Remove payment anomalies and develop education schemes to help lone parents - Social Protection Committee Report

Reducing poverty through the removal of payment anomalies and actively developing and targeting employment, training and 'Activation' Schemes at Lone Parents are among the key recommendations of a report on the position of lone parents in Ireland by the Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection

The main challenges facing lone parents are child poverty, housing costs, childcare costs and availability, obtaining child maintenance payments, job activation, education and changes to the One Parent Family Payment (OFP), the report says.

Among the report’s key recommendations are:

•    Income Disregard (ID) should be fully restored for those on OFP and those on Jobseekers Transitional Payment (JST).
•    Lone parents on Job Seekers Transition Payment (JST) who are working need access to full income disregard, and they should, if they meet the qualifying criteria, be able to receive JST and FIS simultaneously.
•    Lone parents should be able to remain on Job Seekers Transitional (JST) until their youngest child is 18 (rather then the current cut off of 14).
•     The Qualified Child Increase for one-parent families most at risk of poverty should be brought in line with Child Benefit (i.e. increased to €32.30 per week, from €29.80)
•    The Qualified Child Increase should be increased for teenagers in accordance with the increased costs associated with older children.
•    Reduce the qualifying hours for Family Income Supplement to 15 for those with children aged 18 or under.

In relation to education:

•    Rent allowance and eligibility for SUSI grants should be decoupled from FIS.
•    The ability to stay in education should not be linked to housing tenure. Those in receipt of Rent Supplement should be allowed to engage in full time education without suffering any loss of entitlements. This would remove a number of structural barriers which currently prevent these parents from accessing education.
•    Make Back To Education Allowance (BTEA) and the SUSI maintenance grant payable together to lone parents who are undertaking an educational or training course for the duration of the course.
•    Remove requirement for lone parents to be unemployed and in receipt of Social Welfare for 6 months before accessing educational grants etc. This would make the transition from employment back to education much easier.

In relation to Employment, Training and 'Activation' Supports

•    Removal of conditionality that participants be on the live register in order to receive Department of Social Protection (DSP) training and ‘activation’ supports.
•    Voluntary access to Intreo schemes should be supported for those on One Parent Family Payment (OFP) or other payments e.g. Jobseeker’s Transitional (JST).  Those on OFP should be able to access caseworker support without having to join the live register.
•     Intreo should actively develop and pilot more part time, quality, training, education and employment schemes and initiatives. These should be available on a voluntary basis for those on One Parent Family Payment (OPF) and Job Seeker Transitional (JST) payment.
•    Provide activation schemes and mechanisms for lone parents that make provision for the demands of their caring role (i.e. part-time schemes with dispensation for emergency caring duties) while maintaining allowances.
•     Provide specialist bridging programmes such as Career Futures and New Steps for lone parents, which support progression, job-readiness and incorporate ‘wrap- around’ parenting and family support services.
•    Increase the allowance for the Community Employment scheme by an additional €50 per week (currently €22.50). As a part-time activation scheme, it is favourable to lone parents, and can serve as an effective bridging programme to support those distant from the labour market, in transitioning back into employment.

Other recommendations are:

•    Caseworkers assigned to support lone parents on OFP or JST should be given training to ensure that they fully understand the challenges and needs of one parent families, and to enhance their ability to intervene as effectively and beneficially as possible.
•    No lone parent should ever have their Social Protection payment threatened or reduced due to non- receipt of maintenance from a third party e.g. a former spouse. The obligation to pursue the liable adult should be removed from the lone parent.
•    A state body, similar to that in other countries, should be put in place to appropriately seek and pursue maintenance payments.

Committee Chairman John Curran said: “The Joint Committee on Social Protection identified at an early stage that the position of lone parents in Ireland should receive particular attention when formulating its Work Programme. The Committee was concerned, of course, with lone parents accessing various support payments and schemes, mostly from the Department of Social Protection. There are many lone parent families who make their own arrangements, pursuing work and educational opportunities, but the Joint Committee has a concern for the position of those families requiring assistance.

For those families, being a lone parent carries its own particular difficulties. The fact of being the sole carer makes it difficult for the parent to avail of full-time and better paid employment, or to access educational opportunities that would facilitate future access to better paid employment. The State, therefore, must provide a range of measures – including, but not confined to, housing support, childcare access and educational prospects – to empower these families to break free from the danger of long-term deprivation.

The Committee has made a series of proposals to help alleviate the difficulties involved, and I urge all the stakeholders to consider this report carefully.”

Access the report here.

ENDS/

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Committee Membership:

Deputies

Maria Bailey        Fine Gael
John Brady        Sinn Féin
Joe Carey        Fine Gael
Joan Collins        Independents4Change
John Curran        Fianna Fáil
Gino Kenny        AAA-PBP
Willie O’Dea        Fianna Fáil

Senators

Catherine Ardagh    Fianna Fáil
Ray Butler        Fine Gael
Alice Mary Higgins    Independent
Kevin Humphreys    Labour