One-Parent Family Payment: Discussion

The purpose of this part of the meeting is to discuss the one-parent family payment and the challenge of bringing children up without the support of a partner. During 2015 changes to the payment were announced and today we have an opportunity to consider issues arising in respect of the scheme. I am pleased to welcome Mr. Stuart Duffin and Ms Karen Kiernan from One Family, Ms Louise Bayliss and Ms Leah Speight from Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Children and the delegation from the Department of Social Protection. There will be three presentations and the time available for these will be capped at seven minutes each. I ask those making the presentations to try to adhere to the time limits.

Mr. Stuart Duffin

I thank the committee for inviting us to provide opinion and evidence and with the opportunity to exert influence on behalf of the parents with whom we work. One Family calls on the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection to petition the Tánaiste and the Department of Social Protection to get matters right for lone parents. The issues relating to lone parents have been known since 2012 and lack of planning and implementation in respect of such parents is of major concern. It is quite astonishing that research relating to activation among lone parents - which will become available in June - is only being commissioned now, particularly when 39,000 lone parents are due to be activated on 2 July. The decision to restrict eligibility for the one-parent family payment for those parenting alone whose youngest child is aged seven or under was announced in budget 2012. On 2 July next, most of these 39,000 lone parents will be transferred to the jobseeker's transitional allowance payment. The major concern for us in this regard relates to the lack of planning, support and information provided and responsibility taken by the Department of Social Protection in terms of these action.

The Department must take responsibility for the impact of its policies. It must also put in place the necessary services and provide the information that is available from other Departments. Activating lone parents is an issue which does not just relate to the Department of Social Protection; it is one which requires a whole-of-government approach. In that context, the Departments of Education and Skills, Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Children and Youth Affairs must be involved. An integrated approach in respect of this matter has not really been planned. There is a need to develop a customer charter whereby parents will be given clear, sensible and correct information. I will not go into detail on the anecdotal evidence in our possession in respect of this matter. However, we have received a number of inquiries from parents to our askonefamily national helpline regarding incorrect information, etc. Suffice it to say that such information is confusing the whole issue.

I will now discuss some of the headline issues relating to lone parents. At present, 63% of lone parents are experiencing deprivation. By anybody's standards, this is obviously a key issue which we must address. Regardless of the issues relating to the payment and the question of supports, the level of deprivation must be tackled now. We are beginning to see evidence that work is not a route out of poverty but that for some people it is a way into persistent and consistent poverty. This is going to be a major issue going forward, particularly for those families that will be moving on the jobseeker's transitional payment. The number of people in receipt of the one-parent family payment who are involved in community employment has dropped from 33% to 9%. Community employment is a good activation measure because people only need to work for 19.5 hours per week and it facilitates parents who have caring responsibilities for children. However, these individuals are financially restricted as a result of the fact that child care is expensive.

Another headline issue relates to lone parents entering third level education. As a result of the transition, these individuals may transfer to the back to education allowance but this has not been fully confirmed. What is going to happen after the transition on 2 July? What will happen on 3 July and during the remainder of the summer? Lone parents are actually considering not returning to third level to complete their fourth year of study because they simply cannot afford it. That runs contrary to the Government's policy of getting people to the highest level of education possible.

Another matter that arises is the fact that people are unable to take up training and upskilling options because of issues relating to time and cost. Why do classes relating to training and upskilling start at 9 a.m. rather than 10 a.m.? There are simple things which could be done in order to facilitate people in pursuing the options available to them.

Parents are also giving up part-time work on foot of the move to the jobseeker's transition payment and issues relating to family income supplement. The latter is a threshold payment and if one earns €1 above that threshold, one does not receive it. There is an issue with regard to how we can use family income supplement to better support parents who are working. Perhaps a sliding-scale mechanism or some other more creative approach could be used in this regard. The current situation is having an impact on many lone parents who are being obliged to make rational decisions with regard to whether they should be in work.

Members are aware of the issues relating to child care. Affordable, accessible and quality child care is needed in order to facilitate those who are already in or those who wish to enter employment. Child care is an economic development issue. It is also an economic policy issue and we should be examining it in the context of facilitating not only lone parents but also all parents who wish to work. Child care schemes are clumsy and complex. In addition, they are not understandable and coverage is poor. A major issue arises in terms of considering how we can create a child care strategy - and provide child care funding - which actually facilitates people who wish to work or pursue educational opportunities.

There are a number of urgent actions which the Government and the Department of Social Protection should take. The overarching aim must be to ensure that work pays. We also need to ensure that parents are treated with respect and dignity by the Department of Social Protection. In addition, we must use a variety of ways to ensure that parents will not be compromised financially, emotionally or socially in the context of the move to the jobseeker's transition payment. A key issue relates to the need to examine the position with regard to free part-time education options for those who are parenting alone. This is cheap activation - there are courses and programmes available - and it is a better way to ensure that parents become educated.

Ms Louise Bayliss

I thank the committee for the opportunity to address it. We welcome the opportunity to discuss the grave realities facing families. Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Children, SPARK, is a voluntary organisation that was established in December 2011 to campaign specifically in respect of the changes to the one-parent family payment. The reforms lone parents are facing in July are the final stage of reforms introduced in budget 2012. They are wide-ranging in nature but in essence they remove the status as carers for parents once their youngest children turn seven. This has huge implications for how one-parent families can manage both child-caring and chief-bread-winner roles. During the initial debate relating to the relevant legislation, the Tánaiste, Deputy Burton, allayed concerns from NGOs , Opposition members and backbenchers by undertaking not to proceed with the legislation without a child care system similar to that which obtains in Scandinavia. We are now facing into these changes in the absence of the affordable child care and we are worried for our families.

One-parent families have traditionally suffered higher deprivation and poverty rates than the general population. The policy in this regard was designed to encourage more active inclusion of one-parent families through greater uptake of employment and educational opportunities. However, while this has been the motivation, the necessary child care supports have not been provided. Our families are the poorest in society and we are not in a position to withstand any further cuts to our incomes.

Child care is a huge barrier to all working parents in Ireland. According to the OECD, the average two-parent family spends 17% of its net income on child care. For two-parent families in Ireland that goes up to 34% and for one-parent families 53% of their net income goes on child care. This is the barrier we face.

These cuts are regressive and will see those earning least paying most. A lone parent with one child, working 20 hours per week on the minimum wage, will lose €50.72 this July and that is taking into account the back-to-work family dividend and increases in FIS payments. That will rise to €80.52, or 18% of their income, by July 2017 when they lose the back-to-work family dividend. The poorest will lose 18% of their income.

Jobseeker's transitional payment for parents whose children are aged over seven and under 14 has been introduced in lieu of child care. This is a welcome move but it is not enough and it is a regressive step for working lone parents as a working lone parent earning €150 per week will lose an additional €30 per week. This loss is in addition to cuts caused by changes to the income disregard, so there is a cumulative loss of €53 per week for a person earning €150 per week and transitioning to the jobseeker's transitional payment.

Lone parents transitioning to FIS will lose fuel allowance of €520 per year and 40% of their current one-parent family allowance payment. Lone parents who are full-time carers and not in receipt of domiciliary care allowance will lose €86 per week when they lose entitlement to one-parent family allowance. There are many claimants on primary social welfare payments who are entitled to this indefinitely.

Lone parents in full-time education may transfer to back-to-education allowance, although it is not guaranteed. If they can do so, they will lose their student maintenance grant, a loss of €2,375 per year or a total weekly loss of €45. Many will be forced to abandon their studies.

We believe there are many flaws in the policy. First, the objective of the policy is to encourage lone parents into job activation and education, yet it is making it harder for those already fulfilling that objective. Only parents who are already working, learning or caring will face any financial changes. Second, the State has a mechanism to hold an absent parent responsible for costs incurred in maintaining a one-parent family with its maintenance recovery unit. Once we change to jobseeker's allowance the State loses that mechanism. There is no longer a liable relative and the State cannot recoup the money once a child turns seven.

We are also concerned about the treatment of child maintenance. If a court orders €100 to a child the State uses that to offset some of the payment to a jobseeker. The state provides €188 per week to all jobseekers, providing they comply with conditions. If a court has ordered child maintenance the State is now using this income, ordered for the benefit of a child, to offset the cost of an adult jobseeker's payment. There was legitimacy in this when the State was supporting a parent in a carer’s role, but it is questionable whether the State can use child maintenance payments to pay statutory payments to an adult.

We believe there are discriminatory aspects to the legislation which may be challenged on family status grounds. In a two-parent family on jobseeker's allowance only one parent is obliged to actively seek work. There is no obligation on the second parent to engage in work outside the house, regardless of the age of the dependent children. A one-parent family must look for work outside the home when their youngest child turns seven.

A lone parent who is also a carer will lose his or her primary social welfare payment and half-rate carer’s allowance when the youngest child turns seven. However, an adult dependent claimant of a jobseeker is entitled to keep his or her primary payment and half-rate carer’s allowance indefinitely, regardless of the age of the children or whether or not he or she even has children. Other categories of people on primary social welfare payments are entitled to keep their carer’s allowance. These include widows, deserted wives and pensioners. There seems no justification for a parent of a seven-year old to be treated differently. The State, through the homemaker's contribution scheme, supports a parent in a two-parent family for one of them to stay at home until a child is 12. A parent in a one-parent family must become a job seeker once their child turns seven. In July 2015 an estimated 39,000 families will lose their entitlement to one-parent family allowance. We believe that our families will suffer greatly if these changes proceed.

We thank the committee for the opportunity to discuss this matter and to highlight the flaws inherent in the policy.

I thank Ms Bayliss. I ask Mr. Egan from the Department of Social Protection to make a presentation. I ask him to keep it to seven minutes.

Mr. Niall Egan

I echo the earlier remarks of my colleagues thanking the committee for the opportunity to appear before it today to discuss developments relating to one-parent family arrangements.

The one-parent family scheme has played an important role in providing income support to lone parents since its introduction in 1997. However, notwithstanding the availability of this support, and as members of the committee will be aware, lone parent families continue to experience high rates of consistent poverty compared to the population generally.

It is widely acknowledged that the best route out of poverty and social exclusion is through employment but it is also recognised that work, and especially full-time work, may not be an option for parents of young children. Accordingly, there is no job-seeking conditionality associated with the one-parent family payment scheme. The reforms which I will outline today seek to strike a balance between recognising that family commitments may constrain a lone parent’s availability for work while at the same time start a process for engaging with, and providing support to, lone parents so that they can participate in education, training and work experience programmes. In this way it is hoped to create a pathway to employment so that once their children reach an appropriate age, lone parents can improve their own, and their children's, economic and social circumstances.

The genesis of these reforms was contained in the 2006 report, Proposals for Supporting Lone Parents. This report recommended that a time limit for receipt of the payment be introduced. The report also advocated that lone parents should be engaged with in a systematic manner to facilitate their movement to education, training and employment.

The report also acknowledged that Ireland’s supports for lone parents were out of line with international norms, where there has been a general movement away from long-term and non-conditional support towards a more active engagement approach. For example, in the United Kingdom the equivalent lone parent scheme, the income support for lone parents, ceases when the youngest child reaches the age of five.

I am sorry to interrupt but I do not have a copy of Mr. Egan's script.

It is on the second page of the opening address.

Mr. Niall Egan

The reforms to the one-parent family payment were first announced in 2010 and the first reforms were introduced in 2011. Subsequent reforms were introduced in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2012. These reforms reduced the one-parent family payment qualifying age of the youngest child on a phased basis. The final phase will see the maximum age under the one-parent family payment scheme being reduced to seven years for all recipients from 2 July 2015. As a result of this change, once a recipient’s youngest child reaches the new age limit, they will no longer be entitled to the one-parent family payment. Should they still have an income need, they will transition to another social welfare income support payment appropriate to their circumstances, for example family income supplement or the new jobseeker’s allowance transitional arrangement, which was introduced specifically for one-parent families in June 2013.

There are two exemptions to these changes. The first is for lone parents who are in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance for one of their children. They will continue to be entitled to one-parent family payment until that child’s 16th birthday. The second exemption is for those who are recently bereaved. In these circumstances the one-parent family payment will be payable for two years from the date of death of the spouse, civil partner or co-habitant or until the youngest child reaches age 18, whichever occurs first. It is anticipated that approximately 30,200 customers will transition on 2 July 2015. As has happened every July since 2013, affected lone parents will be contacted by their local Intreo office inviting them to attend detailed information sessions. At these sessions, lone parents will be briefed by departmental staff on their income support, training, education and employment support options and advised, on a case-by-case basis, as to the best available option for them.

In order to help lone parents with young children who are affected by this reform the Government introduced the jobseeker’s allowance transitional arrangement. Under this arrangement, lone parents whose youngest child is aged between seven and 13 are exempt from having to be available for and genuinely seeking full-time employment. No lone parent with a child under 14 years of age will be required to take up employment in order to receive income support from the Department.

We estimate that approximately two thirds of the 30,000 cohort who will be affected will move into this payment.

All jobseeker's allowance transition arrangement customers will have access to the Intreo services and will be given an opportunity, for the first time, to develop a personal development plan with an Intreo case officer. This will enable them to gain enhanced access to educational and employment supports. Individuals on the jobseeker's allowance transitional arrangement can move into employment, including part-time employment, if they wish, however, there is no requirement to do so in order to get the payment. The jobseeker's allowance transitional arrangement thereby allows these customers to balance their caring responsibilities with progression into the active labour market. I wish to bring to the committee's attention the fact that the Social Welfare Bill 2015, which was published today, will, if enacted, make the jobseeker's allowance transition arrangement available to all new lone parents, whereas previously one must have been formerly a recipient of the one-parent family payment.

There are a wide range of other options available to lone parents, including, for example, the combination of family income supplement and the new back to work family dividend in situations where the parents work more than 19 hours per week. These will be explained to lone parents at the information session, which have already commenced in some parts of the country. It is important that lone parents attend these information sessions in order to receive the best information and advice available given their individual circumstances.

I want to take issue with a comment made about the lack of planning in the Department. This reform, as I acknowledged, has been on the tracks since 2010 and in its current guise since 2012. The Department has been working from July two years ago in terms of the previous transitions and almost 11,000 people have made the transition to date. As part of that reform, we have always engaged with lone parent representative groups. We have a good working relationship with them. We continuously brief them on new changes and amendments and on the impact they will have. We have asked them to pass that information on to one-parent families. We are always available. I have attended and responded to requests for briefing session from representative groups, but I stress that the work at the local level during the past two years is key to why this reform has gone the way it has gone to date. That comes down to the work of the local Intreo offices whose officers have gone out and ensured that lone parents attend the office and where they did not attend, they followed up by way of telephone calls and brought them in on a one-to-one basis to inform them of what is happening and what are the best options available to them.

I hope I have given the committee an insight into the steps Department is taking to streamline and improve services and employment outcomes for lone parents. We are very happy to take any questions members may have.

Thank you, Mr. Egan. I call Deputy O'Dea.

I thank the Ms Louise Bayliss, Ms Leah Speight and Mr. Stuart Duffin, the representatives of the groups, for attending and for their excellent presentations. I also thank the Department officials for explaining where they are coming from in terms of the Department's side. There are a few aspects of this that I have difficulty understanding. Reference was made to the availability of the family income supplement for working lone parents and the family income dividend and so on, but regardless of that, and taking into account that they will have access to increased family income supplement and access to the family income dividend as a result of the legislation published today, the point is that they are still going to be worse off. Working lone parents will be financially worse off, by and large, as a result of these changes. That is the net point we are trying to make. The figures are there to demonstrate that.

I wonder about the motivation for this. We have raised this issue on numerous occasions both at this committee and in the Dáil and the Minister keeps talking about activation to encourage people, to take people out of the dependency on social welfare and into the workplace. As a result of the changes during the past few years, a lone parent who works fewer than 19 hours per week will now be €54 per week less well off - in respect of one child - than they would have been four years ago. Instead of getting €150 - forgive me if I am €1 or €2 out - in addition to the lone parent's allowance, they will now get less than €100, about €96. How does that create an incentive? We have the family income supplement as an incentive for people to take up low paid jobs, as one gets the family income supplement payment in addition to one's pay. It widens the gap between what one comes home with in one's pocket and what one would have got if one had remained on social welfare. That is an incentive.

In addition, the availability of the family income dividend will enable people, in certain circumstances, who go into low paid jobs to retain the child dependant element of social welfare benefit for a year, going down to 50% after one year, but at least they will be getting something for two years. The fact that they will be getting something is an incentive. That is my interpretation of an incentive or a measure to activate a person. When one starts to do the opposite to that, one creates what I would regard as a disincentive. One of the witnesses said when responding to earlier questions that quite a number of lone parents dropped out of the community employment schemes because the financial provision changed for the worse. That is what happens in the real world. When people get more of an incentive they are inclined to act accordingly and when there is a disincentive they act in precisely the opposite way. That is human nature.

I remind the Deputy that he has used his allocated three minutes and I ask him to put his question.

I could talk about people who work more than 19 hours per week and how much money they will lose.

To be fair to other members, the Deputy might put his question.

I have a few brief questions. How exactly will these changes benefit lone parents who are not working? How will they ease their access to employment and training measures? It was mentioned that those on a jobseeker's transition payment would be able to engage with an Intreo officer but it could also have been arranged for lone parents to be able to engage with an Intreo officer and they did not have to be in receipt of jobseeker's transition payment to avail of that facility.

How will the back to education allowance be affected? I do not have time to read a communication in this respect that was brought to my attention by my colleague, Deputy Barry Cowen, this morning. I have received communications and letters from lone parents who are in the third level system who advise that they will have to drop out as a result of the changes that have been made.

What will be the effect of these changes on carers? A carer who is a lone parent currently gets their one parent's allowance and a half-carer's allowance. When they lose their lone parent's allowance when their child is over the age of seven, they will simply get the full carer's allowance, which is estimated to be €80 or €90 per week less. That is a straight loss of income for people who are performing this very valuable caring role.

We will get an answer to those questions.

I have many more questions but time is against me. That is why I asked at the start if we had enough time but apparently we do not.

I want to be fair to every Deputy and I now call Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

There is quite an amount to consider and it is a pity such a short time has been provided. Mention was made of the 2006 report. That report was not implemented, even by the previous Government, with all its faults, because it set a different timescale. The fact that a Minister in this Government pursued it with gusto, in particular in 2012, highlights the ill-thought out strategy around the cuts to the one-parent family payments. My key issue is that in a response by the current Minister last month she outlined the numbers that would be affected substantially by these changes. Some 800 one-parent families who are in receipt of a carer's allowance will lose €86 per week. Even for those of us who are in full employment, and who have other family members in employment, €86 a week is a substantial amount. The Minister went on to say that up to 6,400 one-parent families will lose up to €36.50 per week, another group of 4,500 one-parent families will lose up to €57 a week. That is not taking into account, as was mentioned by the group representing the parents, the cumulative effects of other cuts prior to this and other consequences. Rents have increased and the cost of going to college and the cost of child care - which is what this is about - have increased.

I have a question for the Department officials.

It is a policy matter and the official might be able to say he is sorry but he cannot answer it, but when this measure was introduced the Minister promised that she would not proceed with any of the changes unless we had the Scandinavian model of child care. Where stands that from the Department's point of view, because one was supposed to follow the other? Has any consideration been given to suspending the measure this year given that the policy position has not been achieved? That is key. If the Minister is not willing to row back, there is nothing to prevent her suspending the measure until such time as her ideal has been achieved.

It was stated that the system was out of step with international norms. Why is the international norm not out of step with what we did? We should never be in a race to the bottom. It should be the opposite in that we should be setting standards. The representatives of lone parents would probably be the best people to answer the next question. Based on their work, how many women or men who are in this predicament are trying to stay out of work? Even the Government report dating to 2006 highlighted the fact that the vast majority of people who are parenting alone wanted to go back to work, or in fact found work, before their children reached the age of seven anyway. That information is key in terms of how we approach the matter.

The 2006 report must be seen against a backdrop of nearly full employment or when we all thought we had full employment and that things would never change. Things have changed drastically and that must be taken into consideration. I would like the committee to seriously tease out whether we are putting a cohort of people into more deprivation than is the case currently. The SILC report referred to a rate of 63% in 2013. I asked Mr. Egan about the reduction in employment rates. He said in 2013 it was 36% but it has increased slightly. He said the number of lone parents on community employment, CE, schemes reduced from approximately 10,000 jobs to 1,800 jobs. They were majorly impacted from that point of view. Mr. Egan said the numbers have gone up again.

There are questions to be asked about the quality of jobs done by lone parents but we have not heard anything about that. Questions must also be asked about why the Government introduced legislation in 2012 that put people in work in a position where they could lose up to €53. I find that phenomenal. We are not even talking about the cohort of lone parents who are not working as they have not been able to find work. We are talking about people who will lose out substantially in their weekly income because of those changes. That beggars belief. The committee must tease out the matter with the Department in terms of whether we can stand over it. I would like the committee to consider whether to recommend to the Minister that the initiative would go ahead and how long the change should last. The issue must be linked to child care. It was not part of the legislation, but we were emphatically told in the Dáil Chamber by the Minister, Deputy Burton, that none of the changes would be introduced unless affordable child care was specifically introduced in the budget. That has not happened. I do not understand how we can put so many lone parents into a situation where they are caught between a rock and a hard place. We cannot stand over that. We must take hard decisions in the committee today or else have a specific meeting to discuss the issue more broadly. Half an hour will not be sufficient to deal with these issues.

I wish to address a couple of matters. I am of the firm belief that nobody should be better off unemployed than working, yet it appears that is the case. On the one hand the Department recognises the importance of having a parent in the home until the age of 12 by awarding a homemaker’s credit to a parent who chooses to be at home to look after the children, but, on the other, we say there is no need for a parent to be at home when a child has reached the age of seven and that the parent can go out to work. Is it possible that a one-parent family could get a transition payment and a half rate carer’s payment? It has been said that they do not have to be available for work. In that case, would the transition payment and the half-rate carer's payment be available to them under the new scheme?

If a domiciliary care allowance has been granted to a parent for a child, he or she is exempt, but what about a parent who has a child over 16 on disability allowance? A 16 year old is only a child. Likewise, what about someone who is caring for an adult? Why is he or she not exempt just because he or she does not have a domiciliary care allowance? Surely the same rules should apply to anyone who is caring?

In her presentation, Ms Bayliss, mentioned the liable relatives. That is something that is always left out of discussions when we talk about one-parent families. Nobody ever seems to think there is another parent of the children. That seems to go amiss generally, but reference was made to it. Could the officials let us know what are the statistics in terms of chasing up people for maintenance, and what happens when the parent living with the child transfers to a transition payment? Does the liability on the other parent fall at that stage or will the Department still chase him or her for maintenance?

The elephant in the room is child care. It is the most important issue to address not just for lone parents, but for working families. Child care in this country is unaffordable for every family and the matter must be addressed. Could the officials indicate whether there is ongoing discussion between the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Social Protection and, if there is, could we have an update on when we will move to safe and affordable child care in this country?

I will continue to allow members to ask questions. I hope the witnesses can keep up with the responses as this is the most effective use of the time. Members might have an opportunity to ask a second round of questions.

The Department might have provided the figure but I ask for it again on the percentage split between lone parents who work and those who are not in work.

Ms Bayliss has made a strong argument and she has given statistics on working parents. Am I correct in saying that those who are not working will not be affected by the change? Given that the purpose of the change was to incentivise people to go to work and find jobs, has the Department seen the figures that have been presented by SPARK in that regard? It appears to be the case that a parent with one child who is working 20 hours a week would lose €50.72 per week. Does the Department accept those figures are correct? Does it also accept that if the purpose was to incentivise people to go back to work, the effect has been to hit people who are already at work? Surely that would not have been the purpose of the changes in the first place. My other question is whether people can transfer to back to education.

I thank everyone for making a presentation. I will not go through all the names as that takes too long. Anybody who has spoken agrees that we must make work pay. The reality is that nobody will go back to work if they are not going to be better off than if they stay at home. There are great difficulties for single parents in particular being able to access child care.

I am a firm believer that education pays. When one educates a person, it puts them into a position where they are not dependent on the State and they can move on in their lives as well, and so can their children.

My question is to Mr. Egan and Mr. McKeon. There seems to be a very low uptake of the after-school child care, ASCC, scheme. Only 172 parents are availing of the scheme, which supports 236 children. Why is the uptake so low? Is it simply to do with spreading the news about the scheme or is it about getting single parents to understand the reason for the scheme?

I have been studying this area, including single parents. I am sorry for referring to single parents, lone parents and one parent; we are all parents whether we like it or not. I made the observation that in respect of a lone parent with two children who is returning to education, if their weekly allowance, the back to education allowance and their children's allowance is averaged out, the figure is about €1,500 a month. That is more than €359 a week. That is a substantial amount of money, leaving aside bills and so on. I have gone through this in great detail and found that after every bill is paid there is a surplus of €80 a week. Can Mr. McKeon explain why we are not promoting the back to education allowance more strongly and getting more young people, particularly single parents, back into the workforce? I understand the child care problem in terms of looking after children, but what are we doing actively to promote this allowance, which I believe is the key to this question? These people are trying to rear their children on their own but they want to avail of this service and get back into education. The money is available; the statistics show that. "Profitable" is not a good word to use but it is worthwhile for these people to go back into education because the system allows it. The down side of it is the child care issue. We all know that without the support of families, friends and neighbours, many people would not be able to get back into the system. What is the percentage uptake of the back to education scheme, particularly among lone parents? How is it being promoted? We spoke about the Intreo offices. I agree with Mr. Egan that they are doing a great job on the ground-----

I have to ask the Deputy to put her question.

I would appreciate it if the witnesses could expand on the back to education payment and the uptake of the scheme, particularly among one parent families. I am sorry for taking so long.

Not at all. I call Deputy Boyd Barrett.

The Vice Chairman has called me a bit quicker than I thought he would.

And I hope he will be a bit quicker with his delivery. He has three minutes.

I thank the Vice Chairman for allowing me to speak, as I am not a member of the committee, and apologies to those whose presentations I missed. I thank the Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids, SPARK, for the briefing yesterday, which was very informative.

I asked a question earlier of Mr. Egan. He seemed to acknowledge that the removal of the concurrent payment, which is not included in the table SPARK talked about, as well as what it would clearly demonstrate is a significant deterioration in-----

Sorry, Deputy, there is interference from a phone. Is your phone on?

Apologies. He referred to a significant worsening of the situation for lone parents who are working, and the figures are set out in the document. SPARK might confirm that it does not even include the impact of the loss of the concurrent payment, which is on top of this, and, therefore, we have had a double whammy of dramatic proportions. I would like to hear what the Department has to say about that because in terms of the logic the Minister outlined when all these measures were being brought in and about which there was much heated debate in the Dáil at the time about labour activation, we have unequivocal evidence that the opposite is the case. What we have got is labour deactivation and disincentivisation, and that is reflected in the fall-off in the numbers of people on community enterprise schemes that he has just acknowledged. It strikes me, but I would like to hear his comment on it, that there has to be some correlation between this and the dramatic figures we have seen recently in terms of increased levels of deprivation and increased levels of child poverty among lone parents. I suspect a big cohort of that child poverty increase is the children of lone parents. The reason I was not here earlier was because I was attending a young people's protest about child suicide, which is awful. I am not saying there is a direct correlation with that but in terms of deprivation and a worsening situation for lone parents who are hit disproportionately, is there an acknowledgement on the part of the Department that we have got this wrong and that it needs to be remedied?

On the issue of the carers, which may have been raised by other members, I asked some questions about this and-----

The Deputy might leave that question because I can only give him three minutes and he is almost out of time.

If a carer is looking after adults, not children, he or she will lose €86. The Minister said they will look at that but the point was made whether that could be addressed with the family income supplement, FIS, and other payments. The response was that they no longer do two payments. Is that true? Is it not the case that there are groups that do get two payments? Widows and widowers, State contributory pensioners and deserted wives get double payments because there is an acknowledgement that there are specific circumstances that require double payments. The point lone parents are making is that there are specific reasons they need extra supports.

I ask the Deputy to conclude.

Are the witnesses willing to acknowledge that?

I call the witnesses and ask them to keep their responses to four minutes. I appreciate there is a lot to deal with in four minutes but the clock is against us. I will start with Mr. Duffin.

Mr. Stuart Duffin

There is a lot to respond to.

I appreciate that.

Mr. Stuart Duffin

If we look at the information sessions, they are particularly good. We have a range of information sessions being held on Friday of this week at 4 p.m. It is mid-term. We have a number of offices giving those information sessions with appropriate times for parents, but parents will not be able to attend because there is no child care available. It is about the understanding of the needs of parents-----

They should bring the children along and let them see what is happening.

Mr. Stuart Duffin

That is an element.

I fully agree with Deputy Byrne's comment about education. If work is a way out of poverty, then education is the ladder that helps that. That is why we see access to free fees, part-time education as a cheap form of activation for parents, and it addresses the issues around child care.

In terms of the elements around the child care system, its complexity, its lack of understanding and information in terms of who are the providers and where they are getting their after-school care etc., we have one client for whom it has taken a year to get a confirmation letter from a Department local office stating they are eligible for the out of school care. There are dysfunctional issues happening at local level that are compromising that aspect.

I appreciate Mr. Duffin's brevity. The Department has probably more to answer judging by the number of questions, but does Ms Bayliss want to respond before we call the Department witnesses?

Ms Louise Bayliss

Yes. There were not many questions for us because we just raised the issues. Deputy Ryan asked whether non-working lone parents are being affected. They are not being financially affected. However, there are traps in that regard because working lone parents are being forced out of the labour market. Those who are trying to get in will find it harder. They are not being impacted financially but the work will not pay for it, so many people will be affected.

Deputy Catherine Byrne raised the question about the back to education allowance. There have been changes to that. She spoke about education being the way out. Once people lose their one parent family allowance, they are not guaranteed that they will go onto the back to education allowance. Also, they are not entitled to a Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grant when they lose their one parent family allowance. The point we were trying to make was that from July, a lone parent who loses their allowance when their child reaches the age of seven will now lose €45 a week. That would not have been the case this time last year.

There are difficulties for parents who wish to get back to education and those already in education are seeking to drop out of education, because they will be unable to afford it after July. I believe Ms Leah Speight has one point to make.

Ms Leah Speight

Deputy Ó Snodaigh referred to the promise made by the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, and I will link that to the point made by Deputy Joan Collins about this committee. We have appeared before the committee today because we want something to emerge from it and the Deputy referred to the committee being responsible. A promise was made to our families that this would not go ahead without affordable child care but yet, it is going ahead without affordable child care. As everyone has seen, it is obviously affecting working lone parents. That is what we want to emerge from today's meeting. Deputy Boyd Barrett made a point about the two different payments, which highlights there is an element of discrimination against our families. The point I am making is this is discrimination against our families. Members should consider the deprivation rates of 63% and yet, these cuts will affect the poorest families who are working. Obviously, the issue of child care is important but child care is more than just baby-sitting because people with a child who is over 14 now have a choice between jobseeker's allowance or their part-time jobs. Why would one take people out of their part-time jobs? Why take people out of any type of employment as this simply does not make any sense? I hope, following Deputy Joan Collins's comments today about the joint committee standing by something, that this measure will not go ahead because that is what we want.

I will ask Mr. Niall Egan from the Department to respond but Mr. John McKeon wishes to come in first.

Mr. John McKeon

I wish to make one or two general points.

I appreciate that but we have perhaps ten minutes left.

Mr. John McKeon

I will make one or two general points and Mr. Egan then will answer all the specific questions on the one-parent family payment. A number of people made reference to concurrent payment and community employment and took the fact that the number of people on community employment and lone parent's allowance has fallen as evidence of deactivation, rather than activation. I make this point from an activation perspective but it is important not to confuse a place on a scheme with being activated. Most members of the joint committee will be aware of the very strong criticisms that have been made in the past of community employment as an activation programme. These included some reports from the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, which questioned fundamentally the relevance of community employment, as well as the very low progression rates out of that scheme, particularly among lone parents, where people effectively used the concurrent payment and stayed on it for a very long time. They were not progressing into employment but were getting a top-up payment by doing something in the community employment sector. The general point I wished to make is that is not the same as activation.

The second general point I wish to make is with regard to the references to deprivation and the survey on income and living conditions, SILC. It is not necessarily a subject to go into at this committee meeting but this might be possible at a subsequent meeting. There are some headline numbers contained within the survey that everybody will grab and it is understandable why people will do so. It is an extremely complicated study and the actual real story is not necessarily the story that is portrayed in the headline numbers. At some stage, it probably is worth having a committee meeting on the survey and I am sure the Department would be happy to appear before the committee and give its views on it. As I mentioned, to get into it now would take hours but members should be aware that some of the headline numbers are not necessarily reflective of all the numbers it contains.

Mr. Egan should now try to address as many of those questions as he can.

Mr. Niall Egan

I will do my best and if I miss anything, perhaps the clerk will bring it to my attention and I will follow up with Deputies and Senators. The key point to make here is the rationale for the reform. In 1997, we introduced the one-parent family payment and it has been in place since then. At that stage and as was the case until recently, an individual lone parent could receive the one-parent family payment until the youngest child was 18 or 22 years of age if that child was in full-time education. What has happened and what we have noticed since 1997 ties in with some earlier comments that lone parents have more than double the rate of consistent poverty when compared with the population as a whole. When there is no conditionality on the one-parent family payment and when it ceases, all of a sudden one has people, typically women, coming in and looking for a jobseeker's payment only to be told they must be available for and genuinely seeking full-time work. In some cases - I acknowledge completely not in all cases - these people have had no experience of work and nor do they have education or training attainment. This transition essentially is what leads to these people to struggle and more often than not, they become long-term unemployed based on the figures provided earlier by my colleague, Mr. John McKeon. This is the situation we are trying to avoid. Basically, since 1997 the Department has not engaged properly with lone-parent families. We have had a situation in which we gave them an income support payment and left them. We had nothing in terms of follow-up and did not engage with them in terms of education, training or employment supports to identify what they needed to bring in or to assist them to have better outcomes for themselves and their children.

One point I wish to highlight to the committee is just how significant are the changes the jobseeker's allowance transition payment has introduced in this regard. When the reform in its current guise was first introduced in legislation in 2012, there was huge fear among lone parents, which was completely understandable, that in its original guise, from the time the child was aged seven they would be expected to be available and genuinely seeking full-time work. Realistically, how could that be achieved for a lone parent with a young child in terms of child care, about which we have already talked today? It could not and that is why the jobseeker's allowance transition payment was introduced the following year. It is in recognition that the existing supports for the child care element were not there and yet is addressing the fact that lone parents had a justifiable fear that they would be required to seek employment and take up any sort of job. This alludes to a point raised by Deputy Joan Collins in respect of precarious employment. That is now removed and they will not be required, as I stated in my opening statement, in terms of taking up a job. They will be supported and will have the opportunity to have an intensive engagement with a case officer. For the first time ever, they will have a personal development plan, the idea being to give them the opportunity to upskill and get a better job for themselves and their children.

As for the 30,000 people who are coming off the scheme in July, I wish to highlight that two thirds of those people will not suffer any loss or in fact will gain on foot of this reform and it is important to note that. Obviously, however, the inverse of this point concerns the one third who will suffer a loss. I am familiar with the figures that Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids, SPARK, has produced in that regard. However, of that one third, it is important to note that 60% of them have the opportunity, if they can increase their hours of work and qualify for family income supplement, to be better off financially than they are at present. This is a very important message we are trying to get out to lone parents and it is true. These are people who do not currently qualify for the family income supplement. I believe I was asked by Deputy Ryan whether the figures produced by SPARK are accurate. While they are not quite 100% accurate, they are in the ball park and give one a sense of the scale. I will not argue over very small amounts of money and they are accurate in that context. However, it is important to note that we have been through two Julys already in respect of this reform and I refer to what the evidence shows as to what happened on those two points. From our perspective, there is no evidence to date that lone parents are giving up work. They make the transition to the jobseeker's allowance transition payment or - as we constantly are pushing - the family income supplement. Over the past two Julys, we have noticed there has been a significant increase in lone parents making first-time applications for the family income supplement. This indicates they are getting up to 19 hours work per week and when they do that, they are financially better off than they were under the one-parent family payment scheme. On foot of the introduction of the back-to-work family dividend, the position is further improved. However, I acknowledge the broad lines of the figures that SPARK has produced. There is a cohort of people who will lose out but the reform must be put in the context of the entire population of lone parents.

The issue of carers came up quite regularly. As the Tánaiste announced two weeks ago in the Dáil, this issue is being examined and is almost at a final stage. I cannot go into anything more than that but the Department is highly conscious of the loss in this regard. I acknowledge that €86 per week is a highly significant loss and as the Tánaiste has stated, this matter is under serious consideration at present. I cannot say anything more than that at present.

What about the double payments?

As we are against the clock, we should allow Mr. Egan finish his contribution. He should try to wrap up, as Ms Karen Kiernan wishes to come in after him.

Mr. Niall Egan

As for the point raised by Deputy Joan Collins on precarious employment, this is an issue. A higher percentage of lone parents have a tendency to be in precarious employment and I note the recent coverage of child care being an area in which there are highly-skilled jobs with low pay. While this is an issue, it is why the jobseeker's transition payment gives these parents the opportunity, for the first time ever in the State and we should have been doing this a long time ago, to engage with the Department and for the Department to give them a helping support to improve their education and training attainment in the hope that they can get a better job. As for the liable relatives issue, the Department is aware of it. It is not currently under the jobseeker's legislation but is something we will be considering in the future.

I do not have statistics for Senator Moloney on maintenance but I can certainly look into this and revert to her.

With regard to child care, as I stated, the key measure to be addressed first is the jobseeker's allowance transition payment. It largely negates the need for a lot of child care provision. Someone with a young child can qualify for the FIS and still not require child care provision because FIS involves 19 hours, which works out at just under four hours per day. Admittedly, this is not possible in all circumstances but it is possible for a lone parent with a child in school to match what is required.

I said at the start that child care is a considerable issue. The country has struggled with it and it has been the subject of much attention in recent weeks and months. The Department is working with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs on this and we have done our best in this regard to introduce new schemes, including the after-school child care scheme and the CE child care scheme. There are approximately 40,000 subsidised child care places for low-income parents. Therefore, there is provision. Is this how it should be? The matter is complex, as Mr. Duffin has said. The system is not perfect and needs to be addressed; there is no doubt about that. As I stated, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs will be examining this through its new group. We will be feeding into that process.

With regard to Deputy Byrne's specific question on after-school child care and the low take-up, a number of issues are at play. One involves the complexity of the scheme when first launched. We have made changes in that regard and streamlined the scheme. We have focused considerably on promoting it through local offices but the Department of Children and Youth Affairs is actually responsible for promoting it and does so through the county child care committees. That is a key issue.

The regional spread is also an issue. However, it should be noted that while there are plenty of places in certain parts of the country, the take-up remains low. We must investigate this. We have already said we will carry out a survey of the participants and those who inquired about but did not take up a place. We will feed our findings into the work of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs' group on child care.

We must conclude. If a member has not got an answer, he or she should feel free to send an e-mail with his or her question to the clerk, who can forward it to the delegates. I will ensure every member will get an answer to questions not answered today. We have run out of time. I will give the last word to Ms Kiernan.

Ms Karen Kiernan

I appreciate that. One Family has always called for and supports the reform of the payment. The problem is that it was combined with cuts. It was never really going to work and has not been working to date. From now on, better implementation and planning are required. There is a lot that could be done but there are many errors on the ground about which we are very concerned. We have heard about the litany of cases of people who have actually lost money. We are concerned that the payment is not working now. In order for it to work, changes are needed. I will leave it at that. Our door is wide open in terms of collaborating and assisting.

I thank all the witnesses for their time and for co-operating at this meeting. I apologise for rushing so much but I do not set the rules and the times are outside my control. I just have to chair the meeting within the specified time.

Deputy Niall Collins asked where we should go from here. Deputy Willie O'Dea wishes to make a proposal in this regard.

My proposal is that we ask the Minister to hold off on the change in July pending further discussion because we have not had sufficient time to discuss this today. Many serious issues arise. I support Deputy Collins' proposal.

I propose that at our next meeting we decide what we want to do and whether we want to invite the Minister to address the committee. We all know where we want to go from here but, if members agree, we will deal with this at our next meeting, which will be next Wednesday. A delay of one week from today will not change anything.

We will take it up at the next meeting.

I thank the delegates for their co-operation and thank the members. If members believe they did not get an answer to any question, they should feel free to send an e-mail to the clerk, who can send it on.

Next week, there will be a meeting before the ordinary meeting to fill the vacancy on the sub-committee.

The joint committee adjourned at 3.35 p.m. until 1 p.m. on Wednesday, 25 February 2015.