Mandatory job seeking requirements for lone parents claiming benefits negatively affects mental health, researchers have found.
Under the lone parent obligations rule, single parents must seek work as a condition of receiving certain welfare benefits once their youngest child reaches a certain age.
Since 2008, when entitlement to income support was dropped for lone parents whose youngest child was 12 or older, this age been reduced from to seven and then to five.
Lone parents affected can claim jobseeker's allowance instead of income support, but to qualify must prove they are looking for work.
Researchers compared lone mothers newly exposed to the lone parent obligations when the age limit was reduced to seven and then to five years, with lone mothers who remained unexposed or who were continuously exposed.
Using nationally-representative data from 40,000 households across the UK, the study found mental health worsened more among lone mothers affected by the changes in the child age cut-off.
Peter Craig, senior research fellow at Glasgow University, which carried out the study, said: "Our results suggest that requiring lone parents with school age children to seek work as a condition of receiving welfare benefits may adversely affect their mental health.
"More and more lone parents have been subject to the job seeking requirements in recent years, so the possibility of adverse effects on health should be taken seriously.
"Further research should focus on the longer term effects of mandatory employment requirements and whether the health of children in lone parent families is also affected."
The study was funded by the Medical Research Council and the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office, and is published in The Lancet Public Health.
A Department of Work and Pensions spokesman said: "Work is the best route out of poverty, and it's widely recognised that good work generally brings health and wellbeing benefits too.
"We're supporting more lone parents into work, and our work coaches offer tailored support that takes into account personal circumstances, including health conditions.
"We are also supporting people with, or at risk of developing, mental health conditions to thrive in work."
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