Lone parents have seen big changes to their benefits this year and more is still to come.

Only those whose youngest child is aged under seven are now entitled to income support on the grounds of being a single mum or dad. Until October, parents with a child aged under 10 were eligible (see the Benefits Check-Up guide).

And from October next year, only mums or dads whose youngest is under five will qualify for the maximum 65.45 a week benefit, though this cut off could slip into 2012 as the change has yet to receive Royal Ascent.

Instead, parents who no longer qualify will need to work or apply for job seekers' allowance. Those not well enough to work will be able to claim employment and support allowance instead.

Meanwhile, a White Paper published last month includes provisions to simplify the complex system of out-of-work benefits into a single universal credit, which will bring further changes in the future.

These issues affecting lone parents have proved a hot topic and Minister for Disabled People Maria Miller (above, right) agreed to answer many of your questions on the matter.

Here is what she said (questions in bold):

The change in October was a Labour policy. What were the Coalition's thoughts on it?

"The measures were something we supported. They are important because the biggest problem lone parents face is poverty and these give their children the best start by getting more people into the work place. Between 11,000 to 15,000 fewer children will be in poverty as a result."

What was the thought process behind lowering the threshold to those with kids under five?

"This is the natural progression as we feel very strongly the age of five is the most appropriate time. Some lone parents want to get back to work earlier than that anyway. Many parents go to work before their child is one.

"It was important we do this in stages so we have the right support for lone parents to get into work.

"It has to be that work pays. It is better for the country and it is important people go out and do a job of work. Universal credit, for instance, is all about making it clear that work pays."

Some argue lone parents should not receive any extra support than other parents. Why should they be different?

"We know being a parent is a tough job and lone parenting is even tougher. Most don't anticipate being a lone parent."

What if loan parents simply don't have the time to work?

"You have to be available for interviews and it does not preclude you from looking after your child.You can fit work around family responsibilities. We want a system that works for people.

"We have to make sure there is good balance between work and family life. If there isn't, it will be bad for the children."

Can you be sure lone parents will find work?

"The job market is difficult because we have had great economic problems. But we have 450,000 vacancies in the country.

"When you look at the sort of positions coming up, they are part time that offer flexibility that lone parents need. The latest employment figures show 85% of vacancies are part time jobs. Part time working is becoming more prevalent."

What help will there be for lone parents training for a job or career?

"Support is in place and part of the new deal that is quite effective. There is a huge amount of work going on with government to help people get back to work. There are job clubs to give people hands on opportunities."

On universal credits, how important is it to simplify the benefits system?

"Simplicity is the very premise behind it so we don't have a complex matrix of benefits.

"Take up levels of benefits is an issue and universal credit will take 350,000 children out of poverty because of greater benefits across the board and by ensuring people take them up."

Further reading/Key links

Boost income: Benefits Check-up, State Pension Boosting, Top Savings

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