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

The following motion was moved by Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh on Tuesday, 30 June 2015:
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 parent has been a rise in the number of lone parents 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 twelve years, and to this end commit to sit late to facilitate the passage of the necessary emergency legislation.
Debate resumed on 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 amongst 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 preventative 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 thirteen 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 thirteen 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 to low income parents, that is, community childcare subvention programme, child care education and training support programme, afterschool 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.”
-(Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection)

Deputies Paul Murphy, Tom Fleming, Catherine Murphy, Stephen S. Donnelly and Richard Boyd Barrett have ten minutes between them. I presume they will take two minutes apiece.

That is correct. I wish to read out a report on the National One-Parent Family Network Facebook page. It states:

The transition to other payments has been disgracefully handled. Some people have had their increases in FIS, others nothing. Some people have nothing to live on for the week! They've been told to go to the CWO for emergency payments (but have you tried getting to see the CWO during the school holidays with your children???).

Shocking disregard to lone parents and their needs...I witnessed women crying, begging and stressed out near breakdowns in my local Intreo office today. Horrible, horrible, cruel treatment by Joan Burton and her cronies. It's a sad day in Ireland when parents can't even buy food for their children because of the ineptitude of the system.

This cut and the role of the Labour Party in this cut will go down as the most horrific anti-woman, anti-working people, anti-people and regressive measure introduced by this Government. What makes it even more disgusting is the Thatcherite rhetoric surrounding it. There is this notion that it is a pro-work measure. It is not a pro-work measure; it is a pro-poverty measure. It is pro driving people into low-paid jobs.

The way the debate has been conducted by the Labour Party and the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, above all, has been a disgrace. Instead of engaging with the reality that over 10,000 one-parent families will lose at least €87, that reality has simply been ignored. The talk is about getting people back to work and incentivising people. Those people are already at work. In cutting their payments, the Government is making it impossible for them to afford child care, pushing them further away from work. The Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, promised that we would not have anything like this until we had a credible and bankable guarantee of Scandinavian-style child care.

Deputy Tom Fleming is up next, but if someone wants to go before him it would give him time to catch his breath.

I want to tell the Minister of State what a real person wrote to me and many other Deputies. This person says she is a lone parent. The cuts that come into force this week will seriously affect her financially. She has worked part-time since her son was born nine years ago. These cuts will mean that from this week she will be down €62. She has a mortgage of over €600 on a house, whose value has also suffered in the economic crash. She is in negative equity. However, she did not give up and she has worked hard to keep her home and her job.

Unfortunately she does not qualify for the family income supplement because over two weeks she works 36.5 hours, nor is she entitled to the family dividend as she already has a job. Even if she could work more hours, child care is not available and if she were to pay out for child care for the extra day, she would be working solely to pay for that child care. She maintains it makes no sense to have someone else raise her child for that day when there is no financial gain to be had. She asks how these cuts are to benefit already-working lone parents. They have a job and, therefore, they are already in the workforce. The only thing the Government is doing is forcing them to give up their jobs and become unemployed. In her case, she is looking at losing her home. A sum of €62 per week may not seem a great deal to some people but it is all the difference for her. She says it amounts to her entire shopping bill in a given week.

This is the testimony of a real person. This is the real impact this measure will have on this group. One group in Irish society most at risk of poverty comprises households headed by lone parents. I cannot understand why the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, who is a Labour Party person, would do this. Lone parents will feel this keenly, but society in general will see it as a vulnerable group being picked off. They do not see it as being fair.

Our spend on early childhood education is 0.2% of GDP whereas the European average is 0.7% of GDP. This puts it in a nutshell. We are straggling behind almost all developed countries in our investment in this vital sector.

The cuts to lone parents without a proper structure of supports will cause devastation and bedlam for the vast majority. The child care to enable many of these parents to work more hours is unaffordable. The fact that they are faced with a reduction of approximately €80 per week will force low-income lone parent families to choose between poverty, that is to say, living on welfare alone or working in poverty by doing low-wage part-time work, which is both anti-care and anti-family.

Recent research and studies have shown that the levels of poverty and deprivation have increased significantly for some in the recession. The survey of income and living conditions 2013 report shows that 23% of one-parent families with dependent children are in constant poverty, over three times as many as in the general population. Instead of encouraging and incentivising parents into the workforce, the Government has drastically reduced the amount these people can earn before these heavy welfare supports are factored in. Rather than getting away from the politics of recession we are renewing a further episode of these policies, even when the Government is optimistic for the future. That makes it all the more difficult to comprehend. Thus, 1,500 parents have one-parent family allowances when their children reach seven years of age. Next month another 40,000 parents are to be reclassified as jobseekers. They will lose out on the income disregard and move into other traditional family supports.

Tomorrow the Government is introducing changes to the one-parent payment which will have two effects. It will reduce the minimum age of eligibility to seven years for children and it will reduce the income disregard for those transitioning by 30%. This means that lone parents will have up to €140 less per week because of the measures the Government is bringing in tomorrow. This policy was conceived in an era of full and flexible employment. Neither of those conditions applies today.

The Tánaiste gave an absolute guarantee that this would not be done until a Scandinavian level of child care was in Ireland. It is not. The Government maintains that these measures are being brought in to empower these parents, 98% of whom are women. They will not. What they will do is force these parents out of work, force more parents and their children into poverty and lock them into poverty traps. That is what is happening tomorrow morning.

The Government estimates that these measures will save approximately €12 million this year. They will not. The social and economic ramifications of what this Government is doing tomorrow morning will cost this State a fortune in human suffering and money. I offer a real example. It relates to a lady called Sandra, who is a lone parent in Wicklow. She works part-time. She is in college and is obviously a parent. She receives the family income supplement, the one-parent payment and wages. After rent, she has €326 per week for her household. Tomorrow morning that €326 is going to fall by almost 30%. This is what will happen to her. She will have to drop out of college, out of work and she will have to stay at home.

That is what is actually happening. It is the very worst and most stupid, mean, vindictive, regressive social policy that I have seen from the Government. It is incumbent on Labour Party Deputies, at least, to talk to their Ministers this evening and ask whether this can be stopped.

I ask in all honesty what does the Government have against lone parents. What it has done to them to date and is now proposing to do to working lone parents can only indicate a vindictive desire to attack lone parents and their children. The facts speak for themselves. No matter what way one tries to spin it, since the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, started to make cuts affecting lone parents, through cutting the income disregard, the concurrent payments and now the one-parent family payment, she has driven significant numbers of lone parents further into poverty and deprivation. We have seen a spectacular spike in the number of children living in poverty. There has been an increase of 137,000 since the Minister began her cuts in 2012, overwhelmingly because of the attacks on parents. The number of lone parents working has dropped from over 60% in 2012 to just over 30%. Therefore, how can the Government possibly claim this has anything to do with labour activation? It is, in fact, the Labour Party capitulating to the Fine Gael vendetta against lone parents and the visceral prejudice Fine Gael has against those it regards as social welfare-dependent lone parents. The belief is a myth, prejudice and total nonsense because the majority of lone parents were working and want to work. These measures will drive them out of work and more lone parents and their children into poverty. The Minister of State, Deputy Gerald Nash, should be ashamed of himself.

Some 18,000 people have already transitioned under the changes. I wonder whether Members of the Opposition know that. The bulk transitioned last year when the cut-off age was reduced to 16 years in the case of the children of some lone parents, ten in the case of others and seven in the case of some. There was not a whimper about this last year. Last July-----

Come on; we have been protesting since 2012. We spent hours here with the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton.

There was not one word about the people who transitioned last July and I would like the Deputy to prove otherwise. Where was the request for a Dáil debate about it then?

We spent hours here with the Minister.

To be fair, the Deputy should be allowed to speak without interruption.

The Deputy is Chairman of a committee.

The motion-----

The Deputy is living on a different planet.

To be fair, she should be allowed to speak without interruption.

The Deputy abstained in a vote when the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill was being discussed a couple of months ago. When Deputy Joan Collins put the matter to a vote, the Deputy abstained. Fianna Fáil voted in favour of it. I was wondering what the Deputy was doing at the time. He is jumping on the bandwagon.

Am I jumping on the bandwagon? The Deputy has absolutely no idea about my record on the issue.

The Deputy is not sincere. These changes are brave and progressive.

The Deputy is deluded, God love her.

The Deputy will speak later and have his opportunity.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett should note that the Labour Party has taken ownership of this issue. This is our initiative. It is about helping lone parents. It would be a lot easier to do nothing. The genesis of the proposals dates from 2006 when there was a report on supporting lone parents. It was recommended that the one-parent family payment be time limited and that there be measures to facilitate lone parents moving to training, education and employment. That is where it comes from. A move towards these proposals was first announced in 2010. There was an OECD report in 2007 that stated the current system was a disincentive to lone parents working.

With regard to some of the comments made, it is quite clear that many people such as Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly probably do not know the detail of the changes. When the Deputy talked about an example in his constituency, he never mentioned the person's entitlement to the back-to-work dividend. I wonder whether he has advised his constituent about this entitlement. In many cases for people on family income supplement, the back-to-work dividend compensates in full for the 40% loss in the one-parent family payment. Sometimes, there is even a gain.

The risk of poverty is 40% for lone parents who are not working. Their income will not change after these changes. Some of the people who will be affected are in receipt of family income supplement. They are at the least risk of poverty, at a rate of 10%. Family income supplement and the back-to-work dividend are very much based on the number of children one has. The more children one has, the more support one receives. The two payments are child focused. The minimum net income a lone parent with three children will have after the changes will be just under €580 per week. If one compares this to the average wage, one will find that the latter, after tax, payment of the universal social charge and so on, is the equivalent.

With regard to a lone parent with one child on family income supplement and in receipt of the back-to-work dividend, the net income of €400 which starts from an income of €165, the minimum wage, is equivalent to €35 at the ICTU and SIPTU supported living wage. These are the supports that are available.

We should all be advising and supporting those who are working fewer than 19 hours. It is not desirable that people should be cleaning in a school for ten hours per week for the rest of their lives. Such people will be assisted by the Department under these changes to be given more hours or a better job and to receive any education and training they need.

That is absolute rubbish.

The status quo is trapping them in property.

Deputy Catherine Murphy talked about child care places for people who had to increase their hours. It is just a nonsense. If somebody already working works 15 hours and has to increase the number of hours by four-----

Would they not increase it now?

The Deputy will be wrapping up. He will have his opportunity then.

The figures show that some in that position end up better off to the tune of €200 or more per week when the payment is combined with family income supplement, the back-to-work dividend and extra wages.

The cleaner working ten hours per week is not being given the additional four hours.

That is €800 per month which would easily cover the cost of four hours extra child care, if needed. One should not forget that one does not have to work under the changes until the child is 14 years.

It is disingenuous to oppose the changes. Ultimately, the Government, including the Labour Party, will have done something to improve the lot of lone parents while the Opposition stood by.

I remind the House to show due courtesy and respect to the person who is in the Chair.

We are asking questions.

It is not a question and answer session. The Deputy will have ten minutes to wrap up at the end and I ensure him he will be afforded that courtesy.

I thank the Acting Chairman.

The sentiment of this debate is such that one would say there was abject property among lone parent families. I do not believe there is anybody in this House who would want to see children subject to abject poverty where we could do anything about it. We are coming to the end of a period of austerity and moving towards an era of prosperity, to which we all aspire. Two things with which I must confess to being obsessed as a politician are the creation of jobs and child care. As a society, Ireland is a complete outlier. As one of the few Members in this House who has lived in and experienced Scandinavia, I am a complete supporter of Scandinavian society and its system of government.

I know the Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, well. It would not be appropriate to suggest she has anything other than the highest respect and goodwill towards people who are struggling in society. She has made it quite clear to the people in the party and the Government who have asked about this issue that she is trying to tackle the fact we are outliers in terms of the numbers of people who receive one-parent family payment but have less income as a result of their inability to find work. She is trying to ensure people will be able to go back to work if they can find work and will be able to get child care. The question concerns whether we are achieving both at the same time.

I want to put the following information from EUROSTAT, the European Commission and the OECD on the record. The main issue in social policy is the problem of low work intensity households. They have been cited as a factor that can lead to serious social exclusion, something we all want to get rid of. The figure of 23.9% is the highest in the EU and more than double the EU average of 10.85%. Some would say this has its roots in austerity but the rate was higher than the EU average before the crisis and surged from 14.3% in 2007 to 24.2% in 2011 before falling to 23.4% in 2012. In 2013, the number of children living in jobless households was also the highest in Europe at 17.7%. We need to tackle two things, one of which is the opportunity to find a job. We have decreased the number of people who are unemployed from over 15% to around 9%. We also need to provide people with child care. Based on what I have read regarding international best practice, there is a safeguard. Children under the age of seven will be considered differently from those older than that. The child must be five years of age under the UK system. Once again, the best system leans towards Sweden and Scandinavian models where child care costs no more than €140 per month for the first child and decreases thereafter.

I heard the Tánaiste speak about her aspirations to improve the situation in this country. I will impress upon her this evening and over the coming months that this budget should tackle child care and jobs in regions. What is happening in Dublin is a far cry from what is happening in other places. It is not as easy to get 15 hours of work or, if one has 15 hours, to increase them to 20 hours in areas outside Dublin as it is in the city. Some sense has been spoken on all sides of the House. The overall sentiment is something I appreciate and I know what Sinn Féin is trying to achieve in this motion. It goes back to the fact that people in low work intensity households have the highest chance of serious social exclusion. This affects the children more than it affects the parent. Any incentive that can be given to remove a disincentive is a help but there are other social factors, which is why it is not always about taxation and the simple payment of money. There are structures and societal issues that need to be addressed for people to be better off. Lone parents need to be catered for and there is much that society can do outside of funding. The person also needs to be given the opportunity to work.

I welcome this debate on an important topic. I have said on numerous occasions in the House that social welfare is a safety net that many, if not the majority of, people will benefit from and utilise at some stage in their lives. Deputy Arthur Spring touched on the issue of politicians. I do not know any politician who wants to see people in poverty or who does not want to see people lifted out of poverty. Every politician would support and aspire to that. There are different philosophies regarding how one might achieve that. One could argue that it was not achieved in times of plenty. In more difficult and constrained economic times, it is obviously more difficult. Some people would espouse the belief that social welfare should increase to keep pace with inflation, while others would state we should encourage people to enter the workplace and support their progression there via family income supplement or the new back-to-work family dividend that was created by the Government in the previous budget. That is what this is about. It is not about saving money. It is about incentivising and lifting people out of poverty.

At the height of the boom in 2004 when money was not an issue, if one believes a former Minister for Finance who appeared before the banking inquiry, lone parents were four and a half times more likely to be in poverty. At that time, participation in the workforce was way below the OECD average so there was something wrong. Other countries have moved in terms of how they deal with lone parents. We all accept that lone parents face specific challenges, child care in particular, but this is about trying to lift them of the situation they are in by incentivising and encouraging.

I am a member of the Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs, which is currently dealing with the country-specific recommendations as put forward by the European Commission. Every country in Europe has signed up to Europe 2020 targets under the European Semester process. Those country-specific recommendations in 2014 and 2015 tie into this area. Recommendation No. 3 of this year involves taking steps to increase the work intensity of households and addressing the poverty risk of children by tapering the withdrawal of benefits and supplementary payments upon return to employment and through better access to affordable, full-time child care. That is what the Department has been moving towards and that is what the European Commission has been advising countries to do via the European Semester process. The Commission is advising and encouraging this move. Other countries like the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and New Zealand have progressed to a different model in recent years and we have not done so.

I seek clarification in respect of SUSI. It is stated that a student in receipt of one-parent family payment who comes off it and who can transfer to the back-to-education allowance will continue to maintain their SUSI maintenance grant. In response to one query, I was informed it had identified that the person in question will be receiving the back-to-education allowance. It said that from the information provided, it would appear they were not eligible for a maintenance grant but that they may still be entitled to a fee grant or a postgraduate fee contribution should one of those apply to their chosen course and subject to meeting all the eligibility criteria. I ask for clarification regarding whether they are eligible in all cases.

The impact of these changes must be monitored to ensure no one is left worse off and there is no greater hardship because we have encouraged more people to avail of family income supplement and the back-to-work family dividend. That is the basis of it. As others have stated, I believe the Minister is genuine in her belief that this is the right thing to do and that it will encourage and lift people out of poverty, but I ask that the process and changes be monitored to ensure that if there are specific hardship cases for whatever reason, they can be alleviated through whatever means are possible.

It is typical of the Opposition to have a debate about an issue for which it has no solution. It can wax lyrical but it has no solution. As always, it never ceases to amaze me the way the Opposition can grandstand and spout about what we in Government are doing wrong, yet it has nothing to offer. Sinn Féin wants to abolish water and property charges and introduce a wealth tax. The list is endless. If we actually did anything it suggested, how would the State have any money at all to pay for crucial things like welfare allowances and services? The reform of the one-parent family payment is a move that will be positive in the long run.

We cannot continue to condemn one-parent families to a poverty trap. I ask if Sinn Féin wants help one-parent families and to see them leave social welfare. Research has clearly proven that the strongest protection against poverty is sustained employment, to have a job, rather than having one-parent families condemned to economic dependency.

The one-parent family scheme has consistently failed to prevent lone parents from being at risk to poverty. In 2015, lone parents are still two and a half times more at risk of consistent poverty compared to the rest of the population. This is unacceptable. Research shows that being at work reduces the at-risk-of-poverty rate for lone parents by three quarters, compared to those who do not. The numbers speak for themselves and as a mother I cannot stand by and neither can this Government stand by and not do anything to help address this serious failure to protect and help one-parent families. We need to provide opportunities for all, not a welfare dependency trap for all.

As the Tánaiste said last night, Sinn Féin is using this motion simply as a cheap populist tactic. I find this motion hypocritical when in Northern Ireland and in many other countries, the equivalent supports stop at the age of five years compared to the proposed age of seven here in the Republic of Ireland. I do not hear Sinn Féin members mentioning that fact.

The purpose of the single parent payment is to help the parent to build financial independence over time. The single parents I meet and work with around the constituency of Dún Laoghaire want to work. I know them because I have taught many of them in my work as a school principal. They want to be financially independent and, most important, they want to give their children the best opportunities in life. This Government knows what it is doing. We rebuilt this economy, with the help of the people, from the worst recession this country has ever witnessed. Unemployment has fallen by more than one third since its peak. Throwing money at the problem is not the answer. This Government has introduced and reformed back to work schemes and education and training programmes to help assist single parents and others to get back into the workforce and be financially independent. I recognise that child care needs to be greatly improved in this country for all families. We are quite a bit off from the leading examples of Norway and Sweden but we are making progressive steps in the right direction.

I have proposed an after school child care model whereby schools provide on-site after school care services. Along with the board of management of the school in which I was principal, I launched this child care alternative in 2009. I believe the success of my initiative in one school can provide a blueprint for wider action. Most important, it will help support the very parents who are on the single parent payment to take up a job and thereby increase their likelihood of employment.

I thank Sinn Féin members for tabling this Private Members' motion. It is never easy to introduce reform or to change a system that has been in place for a long time. However, from the outset, the Government and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, have been committed to reforming the social welfare system. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, introduced phased reforms to the one-parent family payment scheme in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2012, in order to reduce long-term social welfare dependency. To give credit where credit is due, she is probably one of the few Ministers to have the guts to implement some of the reforms. This is about breaking a cycle of dependency on welfare and giving people opportunities to move into employment or further training and education.

Despite significant levels of investment, including an estimated €607 million in 2015 for almost 70,000 recipients, 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. After many years of pouring billions of euro into a system, we still see that children who are in families where nobody works are at highest risk of consistent poverty. A 2008 survey showed that one of the main barriers to employment for lone parents was that a job would not be financially worth their while. The latest CSO figures indicate that two thirds of lone parents live in poverty. The Government is working hard to make work pay and I firmly believe that the best route out of poverty and social exclusion is through paid employment. Research shows that being at work reduces the at-risk-of-poverty rate for lone parents by 75%, compared to those who do not work. Providing people with the skills to find employment can help them to improve their family situation and also the situation of their extended family. Some people have expressed concerns about the availability of jobs. I agree with them that there are still many people who need to be back at work.

Since taking office, this Government has helped to create 100,000 jobs across the board. There are also opportunities available on community employment schemes through SOLAS. Last week, 800 vacancies were available around the country as well as more than 98,000 places on training schemes and courses in our local colleges.

Returning to education and training can provide parents with new opportunities to re-train and gain the necessary skills to enter the workforce, which may not have been possible in the past when they were rearing young children. In my experience, returning to education brings renewed self-esteem, opens up doors and can offer a new beginning to many young people. The primary aim is to support lone parents who wish to take up these opportunities. That is why the Department is allowing lone parents who are already on an education course and in receipt of the SUSI grant, to keep their one-parent family payment and the SUSI maintenance grant until they finish their course. We need to keep these courses going and to support maintenance grants for lone parents. Since the reform of the one-parent family payment began, approximately 11,000 recipients have moved to alternative income support payments including the jobseeker's transition payment, the back to work family dividend and family income supplement.

The jobseeker's transition payment supports lone parents with children over the age of seven and until their 14th birthday. Under this scheme they do not have to be available and genuinely seeking work but they do have to engage with their local Intreo office and avail of the support of a case officer. 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.

The back to work family dividend allows lone parents to retain the child proportion of their social welfare payment. From this week, 30,000 lone parents will move onto these new schemes and 20,000 of those will see no change in their income or they will gain from between €10 and €150 per week. From the remaining 10,000, approximately 6,000 will have an immediate incentive to increase their number of hours worked to 19 in order to claim family income supplement and the back to work family dividend. These people will be financially better off. Even after the reform, a lone parent whose youngest child is aged seven or over, working 19 hours at the national minimum wage, receives more support from the Department of Social Protection than an equivalent lone parent who is not working. They receive €235 per week free from the Department in the form of FIS and the back to work family dividend, in addition to their wages of €165, thus bringing their total income to almost €400 per week. This compares to an equivalent lone parent with no work who receives €218 per week from the Department. It is very important that we continue to encourage people - lone parents in particular - to return to the workforce.

Many people have raised with me the question of supports, maintenance and fathers. I ask the Minister of State if we can find a way of dealing with maintenance payments by fathers to lone parents. Many young women are rearing children with no maintenance being provided by the fathers of their children.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion. I compliment Sinn Féin on tabling it, although I disagree profoundly with its analysis. It is very strong on outrage and very weak on ideas. I listened to many of the contributions last night. I would like to see more time spent addressing how we go about dealing with a system that is not functioning and effectively condemning lone parents to pretty much a lifetime of dependency on welfare and a lifetime of poverty. These are very harsh statistics. Even at the height of the Celtic tiger the situation was even worse than it is at present in terms of the percentage of lone parents who are vulnerable and prone to poverty.

All the figures clearly indicate that we should reform the system; we must reform the system. The Government made a commitment to reform the system of one-parent family payments. I would love to have a debate here with a clear analysis of what is wrong with the existing system and clear proposals on how to move forward in a coherent and meaningful fashion. There is no intention in any part of what is being done here to reduce the amount of money available to lone parents.

Is that what the Government is doing?

The entire purpose of this is to ensure a system is put in place to enable lone parents to move out of poverty and get back into the workforce at a time when they can get back into the workforce. It is outrageous that someone with one child could be 22 years out of the workforce under the present scheme. It effectively condemns them to dependency on welfare during their prime working life.

We must acknowledge the absolute importance of the family. It is in the Constitution and in the 1916 Proclamation to cherish all the children of the nation equally. We must at the same time ensure we address the huge challenges facing lone parents in the present system.

It is right to provide the supports we are providing and it is right to improve child care enormously. It is right to ensure benefits are adequate for parents who need them. However, it is also right to liberate women from dependency on child care. A large cohort of people in my and Deputy Mary Lou McDonald's constituency are condemned to a lifetime of welfare dependency largely because they are mothers.

They will have plenty to say to the Deputy when they meet him afterwards.

What steps are needed? What supports are needed?

Liberate them from their children.

What mechanisms are needed to ensure they are not impoverished and do not spend a lifetime depending on social welfare? That is the challenge we have. Let us be positive about it.

This will not do it.

Let us not just engage in outrage that there should be any change in the system. Let us look at a system that has clearly failed from any analysis that has been done to date. Let us look to Northern Ireland if Sinn Féin has some difficulties with the present system here. Why is Sinn Féin quite happy to see a further reduction in the age in Northern Ireland? We are talking about seven here, but it is five in Northern Ireland.

We are not happy.

Then Deputy may not be happy with it. I do not hear any great words of outrage so far.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Joe Costello to continue, without interruption.

I have not heard any criticism from Sinn Féin of the system that operates in Northern Ireland.

The Deputy should get the Tánaiste to raise it with the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron.

Get the Tánaiste to raise it.

Deputy Joe Costello to continue, without interruption, please.

Why should-----

He is speaking directly to us, not through the Chair.

Through the Chair, Deputy.

Why should Sinn Féin sit in government, presiding over a system with which it disagrees? There is no good in blaming the Brits forever. It is time for Sinn Féin to stand up and make its voice heard.

The Deputy should tell that to his party leader.

They should come into this House - they are here now - and say what they will do to improve the system in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. We want two systems that will cherish the children of the nation equally throughout.

We actually process them.

We want parents who will be protected and sustained. We need to ensure they are not being impoverished in any way.

Many people have outlined what these proposals would mean. Clearly, two thirds of the people who would be affected, estimated at 29,400, will be at least as well off and many cases better off. There are the incentives to get back to work, the €1,550 back-to-work family dividend for the first year per child and half that again for the second year. Of course, there is also the family income supplement.

I have no doubt there will be difficulties. I believe there will be difficulties with the 19-hour cut-off point for the family income supplement. However, we need to monitor constantly the difficulties that arise. There will be difficulties with child care. The difficulties that arise must be monitored, fed into the system and addressed in the upcoming budget. Let us look at the positive proposals-----

The Deputy should go around to the north inner city and Cabra, tell lone parents that story and see how he gets on.

-----and the opportunities we have proposed that are in line with international best practice.

I am sure they have written to the Deputy, as they have written to me.

Where difficulties arise, let us address them.

I call Deputy Peadar Tóibín who is sharing time with Deputies Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Martin Ferris and Jonathan O'Brien.

Is iad tuismitheoirí aonair ceann de na grúpaí is leochailí sa tír seo. Tá rátaí díothachta níos airde ina measc ná i measc grúpaí eile. In 2008 bhí 14% de theaghlaigh aonair sa Stát ag fulaingt díothachta. In 2013 bhí 31% de theaghlach le tuismitheoir aonair ag fulaingt. Faoi chúram an Rialtais seo tá an chomhréir sin tar éis dúbailt agus tá cuma ar an scéal go bhfuil an chomhréir fós ag dul in airde i mbliana.

Nuair a labhraímid faoi dhíothacht tá muid ag déanamh tagairt ar theaghlach nach bhfuil in ann níos mó ná dhá rud as an liosta seo a dhéanamh: dhá phéire bróga a cheannach, cóta mór te a bheith acu le haghaidh an gheimhridh, feoil nó iasc a ithe lá i ndiaidh lae, nó an teas a chur ar siúl ar laethanta fuara i rith an gheimhridh. Is léir go bhfuil Páirtí an Lucht Oibre ag iarraidh níos mó airgid a bhaint ó na clanna seo. Táimid ag caint faoi laghdú de chuid €140 sa tseachtain le haghaidh teaghlaigh áirithe sa Stát seo. Táimid ag caint faoi dhaoine atá ag fulaingt cheana féin agus nach bhfuil in ann na gnáthrudaí a cheannach dóibh féin. Is é an freagra atá ag an Rialtas ar an bhfadhb sin ná níos mó airgid a bhaint díobh.

Cuir san áireamh freisin gur laghdaigh an Rialtas an cháin le haghaidh an uasaicme an bhliain seo caite agus go bhfuil sé chun an rud céanna a dhéanamh sa cháinaisnéis i mbliana freisin. Tá codarsnacht mhór ann idir an chaoi atá sé ag caitheamh leis na daoine san uasaicme agus an chaoi atá sé ag caitheamh leis na daoine seo. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil Fine Gael ag iarraidh ionadaíocht a dhéanamh ar son na huasaicme ach de ghnáth deir Páirtí an Lucht Oibre go bhfuil sé ag iarraidh ionadaíocht a dhéanamh ar son na hísealaicme agus na meánaicme. Séard atá ag tarlú ná go bhfuil an t-airgead ag dul go dtí an aicme atá thuas agus tá siad lánsásta é a choimeád dóibh féin.

Caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil sé deacair é seo a chreidiúint, fiú leis an méid dochair atá déanta ag an Rialtas go dtí seo. Ní féidir leis an locht a chuir ar an troika nó ar Fhianna Fáil anois agus, mar a dúirt mé cheana, ní féidir a rá nach bhfuil airgead le fáil. Tá airgead ag an Rialtas agus tá rogha aige rud eile a dhéanamh. Tá an cháin seo ag déanamh ionsaí ar dhaoine. Ní staitisticí atá i gceist. Is ar ghnáthmháithreacha agus ar ghnáthpháistí a thitfidh an t-ualach trom. Le níos mó ná coicíos anuas tá mná ag teacht isteach i m'oifig Dháilcheantair le scéalta deacra. Tá siad buartha, imníoch agus trína chéile. Tá na deora ag sileadh leis an bhfaitíos atá orthu. Seo iad na rudaí atá siad ag rá.

Orla from Navan stated:

It costs me €90 a week (€30 a day) to have my children minded while I work 15 hrs. I've been told that because I only work 15 hrs a week I'm not entitled to FIS and my income will be down €83 a week. That means I have to give up work, I can't afford it anymore.

Aoife from Longwood stated, "I feel like I'm being punished for leaving a man who was abusing me". Martina from Navan stated, "I have to send my son to live with his dad, I can't afford to be his ma right now between rent increases and now this I just feel like giving up".

Áine from Athboy stated being a mother was a punishable crime in Ireland, especially if you had to do it alone. Helene from Trim stated, "l'm down €90 a week, does she realise how far I make that money go? Does she know what it's like to have to shout at her kids for taking an extra slice of bread or bowl of cereal out of fear we won't have enough for the week?" Aisling said, "l never felt so worthless in my life". Laura wants to know is it legal to leave a 12 year old at home by herself minding her seven year old brother after school.

Nuair a luaigh an tAire an cuspóir seo ar dtús cúpla bliain ó shin, dúirt sí nach dtiocfadh sé isteach do dtí go raibh córas cúram páistí inacmhainne ar fáil. Mar is eol do chách, go háirithe gach duine i m'aoisghrúpa, níl cúram páistí inacmhainne nó a leithéid le fáil sa tír seo. Tá an tAire tar éis sochar linbh a ísliú arís agus arís eile agus níl an cumas ag tuismitheoirí íoc as na táillí daora atá ann.

Bíonn a lán rudaí á plé agam féin agus ag Teachtaí Dála Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre sa Teach seo agus de ghnáth bíonn easaontas ann. Ach, de ghnáth, creidim go mbíonn siad ionraic sa mhéid atá á rá acu. Creideann siad an méid a bhíonn le rá acu. Ach tá mé lán cinnte ag an bpointe seo nach bhfuil na Teachtaí Dála i bPáirtí an Lucht Oibre lánsásta leis an bpraiseach atá á dhéanamh ag an Aire Coimirce Sóisialaí. Deir an Rialtas gur féidir leis na mná seo tuilleadh obair a fháil. Má tá 15 uair acu sa tseachtain, deir an Rialtas gur cheart dóibh 20 uair nó 30 uair a fháil. Chun an fhírinne a rá, níl an obair sin le fáil sa tír seo fós. Tá na céadta míle duine fós gan fostaíocht sa tír seo. Níl sé éasca ar chor ar bith an méid uaireanta oibre atá ag duine a ardú go tapa, go háirithe má tá dualgais ar an duine sin ó thaobh cúram leanaí.

Tá sé déanach san oíche anois agus táimid anseo go déanach mar gheall ar an polasaí uafásach seo. Ach tá seans ag an Rialtas fós é seo a athrú agus tá seans ag Teachtaí Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre an fód a sheasamh. Impím orthu gan géilleadh d'Fhine Gael arís agus arís eile. Impím ar na Teachtaí san an rud uafásach seo a athrú. Is féidir leo é sin a dhéanamh.

This motion condemns the Government for the decisions that have led to lone parent families carrying a disproportionate load arising from the economic crash. The fact that the number of lone parent households experiencing enforced deprivation is 63% is a shocking but telling indictment of this Government's legacy. This is particularly so given that it has occurred on the so-called Labour Party's watch. While it might be easy for many members of this Government to forget who these parents are, we know that there are approximately 215,000 lone parent families in this State, more than 18% of all family units. The most recent survey on income and living conditions revealed some disturbing statistics. In families with one adult and children under 18 years the rate of those at risk of poverty was 31.7% and the consistent poverty rate was 23%.

We all believe, or at least we should, that children should be given an equal chance. In 2008 18% of children in Ireland suffered poverty. This has since increased, with the persistent poverty rate having doubled. This Government has failed to ensure that all children are given an equal chance starting out in life.

The one-parent family payment is to be cut, from next month, for single parents whose youngest child is older than seven years. Parents are also to be moved to jobseeker's transitional allowance. This is similar to the one-parent family payment but it has a significant difference, one that all in the Government parties have been downplaying. The income disregard for the jobseeker's transitional payment is just €60 per week compared to €90 per week for the one-parent family payment.

As many as 30,000 families will be hit by this cut and it will most affect those who are in part-time employment. These families could lose out by up to €140 per week. All the while the Tánaiste knows that child care provision, as overseen by her Government, is wholly inadequate. She knows this but pushes ahead with these callous cuts. Such disregard suggests the very antithesis of a social conscience.

The main barriers to employment for these parents are jobs that leave families and individuals worse off financially, when the parent has accepted a position, and lacking access to quality child care. The Government has failed utterly to address the provision of adequate child care and has now increased the financial barrier. This goes totally against its stated aim.

In my constituency, in 2007, the Cavan Lone Parents Initiative conducted research on lone parents and labour market barriers, the study being undertaken by lone parents. The study profiled lone parents in the county in an effort to assess the various barriers to education and employment. The majority of respondents were women, 10% were newcomer families. A majority were working and were in receipt of the one-parent family payment. A significant number had left school without completing the leaving certificate. Overall, the study shows how diverse a group it is: parents with very different educational backgrounds, some in paid and others in unpaid work, and with children of various ages and widely different needs. Most have children of school-going age and education courses that are flexible are seen as most accessible. What the report shows us overall is that these many challenges need to be addressed in order that we can support, encourage and free parents to take a more active role in the workforce. This will not happen by raising the barriers that stop this happening.

Even now, after having to deal with years of Government enforced hardship, the parents in these lone family units will have to deal with this further blow. Labour has recently tried to spin everything it does in a positive light. The election is in clear sight. It is still cutting back. It is still acting totally contrary to the memory of Connolly and it is still the wolf in sheep's clothing for many of the poorest and most challenged in our communities.

I understand the Tánaiste is looking to increase child benefit by €5 in next year's budget. She tied this nicely some would say, to coincide with this cut in the one-parent family payment. I imagine that this will be too little too late for those in need and for the Labour Party. It has shown its true colours and whatever they are, they are certainly not red. This and talk of changes to the universal social charge, USC, are long overdue and clearly represent an effort to curry favour in the run-up to an election and to deflect some of the very negative coverage of the cutbacks we are discussing. The USC changes must focus on those on low incomes as a priority. I urge that on the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Simon Harris, and his colleague here present.

The Government should be helping, not further punishing, lone parents already struggling to deal with the cuts to the back to school allowance. The reclassification of parents as job seekers without adequate supports is a cruel trick. The aim of education and work is a sound one but the Government has done nothing to reassure these families that suitable supports will be put in place.

Táim an-bhuartha faoina bhfuil i ndán do thuismitheoirí aonair faoin Rialtas seo. In ainneoin a bheith ag maíomh as a bhfuil déanta ag an Rialtas ar son na cosmhuintire, tá sé fós ag cur polasaithe diana i bhfeidhm. Is náire atá ann do Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre atá tar éis an lucht oibre féin a thréigint. Is náire atá ann don Tánaiste atá ag brú an polasaí seo chun cinn agus is náire atá ann dóibh siúd atá tar éis cinntiú gur beagán difir atá ann idir Fhine Gael agus Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre. Iarraim ar an Teach tacú leis an rún atá os ár gcomhair anocht chun gur féidir linn tuismitheoirí aonair na tíre seo a chothú go cothrom.

The way we truly measure a caring government or society is how it treats its young, the elderly, people with disabilities and those most discriminated against by the economic system within a state. If we apply this as a benchmark to past Governments and particularly the Government, I can assure the House that they have failed miserably. The Government's latest intention has been to take income from lone parents. It is taking money from their pockets that they would use to try to have a decent diet for their families, keep a roof over their heads and ensure they have some life. In doing this, it is condemning more and more people to poverty and putting those already in the poverty trap further into it. It is further punishing the most vulnerable in society. In doing this it shows its true mettle and what it really stands for. It does not stand for fairness or equality of treatment for citizens and the people, nor does it not cherish the children of the nation equally. In fact, what it is doing copperfastens an unequal society where children, if they happen to be part of a lone-parent family, are the victims of its failed economic policies and failure to look after those most in need. It is shameful.

I look across the floor of the House at those who consider themselves to be Labour Party Deputies. They say they carry the mantle of James Connolly, a person who took to the streets to defend the poor and the working class, a person who gave his life in pursuit of justice and equality and freedom for his people. They have defaced everything that man stood for. They have signed up with the right-wing regime of which they are now part and part and which is to again attack lone-parent families.

In effect, on 2 July the Government will put 11,000 people further into property and cut a figure of up to 30,000 in a few weeks time. These figures are an awful indictment of the Government. They are a particular indictment of those who consider themselves to be members of the Labour Party. If we look at the statistics already available, we can see that between 2008 and 2013 the number living in consistent poverty increased from 6% to 12%. Some 135,000 children, or one in eight, are experiencing material deprivation on a daily basis, while 63% of lone-parent families are living without basic necessities. The Government talks about getting people back to work. It would be nice if it first created jobs. Child care is unaffordable for most low-income families and deprivation rates for the population soared from 14% in 2008 to 31% in 2013.

The best way to escape from poverty is not just through paid work but through a living wage, by creating a living wage to ensure people will not be condemned to poverty indefinitely, which is what the Government has done. I listened to some of the commentary from Fine Gael Deputies, in particular, although Deputy Joe Costello was not much better. I heard the condescending way in which they said this was for the betterment of lone parents. We are effectively talking about taking money out of their pockets and putting them further into poverty. How can this be for the betterment of lone-parent families and their children? These are the questions Government Deputies need to ask. They need to examine their consciences in that respect.

I have listened to most of the debate last night and tonight. To be honest, I have found some of the contributions from the Government benches bizarre. I have heard words such as "incentives", "encourage" and "immediate incentives to find extra work". This is the rationale for the policy changes the Government is bringing forward. I looked at the Government's amendment to our motion. It highlights a number of examples, 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.

The amendment goes through all of the different categories up to persons with four children. However, it does not give examples of people who are working less than 19 hours a week and one has to wonder why that is. The reality is that if a person is working less than 19 hours and not in receipt of family income supplement, he or she will be financially worse off under this policy. There are no ifs or buts about this - it is a fact.

A young woman visited my office on Monday who was transitioning to the new payment. She will be down €84 per week, despite the fact that she is working. She was listening to Leaders' Questions last week and heard the Taoiseach say there was now an incentive to get back to work. In her case, as she is already working part-time but not for 19 hours a week, there is said to be an incentive for this young mother with one child to increase her hours. She does not need an incentive to work more hours or an incentive such as this to get out of poverty. She has all of the incentives she will ever need without the Government bringing in a policy such as this. She has bills coming in through her door every day; she needs to keep a roof over her head and to put food on her table. These are the only incentives this mother and many other lone-parent families need.

Deputy Catherine Byrne went through the figures. She said X number of people were going to be better off under this scheme and that 6,000 would have an immediate incentive to increase their hours. What she should have said was that 6,000 people would see an immediate reduction in their income because that is what is happening. It is all spin. It is like the Government's amendment in that it does not give us the example of people who are working less than 19 hours a week, who do not qualify for family income supplement and who will be €80 to €100 per week worse off. The woman who came into my office on Monday in tears will be down €84 per week. As her landlord recently put up her rent, she cannot afford to keep a roof over her head because of a Government policy which has been introduced by a Labour Party Minister. She is effectively going to become homeless. She cannot be given a council house by the local authority because in Cork city there are over 8,000 families awaiting council housing and we are allocating just 30 to 50 houses a month.

That young lady will be homeless in a couple of weeks. She cannot afford to keep a roof over her head, because the Government has done nothing to control rents. To make matters worse, it is now introducing a policy that will penalise her because she can only get from ten to 12 hours work per week. It is not that she wants to work only ten to 12 hours a week. She would gladly work far more than that but she cannot get the hours. There is a complete failure on the part of Government to acknowledge that. Deputies Seán Kyne and Catherine Byrne mentioned this situation.

Deputy Joe Costello made a bizarre statement about "liberating mothers from their children", but I do not know what that means. If wanting to liberate mothers from their children is the type of thinking going on within the Labour Party, is it any wonder we are getting harebrained policies such as this? We do not want to liberate women from their children. We want to liberate women from poverty. The Minister's policy does not do this.

The figures indicate that at any time from half to two thirds of homeless families living in emergency accommodation are one-parent families. Over 1,000 children in emergency accommodation in Dublin are in one-parent families and I guarantee that this number will increase as a result of this policy. I just gave an example of a woman who was in my office on Monday who will be homeless. She is down €84 per week. She cannot get more hours, though she has begged for extra hours. Her landlord has raised her rent. He is not going to drop her rent because she is down €84 per week. When she moves out because she cannot afford to pay him he will have somebody else who will come and pay what he is looking for, because the Government has failed to do anything in regard to rents also.

Much has been said about child care and I listened to contributions from the Government benches on this issue. The main support necessary to enable lone parents to return to education and full-time work is access to a quality, affordable child care system. We do not have such a system in this State. I remember Deputy Joan Burton standing up in this Chamber and giving a solemn promise that she would not proceed with these changes until adequate child care facilities and provisions were in place. However, like every other promise the Labour Party has made in regard to lone parents, carers and students this promise has been broken.

I do not know Deputy Joe Costello very well, but I would like to go canvassing in his area with him for the general election to see what answer he gets. If a Labour Party person tells me this measure is a good one that will liberate mothers from their children and that this is doing them a favour, I dread to think what answer he will be given on the doorsteps. There was some mention of the situation in the Six Counties and of this being applied to children of five years of age. However, people fail to recognise that this is not acceptable to us either as a party.

When the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, visited the North recently she was not concerned about children living in poverty within the Six Counties. She sat on her hands and kept her mouth shut and did not try to negotiate a deal which would have enriched the lives of citizens of this island. She went up and sat and said nothing. I do not know if the Minister of State was there, but he knows that is a fact. What the Joan Burton fails to recognise is -----

It is normal to use the word Deputy or Minister when naming a Member.

I am sorry, Deputy Joan Burton is the Minister.

This is normal practice. I was in the North recently and the same happens in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I think we should follow the practice we have always followed here.

No bother. The Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, was in the Six Counties recently while negotiations were going on and she sat on her hands and said nothing. Then we get members of the Labour Party coming in here and criticising Sinn Féin, saying we stand over the cut-off of five years of age within the Six Counties. It is wrong that people who have never even crossed the Border come in here and criticise our record. That is laughable.

I support the Government amendment. It is important to remember that in 2011, Ireland was in the midst of an economic recession unprecedented in our history. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien made an offer to Deputy Joe Costello, who has left the House, but I would take him up on his offer if he wants to come canvassing with me in the next general election. I would be happy to explain to people that our mandate was to restore our economic independence, which we have done. I would explain that we exited the troika bailout programme in late 2013 and that by taking painful decisions, we have kept our core welfare payments. I would be happy to stand over that and the Deputy is more than welcome to come door to door with me in Dublin Bay South when I explain this.

Last year the Irish economy was the fastest growing economy in the European Union and we are now seeing real benefits from this growth rate, with an increase of over 80,000 in employment in the past two years. The Deputy can be with me when I explain that also. Unemployment has fallen, from a peak of 15% in early 2012 to under 10% and the live register has fallen by over 100,000 since it peaked in late 2011.

Despite the high levels of investment in the one-parent family payment scheme, it has failed to prevent a cycle of poverty for one-parent families. I strongly agree with the Tánaiste that the single best protection against poverty is decent, secure and fairly paid work. It is imperative that the reforms to the one-parent family payment scheme take place in order to achieve this. The Opposition endorses a view that we should continue to adopt a laissez-faire approach to one-parent families, but this is not acceptable. To do nothing puts one-parent family recipients and their families at risk of long term welfare dependency. In my constituency, I have seen intergenerational welfare dependency due to poorly designed schemes.

Last night, a number of Opposition Deputies quoted the most recent survey on income and living conditions which stated that 23% of lone parents are at risk of consistent poverty. However, what they failed to say was that if a lone parent is in work, this risk falls to 10% and that if a lone parent is not at work, it rises to 40%. The Government introduced the jobseeker's transitional payment in 2013 to ensure that lone parents whose youngest child is aged between seven and 13 are exempt from the requirements that they must be genuinely seeking and available for full-time work in order to claim a jobseeker's payment.

While a person who is in receipt of the jobseeker's transitional payment does not have to satisfy this condition, they do have to engage with their local Intreo office. This is vital to develop their skills-set, with the aim of securing employment and financial independence. Individuals who were already on family income supplement will, from Thursday, receive an increased payment when they transition from the one-parent family payment. All these individuals will also be able to claim the back to work family dividend and will be better off than they are now. The dividend is worth €1,550 per child in the first year and €775 per child in the second year.

To date, we have 1,250 lone parents claiming FIS for the first time. These individuals will also all qualify for the new back to work family dividend. Without exception, these individuals will be financially better off than had they just remained on the one-parent family payment. After the reforms, a lone parent with one child working 19 hours at minimum wage will receive €235 per week from the Department.

When added to their wages from employment, their weekly income is almost €400. That is a substantially higher income than a single person receives for working more than twice as long, for 39 hours per week, on the minimum wage. I hope the Low Pay Commission will address that issue for people who are working 39 hours for a relatively low income.

It is important to remember that the 19 hours for FIS can be with more than one employer. A case was mentioned yesterday of a person who was working 20 hours a week at €10 an hour. It was stated that the person would lose €86 a week and could not claim the back-to-work family dividend. That is not correct. I presume the person is already claiming family income supplement, but I must stress that he or she is also eligible for the back-to-work family dividend payment. To qualify for the back-to-work family dividend, a lone parent must transition off the one-parent family payment, and provided he or she does not claim another social welfare payment, excluding family income supplement, he or she will also be eligible for the dividend.

The Minister of State is over time.

I will finish now. To qualify for the dividend a person does not have to increase his or her hours nor does he or she have to take up a new job.

I am sorry, but I have to cut the Minister of State short.

In cases where customers lose financially and are having difficulty increasing their hours, my Department will work with them to offer every possible assistance.

Ionsaí uafásach ar na daoine is laige sa tsochaí seo againne iad na ciorruithe atá beartaithe don íocaíocht teaghlaigh aontuismitheora.

Why has the Minister for Social Protection decided to pick on lone parents? Why has the Government decided to pick on lone parents? Why not pick on the bankers, rack-renting landlords or employers who rip off workers? Most of the legislation coming through the House is an attack on the rights, social entitlements and social protection of ordinary citizens and in defence of the elites.

Most lone parents are women and the record of the Government in defence of women and the rights of women has been pitiable. After four years in power the Government has still not produced the much promised consolidated legislation on domestic violence, nor has it signed the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

Under the Government’s watch the number of children living at risk of poverty and in consistent poverty has doubled. That means at least 135,000 children are experiencing material deprivation on a daily basis. According to Tom Healy of the Nevin Economic Research Institute:

Deprivation is measured by the incidence of households who lack two or more of a list of basic needs such as two pairs of shoes, a strong overcoat, meat or fish meal every second day, going without heating. In the case of lone parents deprivation rates increased from 50% in 2012 to 63% in 2013.

That happened under the Government's watch.

In addition, the number of homeless children in Dublin has now surpassed 1,000. When the cut we are discussing is introduced tomorrow, all those difficulties will be exasperated for lone-parent families. That is not the troika's fault. Neither is it the fault of lone parents. It is solely the responsibility of the Tánaiste, Deputy Burton, and those who will vote against the Private Members’ motion. That is the decision which Government party Deputies will take. It is as if the Government considers lone parents are somehow to blame for their circumstances and that they need to be forced into work or education, and away from what Labour calls “welfare dependency”, a phrase straight out of Margaret Thatcher’s handbook. It is a very insulting view of lone parents.

There are an estimated 12,000 families, including many in my own constituency of Louth, who now face significant cuts of up to €86 per week. Many will be deeply affected by the cut to the allowance. Such a Thatcherite view of the world ignores the valuable social and economic role lone parents make in raising their children. The Government made a firm commitment that it would not introduce the measure unless affordable child care and after-school care was available. That has not happened. The Minister promised not to proceed unless a Scandinavian model of child care was in place. One could ask where it is. Even on that basis, the Government should not proceed. It is another broken promise.

I listened with bemusement and sometimes irritation to Government party Deputies drawing on untruthful examples from the North to vindicate their shameful policies in this State. That is partitionism of the worst kind. It is also generally a misrepresentation of Sinn Féin’s role in the governance of the North. We stand as firmly against austerity there as we do here. Both the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, and Deputy Joanna Tuffy are old enough to remember that Sinn Féin has a proud record of standing up for people’s rights in the North against British militarism and Unionist misrule without any support whatsoever from the establishment parties in this State. The system is not perfect for lone parents in the North. I do not want to see a system that is perpetuated North and South. I want to see a united Ireland and a real republic.

I thank the Deputy.

Críochnóidh mé anois. Lone parents there will not suffer any loss. Members should remember that. The Tories in London wanted to stop lone-parent allowance at one year old and Sinn Féin prevented that. The allowances will not be reduced unless the parents have child care. In other words, we kept the promises we made.

Gabhaim buíochas leis na Teachtaí go léir a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht seo. Measaim gur díospóireacht bhríomhar a bhí ann. In ainneoin nach n-aontaím go hiomlán le gach rud a deir siad, tá sé ceart buíochas a ghabháil leo agus mo leithscéal a ghabháil leo siúd ar chuir mé as dóibh mar measaim féin go bhfuil an cheist seo chomh tábhachtach sin gur chóir go mbeadh sí fírinneach agus gur chóir go mbeadh sé bríomhar chomh maith.

I reject the repeated claims made by the Tánaiste that lone parents are being protected by a safety net. This is the same safety net that she has continually cut during her tenure as Minister for Social Protection and now also as Tánaiste. It is clear that she and many who contributed to the debate are not living in the real world and continue to ignore the pleas of the thousands of lone parents who now face harsh cuts.

The Tánaiste said yesterday that the aim of this measure was to lock down poverty and joblessness. She went on to say the cuts to lone parents would actually help them to get back on their feet, build financial independence and build better lives for themselves and their families. She quoted the SILC statistics without making the link that it was her actions that helped contribute to the worsening situation as outlined in SILC through previous cuts to the one-parent family payment, the lack of investment in social housing and the JobBridge scheme which replaced many of the entry level and part-time jobs which would have been available to lone parents in the past.

In relation to the North, as Deputy Gerry Adams said, citizens there have only been protected due to the continued opposition to the Tory cuts by Sinn Féin representatives. Meanwhile the Tánaiste herself has never raised any voice in opposition to Tory cuts in the North or to cuts to the block grant. In this Chamber, Labour Party and Fine Gael Deputies make cheap political points at the expense of citizens in the North, but when the Tánaiste had an opportunity to stand up for lone parents in the North, and others who are dependent on social welfare, she did absolutely nothing.

She did not even open her gob during the very little time she spent at the entire Stormont House Agreement negotiations. She did not open her gob to protect them, to demand extra money or the reversal of the Tory cuts that had already been introduced, yet she has accused me of making cheap political points about child care provision for people participating in community employment schemes. I have done no such thing. Members of this Chamber know my record on the issue of seeking to enhance the community employment scheme, not only for lone parents but also for others in receipt of social welfare payments. It is one of the major schemes that should have been protected, not cut, as she has done. We need to enhance rather than cut these schemes.

The Tánaiste has tried her best to make the reductions she has introduced. Given that the changes will take effect in an hour and a half, there is still an opportunity for the Government to row back. However, I am not holding my breath. The Tánaiste has tried to portray these measures as positive. There is nothing positive for the thousands of people who have already been or will be negatively affected by the cuts to the one-parent family payment. There is nothing positive about reneging on commitments to provide a Scandinavian model of child care. Labour Party Deputies did not mention the promise their leader had made in the Chamber when introducing these changes, that she would not proceed with them unless there was a bankable commitment. There is not even a mention of a bankable commitment, never mind anything else, on the promise she made.

The Tánaiste failed to say what would happen to those who were unable to find the 19 hours of work per week required to reach the FIS payment threshold. Everybody who knows someone who work few hours knows that it is very difficult to increase these hours and that, in some cases, those who ask for more hours lose their jobs. Many lone parents work in schools and the Government would have them seek more hours of work from the schools the payments of which it has cut. It does not work like that. The people in question work three hours a day, not including the summer months, which is less than 15 hours per week when calculated across an entire year.

I repeat my question and I am not scoffing at the Tánaiste. If the Government believes child benefit is a very valuable part of our child support structure, why was it cut? There is no answer. If the Government believes the one-parent family payment is part of a safety net, why is it cutting it specifically in this instance for many who are already in work? Those in work will be most acutely affected by it, which gives the lie to the argument that this measure is aimed at those who have been languishing in receipt of social welfare payments for four, seven, eight or 20 years, or whatever figure the Minister of State dreamed up when he came into the Chamber. The €5 per month increase in child benefit announced last year and the possibility of another €5 increase which the Tánaiste seemed to be touting yesterday will all be gobbled up by the water tax which the Government is introducing. The water charges will be taken from the pockets of the same people who will be affected if the Government gets its way tomorrow and Friday. At least the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, admitted that up to 10,000 claimants and, in particular, their children would be negatively affected.

All the lone parents I know have asked for increased hours or would love a job, but they have not been able to secure them. As one parent stated in a recent e-mail to me: "There are so many parents like me who are terrified and at our wits end because we simply feel that we and our children are not being heard." Another parent wrote:

Give "single parents an incentive to return to work"? An incentive is a thing that motivates or encourages someone to do something. I can see how this legislation will be a fabulous incentive for struggling families as starvation is definitely a motivating factor for any mother bear. I'm delighted to see that Joan and I share a passion for wildlife documentaries and that the law of the jungle plays such an integral part in the formation of Irish legislation.

Táim ag impí ar an Rialtas machnamh a dhéanamh ar seo. Tá níos lú ná uair go leith ann go dtí an t-am cinniúna nuair a thiocfaidh an réimeas nua i gcumhacht agus nuair a bheidh ar thuismitheoirí teacht ar bhreis airgid nach bhfuil ann dóibh. Tá an Rialtas ag déanamh iarracht bualadh síos orthu siúd atá ag obair ar feadh níos lú ná 19 uair a chloig sa tseachtain suas go dtí €60 nó €70 sa tseachtain. Is é sin atá i gceist. Beidh ar go leor de na daoine sin casadh athuair ar bheith ag brath go huile is go hiomlán ar an gcóras leasa shóisialaigh seachas a bheith ag obair. Molaim an rún seo agus impím ar dhaoine tacú leis.

Maith thú.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 not moved.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 79; Níl, 36.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Conaghan, Michael
  • Connaughton, Paul J..
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P..
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Coppinger, Ruth.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S..
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."
The Dáil divided by electronic means.

As a Teller in the last vote and given that some Members forgot to vote and that we are only an hour from the introduction of the new regime for children and lone parents, it is appropriate that we ensure the vote is recorded properly and by other than electronic means.

Question again put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 78; Níl, 35.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Coppinger, Ruth.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and John Lyons; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin..
Question declared carried.