Welfare reforms announced in yesterday's Emergency Budget could have limited success in getting people off benefits and into work, due to high unemployment and a shortage of affordable flexible working, employment experts have warned.
Presenting his first Budget yesterday, chancellor George Osborne said lone parents would be required to look for work when their youngest child turns five, rather than the current age of 10.
Osborne also announced the government would force those on Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to undergo medical tests to assess their right to claim the benefit. Around three million people in the UK are currently eligible for the DLA.
But employment experts told Personnel Today that although they supported the welfare reforms, they feared some of the changes were unrealistic and could be heavy-handed.
Elizabeth Gardiner, policy and political officer at the charity Working Families, warned the high-cost of childcare and the shortage of jobs with flexible hours made it hard for lone parents to find suitable work.
"It isn't fair to expect lone parents to take low-paid full-time jobs that do little more than cover the cost of looking after their children," Gardiner said. "And if they'd rather look after their children themselves, they should have a choice to do so," she said.
"Until we have a good supply of jobs that fit around school hours, and flexible, affordable childcare, then it may be a futile [job] search for many lone parents."
Gardiner called on the government to lead by example by requiring all public sector jobs to be advertised on a flexible-hours or part-time basis unless there were good reasons not to do so.
But John Philpott, chief economic adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said the lone parent welfare reform made sense, adding that employers were often keen to employ single parents, perceiving them as loyal and organised.
Ian Brinkley, associate director of The Work Foundation, said the welfare reforms announced in the Budget were "broadly right" but cautioned that getting inactive people back into work would be a challenge with rising unemployment.
The number of unemployed rose to 2.47 million in the three months to April.
Brinkley said: "A worry is that people will move from long-term benefit to less generous JSA [Jobseekers Allowance] and then be recycled through special schemes and short-term, low-wage jobs that offer no chance of escape. This is most likely in areas where inactivity is high and potential job growth in the private sector is weak."
Meanwhile, other experts warned the DLA medical assessment could cause unnecessary stress to benefit claimants with severe disabilities.
"The government is saying that it wants to reduce DLA claimants by about 600,000 but where is the evidence that 600,000 who are getting the benefit will fail the test?" said Nigel Meager, director at the Institute for Employment Studies.