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.