I acknowledge the time and effort spent by Dr. Millar and her team in completing this study. My Department values the contribution social policy research makes in assisting the Department by informing policy across its broad remit.
The report does not purport to be an analysis of the lone parent reforms. Based on the study’s terms of reference, my Department expected that it would provide detail on the design of specific education, training and employment programmes that work for lone parents, including evidence of outcomes. That is why the report is called Lone Parents and Activation, What Works and Why. It is disappointing, therefore, that it does not supply the additional new detailed material that is required to inform the future design of these activation interventions for lone parents. The report does contain useful and worthwhile information based on national and international experiences that will be considered by my Department.
The overall direction remains the activation of lone parents. I believe the report supports that principle too. Data shows that being at work reduces consistent poverty among lone parent families. Those at work have consistent poverty rates of 9.6%, compared to 35.5% for those not at work. Therefore, the key to ensuring lone parents are lifted out of poverty is to aim to support them into employment.
The report highlights the critical nature of the case officer role in my Department and the importance of a package of supports in areas like pre-employment, employment, finance and child care.
While the qualitative interviews in the report will add to our knowledge, the sample size is small and the period of implementation of the reforms is short. There have already been adjustments since they were introduced. It is too soon to draw definitive conclusions about the outcome of these reforms.
As I said at the start of Question Time, initial indicative data from the quarterly national household survey show that there was a significant increase in the percentage of lone parents in employment in the year to the end of June 2016. This increase relates to all lone parents in the State and reflects the increase in economic and employment growth generally. The magnitude of the increase in lone parents in employment, many of whom would have been affected by these reforms in July 2015, is clearly significant and cannot be dismissed. I refer to the fact that the percentage of people in work has increased at a faster rate among lone parents than it has among the general population.