma.
We were also lucky enough to hear from Claire Woods, who is one of four single mothers who won a high court battle against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) supported by the Child Poverty Action Group. Claire and the other working mums were plunged into poverty as a result of nonsensical clerical errors. When they were paid earlier than normal, for example due to a bank holiday, this would clash with their Universal Credit assessment period and lead the DWP to erroneously assume they had been paid twice in one working month and were earning nothing in another. This led to their receiving sporadic payments and often less money than was due.
We were also joined by Ema Howling, who founded the North West London friendship group for Gingerbread, the charity for single parent families, four and a half years ago. She juggles running the group with work and raising her young son. The group offers single parents the opportunity to connect, support each other and discuss mechanisms to alleviate some of the challenges faced by single parents, such as a lack of support from employers, difficulties accessing affordable housing and the disincentivizing nature of Universal Credit, which cuts employment benefits for part-time workers.
Later, I read out an email from a constituent, Angie, who is carer to her two daughters, both Universal Credit claimants. They have, on a number of occasions, failed their assessments only to appeal and win every single time. This reflects a wider situation in which the majority of appeals are won. This demonstrates that it is the system that is broken, not claimants falling foul of it.
We also heard from Nikki Pound, from the Hornsey and Wood Green Labour Women’s Forum, and Jill Pack and Anne O’Daly, from the Stop and Scrap Universal Credit campaign in Haringey. You can get involved by liking and following their Facebook page: and/or contacting [email protected].
One of the last comments was made by an audience member who quite rightfully suggested that the DWP should measure success not according to the amount of money saved but by the number of people served.