I propose to take Questions Nos. 108 and 801 together.
All the major anomalies in social welfare have been dealt with by this Government.
There are two aspects to these questions, i.e. the position of one-parent family payment recipients who wish to marry or cohabit and people who are separated and involved in joint custody or parenting of their children.
The social welfare system, in general, is contingency based and also assumes that there are economies of scale where two people are married or cohabiting. In the circumstances, under the present system, in means tested arrangements, a reduction in income is inevitable where a person changes status from being a lone parent to one where he or she marries or cohabits. Clearly, a payment which is based on the contingency of lone parenthood cannot continue where the person marries or cohabits.
The report of the working group examining the treatment of married, cohabiting and one parent families under the tax and social welfare codes, which was published in August 1999, set out the losses which can be experienced by a couple who decide to marry or cohabit where one or both receive social welfare payments. Where both receive social welfare payments the losses can, to some extent, be eased by the payment of a qualified adult allowance. The position here will be improved by my commitment to increase the level of the qualified adult allowance to 70% of the personal rate in line with the findings of the research undertaken by the Economic and Social Research Institute on behalf of the working group.
Payment of the one parent family payment is based on the contingency of a person parenting alone without the support of a partner. To qualify for a payment a person must, among other things, have "main care and charge" of at least one qualified child. This means that, for instance, where one parent has care of a child for most of the week the parent may, subject to the other qualifying conditions, receive payment of the one parent family payment. In cases where both parents claim joint equal custody, neither can be considered to have "main care and charge" of the child and so a one parent family payment cannot be paid.
The report of the review of the one parent family payment recently published by my Department looked at both issues but concluded that because of the contingency based nature of the one parent family payment issues relating to mar riage, cohabitation and joint custody of children cannot be dealt with by the scheme. In relation to joint custody arrangements, the review group looked at a range of measures to afford these arrangements some recognition within the system. However, it was unable to suggest any solutions which did not compromise the basis of the one parent family payment, erode the value of other social welfare supports or create other anomalies within the system. Obviously, these are extremely difficult and sensitive issues, as acknowledged by the review.
There is considerable validity in the point made by the review regarding the nature of the one parent family payment as a contingency based payment. Disincentives to form relationships can only be resolved where the status of individuals is not relevant to the support received and we must, in the future, examine options in relation to universal child support and individualisation of payments. I will pursue these issues, in so far as possible, in a budgetary context.