Report on Lone Parents: Motion

I move:

That Dáil Éireann shall consider the Report of the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection entitled Report on the Position of Lone Parents in Ireland, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 16th June, 2017.

At an early stage in formulating the work programme of the Joint Committee on Social Protection, now the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection, we recognised that the position of lone parents in Ireland should receive particular attention. Our interest was particularly in lone parents accessing various support payments and schemes, mostly but not entirely from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. We recognise that there are many lone-parent families that make their own arrangements in pursuing work and educational opportunities, but the joint committee is concerned about the position of those families who require assistance.

The work of the joint committee was done with a view to the report being published in a timely fashion to afford the Minister an opportunity to reflect on it in order that it would have budgetary implications. In that regard, the report was published in June 2017 prior to the announcement of budget 2018. The Minister appeared before the joint committee where many of the issues were discussed. The final comment I will make about the Minister's appearance at the joint committee is that before she left, she told it, with regard to the preparation of the budget, that if we had one or two particular issues that were of significant importance, we should highlight them and that she would act on them. We duly acknowledged that lone parents and the 2012 pension anomalies on which we had also produced a report were issues of significant concern to the joint committee. It was one of a number of reports available to the Minister which had been carried out by Indecon and Dr. Millar and Dr. Crosse from NUI Galway. There were a variety of reports dealing with this issue.

Since the budget, I have asked what has happened and where we are. I want to outline the changes the Minister has said she has made. She said in a reply to a parliamentary question:

Budgets 2015, 2016 and 2017 included a range of measures that benefited lone parents. I ensured improvements for lone parents ... in Budget 2018 by introducing the following measures:

- an income disregard for lone parents on [one-parent family payment] and the jobseeker’s transitional payment (JST), to be increased from €110 a week to €130 a week with effect from 29th March 2018;

- the qualified child (IQC) rate to be increased from €29.80 a week to €31.80 a week with effect from 29th March 2018.

A number of other budgetary measures will also benefit lone parents, including the €5 primary rate increase, the additional week to the fuel allowance and the Christmas bonus of 85%, which was paid in early December.

These changes will see a lone parent on [one-parent family payment] or JST working 15 hours a week on the National Minimum Wage gain by almost €1,000 per year in their overall income.

My Department’s social impact assessments of the last four budgets show a cumulative increase of €36.75 in the average weekly household income of employed lone parents and €33.60 for unemployed lone parents. This compares favourably with a weekly increase of €34.45 for the average household.

The Minister went on to say:

I intend to continue to prioritise supports for lone parents, particularly those which incentivise work over welfare. I stated at the publication of the Indecon report that I intend to provide for the further review of the [one-parent family payment] scheme.

I thank the Minister for her response. It is up to others to judge on the issues highlighted by the joint committee and whether they are adequate, but it is fair to indicate what the Minister said has been done and her acknowledgement of what still needs to be done.

Being a lone parent carries its own particular difficulties. Being the sole carer makes it difficult for the parent to avail of full-time and better paid employment or access educational opportunities that would facilitate future access to better paid employment. The State must, therefore, provide a range of measures, including but not confined to housing support, child care access and educational prospects, to empower these families to break free from the dangers of long-term deprivation.

In considering this matter the joint committee met many stakeholders with expertise in the different challenges facing lone parents. We heard from the Department on the availability of various supports, from Barnardos on cycles of poverty and disadvantage, from the UNESCO child and family research centre at NUI Galway on lone parent activation, from the group Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids, SPARK, on perceived inadequacies in available supports, from Focus Ireland on the issue of homelessness and from One Family on work and education supports. The joint committee’s report was laid before the Houses in June 2017 and its findings were underpinned by the presentations, the delegates and their accounts. I acknowledge the time they took to appear before the joint committee. It is clear from its analysis that the main challenges facing lone parents are child poverty, housing costs, child care costs and its availability, obtaining maintenance, job activation, access to education and changes to the one-parent family payment.

According to census 2016, 25.4% of all families with children are lone-parent families. There are over 350,000 children living in lone-parent families, with 86.4% of the parents being female and 13.6% male. The lone-parent population is a diverse group. Lone parents may be single, separated, widowed or divorced. Lone parent families contain parents who cohabit with partners, or with partners and their families in so-called blended families. The lone-parent population is diverse in the age of the parents and children, the size of families, work participation rates and the range of educational levels. The available data suggest some lone parents have comparative disadvantages in certain areas, with fewer completing second level education and more likely to be unemployed. This leads to fewer opportunities to achieve higher earnings.

Longitudinal research in Ireland and other countries indicates that it is poverty, not family structure, that is the key determinant in predicting outcomes for children and that lone-parent families are at much greater risk of poverty than other groups. According to the CSO, lone-parent families have the highest consistent poverty rate of 26.2% of any group in Irish society and suffer higher rates of deprivation, at 57.9% compared to 25.5% among the general population. Children living in one-parent families are three times more likely to live in consistent poverty than in families with two adults with one to three children. To help to reduce the level of poverty in this group, the joint committee recommended the removal of some payment anomalies. It proposed the full restoration of the income disregard for those on the one-parent family payment and the jobseeker's transitional payment. It also recommended that lone parents be able to remain on jobseeker's transitional payment until their youngest child is 18 years rather than the current cut-off age of 14. I note that in budget 2018 the income disregard was increased by €20 to €130 per week, which is welcome. All of these measures have to be acknowledged.

Lone parents are less likely to be in employment than at least one parent in a two-parent family. Child care, or the lack of child care supports, is frequently cited as a barrier to labour activation. A lone parent’s capacity to work cannot be equated to that of a parent in a two-parent family. Lone parents devote more of their time to caring responsibilities, responsibilities which impinge on their availability for work. Among other difficulties, child care costs in Ireland are among the highest in the OECD. Lone parents, as the sole carers of their children, are more affected by these costs. They simply have no one else to help them to bear them.

A key concern raised by the joint committee was the recent change in the one-parent family payment policy. Recipients who were in part-time employment prior to the change experienced a reduction in income. This encouraged welfare dependency as lone parents found that taking up work could actually lead to reduced income. Given the specific challenges facing lone parents in trying to access employment, the joint committee agreed with the recommendation of Dr. Millar and Dr. Crosse of NUI Galway who gave evidence to it that a package of supports for lone parents should include pre-employment supports, employment supports, financial support and child care support.

According to evidence given to the joint committee, homelessness disproportionately affects single-parent families. Everyone is aware of the stark and ongoing increase in rental costs. By their nature, lone-parent families are less likely and less able to keep pace. It was made clear to the joint committee that the value of family income supplement, now the working family payment, had been eroded for many. It was traditionally seen as a means of lifting families out of poverty, but local authorities, in considering applications for rent supplement and SUSI grants, among other payments, were including FIS as a source of income. While recognising that homelessness among lone parents is only part of a much larger problem, the joint committee strongly urged that rent allowance be decoupled from family income supplement.

In a 2003 report the OECD suggested long-term poverty might be reinforced by the one-parent family payment if there was a lack of government engagement with lone-parent families.

This engagement should monitor changes to supports and schemes to ensure they are actually helping those they were designed to assist. The most significant issue affecting lone parents since 2012 has been the change to the administration of the one-parent family payment, OFP, introduced in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2012. These changes were applied to new and existing recipients and the age of the youngest child at which payment ceases was reduced from 18 to seven. Stakeholder groups expressed concern to the joint committee about anomalies which caused incomes to drop for those in work. Although the reforms were intended to encourage lone parents off social welfare and onto an in-work payment, many parents who transferred to family income supplement would now be better off transferring back to jobseeker's transition payment.

The joint committee recommended that the Department introduce markers within its systems to ensure that those leaving OFP are still recognised as lone parents, even when they are in receipt of another payment, such as jobseeker's allowance or family income supplement. This would allow proper monitoring through comparative data on outcomes and progression for lone parents on these schemes, thus ensuring additional supports could be offered or accessed as required. The joint committee also recommended that caseworkers assigned to support lone parents on one parent family payment or jobseeker's transition payment should be given training to ensure that they fully understand the challenges and needs of lone parent families, and to enhance their ability to intervene as effectively and beneficially as possible.

The joint committee paid particular attention to the issue of maintenance. It found the introduction of the one-parent family payment scheme extended the requirement for lone parents to make efforts to obtain maintenance from their former spouses to unmarried cases. Previously, this provision only applied to separated spouses. Although the scheme sought to relieve hardship for lone parents who had not secured adequate, or any, maintenance from the other parent of the child, there were unfavourable consequences for lone parents. The cost of any support given to lone parents from the other parent of the child now became recoverable by the State. Further, the requirement to contact the former partner brought unintended potential negative consequences. A lone parent may not have contact details for the second parent or there may be difficulties in their relationship, such as abuse. Despite assurance from the Department that it will not require a lone parent to seek maintenance where there has been an abusive relationship in the past, such a relationship may have existed without having been proved to exist and the lone parent may find it impossible to demonstrate. Even if there is no difficulty in making contact, a lone parent is forced to seek payments through an adversarial and costly court system if the second parent is averse to making payment. In Ireland only 35% of lone parents receive child maintenance payments.

The joint committee noted that Ireland has no state body with responsibility for child maintenance payments, whereas in other jurisdictions, such as Sweden, New Zealand and Canada, the state is involved in facilitating the transfer of maintenance to parents. The committee recommended that such a state body should be put in place to appropriately seek and pursue maintenance payments, and urged strongly that lone parents should ever have their social protection payment threatened or reduced due to non-receipt of maintenance from the other parent. The obligation to pursue the liable adult should be removed from the lone parent.

We have all met lone parents at our clinics who have been unable for a variety of reasons to approach the other parent. It is very telling to meet them, some with the fear of God in them. We can all cite case studies. It is time that the Department considered an alternative system where the individual starting out as the vulnerable one is better protected by the State. It is not always a question of additional payments but of a better and fairer process for that parent.

All of the joint committee's recommendations have been made with the interests of lone parents and their children in mind. The problems of poverty, homelessness and educational disadvantage are not of course confined to lone parents, but their particular set of circumstances results in each individual problem exacerbating the others. As a society, we want to help all families and especially all children to reach their full potential. For that to happen, it behoves us to assist in breaking cycles of poverty and help avoid creating multi-generational disadvantage.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on the report on the position of lone parents in Ireland produced by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection and thank the committee for its extensive body of work. I had a chance to speak on this in the Seanad last October and welcome the opportunity to debate this further in the Dáil this evening. There have been some changes since we first had a conversation about this. I thank the committee for acknowledging them. I thank the committee members for the programme of work it has completed in the past 12 months, and particularly the interested parties it has invited which have given valuable information and practical examples of how life reflects our policy decisions and will, I hope, make an input into those in the future.

As Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection my priorities include the children living in consistent poverty, of which there are far too many, and lone-parent families. Reports such the one produced by the committee and the recent Indecon review of the changes to the one-parent family payment are very welcome, as they help to inform the policy in these areas. Both of these reports have influenced the budget measures that I introduced for lone parents for 2018. Budget 2018 included a range of measures that directly benefit lone-parent families and their children. I will discuss some of these measures in more detail later.

The committee's report outlines the main challenges facing lone parents. These cover several areas including child poverty, activation and education, child care costs, maintenance payments and the changes to the one-parent family payment scheme. It also made 22 recommendations as to how these challenges could be addressed. These recommendations relate to areas that are under the responsibility of my Department, and also to areas under the remit of other Departments including the Department of Children and Youth Affairs on child care, the Department of Education and Skills on educational supports and the Department of Justice and Equality on maintenance arrangements. While I cannot address all of the 22 recommendations this evening I will address the broad areas of concern highlighted in the report and I can assure Members that the recommendations have been carefully considered by officials and the Department.

As I stated in the Seanad, the poverty rates currently experienced by lone-parent families are unacceptable. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, survey on income and living conditions, SILC, for 2016 shows that between 2015 and 2016 there was a reduction in the consistent poverty rate for lone parents of 1.6% to 24.6%, and a reduction in the deprivation rate of 7.8% to 50.1% but an increase in the at-risk-of-poverty rate of 4% to 40.2%. That is not acceptable. There is no doubt that these rates are still too high and that further reductions are needed to improve the lives of lone parent families.

The recent ESRI report on poverty dynamics of social risk groups in the EU also found that high poverty rates for lone parents are not specific to Ireland. That does not give us any comfort. This research showed that across 11 countries, lone parents, along with adults with disabilities, stand out as having higher poverty risks when compared to other working age adults. Lone parents are also most likely to stay in poverty for at least two years.

All of this information shows that lone parents are one of the groups that are struggling. It also shows that poverty is a complex problem but it is up to all of us to solve it. What steps can we take? My view, which is supported by the Indecon report, is that the policy approach of encouraging and supporting people into work is correct, and has positively impacted on lone parents' lives where they have found employment.

We need, however, to do more for these families with no or low paid employment whose risk of poverty is still too high. In budget 2018 I introduced a range of measures that I hope will benefit lone parent families. From March of this year the weekly rates of payment will increase by €5 and the qualified child payment will increase by €2 per week. Both of these increases represent a significant first step to help reduce the poverty rates for these families. The extension of the fuel allowance season by an additional week will also help to support them.

Reducing the poverty rates for lone parents is not just a question of income support. It is essential that we also provide the policy supports needed to help lone parents into sustainable employment. When we talk about helping people find a job, it has to be a job, a better job and then a career. Some people have different views on the Indecon review but it is comforting that it shows that the measures were working, notwithstanding the cuts that were made at the same time as the policy changes. The survey of one-parent families that was carried out as part of this review showed an increase in full-time employment among the survey respondents from 15% to 22%.

We need to continue with this good progress by improving the supports that will help more lone parents to work that pays. There is no point in them getting work that makes them less well-off than they were when they were entirely dependent on welfare so from March this year, I am increasing the earnings disregard on the OFP and jobseeker's transitional payment, JST, from €110 per week to €130 per week allowing a lone parent on OFP or JST to take home an additional €20 per week before it will affect the payment. This builds on previous increases to these disregards that saw the JST disregard increase from €60 to €110 across budgets 2016 and 2017 and the OFP income disregard increase from €90 to €110 in budget 2017. When the budget 2018 increase is combined with the increase in the national minimum wage to €9.55 per hour and the rate increases, it results in an extra €19 per week in the pocket of a OFP and JST recipient with one child who is working 15 hours on the national minimum wage. This is almost €1,000 per year. While it might not seem like an awful lot of money, it is going in the right direction and it is a very good start.

The working family payment thresholds - formerly the family income supplement - for families with one to three children will also increase by €10 per week from March resulting in an additional €6 per week for these families. The legislative sunset clause for the back to work family dividend will also be removed. This effective support will remain available to lone parents and couples who make the transition from welfare to work, including those who also avail of the working family payment. I know that the committee recommended higher increases to the income disregards for OFP and JST and to the child payment rates in its report. I am very much aware, and I hope the committee is very much aware, that I am in sync with what it has recommended. Obviously, I could not achieve it all in one budget. If I am lucky enough, I might be around for a few budgets and we might get to what we are looking to do. However, apart from trying to increase supports for families, the biggest thing we can do is to increase the figure of 22%, who are in the main women, who have received support from my Department and have managed to get full-time employment in the past number of years. We are to keep going until we get up to 100%. In fairness, the budget struck what I hoped was a fair balance between what some of our obligations are to other people on different schemes. I was particularly conscious of the work done by the committee in the report because it was published when I came into office. From my own experience with people in this category, I am well aware of how hard it is to be a parent on one's own.

The committee’s report highlights the importance of access to education to improve the position for lone parents. It also recommends that the activation services provided by the case officers in my Department must tailor these supports specifically to the person and the challenges they face in this category. I agree that supports such as education, training and employment programmes are critical to help lone parents progress to really good sustainable employment. There are already a wide range of financial supports available to lone parents that allow them to participate in the variety of educational and employment programmes available through my Department and the Department of Education and Skills. For example, lone parents on OFP or JST who wish to participate in education can retain these payments and also avail of the SUSI grant from the Department of Education and Skills. Members might be aware that this option is not available to other people on different schemes.

My Department’s employment services also currently provide a case-managed approach to assist lone parents to make a personal plan that is specifically tailored to their circumstances. This plan includes availing of the various educational supports and progressing towards employment opportunities, thankfully, within an ever-improving labour market. For lone parents on JST, the engagement is a proactive tailored support that can be available for up to seven years while JST is in payment. This case-managed approach is being monitored and will continue to be developed over time to offer more tailored progression plans for lone parents that reflect their individual circumstances.

My Department is also a member of the steering committee recently initiated by the Department of Education and Skills to progress the recommendations made in the independent report on barriers to lone parents in accessing third level education. Deputies may remember that this research was commissioned by that Department and published in April of last year. The intention is that an action plan will be agreed by all relevant Departments based on the recommendations of the report. The Department of Education and Skills will monitor progress against the plan. There is some overlap between this report and recommendations made in the committee’s report around educational opportunities for lone parents. For example, both reports recommend introducing more part-time and flexible educational options so this will now be dealt with as part of that steering committee. I would just like to note that the committee's report recommended voluntary access to activation supports for lone parents. This is in fact already available to lone parents so our thinking is similar. Lone parents have always had the option of self-referring for activation supports. All they have to do is literally contact their Intreo centre and we will help. Finally, the Pathways to Work plan developed by my Department also commits the Government to extend activation services to other groups of working-age adults, including lone parents so a lot of good work and progress is happening in this space.

The committee’s report also recommends access to affordable child care. As Members know, this is the responsibility of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I know that the Minister shares my interest in prioritising supports for lone parents and that her interest in these families goes back to her time not just as a Senator but her advocacy work before that. I know she has a very longstanding interesting in supporting lone parents and in tackling child poverty. The Minister has made great progress in the area of child care in budget 2018 building on previous developments, including the extension of the free pre-school scheme, ECCE, for an additional year and further investment in child care affordability measures, both of which will, hopefully, assist lone parents. My Department will continue to support and assist the Minister and her Department with these initiatives.

The committee's report also included details of some of the challenges facing lone parents when arranging maintenance and recommended the development of a child maintenance agency. Following the completion of the Indecon report, my Department recommenced the review that had been stalled while the work on the Indecon report was ongoing because the same people were working on both reports. I am in discussion with my officials on this currently and I expect to have a paper for the committee relatively shortly. As I promised in the Dáil, I will give the relevant interested parties plenty of time to input to this area. Some Members have already provided me with their reflections on that. However, as any reform in this area is predominantly owned by the Department of Justice and Equality, I must also consult with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the next steps and not stick my two left feet into his Department before I get the nose chopped off me. I also want to confirm that I have followed through on my commitment given in the Dáil last November that in cases of domestic abuse, no lone parent will need to provide evidence in order to satisfy the efforts to seek maintenance condition. I stated then and I state now that we absolutely trust women. We will accept their word and no further evidence will be required. This is departmental policy and is being rolled out to local offices. I only heard yesterday that the circular was issued to all staff instructing them about exactly what we had committed to heretofore.

I think I have managed to cover the broad recommendations made in the committee’s report. I again thank the committee members for them. The measures I have outlined covering financial supports, activation supports and my plans to progress the maintenance issues demonstrate my continued commitment, which is shared by Members, to improving the lives of parents rearing families on their own. I suppose we should all be grateful that the economy is out of recession and is growing. Unemployment has fallen from 7.4% in January 2017 to 6.1% in January 2018. Hopefully, we are still going in the right direction. This recovery and the positive impact of recent budget changes on lone parents can only help to further reduce the financial environment in which they live and reduce the poverty rates for these families. As previously promised, I intend to provide for a further review of the OFP scheme when the benefits of these changes can be measured. This review will include data to the end of 2018.

I thank the committee for all its help and invite it, in any deliberations it may have, or if any other Members or organisations are invited in during the coming months, to give me any information it thinks might be relevant as we prepare for this year's budget but also changes in policies that we hope will improve the lives of people who are parenting alone.

I congratulate the committee on the report because much hard work went into it. I thank the Chairman for organising the committee to look at this area and produce a report. What really made the difference was that lone parents and Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids, SPARK, appeared before the committee and we had the report from Millar and Crosse which pulled previous information together.

That really fed into the committee. Too often at committees, we hear from civil servants and different groups that do not really reflect the sections of society affected by the changes. That is one of the reasons I am going to refer to what One Family and Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids, SPARK, said when the report was published and following the budget. One Family said that it was heartening the voices of lone parents had been heard by the committee through its continued, determined representation, that the committee reiterated and supported what it had evidenced in policy work and in submissions for the past decade, that the main challenges facing lone parents were child poverty, housing costs, availability of affordable child care, obtaining child maintenance payments, job activation, access to education and changes to the one parent family payment, that lone parents had waited long enough and that action was needed to ensure the Government provided a range of measures, including but not confined to, housing support, child care access, education prospects and in-work supports to empower one parent families to break free from long-term deprivation and poverty, that it acknowledged the extensive work that had gone into the completion of the report and that the next step was to ensure budget 2018 contained significant measures which could resource the recommendations and make them a reality and that, in particular, it supported the committee's recommendation to broaden access to and increase supports available to those in receipt of jobseeker's transition and the call for the establishment of a State body to seek and pursue maintenance payments.

After the report was published, SPARK said:

Last month, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection issued a groundbreaking report on the welfare of lone parents. The debate around lone parents in Ireland has traditionally been a dualistic argument around work or welfare. This report, arguably for the first time, introduces the third strand into the debate, the role of the absent parent in the welfare of their child. We have a long history in Ireland of absolving absent fathers from responsibility, in respect of mother and baby homes and this tradition has continued.

It said that this was a welcome break from that.

It went on to say that in 2012, the Minister for Social Protection introduced reforms to lone parent payments which cut the income of working lone parents and those in education and training, that EU SILC, survey on income and living conditions, reports showed that since her reforms were introduced there had been a 50% increase in the consistent poverty rate for lone parent families, while concurrently there was a small reduction in the rate for the general population, that children in lone parent families were now over three times more likely to live in poverty than children in two parent families, that it believed a major reason for this was that one parent could legally walk away, that the committee undertook a comprehensive analysis of the reforms introduced by the Minister of Social Protection in budget 2012 and included oral testimony from officials from the Department and representatives of various organisations such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Barnardos, Focus Ireland, One Family and SPARK.

SPARK also said that as a result of changes made by the Minister, the Department now writes to the non-custodial parent once the youngest child in a family turns seven and informs them they are no longer obliged to pay child maintenance, unless it is court ordered, that this has resulted in a 28% drop of families receiving maintenance and, according to the Department, only a third of families now receive maintenance, that in March of this year, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, UN CEDAW, committee called on Ireland to consider setting up a statutory maintenance system, that in this report the Oireachtas committee had now also called for a statutory child maintenance system and a review on how child maintenance was assessed by the Department and that it was essential that the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, considered the important findings in this report and acted on its recommendations and that taking child maintenance out of contentious litigation could only help heal separated families. This is an important point and I would like to see how that is progressing. Perhaps the Minister might make a few points around that.

After the budget, One Family welcomed the €5 weekly social welfare payment increase, and the household income threshold for FIS increase by €10 for families of up to three children, along with new housing initiatives. However, it said it was not enough to lift lone parents and their children out of the consistent poverty and deprivation that resulted from previous reform of the one-parent family payment, and to support them in overcoming systemic barriers in accessing education and employment. One Family was quite critical that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection had released the Indecon independent review of the amendments to the one-parent family payment which should have formed the basis of changes in budget 2018 for social welfare dependent one-parent families. It said that increases should have been targeted and strategic to reach the poorest children and families across the board, following the evidence and Government commitments to lift 100,000 children out of poverty. It went on to refer to the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, report, Poverty dynamics of social risk groups in the EU, in relation to the specific barriers faced by lone parents in accessing work and their experience of higher levels of deprivation and child poverty. That paper draws on the EU-SILC dataset to investigate changes over the period 2004 to 2014 in the trends and dynamics in poverty for social risk groups in selected European countries representing different welfare regimes and that out of 11 EU countries, the persistent poverty gap in Ireland was the largest and that it also increased the most during the study’s timeframe.

That contradicts the point the Minister made in her contribution. One Family continued by saying that the main findings of the report indicated that one parent families in all countries have among the highest risks of both material deprivation and income poverty. The point it is making is that in terms of ordinary instruments to try to eradicate poverty, more has to be put into the areas of lone parents and disability. There have to be more of those instruments to deal with that.

I refer to what SPARK said because it is important. It said that in general, the situation for domestic abuse survivors had been sorted, that a few local offices were still ignoring it but, to be fair, once it highlighted it to Department officials it was resolved. It also said that there was a massive problem around people transferring from the one-parent family payment to JST, that shortly after the transfer, the liable relative got a letter stating the Department no longer held them liable for maintenance but that any existing court orders were still valid, that many men stopped paying and because, legally, the Department could not do anything, it put pressure on the lone parent to prove they were seeking it, that many lone parents did not have an address for their ex-partner so the courts would not issue a summons, that the Department had the father's PPS number and address yet it put pressure on the woman when she did not have that information and that people with young children aged seven to 13 were really being pressurised over this. That is an area that needs to be looked at in a critical way.

SPARK also said that a positive of the budget was the €10 per extra per week for qualifying lone parents, although that was still €17.60 less than it was back in 1971. That is going back a long time. It referred to the €5 extra in the basic payment and €2 extra for qualifying - small but welcome. It said that it failed to address higher costs of teenage children and left lone parents with teenagers in a very precarious position, that even with child benefit, €31.80 a week, this did not adequately feed and clothe a young adult and that they are charged adult rates for most things and that it did not cover even basics such as schools costs, trips, transport, etc.

The other main point was that there was no provision made that would allow child maintenance be seen as a benefit for the child and that in general, 50% of a maintenance order is deducted from social welfare but it is 100% for people on rent supplement and that this happens whether the maintenance is paid or not. That point was made earlier on by a Deputy.

It was a positive report. Some positive things happened around the budget but lone parents are expecting a lot more and they will continue to campaign for what they think has to be done in respect of getting them out of poverty and deprivation.

I welcome this debate on a comprehensive piece of work carried out by the committee. I thank the Chair of the committee for facilitating and allowing comprehensive analysis and detailed questioning of all our expert witnesses, and more importantly, real life witnesses. They are out there dealing with the consequences of the failure of successive Governments to tackle one of the most deprived sectors of our society. I say that with reference to the changes made in 2012 and the consequences those changes have had on lone parent families right across the State. I also say that in the full knowledge of the impact of changes that the Labour Party and Fine Gael implemented in government.

It is one of the problems lone-parent families are facing. It is unfortunate that Labour is not here to try to bring forward the solutions to help lone-parent families and address the difficulties they are facing.

While the report the committee published is comprehensive, it does not contain any new information. The report provides a snapshot of the reality of life for lone parents and their children. There is now so much evidence about the difficulties facing lone parents and their children that it is difficult to comprehend the Government's indifference to the issues involved. Government action is certainly not reflective of the wealth of evidence we have in respect of lone parents and their children. Aside from the report before the House, we also have the Millar and Crosse report. The latter tells us that, as a result of changes made by Fine Gael and the Labour Party to the one-parent family payment, some lone parents are actually better off on social welfare than at work. We have the Indecon report which tells us that the majority of lone parents surveyed experienced greater levels of deprivation after the changes to the one-parent family payment than was the case before their implementation. We also have the survey on income and living conditions, SILC, report for 2016. This tells us that there was a 4% increase in the number of lone-parent families living at risk of poverty in just one year. When the report was published, the overall figure in this regard was 40%. We have also had the ESRI report which tells us that, of 11 EU countries, Ireland has the highest persistent deprivation rate among lone parents. There is a significant gap in deprivation rates for lone parents compared with other adults in this State.

What more evidence do the Minister or Government need in order to take the steps to assist and support lone parents and their children? How much longer is the Government going to continue to neglect them? We need targeted measures across all Departments if we are to improve the lives of lone parents and their children. We need to make it easier for lone parents to upskill, train and to return to education if they so wish. Their doing the latter is not only beneficial for lone parents, it is also beneficial for their children. Research shows that the better educated a parent is, the better the educational outcome for his or her child. Education can play a key role in opening doors for lone parents, in finding them sustainable employment, in helping to lift them out of consistent poverty and in moving them away from a position of being at risk of poverty. Relaxing the rules relating to the back to education allowance is just one way in which we could assist lone parents to return to education.

We need to ensure that lone parents and their children are not left struggling to afford ever-increasing rents, particularly as most lone-parent families are in private rented accommodation. Other lone-parent families live in hotel rooms and indeed bed-and-breakfast accommodation across the State. We know from the homeless figures that the majority of homeless families are lone-parent families. The Government could have ensured that lone-parent families did not suffer ever-increasing rents by introducing rent certainty. Unfortunately, however, it was assisted by Fianna Fáil in rejecting Sinn Féin's calls for rent certainty on six separate occasions.

In the area of social protection, we need to tackle poverty among lone-parent families. This must be a priority for the Minister. We can do this through targeted increases in payments that would specifically benefit the children of lone-parent families. This can be done through increases in qualified child payment as opposed to universal increases in child benefit. Qualified child payment increases could be targeted further by aiming them at families with teenage children in recognition of the fact that it is more expensive to raise teenagers than it is younger children. We could allow lone parents to remain on jobseeker's transitional payment until their youngest child is 18 rather than 14. This Administration needs to look at assisting lone parents and their children by means of a whole-of-Government approach. I have just outlined some of the ways in which this could be done but there are many others.

One cannot talk about lone parents and the issues they face without mentioning child maintenance. I welcome the fact that the Minister mentioned this in her contribution. Evidence has shown that child maintenance payments can play a role in reducing child poverty. That is not a myth, it is a fact. I have put this idea to the Minister for Justice and Equality on more than one occasion. It is achievable and would make a real, telling difference for lone parents. Last month, I put forward Sinn Féin's proposals regarding the establishment of a child maintenance service, which is recommended in the cross-party committee report and which has been recommended by the United Nations. The latter criticised the failure of the State to have such a service in place. These proposals are supported by the lone-parent organisations, One Family and SPARK, the National Women's Council of Ireland and Women's Aid. Sinn Féin's proposals are based on a successful model in place in the North. The proposed child maintenance service would be available for lone parents to use, to seek basic advice and guidance, to assist in calculating maintenance amounts and to actually collect maintenance and transfer it to such parents. This would be a free service available to all lone parents if and when they need it.

Revenue will play a key role in the calculation of means of non-custodial parents for child maintenance payments. There would be special protocols in place for lone parents who have suffered domestic violence. They would be protected from ever having to come into contact with ex-partners. Their applications would be fast-tracked and they would not be expected to provide information, such as addresses, for ex-partners at any stage as is currently the case unfortunately. The only way to seek child maintenance at the moment is through the courts. According to lone parents, this process is degrading, it causes tensions and it simply does not work. I have met many lone parents who have had to go to court up to 14 times to seek maintenance and who, unfortunately, still have not received it. A court is no place to deal with child maintenance arrangements. If one looks at this process from the court's perspective, one realises that it takes up court time and resources unnecessarily, and gives rise to costs. It is possible that the initial cost of setting up a child maintenance service would be neutral, particularly when the cost relating to the courts is taken into account.

The Government should stop categorising child maintenance as household means in the context of rent supplement and other social welfare payments. Child maintenance is not a household income. We have a long way to go to create an environment where lone parents and their children are assisted and supported. The committee's report should not be left to sit on a shelf. The report highlights the issues right across the board - from education to social protection, from child care to employment and from housing to health - that require Government attention.

If new politics is to achieve anything, then let us commit ourselves now to making life a little bit easier for the 218,817 lone-parent families across the State. Successive Governments have done them wrong and it is time to do the right thing for them and their families.

I commend the committee, in particular the Chairman, Deputy Curran, and my colleague, Deputy Brady on the report and on the manner in which it addressed this issue. Approximately 25.4%, or one quarter, of families in this country are headed by people who are parenting alone. The lack of attendance for this debate is disappointing.

There has been much talk in this debate about the facts and the figures. We all know that it is difficult for somebody parenting alone to manage a household. In reality, if that parent is working, there is only one income coming into the household but there is no reduction in household costs such as rent, bin charges and so on. If that person is on a social welfare payment, managing is even more difficult. We need to look at ways of encouraging people back into the workforce or back into education, but we also need to look at the issue of child care costs. I acknowledge the plans to introduce an affordable child care scheme, which is an issue in which I have a huge interest. We need to be a lot more flexible in terms of child care provision. For example, a lone parent who is a nurse will be required to do shift work and, therefore, he or she will be unable to collect a child from a crèche at 5 p.m. We need to look at expanding the affordable child care scheme to childminders so that people have greater access to child care and can return to work or education.

We also need to take on board how difficult it is to parent alone. A lone parent is not only burdened with meeting all of the financial costs of running a home, such as school lunches, oil and money to pay the rent, he or she also takes on all of the emotional aspects of parenting alone. Nobody plans to be a lone parent. It is not anybody's ambition in life to raise children alone. There is very little emotional support available to lone parents. It is embarrassing and degrading for a lone parent to have to go into a social welfare office and inquire about the schemes or payments he or she can access as a lone parent. Many people will not do it. They cannot bring themselves to do it. We need to look at how, through our mental health services, we can help people to have the confidence to apply for their entitlements as a lone parent, including to return to education. Unfortunately, for many the experience of attending a social welfare office is negative. There is still a stigma around lone parenting despite the increasing number of people who are parenting alone. We need to tackle that and to ensure greater access to financial supports. We need more common sense in relation to lone parenting. For example, a child of seven or 14 is not capable of looking after himself or herself and so we need to consider extending the one-parent family allowance. I welcome the increase in the income disregard, but we need to take further similar steps. We also need to examine the emotional aspects of parenting alone. The groups representing lone parents are the experts in this area, and we need to listen to them and to take on board their views.

Our society is changing, and the number of lone parents is increasing rather than decreasing. We need to look at how realistically we can support people so that they can reach their full potential and their children can reach their full potential. We also need to do support these people to ensure that children are not going to school hungry and they able to access the extracurricular activities that other children can access. There is a gap in the system in terms of equality for children, which is unfair and wrong. We need to examine the financial aspects of lone parenting and lone parents' access to education and the workforce. We also need to examine the emotional aspects of it. Much of what was said by Deputy Brady about maintenance payments and the establishment of an agency in that regard would remove the stress and tension of the courts system for lone parents. We need to consider issues like that and to support and encourage our lone parents.

I too commend the members of the committee, including the Chairman, Deputy Curran, and my colleague Deputy Brady, on their efforts in producing this report. I echo Deputy Funchion's remarks regarding the attendance for this debate. I know that, as we speak, there people who are busy in their offices and watching this debate and so the numbers here are not reflective of the interest in this issue. Nevertheless, it is disappointing that there are not more people here. I sought time to speak on this issue because it is one about which I am passionate.

Lone parents, the majority of whom are women, have been consistently under attack in this State. From organised religion, to politicians, to the media, they have been on the receiving end of persecution and discrimination. They have been sneered at and ridiculed, and their treatment in some cases has been nothing short of disgusting. Lone parenting is possibly one of the most difficult jobs with which a person can be tasked, yet the State does little genuinely to help lone parents. I know this because my daughter is a lone parent. I know how hard she works and I know how difficult being a lone parent is for her. She is doing her best but there are many barriers in her way.

The 2016 census revealed that there are a growing number of lone-parent families in this State. According to that census, there are 218,817 lone-parent households in Ireland. The report cites the 2015 survey on income and living conditions which shows children in lone-parent families are among the poorest cohort of people in the State. It also shows how consistent poverty among lone-parent families is four times that of households headed by two parents. I found that shocking. The response of successive Fine Gael Governments was to punish, attack and directly target lone parents.

Earlier, I heard Deputy Burton speak about Joseph Stiglitz. She was not too concerned about the social and economic viewpoints of Mr. Stiglitz when, as Minister for Social Protection, she was busy attacking lone parents in the social welfare Bill in the last Dáil term. With the full backing of Fine Gael, Deputy Burton waged war on these parents. As stated by the political writer, Richard McAleavey, relying on ever present prejudices and inequalities, the lone-parent cuts were purely an accounting exercise. The outcome would cost more money, provide no solutions and fulfil none of the stated aims, but Deputy Burton did it anyway, causing untold stress and misery just to meet the bottom line. This is the outworking of policies.

The report lays bare what needs to be done and it leaves us questioning why on earth it has not been done before. We all know that child care costs are a barrier to lone parents finding work yet child care costs in Ireland are among the highest in the OECD. We need to see sustained and significant investment in affordable State-run child care facilities and State investment in jobs which provide a living wage, enabling lone parents who would like to work to have that opportunity. High rents are also crucifying lone parents. Homelessness figures show that a majority of homeless families are lone-parent families. What has been the response of the Government? It has presided over an unregulated rental market that commodifies housing, pushing lone parents and others into homelessness and forcing average income workers to spend 40-50% of their wages on rent.

In education, too, lone parents are punished. According to research, education levels are lower among lone parents. This then leads to poorer outcomes for their children. Back to education is made difficult as the back-to-education payment is not payable with the SUSI grant and this further hinders the ability of lone parents to upskill. Furthermore, a very low level of child maintenance is paid to lone parents in Ireland, and lone parents are obliged to seek child maintenance from ex-partners to retain their one-parent family payment. When paid, child maintenance is taken as household means by the Department towards rent supplement and other social welfare payments. This should not happen. Maintenance payments are not household means. A significant body of research has shown that the payment of child maintenance plays a role in lifting children out of poverty, yet this Government either stands idly by or actively participates in punishing them by presiding over this draconian policy.

The main challenges for lone parents - poverty, housing costs on one income, availability and cost of child care, obtaining child maintenance, education and the changes made to the one-parent family payment - need to be addressed urgently. We are not just an economy, we are a society. Addressing the inequality experienced by lone parents will have social as well as economic benefits.

I want first to pay tribute to SPARK, a group which campaigns for lone parents.

I pay tribute to all the women and to the men - there are some - who are involved. I recognise the tremendous work they have done in highlighting, through the media and by lobbying politicians in this House, inequality and discrimination against lone parents. My secretary, Ms Leah Speight, is one of the founding members of SPARK. She has contributed significantly to the speech I am about to make.

I welcome the report and the work thereon by my colleagues in the committee. I am now a member of the committee but was not when the work was done. We welcome the overall shift in the tone and language used when discussing lone parents in this House. The recommendations in the report should be supported. We believe they should be a starting point in beginning to reverse the failed policies of previous Governments. They should be reviewed regularly with an intention to improve policies and supports for lone parents.

Poverty rates among lone parents are the highest in the country and are at an all-time high. There are reasons for this but it is no accident that lone parents suffer from the highest rate of deprivation, at 50.1%, and that they show a consistent poverty rate of 24.6% in the most recent EU SILC report, published in 2016. Since this report was issued, an ESRI report was published, two weeks ago. I am sure others referred to it. It shows that out of 11 EU countries, Ireland had the highest persistent deprivation gap between lone parent adults and disabled adults by comparison with the general population. Lone parents had the highest persistent deprivation rate, 26 percentage points higher than for any other adult.

Time after time, we have had reports showing that lone parents and their children suffer the highest consistent poverty and deprivation rates. We have a long list of statistics to pull from. I will not focus on them too much as others have done so. The persistent trend is because of politicians, the media, our culture and the general stigmatisation of lone parents throughout the history of this country.

I do not believe the language change in the report reflects a change on the part of the Government or officials in the Department but we must welcome it as a beginning. As has been said, it is to be improved upon and updated all the time.

At the time of the announcement that Ireland was in recession in 2008, the idea of a gravy-train ride for lone parents was used by shock jockeys on radio and in many media outlets to suggest lone parents were having a great time and just having children for the sake of getting lots of money. That was the mantra that was being aired all the time. Instead of the then Minister responsible for social protection, Mary Hanafin, attributing the recession to the greed of bankers, developers and others, she reasserted the family role in her Department. She wrote in an article in the Sunday Independent in July 2008 that a lone parent on benefits has no incentive to get into a steady relationship, marry or obtain employment. Her focus was on families and family values and, in her words, not on disadvantaged areas, as had been the case in the past. One often hears locally that families get no attention and that lone parents get all the attention but statistics on poverty and living standards do not show this is the outcome. This is tied in with the mantra that recipients of social welfare and the poor, particularly lone parents, were receiving too much and that their lifestyle choices were sometimes the reason the country was suffering from recession. Clearly, that is nonsense. It is terrible media propaganda.

In September 2011, before budget 2012, a newspaper report was published claiming a quarter of lone parents' claims were fundamentally fraudulent. The article stated a shocking new report from the Department of Social Protection revealed fraudulent claims were costing the taxpayer millions each year. The current Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, called at the time for zero tolerance towards fraudsters, whom he said were "taking the taxpayer for a ride". In July 2012, after budget 2012 was implemented and after a sustained attack on lone parents, it was revealed in a fraud-and-error report inspection of 1,000 lone parent files that only 71 out of 1,000 payments were terminated due to fraud. Government politicians, in collusion with some officials in the Department, entertained by the media, had already painted the picture that they wanted lone parents to be viewed as fraudulent. That has to end. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection is shaking her head in disgust. I welcome that because it has been for too long that politicians, media and the culture in this country have scapegoated lone parents and their children.

I have some statements from politicians that back up what I am saying. They comprise just a small example of the stereotyping that lone parents have had to listen to and endure. Often there have been radio phone-ins on stations such as 4FM, which held a twitter poll asking whether the State makes it too easy to be a single mother. The report, a welcome start, should begin to turn the tide against the discriminatory culture that exists right across the country.

There is no doubt but that there was co-operation to try to paint lone parents in this matter. Now we really have to reject that and begin to say there was disgraceful treatment of lone parents throughout the history of the State. As has been said by Deputy O'Reilly, the activity of Deputy Joan Burton in particular, as Minister for Social Protection, in getting rid of the income disregard was very negative, not just in terms of its perception but in terms of the impact on the material lives of lone-parent families.

Let me give one example from the report, namely, the proposal to restore the income disregard to €147.60. This is not a radical proposal. The income disregard in 1997 was £115, which converts to €146. Despite the income disregard never having increased with inflation since 1997, it was cut and is now €110. Therefore, asking for it to be restored to €147.60, the rate in 1997, is not a big ask. Bearing in mind the consumer price index, a basket of goods that cost €147 in January 1997 would cost €217 today. In other words, the payment does not keep up with inflation or the increases in the cost of living. Instead of improving the lot of lone parents, the income disregard put them way back. The attempt to address that is falling way below what it should be. There should now be an income disregard of a minimum €217 for lone parents. This is what the committee needs to be considering and what we need to be asking the House to approve. It is certainly not radical.

The committee has put a lot of work into this report. This is the first time that the real lives of lone parents trying to juggle work, parental responsibilities, house duties, meeting child care costs, employment and facing educational barriers have been discussed alongside policy. I ask that this report not be left to one side, on top of the others on child poverty etc. that are piling up with no action being taken. In this House, we have had to look honestly at what the State did to women and children right back to the time of the Magdalene laundries and the time of the Tuam babies. I do not know how many times we have referred to this each week since I became a Deputy. It very much forms part of the debate in the lead-up to the referendum on the eighth amendment. As I stated previously in this House, having a choice to have a termination should also mean one has a choice to have a child. If women face a life of poverty, discrimination and stigmatisation, it makes it very hard for them to make the latter choice.

Lone Parents and their children are living in poverty. They have the highest rate of consistent poverty in the State. We need a big shift in this House and in society to set the current thinking aside and change it for those who are being discriminated against and stereotyped.

I thank my colleagues on the committee for the report and I thank the Minister. I welcome the report and hope and believe that the Deputies present, if they mean what they say tonight, will keep the pressure up and that it will be the beginning of a progression towards changing the lives of lone parents and their children in a meaningful way and towards ensuring we do not return to stigmatisation and discrimination.

I wish to refer to one or two points that were made in the debate. Deputy Curran referred to the fact that due to some of the changes we made since 2012, the jobseeker's transitional, JST, payment may be a better payment for some people than the working family payment. He is correct, but it is not something we in the Department see as a difficulty because in those cases the JST payment will offer a higher total income to the lone parent than the working family payment. It will allow them to balance the work and to care for their children in a more flexible way, but it will also give them access to tailored activation supports such as education and training courses to which they might not have had access, and it assists them towards achieving what we want which is a job, a better job and a career for those in that section of society.

Deputy Curran also made reference to the requirement to seek to obtain maintenance for lone parents who have been victims of domestic violence. The changes have been made. The circular was issued yesterday. The training is just about to commence with Women’s Aid. We are not blind to the cases that have been brought to our attention. I acknowledge the efforts of Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids, SPARK, in highlighting the issue. We have listened and we have very much changed our policy.

I am not sure whether it was Deputy Funchion or Deputy Louise O'Reilly who made the point but I wish to clarify that the current position with regard to means assessment of maintenance is that all maintenance is in fact assessed as means. Where the lone parent has a housing cost the disregard is applied of €95.23 per week and the balance is assessed at only 50%. That often results in no reduction in the payment of lone parents' payments, or if there is a reduction it is incredibly small.

The work is not finished. The recommendations that were made in the report were not all completed in the previous budget. We are not going to be finished until we find ourselves in a position where we have a much higher employment rate among lone parents and that the 218,000 families have a level of income whether it comes from supports and transfers from the State and employment or full employment, and that they finally receive the respect and dignity they deserve from this country and its citizens.

I agree with the ladies in the House who made reference to the view that has prevailed for far too long in this country. It does not just come from religious organisations, politicians or the media because the narrative has crept into the psyche of what I would classify as normal people, who have an incredibly wrong view that reflects on society, that we make it too easy for women to be single mothers. People have a disgraceful and shameful view that women choose to be single mothers, as if we go around at 17 or 18 years and target some poor unsuspecting young fellow so that we can get a house or get a buggy. Holy God. There are very few things that make my blood boil but this is one of them. Throughout the history of the State we have had religious orders deal with women when they got pregnant that put them in homes to hide them away. Families acquiesced to that where they should not have. We have reached a stage now where we think we are modern, politically correct, and great as it is the 21st century yet we still have radio stations castigating women because people think they are throwing their leg over because it is some sort of a better lifestyle.

I am the mother of four children and I have a husband. He is deadly, and I would not have this job only for the support he gives me. However, by Jove, being a mother with a husband is bloody hard and I cannot even begin to countenance what it must be like to be a mother on one's own and to have all of the financial burdens, emotional burdens and everything else that goes along with rearing a family. Could we all agree – all parties and none – that today it stops – the castigating, stereotyping and stigmatising of the women who are the backbone of this country? That is no disrespect to the lads. The women who rear families support the Social Insurance Fund by rearing the children who become the workers of this country who pay to support pensions. Could we stop with the historical bullshit of being incredibly rude, disrespectful and undignified towards the women of this country because it is intolerable?

We are now in the 21st century. Different families of different shapes and sizes deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and supported by the State. Whether they are blended families, single families or foster families, it does not matter. Everybody deserves the dignity and respect of being treated by the State as a human being, but we must take responsibility for the stigmatisation and stereotyping because it is not just politicians, the media and some religious organisations. It seeps into the psyche of every single normal person and it will only be changed through the changes in Government policy and by all of us standing up together to say that we will not tolerate it anymore and by educating people to say that the lot of lone parents is a bloody difficult one. Not everybody gets to see ESRI reports or SILC reports we all trawl through every weekend for our sins, but we need to be able to show the difficulty and supports and services that will allow independent women and men who are rearing their families alone to receive the education, training, financial transfers and supports so that they can get a job, a better job, and a career. That is responsible and incumbent upon all of us.

I have only a few concluding remarks. In my opening remarks I acknowledged the contribution of the witnesses to the committee and I wish to reiterate that. Those people who attended, made opening written presentations and answered questions, in fairly specific detail, informed the report that is in front of us. It is not an academic report, it was formulated by real life input. That is very important.

I also acknowledge that the report would not be the report it is without the co-operation of all members of the joint committee, both those from this House and the Upper House. This was not a majority report, it was a unanimous report from all members of the committee. We had considerable evidence in front of us. There was considerable drafting and redrafting in terms of recommendations. The recommendations and thoughts of every person on the committee were considered, irrespective of whether he or she was a member of a party or not. Everybody on the committee agreed with the final report.

In making my opening remarks I was conscious that the recommendations and findings were those of the committee, that they were not my own personal views and it was very important to accurately reflect and summarise the work of the committee given the considerable effort that went into it. The report is all the stronger because of the quality and input of the witnesses, including written presentations, and the co-operation and work of members. It was not just a case of members turning up for a short meeting, there was much drafting and redrafting to produce the report. I acknowledge and recognise the work members of the committee put into it.

I wish to refer to one or two brief points that came up during the course of the debate. Although I did not mention it in my opening remarks the additional cost of teenagers was brought to the attention of the Minister. We recognise that in other areas, for example, the way we approach the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance. A distinction is made between primary schoolchildren and older children. It is important to recognise that in real life teenagers are more expensive and they need subscriptions for football, designer tracksuits or whatever else. We have all had the experience of living with teenagers and while they progress beyond that stage we all know teenagers are more expensive and we must be cognisant of that. We recognise it in certain areas and we must demonstrate a differential approach to older children in future budgets in terms of a different or additional payment in recognition of the additional costs.

I welcome the Minister's comments on the issues I raised on maintenance. I welcome the fact that women who are in awkward or abusive relationships do not have to go through the same process. However, it is necessary to update the website for anybody who goes to the welfare site and looks at the list of requirements. I only looked at it today and it is concerning if people feel they have to go through that process. More important regarding maintenance, it should be taken away altogether and it should be a stand-alone issue that lone parents, who are predominantly female, get a payment and do not have to worry about maintenance. The State should play a role in that regard.

Certainly, none of the people I see wants to have to deal with a former partner as the relationship is over. In many cases, they do not know where their former partner is or do not want to track him down, etc. It is welcome that the Minister has committed to providing a paper on the issue in the near future. I encourage her to submit it to the joint committee. She should give us a look at it at an early stage to try to deal with this issue in a meaningful way. That would have a positive impact.

The Minister referred to how getting people back into work was the solution. I do not disagree, but I am keen to make the point that the real challenge is presented by the quality of work. I did not get an opportunity to speak in the debate last night on the employment Bill which deals with the issues of banded hours, security and so on. The same applies to lone parents. It is important that the quality of work available to them affords them the lifestyle that goes with moving out of poverty.

We need to consider our analysis for the future. It is not good enough to say people are in work or employment. We need a qualitative analysis to assess what impact employment is having. Is it having the desired beneficial positive impact the Minister intended? That is not a criticism, but if we shift in the direction of people moving into employment which is seen as the solution, there is no use in it being a subsidy. It needs to be real and meaningful. It needs to have the desired outcome for them for which we are all striving. It is important to ensure there will be a continuous analysis of the level and type of employment available.

The joint committee's report was published in June last year to give the Minister an opportunity to consider its findings. The idea was that its timing would have an impact in how the budget might be formulated. The report this year will be equally relevant. The numbers of lone parent families may change and the numbers living in deprivation and poverty will go up and down somewhat, but the broad issues addressed and the broad solutions suggested will be as relevant in the compilation of the budget for next year. I acknowledge that incremental progress has been made, but more work remains to be done. If the Minister is before the joint committee in advance of the preparation of the budget for next year, I appeal to her to revisit this report. While the numbers may be somewhat out of date when she enters the budgetary process, the report will still be a roadmap she should follow.

I thank everyone for his or her contribution.

Question put and agreed to.