Universal Credit penalty for young parents is a Westminster blunder

NURSERY graduations have always seemed the ultimate swizz. What are these tiny people earning certificates in? Having parents able to drop them off and pick them up on time?

That’s not an achievement, it’s luck of the draw.

Every year these arguments erupt: a pshaw at nursery graduations, a scoff that primary graduations have become a thing, outrage at a leafy suburb teenager turning up to prom – “it was a disco in my day” – in a helicopter.

This year, though, the complaints about four year olds in mortar boards took on a particularly churlish tone. Covid safety was decided on a school by school basis so some parents had the chance to enjoy school ceremonies in person while others did not, and fury abounded.

Complaints were given short shrift – who needs a nursery graduation, for heaven’s sake? But this year milestones have taken on a new timbre. Adults are gutted at cancelled holidays and budged along weddings. Holidays can be arranged and weddings fall under the definition of unnecessary gathering (you don’t really need a party to sign a legal document).

All these young people milestones, though. They’ll never get those back. Among the brutalities suffered during the pandemic are those missed childhood and teenage years.

These are the soft losses of the pandemic. The hard losses are the impact on education and the many sacrifices young people ungrudgingly have had to make since lockdown last March, sacrifices they were asked to make for the benefit of older generations.

The instinct, as an adult and as a society, is to try and make things that bit better. So the confirmation of free bus travel for under 22s – a successful push by the Scottish Greens – is good.

Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement last month of new funding, the Young Person’s Guarantee, for everyone in Scotland aged 16 to 24 to be guaranteed a job, apprenticeship, further education, training or volunteering is good.

Last week’s confirmation that young people aged 18 to 25 will have free dental care is a good step, although it should be extended to include all care experienced people, if we’re really doing it right.

But then we screech to a halt on Universal Credit. The charity One Parent Families Scotland is leading the charge against the grossly unjust set up that sees young parents paid a lower rate of benefits as the over-25s. Prior to Universal Credit they were paid the same rate but now, according to a report from the Child Poverty Action Group, single parents are £65 worse off per month, while parent couples are £100 worse off.

Were they paid equitably, some 10,000 children would be lifted out of poverty, the research says.

“The Government considers that, where possible, it is in the best interests of children to be in working households,” Will Quince, the UK minister for welfare delivery responded to a letter signed by 100 charities and politicians.

“The lower rates for younger claimants who are under the age of 25 reflects the fact they are more likely to live in someone else’s household and have lower earnings expectations.

“This is intended to maintain the incentive for younger people to find work.”

Starve them into action. How quaint. Boris Johnson said similar last month, defending the roll back of the £20 Universal Credit uplift. “My strong preference,” the Prime Minister said, “Is for people to see their wages rise through their efforts.”

Mr Quince is talking about young people who have grown up under cuts to tax credits for parents on low incomes, who have lived in homes with benefit sanctions and cuts to disability benefit. Perhaps they know the reality of the two-child welfare cap.

As charities point out, the UK government response shows a clanging ignorance of the reality of young parents’ lives. It says under-25s are less likely to live independently, yet two-thirds of under-25s claiming housing benefit are parents with young children, so are not living with parents.

Care experienced young parents often don’t have stable family support so telling them to top up their income with pay from parents is a suggestion ignorant of reality. Some 75% of children living in poverty are in working households so the idea for lower payments is to incentive people to work when… they’re likely already working.

It’s a typically uninformed position from the types of people who will also happily argue that young people are soft for asking to be paid for work placements. They should be delighted to have the experience and eat air rather than expect fair pay for their labour.

It is no surprise Conservatives think young people need less cash because they’re bankrolled by mummy and daddy. These folk do bankroll their kids, helping, say, to artificially inflate property prices by giving hefty deposits for their offspring to buy otherwise merely aspirational homes. For the rest, there are stagnant wages and a lack of affordable homes.

This is merely yet another hypocrisy, given their insistence that young people who don’t have family support should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps – lower benefits are an “incentive to find work”. It is a double injustice to young people because it penalises young parents and also their children.

I keep seeing mention of the massive amounts of savings built up during the pandemic, as though we are spending our leisure time Scrooge McDucking into our swimming pools of gold bullion. The over-60s might have done very nicely, but the under-30s have been hit by interruptions to their education, their work lives, their social lives and their finances.

As furlough ends next month, those in the gig economy on zero hours contracts will be worst affected – mainly young people.

In Scotland, the government is keenly turning its attention to young people. It’s the right thing to do, morally and because this is the new electorate. The Westminster government would do well to heed the example.

Benefits parity is a start, an easy move to reparations.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992