I thank the Minister of State for her time. I acknowledge that there is a crossover between the Commencement matter and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. In 2015, lone-parent legislation impacted in a particularly harsh manner on a cohort of older lone parents, mainly women, who were placed outside the lone-parent provisions by the State and considered as simply unemployed. Under this legislation, when the child of a lone parent turns 14, that parent moves from jobseeker's transitional payment to jobseeker's benefit. After the child has reached the age of 14, the lone parent will become invisible in the system. The Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection recommended raising the age from 14 to 18 to keep this cohort visible.
Today, I want to look at older women whose children are above the age of 18 and who are no longer deemed by the State to be lone parents. They go without intervention in education and go from being lone parents at risk of poverty to older people living in poverty. The educational acquirements of this cohort were limited and many of these parents were denied the right to progress to a masters of their choice. Their right to progress to PhD was totally removed and their educational requirements were placed under the remit of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, contravening Ireland's commitment to the provision of access to all strands of higher education outlined in the Bologna process. For those who had attained a level 9 qualification through Springboard, no further training options are automatically available. It should be noted regarding educational progression that those graduating from Springboard masters, which are few and limited, do not enjoy the same level of postgraduate support as others. This further removes the possibility of educational progression and calls equality legislation into question.
It is desirable that the Department of Education and Skills works in tandem with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to address these issues. They speak to an unfair positioning of this cohort and their families, who are at an above-average risk of poverty. In some cases, women with a masters level of education have no option but to take on low-paid and low-skilled work due to large gaps in their CVs as a result of their remaining at home alone to care for their children. Competition for employment is difficult enough without being 45 years old with very little employment history due to being the sole provider and carer for children. The opportunity to progress further educationally with targeted supports may help a cohort of older women to gain decent employment and reach the highest level of educational attainment if that is their desire.
I ask for recognition that this cohort of women has been placed at risk of sustained poverty.
This should include recognition of the particular difficulties that older women face in gaining employment. Since 2008 the employment market has been structured around low-paid and precarious work which in many cases favours younger employees. Many of these women have a small window of opportunity to make provision for their old age and need support from the State to have the opportunity to progress. The restoration of rights to training and further education for those who have attained a level 9 qualification is an urgent requirement. This should include access for this group of older lone parents to all educational levels, including doctorate, Ph.D., with required supports where necessary to enable equality of opportunity.