Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Questions (52)

Catherine Martin

Question:

52. Deputy Catherine Martin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if her Department will carry out an assessment of the impact of the forthcoming national childcare scheme on lone-parent families. [30421/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

In light of the forthcoming introduction of the national childcare scheme, will the Department of Children and Youth Affairs carry out an assessment of the impact of this scheme on lone-parent families? Will the Minister show how the scheme will impact on subsidies for childcare and the hours of childcare available to lone parents?

The OECD's 2017 Faces of Joblessness report compared the childcare supports for lone parents previously available in Ireland with the expected impact of the national childcare scheme. It found significant improvement for lone parents. It found that, for certain lower-paid lone parents working full time, the scheme will bring net childcare costs down from being the highest across the OECD to the 11th highest. Analysis of the impact of the new scheme conducted using the ESRI's simulating welfare and income tax changes, SWITCH, model indicated that, on average, the boost to disposable income provided by the scheme will be larger for one-parent families than for couples, reflecting the typically lower income profile of one-parent families. Employed lone parents are the family type that will experience the greatest gains, with an effective average disposable income increase of €48 per week. These findings reflect the very considerable work undertaken to poverty-proof the national childcare scheme by ensuring that families at or below the relative income poverty line will benefit from the highest subsidy rates.

Many parents will see an increase to the level of subsidy they currently receive and many new families will benefit for the first time. The scheme removes many of the current restrictive eligibility requirements to receive supports, such as those linked to social protection payments or the medical card. In this way, the scheme aims to combat poverty traps and to support parents and ensure they are not disincentivised from taking up a job.  Arrangements are in place to ensure that no one loses out in the initial transition to the new scheme. Families can continue to access their current targeted supports and can remain on their current payment until the end of August 2020. In addition, I have asked my officials to undertake further analysis to identify if any refinements are required to the scheme in order to ensure that we fully achieve our aim to deliver quality, accessible, affordable childcare for families in Ireland. 

I thank the Minister for her reply but I do not feel it will ease fully the worries of the more than 215,000 single-parent families in this State who are not seeing the benefits of this scheme and who are fearful. There are parents, predominantly women, who feel they are at risk of being forced to forgo work or education because of the potential impacts of the national childcare scheme on existing support schemes for single parents. According to Single Parents Acting For Rights of Kids, SPARK, lone-parent families could face losses of up to €350 per month through the loss of these schemes. The schemes are invaluable in helping lone parents to work or upskill and in helping them to fall into welfare dependency.

With the greatest respect, the Department allowing people to stay on their existing schemes until August 2020 if they are not better off is equivalent to admitting that some people may be much worse off as a result of the introduction of the national childcare scheme. That measure is actually elevating fears rather than easing them. I fear that, while the scheme will potentially benefit 95% of parents, it will have a negative impact and possibly awful repercussions on the other 5% and will push them deeper into poverty. Will the Minister outline how the level of subsidies under the scheme will not have a negative impact on such families?

The first point I will make is that we have outside evidence and analysis that suggests a significant number of lone-parent families will be better off after the introduction of the national childcare scheme. Let us get that word out there. That is really important. Outside evidence being given to my Department supports the analysis it has done of the impact of the national childcare scheme. That is the first really important point I want people to hear. That does not take away from the other points the Deputy makes.

The Deputy made a point about the saver, as we call it, which we have developed. If people are concerned that they might lose out or that their provision will be less, we are offering them the opportunity to stay on their current scheme until August 2020. This measure is designed to increase certainty and reduce fear. It is not necessarily an admission that there will be major problems with the scheme. It will give us time to see whether any anomalies arise during the implementation of the scheme. When lone parents apply and see how the scheme will benefit them, this measure will give them time to take a look at it. This is meant to support parents and increase certainty, rather than as an admission that there will be a major problem for lone-parent families, although I am not saying there will not be hard cases in respect of some families.

I agree with the Minister that we should get the word and the proof out to all stakeholders that the level of subsidies under the scheme will not negatively impact on lone-parents' current supports. There must be much clearer two-way communication with single-parent families and with advocacy groups. It must be clear to a mother who is hoping to return to her studies in October that she will still be able to do so under the national childcare scheme. People need to be able to plan their lives and the lives of their families with certainty. I ask the Minister to consider holding a briefing with the persons affected, women's organisations, and Oireachtas Members because we all need clarity on this issue. Families need to know because they need to plan for their future. I have heard that parents are being told subsidies will be based on their own personal circumstances, but it is not clear to them how much they are set to lose once the scheme is up and running. That is where the clarity is really needed. Will the Minister commit to meeting with stakeholders and to giving them concrete answers to their questions?

I will answer that question. It is a very good suggestion. I have had discussion with my officials in recent weeks on the need to prepare for that and on the potential need for more ongoing communication with a wider group of lone parents because of the concerns raised by some of the advocacy groups. With regard to the Deputy's first input, we have heard the concerns of SPARK, other advocacy groups and those providing childcare to lone-parent families. Arising from those concerns, we have been looking at the areas of greatest concern, including some lone parents and community employment workers. That kind of analysis is ongoing with a view to ensuring that our policy intention for lone parents to have at least as much support as other parents, if not more, is realised. The Deputy's suggestion regarding communicating with the stakeholder group is really good. We will do that.