One-Parent Family Payment Scheme: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

— condemns the choices made by the current Government and its predecessor to force lone parent households to disproportionately shoulder the burden of cuts in the wake of an economic crash that was not of their, or their children’s, making;

— recognises that the entirely foreseeable consequences of the series of social welfare cuts targeting lone parents has been a rise in the number of lone parent households experiencing enforced deprivation to its current staggering rate of 63%;

— rejects the claims made by the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, and others in government, that the purpose of the latest impending cut to the one-parent family payment scheme is to encourage lone parents to take up work and noting that it is only those lone parents who are actually in work whose weekly income will suffer a significant hit from this Thursday, 2nd July when the cut off age is lowered to just seven years;

— recalls the Government’s commitment not to proceed with the cut in the absence of adequate child care provision; and

— calls on the Government, given the absence of such child care provision, not to proceed with the lowering of the cut-off age to seven years and to instead raise it to 12 years, and to this end commit to sit late to facilitate the passage of the necessary emergency legislation.”

It gives me no pleasure to introduce this motion because the fact that we are discussing it at this time means that lone parents are facing into more misery on Thursday than they had endured until now. The group of people our motion is trying to protect is one of the most deprived groups in the State. The latest survey on income and living conditions based on 2013 data shows that nearly 32% of children and adults in one-parent families are at risk of poverty. There is a deprivation rate of 63%. The Tánaiste knows these figures because they have been quoted to her previously. There is a consistent poverty rate of 23%, which is an indictment of Irish society and of Government.

What does it all mean? It means that group in Irish society is among the poorest and most deserving of State interventions to help them out of that poverty. They do not deserve measures that exacerbate that poverty, as the Government has done since it took office. It is coupled with the actions of the previous Government which also heaped cuts on lone parents. The Tánaiste knows this well because she implemented these cuts affecting lone parents in receipt of social welfare payments. Not all of the payments are directed solely at lone parents. Other social welfare cuts that the Tánaiste implemented impacted to a higher degree on lone parents.

Not only did the Tánaiste reduce the age threshold to seven years, as we are discussing, but she had previously reduced it from 12 to ten. It was reduced to 12 by the Fianna Fáil-led Government. I remember the discussion on the reduction in age during the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government. I remember Labour Party Deputies jumping up and down, apoplectic that a Government would cut the age of the youngest qualifying child from 18 years to 12 years. What did the Tánaiste do when she came to power? She did the exact same.

Not only that, she also reduced the qualified child increases where a parent is on a CE payment and also on the one-parent family payment, with a resultant loss to lone parents of €29.80 a week. Many of the half-rate payments that a lone parent might have qualified for in the past were also discontinued. The income disregard was reduced, initially from €146.50 to €130 and then to €90. Does the Tánaiste remember that? Of course, she crowed that she did not cut it further to €60, which had been the intention. The reduction from €146.50 to €90 equates to a working lone mother or father being down €28 a week. Very few families can sustain that, especially families in poverty.

Income from home-help employment with the HSE was also disregarded by the Government. They also lost out, as did others with the six-week reduction in the fuel allowance. Some 60% of those in emergency accommodation are lone-parent families. They depend more heavily on rent allowance and social housing and we know the debacle the Government and the previous Government have made of that.

The Tánaiste also reduced child benefit, not by €10, but by up to €47 in some cases. Again that impacted on lone parents and other parents. The back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance was cut from €305 to €250. Again that cut affected the poorest in Irish society, but in particular lone parents.

What is the Tánaiste's problem with lone parents? Why does she keep picking on them? Every action of the Tánaiste's in respect of lone parents has had a negative impact on them. The Minister promised in 2012 that she would stand up to a suspension of any move towards the age of seven until she saw the bankable commitment on Scandinavian child care gives the lie to the Government’s purportedly caring approach to the vulnerable. This is one of the most vulnerable groups in Irish society, yet the Government has raided their piggybanks, pockets and allowances. I charge the Tánaiste with not caring about lone parents. She has gone after them consistently since the Government was elected, by some bizarre logic of her own. She claims the measure we are discussing today will help encourage lone parents back to work but her position is illogical because the working lone parents are some of those most negatively affected by this cut. The Tánaiste should at the very least live up to the promise she made in this Chamber, not only to lone parents but to all Irish society.

The Tánaiste has a few hours left to act. Tomorrow night we will vote on this motion, an hour before her latest change comes into effect. I am not holding out much hope because I read the Tánaiste’s amendment to our motion. It is pathetic, in the extreme. The Tánaiste ignores the fact that it was she who made a commitment, not me, or Deputy O’Dea or whoever was the relevant Fianna Fáil Minister, that she has not lived up to. It appears from her amendment to our motion that she has no intention of living up to it. Her intention is to continue to attack those lone parents who are working and will be negatively affected by these changes.

I attempted last week to produce a social welfare (amendment) Bill, which would have had the effect of rowing back on the changes the Tánaiste introduced. Bizarrely, however, the Bills Office stated to me that I could not produce a positive Bill because it is precluded by the Constitution. At the convention on the Constitution, however, the Labour Party Deputies argued in favour of the position I took, that the provision in the Constitution that precludes me, other Opposition Deputies or Government backbenchers, from putting down positive financial resolutions be removed. The Government has not debated that report, which was published in March 2014 with a promise that it would be considered within three months. The Government has not had the decency to hold that debate in this Chamber and acknowledge the work of the convention and respect it so that we can make positive proposals.

I commend the motion to the House.

This Government and in particular the Labour Party have earned the unenviable reputation of being anti-woman and anti-child and do not seem to care who knows it. It appears to have made a calculated decision that lone parents, like carers and other vulnerable sections of society are inconsequential. Perhaps the Tánaiste figures they are a section of voters whose support she does not really need, or so she thinks. If she made her decisions based on what is right, fair and socially responsible, she would not introduce another cut to the one-parent family payment. The Tánaiste and I know, and the families concerned certainly know, that the right, fair and responsible thing to do is not to introduce this latest anti-family measure.

Politically, it seems the Tánaiste feels she has no reason to fear this section of the electorate. Cynically, she has decided she does not need their votes to get re-elected, which makes it easier to introduce this cut on top of a raft of draconian cuts that are anti-woman and anti-child. Since taking office, this Government has made eight separate cuts to payments to lone-parent families. In its latest measure of the 30,000 lone parents affected, approximately 20,000 are to be transferred onto the new transitional jobseeker's allowance. Thousands of these struggling parents will see their income fall. More than 10,000 will have weekly payments cut by as much as €87 per week. I have asked the Tánaiste and some of her Cabinet colleagues to set out for these families, who are already struggling on very low incomes where they propose they find that additional €87, how they propose these families struggle on regardless, having lost €87 per week. That is a lot of money by any standards but it is utterly devastating for lone-parent families who are already under significant pressure, many of whom already live in poverty, yet this Government is hell bent on forcing more of these families into poverty. Most lone parents are women, 86% at the last census. Many are in low-paid and insecure jobs. Some 56% of lone-parent families are materially deprived. That is a shocking and disgraceful statistic. A total of 28% live at risk of poverty, twice the rate for two-parent families. CSO figures show that 63% of lone-parent families live without basic necessities, yet the Tánaiste feels that it is fair, responsible and just to punish them again and to make a brutal cut of €87 per week to the weekly income of 10,000 of these families

Ireland has one of the highest child care costs in the OECD. The average cost of child care per week in the State is €167 and it is higher in Dublin. Child care can cost as much as 52% of the take home pay of a lone parent. The Tánaiste knows all of these facts and figures yet the Government has said that these changes, which will cause additional hardship for already struggling lone parents, would only take place when a system of safe, affordable and accessible child care was put in place, similar to that found in Scandinavian countries. Does the Tánaiste remember saying that?

The Government stated that the measures which reduced the upper age limit to seven years would only occur when there was a credible system of child care in place.

The Tánaiste emphasised that if this was not forthcoming, the Government would not proceed with the measures. The question then arises of where is this safe, affordable and accessible child care and where is this equivalent of the Scandinavian model. It is nowhere to be seen, not for any family, much less for struggling lone-parent families. The Tánaiste knows this and she now blatantly disregards a concrete commitment made by her, of her own volition, as Deputy Ó Snodaigh said. That commitment was categoric, not hedged by any equivocation and absolute. It was made to lone-parent families but, now, the Tánaiste openly, brazenly and recklessly breaks that promise, with absolutely no regard for the consequences for those families.

We all know that parenting is a full-time job. God knows, it is difficult when there are two parents on hand. Consider how much more difficult it can be and is for people parenting alone, looking after one or more children without that additional support, not to mention not having the comfort of knowing there is that second partner to back them up, to stand by them and to contribute economically.

Where a lone parent is lucky enough to have a job and a decent living wage, which is not always the case, that extra income improves the quality of life for lone parents and their families. That is why so many lone parents are anxious to work and why so many do work, yet, this measure, which the Tánaiste tries to hype up as a labour activation initiative, will in fact penalise those parents who are at work. Within my constituency and community, I know many women who now, with the Tánaiste's cut, will be left with no option but to back away from work. Therefore, far from activating labour and opening new opportunities to lone parents, who are mainly women, the Tánaiste is in fact shutting them down.

If it is the Tánaiste's goal to encourage lone parents to take up work, then I suggest that she stick to her promises and stop sticking it to lone parents. I commend this motion to the House. I ask every Deputy, from both sides, to support the motion, especially those on the Labour benches who have, I understand, expressed their concerns on these measures at this time and on previous occasions. I would ask them and the Tánaiste to think long and very hard about what they are doing, and to think about the thousands of one-parent families they are undoubtedly condemning to poverty. Remember the concrete promise the Tánaiste made and live up to it.

That is the request not just of Sinn Féin or of Deputies on the Opposition benches. It is the plea - in fact, it is the demand - that has been made of the Tánaiste from single-parent families across the State. I think they would want the Tánaiste to know they are not soft targets. If the Tánaiste has perhaps made a cynical political calculation, she might find that her calculation was wrong and that she will have a mighty lobby and a mighty force waiting for her and her colleagues on the Government benches when they finally go to the people.

I have lost count of how many times I have had to come in here to challenge galling cutbacks that this Government seems content to introduce. It does not get any easier to watch Fine Gael and the Labour Party implementing such savage cuts. In fact, it gets harder because as the reality of what the Government decides on paper in here comes knocking on the doors of ordinary families across the State, the increasing effects of successive cuts are unavoidable. These cutbacks affect all walks of lives, all generations and all communities across our society. The real-life consequences are life changing, heart breaking and often that one cut too far that turns basic living for families into a daily struggle to survive. The Sinn Féin motion is another attempt to make this Government act on its sheer lack of basic compassion. It is another attempt to try to alert the Government to the impact of its actions.

This cut to lone parents is going to be another cut that plunges families further into inescapable poverty. It will cripple single mothers and single fathers with unbearable child care costs and it will mean that, for many, life as they know it will change for the worse. However, this is not the first time the Government has picked on vulnerable lone parents. Some 11,000 lone parents have already been affected by gradual reductions in their payments. These cuts have caused unimaginable hardship for lone-parent families, 63% of whom are struggling to afford the basic necessities. However, the Government has once again managed to outdo itself and the next round of cuts to lone parents will impact on 30,000 families.

Where does the Government expect these lone parents to get the money to pay the extortionate child care costs? The Tánaiste promised that these cuts would not be implemented until child care was affordable and afterschool care was made available. That has not happened. It is sad to see just how much the Tánaiste's promises are worth. I wonder whether the Government has any idea just how crippling child care costs actually are. Given the cost of child care, it often becomes the case that two-parent families are in full-time work with one wage being solely to cover the cost of someone to look after the children. It can be the case that the child care burden is left to an aging grandparent or an older sibling and it is often the case that it is not economical for families to have both parents at work, so the second parent has to stay at home.

In my constituency of Donegal North-East, to give one example although I could give many, I know of a hardworking young couple, a construction worker and a nurse with two young children who could only afford for one parent to work because of crippling child care costs. It did not make sense for both of them to work and they were not lucky enough to have a relative living close by to give them a helping hand. What happens in those cases where there is no second parent? What happens to single mothers and fathers who cannot afford to pay someone to look after the children? The cut to their allowance will mean that staying at home will be the only viable option. Does the Government expect lone parents to leave their livelihood behind and stay at home to live off welfare? I would hope that this is not something the Government is advocating because apart from the fact that such support is inadequate for families to live off, the mental health and economic implications are far from ideal.

The Tánaiste must see that is the reality of these cutbacks. She has tied the hands of lone parents and is guiding them into a bleak and unsustainable future. Lone-parent households were a priority for Sinn Féin in our alternative budget last year. Cutbacks are not the way to go in helping these families. What is needed is an increase to the earnings disregard on the one-parent family payment scheme, increases to fuel allowance, FIS, the back to school clothing and footwear allowance and the restoration of some dignity to lone parents. The Tánaiste should consider what she is doing here. The cuts to the lone parents allowance must be reversed. If she was to abandon her plans, she would receive nothing but support. Stop bullying some of our most vulnerable citizens and give them a chance. Lone parent families have been through enough without enduring the further hardship these cuts will cause. I urge the Tánaiste to remember that what she decides here on paper has real-life consequences for vulnerable families in this State.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion, which I hope will get the support of Members, particularly of Labour Party and Fine Gael Deputies.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection stated that she would not proceed with any reduction in lone parent's allowance or would not alter the payments unless, as she stated, "I get a credible and bankable commitment on the delivery of such a system of child care by the time of this year's budget. If this was not forthcoming, the measure will not proceed". She was referring there to a Scandinavian style system of affordable child care. However, nothing has been done to bring that about. Instead, the Tánaiste is going ahead with the cut being introduced this week. This is a huge issue and it is clear that the Tánaiste's promises do not mean much. I am very disappointed with her in this regard.

The Tánaiste claims the cut will encourage lone parents to take up employment or to increase the hours they work. I am certain lone parents want to work but the lone parents who have complained to me about this cut and those who will suffer its impact are lone parents who are already working. They are the ones affected by this. Did the Tánaiste not realise when she was introducing this cut that these are the people who are affected? Therefore, this is not an employment incentive as is claimed, but another cut that is being made in order to save a small amount of money. However, the Department will wind up losing money because this measure will push some of these vulnerable lone parents out of work. This is the opposite of what Sinn Féin wants. Sinn Féin wants these people in the workforce and wants to support them to get into it.

I remind the Tánaiste that this cut is the latest in a long list of cuts by the Labour Party and Fine Gael. They have carried on from what Fianna Fáil did. Today I counted the cuts made and found that the Government has implemented eight cuts that affect lone parents directly. Two cuts were made in January 2012, one in May 2012, one in January 2013, one in July 2013, one in January 2014, one in July 2014 and now we have this one for July 2015. This contrasts strongly with the overall up-beat message being broadcast by the Government regarding the economy. If things are improving, that is good, but where is the improvement for lone parents who are trying to hold down jobs or what pressure is being lifted from them? If the State's finances are improving and there is a welcome increase in revenue for the State, surely lone parents deserve as much as anybody else to get some relief from the relentless austerity they have faced. Where is the fair recovery for them? Sinn Féin has made calculations that show that the impact of the changes on some families will amount to €86 per week. This is a huge amount of money for people on low incomes who are struggling to pay child care costs. No higher income group of earners has been asked to take such a proportionate hit.

On top of this, what did the Tánaiste do the weekend before this cut is due to be implemented? If the newspapers are telling the truth, she put the spin to or briefed them saying she was demanding - "demanding" how are you - a €5 increase in child benefit per month. That amounts to €60 per year, about €1.10 per week. That is an insult to lone parents and people who are struggling. Few higher earners have had to endure anything like the eight cuts imposed. The Tánaiste should not call them anything else. She can dance around the issue whatever way she likes, but all of those cuts have increase the austerity.

I heard the Tánaiste ask what was in Sinn Féin's budget. Sinn Féin's budget proposed increasing the income disregard for lone parents, in order to help them stay in employment. What the Tánaiste is doing is not fair. Our party would like to see more people at work. In particular, we want to help lone parents get into the workforce and support them with education, training and child care in order to do that. Child care does not exist for them now. It is worse now than ever.

The main factor keeping single parents out of the workforce is low wages. I recognise that the Government undid the cut imposed by the previous Fianna Fáil Government, the scandalous cut in the minimum wage. However this Government needs to go a step further with the minimum wage. It is still too low. The second major factor in keeping single parents out of work is child care. Unless child care costs are lowered, which will require State intervention, it will remain impossible for many people to take up employment and to earn enough money to sustain themselves and support their families. I call on all sides of the House to support our motion and the call for this cut to be set aside. I call for other measures to be put in place, such as measures to improve the minimum wage and child care.

What the Tánaiste has done with this cut is she has hurt those lone parents who are work. She has hit working lone parents. This has boomeranged back on her. She needs to stop and undo this measure and not go ahead with it.

Ireland is a tough place to raise a child, particularly for lone parents. They can take little or no solace from the actions of the Government if they hope society, through government, will protect them and the interests of their child.

Ireland has one of the highest level of child care costs in the OECD. This, coupled with a poor public transport infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, and the lack of adequate housing, makes the lives of lone parents very difficult. The Government claims to be focused on getting people back to work, but what it is doing is creating a situation where it is making it increasingly difficult for people to work. Thousands of families are attempting to survive on the limited income they have.

In the recent referendum, the people gave a clear vote that they wanted all families of different make-ups to be recognised and supported by the State. However, it seems that the State is unwilling to support all of these families or make it viable to raise their children in the comfort and security that they need and deserve. The Tánaiste promised that these cuts would not be enacted without affordable and accessible child care and after school care. These facilities are not in place. Therefore, lone parents are abandoned in the wilderness to fend for themselves.

Many families find themselves in this situation. According to the 2011 census, one in every eight people in Ireland lives in a one-parent family. One in every four families with children is a one-parent family. This means over 500,000 people are living in one parent families. These parents are not just restricted to single mothers. The figures show us that 13.5% of these one-parent families are headed by a male. People in lone parent households tend to have the lowest disposable income out of all households in the State. Those living in lone parent households continue to experience the highest rates of deprivation, with almost 69% of individuals from these households experiencing one or more forms of deprivation. Why any government that calls itself a caring government or why any society would choose to pick on the 69% who are most deprived and decide to hit them beggars belief. People do not understand the logic behind what the Government is doing. It is hitting those who are least able to pay, all under the fiction that it is enabling them to get back to work.

The Government promised many things prior to and immediately after the last election. It promised a democratic revolution and to defend the weakest in society. The stark reality is that people such as lone parents are cast aside and are seen as expendable to the future of this society. Sinn Féin has proposed a number of measures to help the plight of lone parents and to provide greater financial security to them, including an increase to the earnings disregard in the one-parent family payment scheme.

We also proposed increases to funding that would benefit lone parents, such as fuel allowance and back to school clothing and footwear allowance. Unless the Tánaiste is a master hypnotherapist and she can hypnotise all of society, she will not convince lone parents, nor will she convince the wider population, that the cuts are good for those vulnerable people or their children. Neither will she convince society that she is keeping her solemn promise on behalf of the Government that the changes would not be introduced unless quality, accessible child care is available.

There is no shame in any person saying he or she got is slightly wrong although he or she had the right intentions. From listening to the comments of Government backbenchers, in particular Labour Party backbenchers, they want the change too. I urge the Tánaiste to withdraw her amendment to the motion so as not to force honourable backbenchers to vote in a dishonourable way tomorrow night.

It is a point repeated so often that it almost loses all meaning, namely, that we judge a state by how it looks after its most vulnerable citizens. However, that is really a power principle and should be the basic bar by which we judge all our decisions in politics, namely, whether a measure hurts those who have least or target those who have been unfairly targeted already, and whether it is fair.

Some on the other side of this House might have us believe that seeking to be fair is not being realistic because they have decided to take the easy option and cannot countenance that there could be another way. If the Labour Party were to think like that, then its members would have to look inside themselves and realise they are a pointless adjunct to Fine Gael, and that they have once again wrestled with their conscience and their conscience has lost. If Labour Party members were to do that, they would truly see the hurt they are causing by those kinds of decision. The Government’s policy is unfair. It hurts those who have the least and it again targets those who have already been targeted either in budget cuts or the stigma successive Governments have created for single parents.

As the motion states, the policy of the Government and the Fianna Fáil Government which preceded it was to load the burden of the banking crisis onto the shoulders of working class people who were desperately trying to keep their jobs, pay their rent, keep their home and feed and clothe their children. No family was more vulnerable to the cuts, more hurt and even vilified than the single-parent families of this state. This approach has seen an unprecedented and unconscionable rise in deprivation levels of 63%. One could ask what exactly that means, and what is the truly horrible reality behind that figure for families struggling every day. The deprivation indicators are shockingly basic. For some people it is hard to imagine there are people raising families in such conditions, but there are. Their situation is not punishment for some wrongdoing but simply a consequence of the unequal society presided over by successive right-wing Governments more concerned with the needs of Ireland’s own oligarchs than child poverty.

Despite that, the Government plans to cut more from the one-parent family payment scheme. This time the Tánaiste has tried to spin the lie the underlying intention is to get single parents back to work. She knows that is not the true intention of the cut. One would have to have been living under a rock for the past four years to believe that nonsense. This State is the second worst country for low-paid jobs in the developed world. We have no real State support for child care and have consistently cut social supports for unemployed and low-income families over the past seven years. One could ask how the parents of young children hope to go back to jobs that either do not exist or pay next to nothing when it will mean a loss of vital and basic supports.

What is even more disgusting about the claim by the Government is that it implies that single parents are sitting at home living off the fat of land, having a great old time with their expensive camera phones and flat screen televisions while refusing to do a day’s work. Those parents are some of the hardest working people in the country because they have the task of not only raising their children but doing it with everything against them, including the Government and the so-called Labour Party.

The attitude the Government has taken to working class families is an absolute disgrace, which bears no resemblance to the reality of what they are dealing with on daily basis. As Deputy Mary Lou McDonald said last week and to the Tánaiste tonight, she and her Government are giving two fingers to those struggling families. The Government is saying it does not care how hard it is, how little one has or how much it has taken already, they are an easy target and the Government will use them so that it does not have to tackle the powerful and the elite who have never paid their fair share.

In the same way that single parents were vilified, scape-goated and abused by previous Governments, the Government continues with the approach but does it wrapped in a veil to pretend it is all being done for the good of those affected. That is a shame on the Tánaiste, and a shame on the Labour Party. They have given two fingers to working class families, and in doing so, two fingers to everything they claim to represent.

The Tánaiste’s colleague, Deputy Robert Dowds, said on “Tonight with Vincent Browne” last night that he had very serious problems with the scheme. We will wait and see where he stands. He obviously has very serious concerns, as does everyone else. The decision the Tánaiste has made is an absolute disgrace.

I believe the Tánaiste is sharing time with the Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.

I move amendment No. 2:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“acknowledges that despite significant levels of investment, including an estimated €607 million in 2015, the one-parent family payment scheme has not been successful in preventing lone parents from being significantly more at risk of consistent poverty than the population as a whole;

recognises that:

— in 2004, during the height of the economic boom lone parents were more than four and-a-half times more at risk of consistent poverty than the population as a whole - survey on income and living conditions, SILC, data;

— during the economic boom Ireland’s rate of lone parent employment was substantially below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, average of over 70%; and

— Ireland’s supports for lone parents need to be updated in order to provide for greater levels of opportunity for lone parents and for their children;

acknowledges that the very long duration, potentially 18-22 years, can engender long-term social welfare dependency and associated poverty and social exclusion among lone parents and their families;

welcomes the Government’s decision to retain the one-parent family payment income at €90 per week;

recognises the difficulties experienced by persons renting or seeking to rent in the current market fundamentally due to the reduced availability of affordable private rented accommodation;

recognises the Government’s commitment to:

— maintain core social welfare weekly rates of payment;

— tackle long term social welfare dependency by ending the expectation that lone parents will remain outside of the labour force indefinitely;

— enhance lone parents’ access to the range of education, training and employment supports and services in order to develop their skills set with the aim of securing employment and financial independence;

— support lone parents to make the transition from the one-parent family payment onto another social welfare payment; and

— deliver significantly increased supply of social and affordable housing through the Construction 2020 strategy and the social housing strategy;

recognises that the Department of Social Protection has implemented preventive measures to provide for flexibility in assessing customers’ accommodation needs under the rent supplement scheme through the National Tenancy Sustainment Framework. Under this approach, the circumstances of tenants are considered on a case-by-case basis and rents are being increased above prescribed limits. The Department works with Threshold’s tenancy sustainment service in Dublin city and Cork city. This flexible approach has already assisted over 2,100 rent supplement households nationwide through increased rent payments;

welcomes the steps the Government has taken to ease the transition of affected lone parents from the one-parent family payment, including;

— the introduction of the jobseeker's transitional payment which allows lone parents whose youngest child is aged seven to 13 years to balance their caring responsibilities by exempting them from having to be available for and genuinely seeking full time employment;

— creating for the first time the opportunity for lone parents to have access to a case officer on a one to one basis in order to agree their own personal development plan;

— the extension to the jobseeker's transitional payment, to now allow all lone parents, who have a child aged seven to 13 years, to access the special arrangements of the transitional arrangement and not just former recipients of the one parent family payment;

— the automatic reviews and increases of the family income supplement, FIS, for affected lone parents, following their transition from the one-parent family payment;

— the introduction of the back to work family dividend for all lone parents who transition off the one-parent family payment into employment, which allows them to retain their child proportion of their social welfare payment;

— the Government’s annual investment of €260 million in high quality, accessible and affordable child care for parents, benefiting over 100,000 children. This is delivered through a range of child care programmes for children, including the free pre-school year provided under the early childhood care and education scheme, ECCE, programme and as a range of supports provided for low income parents, that is, community childcare subvention programme, childcare education and training support programme, after-school childcare programme and community employment childcare, CEC, programme;

— the establishment of an interdepartmental group to carry out an economic and cost benefit analysis of policies and future options for increasing the supply, accessibility and affordability of quality child care;

— the decision to allow lone parents in receipt of half-rate carer’s allowance to retain their one parent family payment until their youngest child is 16 years of age;

— allowing lone parents who are currently undertaking an education course and are in receipt of a Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, maintenance grant to maintain both their one-parent family payment and the SUSI maintenance grant until they have completed their course of study; and

— the research the Department of Social Protection is sponsoring into an active inclusion approach to lone parents, which is examining best practice and innovative approaches to assisting lone parents improve their well-being; and recognises that after the reform lone parents with children who are aged seven years or older and in employment will continue to receive substantial support from the Department of Social Protection, such as:

— a lone parent with one child who has no work will receive on a jobseeker's payment almost €218 per week;

— if they work 19 hours at the national minimum wage they will receive on top of their wages €235 per week between FIS and the back to work family dividend – a total family income of €400 per week;

— a lone parent with two children on a jobseeker's payment with no work receives almost €248 per week from the Department of Social Protection;

— if they work 19 hours at the national minimum wage they will receive on top of their wages €323 per week between FIS and the back to work family dividend – a total family income of €488 per week;

— a lone parent with three children and no work on a jobseeker's payment will receive almost €278 per week from the Department of Social Protection; and

— if they work 19 hours at the national minimum wage they will receive on top of their wages €413 per week between FIS and the back to work family dividend – a total family income of €578 per week.”

I welcome the debate generated by the changes to the one-parent family payment, OFP, scheme. It is important that a populist party such as Sinn Féin, which at times claims to be left wing, should debate these issues. The changes are critically important because, over time, they will help greatly to reduce poverty among single-parent families. The easiest thing in politics is to do nothing, to shirk reforms that will be positive in the long term because a populist party such as Sinn Féin can seek to use them to claim that they would be otherwise. It would be the easiest thing in the world to call a halt to the one-parent family reforms - as Sinn Féin would do for short-term political gain that would ignore what is actually happening for families where people are parenting on their own, yet Sinn Féin's answer, which is really about a welfare economy, is not a sustainable answer. Then again, Sinn Féin never does serious policies or serious answers.

Deputy Gerry Adams wanted Ireland to tell the institutions to go home and take their money with them. Unfortunately, we can now see where that approach has got the poor people of Greece. Sinn Féin wants to abolish the property tax and water charges, but how would it fund services, and who in society would pay for them? In that respect, tonight's motion and the contributions so far have been utterly predictable. In its rush to populism, Sinn Féin shows zero interest in tackling poverty, because the strongest protection against poverty is decent, secure and fairly paid work. That has been my abiding political conviction since I first entered politics and it has informed me throughout my career.

The Labour Party is the party of work, the party that believes in providing opportunity for all. Being on social welfare for 18 to 22 years is not opportunity. It is society saying that we have no higher ambition for a person or for their children.

At times, listening to the Sinn Féin contributors tonight, I got the impression they did not want anybody to leave social welfare. Perhaps they feel they have more control over people if they are permanently in receipt of social welfare. This is the tone of the Sinn Féin deputy leader's contribution.

This is utterly predictable.

This is her only vision and ambition, not for herself but for people who are parenting alone.

The Tánaiste's vision is poverty for families.

The Tánaiste without interruption, please.

She is encouraging us.

Before these reforms, that is exactly what the one-parent family scheme did and I was not prepared to tolerate it. I have too much admiration for people who are parenting alone.

The Tánaiste is not showing it.

I want as good an outcome for their children as I want for anybody else's children, and I make no apologies to Sinn Féin, which wants to lock down poverty and joblessness. A strong welfare system is essential as a safety net. In the teeth of Ireland's worst economic crisis, the Labour Party in government protected this safety net and, with the recovery under way, has started making targeted increases. All the increases are fully funded and sustainable, and are the work of a party serious about its responsibilities to the State and the people. It is not enough to have the system function as a strong safety net. It must also help people to get back on their feet, build financial independence over time and build better lives for themselves and their families. This is the purpose of the one-parent reforms.

When the Government took office, we had one overriding task, namely, to rebuild an economy in ruins, and rescue people's livelihoods in the process. Today, we have a jobs-led recovery and unemployment has fallen by more than one third since its crisis peak. Although it was an incredibly tough and painful period for our people, the sacrifices everybody made are paying off now. Had we made the wrong choices, it could have been very different. Throughout the worst of the crisis, we protected core weekly welfare rates. When the public finances were at their most vulnerable, we protected the most vulnerable. This helped maintain social cohesion. Our system of social transfers, as welfare payments are known, is the single most effective in the EU at preventing poverty. This is a fact, and is the Labour Party's record in government.

This is also a reforming Government, and it was clear from the evidence that the one-parent family scheme was in need of serious reform. Despite significant levels of investment - more than €1 billion a year from 2008 to 2012 - the scheme has consistently failed to prevent lone parents being significantly more at risk of consistent poverty than the population as a whole, as speaker after speaker from Sinn Féin acknowledged. This also leaves the children of lone parents at a high risk of poverty. I know how ambitious lone parents are for their children. The fact that children of lone parents are at a higher risk of poverty is not something Sinn Féin should defend and seek to leave unchanged. While Sinn Féin Members may be sincere, I sincerely think they are wrong. According to the most recent survey on income and living conditions, SILC, which half of the Sinn Féin Members quoted, 23% of lone parents are at risk of consistent poverty. This is two and half times greater than the population as a whole. If a lone parent is in work, the risk falls to about 10% while if he or she is not in work, the risk can be above 40%. The figure of 23% is a blend of the people in work with a much lower risk of poverty and the people out of work, who have a very high risk of poverty. This is unacceptable.

Before the reforms, Ireland was alone internationally in how we supported lone parents. Lone parents could have been on the one-parent family scheme until their youngest child turned 18, or 22 if the child was in full-time education. Other countries have moved away from providing income support of such long duration towards a shorter, more active, engagement approach. In New Zealand, the Netherlands and the UK, including Northern Ireland, the equivalent supports for lone parent cease when the youngest child reaches the age of five. I have never heard Sinn Féin in the North complain that support for lone parents stops when the youngest child is five. I do not know whether the Sinn Féin Members here are aware of it.

The countries I mentioned have better developed child care systems. The Government is committed to improving the provision of child care, including the supports available for lone parents. We have introduced schemes that offer heavily subsidised child care places to assist lone parents to take up a community employment place or a job. I resent the cheap remarks by Deputies Mary Lou McDonald and Aengus Ó Snodaigh on the provision of child care for people on community employment schemes, which is very good and heavily subsidised.

Resent away, God love you. The Tánaiste took the decisions, not me.

The Tánaiste without interruption, please.

She is encouraging me again, God love her.

Perhaps the Deputies are not aware of it. Both these schemes build on the annual investment of €260 million into high quality child care, which benefits approximately 100,000 children each year. We do not yet have sufficient quantity and quality in our child care system. This is why I very deliberately ensured that the age threshold at which the one-parent family payment ends would be two years higher, at seven years of age, than in the North or the countries I mentioned. In addition, I ensured that when the child is aged between seven and 14 years, lone parents will be exempted from the welfare conditionality that requires people to be genuinely seeking full-time work in order to claim a jobseeker's payment. I did it because I want better standards of child care. I dramatically changed what was going to happen in order to give lone parents in this country two extra years, plus seven years of transition, until the child turns 14 years of age. It is wrong of the Deputies not to have even examined the scheme or, apparently, noticed this. I have done this by introducing a payment known as jobseeker's transition to support lone parents with children aged between seven and 14 years. It means no lone parent with a child under the age of 14 years is required to take up employment in order to receive income support from the State.

Under jobseeker's transition, lone parents do not have to be available and genuinely seeking work, but must engage with their local Intreo office on activation measures, which are based primarily around education, training and experience to help them to be in a position to get better paid work when the time comes for them. While people will receive a welfare payment and access to the full range of Department employment, education and training supports, they will have a transition period of seven years. People will enter the scheme when their youngest child is seven, whereas in the North, Sinn Féin's scheme begins when a person's youngest child is five years of age and there is no transition period. I do not understand why Sinn Féin is not seriously examining what is happening here. It is some kind of cheap populism and an easy target. The customers will have access to Intreo services and the opportunity to access a case officer on a one-to-one basis to agree a personal development plan.

I acknowledge and commend the many lone parents already engaged in employment in order to build better lives for their families.

I have worked with lone parents for a considerable part of my life and I yield to nobody in my admiration for the way in which they look after their children. SILC research shows that being at work reduces the at-risk-of-poverty rate for lone parents by three quarters. I ask the Deputies opposite to take that into account if they desire a genuine debate. In 2003, the OECD issued a report, Babies and Bosses - Reconciling Work and Family Life, which recommended reform of the one-parent family scheme to reduce the expectation that lone parents could be in receipt of the payment for the long term. Several Members raised these issues out of genuine concern but the result of the scheme was to put lone parents in a category of their own whereby they are not as highly regarded as others and their children have a less favourable outcome. I admire those who parent on their own. We need to give them the opportunity to become financially independent and get the education they require to build lives for themselves and their children.

The first reduction in the age threshold of the youngest child was introduced in budget 2011, with this Government introducing further reforms in subsequent budgets. These reforms reduce the age of the youngest child eligible for the payment on a phased basis. The final phase will reduce the maximum age limit of the youngest child at which payment ceases to seven years for almost all recipients from Thursday, 2 July 2015. Approximately 30,000 lone parents will transition from the one parent family payment on that date. Some Deputies seem to believe that all of these parents will suffer an income loss. This is categorically not the case. In fact, two out of every three will not suffer any income loss or will actually gain from the transition. The majority of the remainder will be in a position to qualify for two additional welfare payments, family income supplement and the back to work family dividend, if they can increase the number of hours they work to 19. In doing so, they would be significantly better off than previously.

We currently spend €350 million a year on family income supplement alone to help not just lone parents but all families to take up work and build financial independence for themselves over time. Last year, the supplement supported almost 49,000 families in respect of more than 100,000 children. Similarly, the back to work family dividend, which was introduced in the last budget to further assist families return to work, provides a significant financial support. The dividend is worth €1,550 per child in the first year and €775 per child in the second year. Already 1,000 families, many of them with lone parents, are in receipt of the dividend. As the dividend has no impact on a family's FIS entitlement, it offers a valuable incentive for lone parents to take up employment. It is a fallacy to suggest that these reforms are budgetary based when we are in fact spending significant amounts of money to support people going back to work. These reforms are introduced in recognition that a scheme has not worked and we are changing it for the better to help lone parents avail of employment opportunities.

To further assist in the provision of appropriate supports to lone parents, my Department is sponsoring research by Dr. Michelle Millar of NUIG. The aim of this research is to identify best practice in how to assist lone parents improve their access to education and employment to ensure greater opportunities for their families. For lone parents who are already in employment and in receipt of FIS, we have for the first time introduced automatic increases in their FIS entitlement to ensure that their FIS increases to partially compensate them when they transition from the one-parent family scheme. These customers have received letters informing them to that effect and the letters included application forms for the back to work family dividend. Lone parents who will be affected by the final phase of the reforms have been invited to attend information sessions in their local Intreo offices. Approximately 25,000 have been contacted by my Department in this regard. At the information sessions, departmental staff are actively promoting the FIS scheme as the best financial option available. As a result of the information sessions, more than 1,250 lone parent families have become first time FIS recipients as a consequence of learning about the supplement, and they are financially better off than when they were claiming the one-parent family payment. They will also be eligible to receive the back to work family dividend.

It should be noted that after the reforms have been fully implemented, lone parents whose youngest child is seven years of age or older and who are in employment will continue to receive a substantial level of financial support from the State. For example, lone parents with one child who are working 19 hours a week on minimum wage will receive a tax free payment of almost €235 per week. This is in addition to their weekly earnings of €165 and brings their cumulative income to almost €400 per week. A parent who remained on the lone parent payment would receive €218 per week, as opposed to receiving €400 from the income from 19 hours of work and FIS. That is an enormous boost for a parent who returns to work. For a three child household, the State support increases by €135 from almost €280 to €415 and the total income increases by €300 to almost €590 per week. A family in this situation would pay relatively little, if any, income tax. This compares to someone working 39 hours per week at the national minimum wage, who would receive €337 per week before tax. The financial incentives for working 19 hours per week are rewarding.

In addition to introducing measures to ease the transition of lone parents from the one-parent family payment, we have made some important exemptions to the reforms. Recipients who are also in receipt of a half-rate carer's allowance payment will be able to retain their entitlement until their youngest child turns 16 years. This will allow these lone parents to provide care for another individual, irrespective of whether that individual is their child or someone else. I realise that many of the lone parents who will transition from the one-parent family payment this week and who are in receipt of rent supplement are concerned about what may happen to their rent supplement contribution. Where the lone parent has no earnings and transitions onto a jobseeker's payment at the same rate, there will be no change in the rent supplement contribution. However, where lone parents are in employment and are transitioning from the one-parent family payment to another social welfare payment, their personal contribution towards their rent may decrease.

Lone parents who experience a financial loss as a result of the age reforms will be able to have their rent supplement reviewed, which may result in a reduction in their rent supplement contribution. This will reduce or even eliminate financial losses in some cases.

For those concerned about their ability to afford their rent, the Department has implemented preventative measures to provide for flexibility in assessing people's accommodation needs. We are using a case-by-case approach under the tenancy protocol. Already over 2,000 families, many of them lone parents, have been directly assisted in terms of their accommodation.

The reforms to the one-parent family payment are essential in creating a new, more active engagement process for lone parents. They are essential for helping lone parents to get back into education. All the time I meet people who have gone back to education and many are now qualified degree holders. Their independence and financial positions is so much more enhanced when the can get a well paid job. It is essential to do this in creating opportunity in this country for every family and not just a few.

The new approach will provide lone parents with enhanced access to advice, guidance and the supports and services they require to assist them. I look forward to examining the various supports available to all families with children, including lone parent families, in the next budget. In particular, I will look at the scope for improvements in child benefit.

I know Sinn Féin Members were scoffing at the notion of improving child benefit. Child benefit is paid to all families with children, whether they are one-parent or two-parent families. It does not matter whether people are going out to work, are self-employed or unemployed - it is paid to everybody. It is a very valuable part of our child support structure.

Why did the Tánaiste cut it, if it was so important?

I am surprised at Sinn Féin scoffing at the payment.

Nobody is scoffing.

When Sinn Féin goes knocking on doors-----


She challenged me across the floor.

If it was so important, why did the Tánaiste cut it?

The Deputy scoffed at the notion that child benefit would be increased. This week, his allies in Greece have poor unfortunate pensioners and families with children crying on the street because there is no money in the country.

Can both Deputies, please. respect the Chair?

That is Sinn Féin's model for Ireland.

The Tánaiste cut it and has never replaced it.

I ask the Deputy and the Minister to, please, respect the Chair.

If a party like Sinn Féin cared about lone parents, they would long ago have answered the question about Jean McConville and her ten children, and Máiría Cahill too. If they cared and had any concern for lone parents they would long ago have answered the question.

That just shows how the Tánaiste is losing because she cannot even answer a simple question.

If the Tánaiste had any concern, she would not raise it in that cheap fashion but there you go, it is no great surprise.

So they want our pensioners queuing like the poor pensioners in Greece. That is what they have in store for them.

In fairness Tánaiste, your colleague is due to speak

The Tánaiste should not demean herself.

The Tánaiste has lost it again.

As the Tánaiste has done, it is important to put the facts of the matter on the record of the House. The purpose of the phased one-family payment scheme age change reforms that were introduced in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2012, is to reduce long-term social welfare dependency by ending the expectation that lone parents will remain outside the workforce indefinitely.

Prior to the reforms to the one-family payment scheme, lone parents could have been on the scheme until their youngest child turned 18 years of age, or 22 years of age if they were in full-time education. The non-conditionality nature of the payment, coupled with its very long duration, engendered many lone parents and their children to long-term welfare dependency, and effectively a welfare trap. The reforms also bring the one-family payment scheme more in line with international standards, including in Northern Ireland, where there is a general movement away from long-term and non-conditional income support, towards a more active engagement approach.

In 2004, at the height of the economic boom, lone parents were more than four and a half times at risk of consistent poverty compared to the population as a whole. In 2015, lone parents are two and a half times more at risk of consistent poverty compared to the rest of the population. Research shows that being at work, which is the key driver of this policy, reduces the at-risk-of-poverty rate for lone parents by three-quarters, compared to those who do not.

Only if it is properly paid work.

The final phase of the reform will take place on 2 July 2015 when it is anticipated that approximately 29,400 one-family payment recipients, whose youngest child is seven or over, will be transitioning out of the one-family payment scheme to the jobseeker's transitional payment, the job seeker's allowance, and the family income supplement.

The gain for individuals will be in the range of €10 to €150 per week, depending on their level of earnings and the number of children they have. The remaining 10,000 lone parents who are in employment and based on no change to their circumstances will suffer an income loss. This occurs as they are already in receipt of FIS or they will transition to a jobseeker's payment where the means test is less generous than the one-family payment means test.

However, from this group of 10,000 approximately 6,000 will have an incentive to increase their number of hours worked in order to claim FIS and the back-to-work family dividend. These individuals will then be financially better off than their current position. The dividend is worth €1,550 per child in the first year, reducing to a 50% entitlement worth €775 per child in the second year.

The positive impact of this incentive has been evident from the increase in new FIS applications from lone parents who were affected by the reforms in both July 2013 and July 2014. This indicates that many transitioning lone parents have increased their hours of employment in order to become FIS customers. This year to date, at least 1,250 lone parents are new FIS recipients and will gain as a result of claiming FIS for the first time.

It is important to put the facts and figures on the record of the House in order to have a more fully informed debate.

I am sharing time with Deputy Troy.

I am amazed that lone parents are not doing cartwheels of delight, given the golden age which the Minister has announced will be ushered in for them from next Monday on. I am positively flabbergasted at the Government's mulish, dogged and persistent refusal to face reality here. The reality is that at least 10,000 families, who are already living in or near poverty, will be substantially worse off as a result of those changes.

The Government is well aware of this. It is also aware that if it really intends to get better economic or social benefits for the expenditure on the lone parent's allowance, the best thing would be to go back to the drawing board. The Government's defence of its position is becoming risible. When I questioned the Minister on this matter last week - her sidekick, the Minister of State, mentioned it in his speech - she told me that lone parents are now two and half times less likely to be in consistent poverty than the population as a whole, whereas four or five years ago they were four times more likely to be. They should therefore be over the moon.

Yesterday, I was speaking to a lone parent in my constituency. She has one child and does not qualify for the family income dividend because she started work before the appropriate date. She is working 20 hours per week for €10 per hour, which is just above the minimum wage.

She will lose €80.50 per week from next Monday. What does the Minister think she would say to me if I told her she should not worry about it but should be delighted because she is only two and a half times less likely to be living in consistent poverty as opposed to the population as a whole, when it was four and a half times a couple of years ago? It is obviously wrong and voting against this motion tomorrow night must go against the instinct of every single member of the Labour Party who is or was genuinely supportive of the philosophy espoused by the Labour Party.

In order to confuse her backbenchers who might have some stirrings of conscience about this the Minister has created so many illusions that Paul Daniels would be green with envy. The first illusion is that the family income dividend will compensate lone parents for the changes being introduced on Thursday. Wrong. The figures produced by SPARK, which have not been contradicted by the Department and which I have checked out independently, indicate that a lone parent with one child and working 20 hours per week will, even if he or she qualifies for the family income dividend, lose €52 per week this year. Next year that will go up to €67 per week and the following year it will go up to €80.50 per week because the family income dividend is only temporary. While one gets 100% for the first year one only gets 50% for the second year and it does not, in any event, compensate people for their losses. A lone parent with one child and working 20 hours per week, who does not qualify for the family income dividend because they were in work before the appropriate date, will immediately lose €80.50 per week. It is illusory to think the family income dividend will compensate lone parents for the changes now being introduced.

The second myth we are being asked to swallow is that the Minister has a transition period of seven years and people will be on something called "transitional jobseeker's allowance" meaning all the activation measures will be open to them and lone parents will suddenly be able to avail of all these activation measures. However, this overlooks the simple fact that these activation measures could be extended to lone parents as things stand and somebody on lone parent's allowance, working or not working, could have these activation measures extended to them now - they do not have to be put on jobseeker's transition and have their take-home pay reduced.

The greatest canard of all, on which the Minister relied heavily in her speech, is that some lone parents who are working fewer than 19 hours per week can miraculously qualify for FIS by getting more hours and thereby be better off. That presupposes that a lone parent who is working on a part-time basis is in a position to march into their employer and say they will work 12 hours a week. They can just demand that the employer immediately gives them another seven hours so that they will work 19 hours per week and thereby qualify for FIS. This is not employee led and even if there was a combination of circumstances in which the employer had more hours to give and was willing to give them to the person in question and this brought them up to the levels of FIS, they may still not be able to do any extra hours because the Minister promised us that this change would not come in until we had a Scandinavian-style child care system, which is conspicuous by its absence. Because of the lack of affordable and available child care lone parents might not be able to avail of extra hours even if they were made available to them, and there is no guarantee of that.

A family in County Mayo wrote to the Taoiseach and attended his constituency clinic twice, receiving two acknowledgements of their visits. The lady of the family, a lone parent working 20 hours per week at €10 per hour, had the opportunity to increase her number of hours worked by five hours per week. Does the Minister know how much she is coming out with as a result of the combination of FIS and these changes the Minister is introducing? It is €15 per week for five extra hours. That is €3 per hour, one third of the minimum wage.

Another myth we are asked to swallow is that this is all designed to create an incentive to work but this must be the first time in the history of the universe that an incentive to work was created by giving people less for what they do rather than more. We have a system in place, which we introduced, called "family income supplement". The family income supplement was brought in because in many cases people, particularly those with large families, found that it did not pay them to take up low-pay employment because the gap between what they would be coming home with and what they would get from the social welfare system was too small. Family income supplement was designed to make them better off for working. It was an incentive because it gave them more for the actual work they were doing. The proposal here is to give people less for the actual work they are doing yet we are calling it an "incentive". We are asked to believe that two policies that are the polar opposite of each other and designed with the same objective in mind will achieve the same result depending on which category of social welfare recipient a person is in. The thing is absolutely bonkers.

We make a ritual appeal on these occasions to Labour Party backbenchers to march into the lobbies with us and bring down the Government. I would love to see the Labour Party Deputies supporting this motion and getting the Minister to change her mind but I do not believe that is going to happen, unfortunately. I urge Labour Party backbenchers, however, to stand back and have a careful look at this. Look at what it is doing to at least 10,000 families now, and probably more in the future. To adapt a slogan, could they not get together and "talk to Joan" to persuade her that this policy is quite plainly wrong? It is yet another attack on the most vulnerable section of society. We know that 8% of the people in this country are living in consistent poverty and the figure rises to 24% amongst lone parents. The rate of child poverty in this country, at one in five, is double the OECD average and 135,000 have fallen into poverty since this Government took office.

This will drive thousands more into poverty so the Minister should not be so strong-headed on this. I can see the headlines if the Minister agrees to withdraw this pernicious proposal. Some people will accuse her of a U-turn but I will not be among them. I will personally be delighted and she should bear in mind what George Bernard Shaw said to the effect that admitting a mistake is often a healthy thing as it only means one is wiser today than yesterday. If members of Deputy Joan Burton's party want really to deserve to be regarded as members of the Labour Party they should talk to the Minister, rather than coming into the House tomorrow night and shamefully voting to punish further one of the most vulnerable sections of this community.

I thank my colleague, Deputy O'Dea, for affording me the opportunity to say a couple of words on this motion. It is a very timely motion given that, in two or three days' time, one of the most regressive and unfair cuts, one that will have the most detrimental effect on some of the most vulnerable families in our society, is going to be implemented. To listen to Ministers and Opposition backbenchers one would be forgiven for thinking that this should be welcomed with bells and whistles but if this is such a good proposal why has SPARK, the agency of single parents, had to come together to fight for the rights of their kids? Why, when Vincent Browne contacted in excess of 100 Fine Gael and Labour Party parliamentarians to come out and debate the merits and benefits of this cut on his show last week, was none of them free? It is because the Minister, Deputy Burton, is implementing possibly the most gendered cut in the history of the State, considering that 98% of lone parents are women.

She is also snatching money from the pockets of single parents. By doing so, she is taking food off the tables of young children. Her decision, and the collective decision of this Government, is ensuring that more young children will go to bed hungry and cold.

I agree with the Minister that the best way to achieve economic security is full employment. However, what happens in the absence of full employment? None of many different sectors - the disabled, invalids, the elderly and parents living alone - has been left untouched by this Government in the past number of years. There is what is called a social conscience. We have an obligation and a duty to ensure tho more vulnerable in our society have protection. It is no surprise that this year the Children's Rights Alliance afforded this Government an F grade in terms of child poverty. The child poverty statistics are abysmal. From 2008 to 2014, the numbers have increased twofold. That is a direct consequence of policy decisions taken by this Government.

The Minister spoke about these proposals as being job activation measures and as freeing up parents to work longer hours. She said two thirds of people could be better off if they secured longer hours. She is making a lot of assumptions, including the assumption that people can go next week to their employers and say they want an increase in their working hours. That is simply not possible or practical. Given what is happening in the likes of Dunnes Stores, the Government should realise it is not possible or practical. She also said these changes would not go ahead unless a Scandinavian model of child care was introduced. Not only did she tell an untruth in the House and mislead it, she and Ministers collectively are failing abysmally to provide quality affordable child care to all. She spoke about the €260 million available at the moment. She did not mention the number of schemes which are closed to new entrants. A number of the schemes to which she alluded are only available to one third of the service providers. There are a number of schemes where the capitation rate for the free preschool year has been cut. Nothing is being done and nothing has been done.

The Government refers to and makes comparisons with other jurisdictions saying there is a lower age bracket. It does not compare the supports available in terms of quality affordable child care. Working tax credits are being introduced in other states, for instance, across the Border. The Minister, Deputy Burton, continuously refers to how there is a younger age bracket up the North, but working tax credits have been introduced there to support and help people who are faced with a choice of either working 15 hours and not needing child care or giving up and getting child care. The cost of child care according to a recent report for lone parents is 54% of their net income.

I have to call the next two speakers.

How can people work longer hours if they have to spend 54% of their income on the cost of child care?

I will finish by saying the Minister of State's party has a proud record in the past four years of doing many U-turns on many promises it made. It should acknowledge that it has got this drastically wrong. The party should come together. I understand the party came together at a parliamentary party meeting last week to discuss belatedly this issue. It should come together, acknowledge it has got this wrong, take on board the suggestion of the all-party Oireachtas committee, go back to the drawing board, get it right and ensure we do not inflict further misery and penury on some of the most vulnerable citizens in our society.

I call Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan. I will then call Deputy Thomas Pringle.

There are parts of Dublin Central which have higher numbers of lone parents than anywhere else in the country. I know many of them and they are real people with real stories and they have very real fears about what is being proposed for them and their children. The majority are female but there is a significant and growing number of one-parent families where it is the male we are talking about. They have seen, since 2008, reduction after reduction, year on year, with the result that low income households continue to suffer disproportionately.

Some of us have called repeatedly for equality proofing of budgets. Last November, I moved, with the Technical Group, a Private Members' motion about this issue. We should have a human rights approach to budgeting. There was general agreement on the principle of what was being proposed and the need for adequate assessment of the impact of budgetary decisions on the most vulnerable. Of course it was different when it came to the vote, but the Government amendment at the time said "a social impact assessment of the main taxation and welfare measures will be carried out by a cross-Department body led by the Departments of Finance, Social Protection and Public Expenditure and Reform". If that was happening, what is being proposed here now, and one can call it a restructuring but it is really a cut, would not be proposed.

There have been many calls for this to be suspended so that the Department could undertake a full review of planned changes including that impact assessment. I hope that when we see the impact of this and that there are dire consequences it will be reviewed. I have seen figures from €108 to €140 as being the amount that some families will lose per week. How can families on very low incomes sustain that? We are all for enabling lone parents to move from social welfare into education and employment, but I do not see what is being proposed as facilitating that. The hardest hit will be those in part-time employment who may have to give up that work. This will increase the number of one-parent families in poverty and they will continue at the lower level in employment and education.

I have stated during Leaders Questions in this House that housing and homeless organisations have real fears that what is being proposed will push more people into homelessness. My biggest concern is the effect on children. We know there is an increase in the number of children living in consistent poverty. There is a very real fear, as I expressed on the last occasion, of more children joining the numbers of rough sleepers. The Housing First project leader saw that happening this week. He saw families with children, who would be becoming part of the numbers of rough sleepers, presenting. There is also the fear that those kinds of families might not present. They would prefer to hide under the radar for fear their children will be taken from them. The reality is that what is being proposed will exacerbate a really bad situation.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. These changes have been well flagged since 2012 when the Minister introduced them in the first place. We have all known the impact they will have and, despite the fact it has been mentioned and brought to the fore many times in this House in the intervening years, the Minister has no intention of changing. There is no question of the Government changing or reviewing it at this stage and that is an absolute disgrace.

We are in a bizarre situation. The Minister dresses this up as a labour activation measure designed to prevent people spending their whole lives on welfare. The only people that this will not hurt or affect are lone parents who are not at work. We are in the bizarre situation whereby the 42% of lone parents who are actually working are the people being targeted by this change and on whom this change will have a significant impact. Then we are treated to the constant mantra of the Minister, and the Taoiseach said it last week during Leaders Questions as well, that they can get extra hours, as if by magic people will be able to go out and say to their employers that they want extra hours because their lone parents payment is being cut and their employers will say there are loads of hours waiting for them, they will give them to them and that they can avail of their family income supplement and everything else as well.

At least the Minister admitted that 10,000 lone parents will suffer a loss as a result of this change. That is a huge number of affected people. She goes on to say that 6,000 of those people will have the incentive to increase their hours. It is bizarre that it would be presented in such a way. Even if those lone parents can increase their hours and may qualify for family income supplement, they will then need help with child care. Financially they may be better off with family income supplement but the money will be completely wiped out with the cost of child care. The lack of availability of child care will mean those lone parents will be worse off. This is being presented as a labour activation measure but it is actually a measure which will drive people out of work and back into dependency on the social welfare system. The Government has no qualms about that and there is no way it will change the measure or anything else. It reminds me of Margaret Thatcher. The Minister is saying, "The lady is not for turning".

Debate adjourned.