That Seanad Éireann, noting that:
- from July 2015, lone parents with children aged seven years and older will no longer be entitled to the one-parent family payment; and
- in 2012, the Minister for Social Protection pledged to only proceed with the measures to reduce the upper age limit to seven years in the event that she got a credible and bankable commitment on the delivery of a system of safe, affordable and accessible childcare, similar to what is found in the Scandinavian countries, by the time of budget 2013;
- no credible and bankable commitment on the delivery of a system of safe, affordable and accessible childcare, similar to what is found in the Scandinavian countries was forthcoming in budget 2013, budget 2014 or budget 2015;
- the effects of the changes on working lone parents and those in education are devastating;
- a lone parent working 20 hours per week on minimum wage with one child will have lost a total of €108 per week when all the one-parent payment reforms introduced by the Government have been implemented;
- those lone parents who cannot obtain enough hours to qualify for family supports will be in an even worse situation;
- the cuts to the one-parent family payment will force low-income single parents to give up paid work and rely on welfare as they will not be able to work and pay for childcare on low wages; and
- to force low-income lone-parent families to choose between poverty by living on welfare alone and in-work poverty by doing low-wage part-time work with minimal State support is both anti-care and anti-family; and
- the changes show scant regard for the recent research showing that levels of poverty and deprivation in one-parent families in Ireland have risen significantly since the recession;
- the survey of income and living conditions data for 2013 shows that 23 per cent of one-parent families with dependent children live in consistent poverty, almost three times as many as in the general population;
- there was an increase of 32% in the consistent poverty rate for such families from 2012 to 2013;
- as almost two thirds of the poorest children in Ireland already live in one-parent families, cuts to the one-parent family payment will further impoverish the most vulnerable children in the State;
- the changes are a direct attack on poorer mothers and on the welfare of children as 98% of those on the one-parent family payment are women; and
- the changes are being introduced without any assessment of their social impact;
calls for the Government to:
- reverse the cuts to the one-parent family payment that came into effect this month; and
- heed the advice of the report on the single working age payment proposal agreed to by the Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education in March 2012, which recommended that no reform of social welfare policy should take place until childcare and other family supports are fully in place.
I welcome the return of the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, to the House. There is a real sense of deja vu. When the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, first introduced the relevant legislation we opposed it and we are opposing it now. The storm clouds that have gathered since the proposal was first introduced have now generated a gale force right across the country that has resulted in several demonstrations outside the House not just by representatives of a lobby group but lone parents themselves who would have to face the reality of losing significant sums of money from 1 July 2015. That has now come to pass. Already the e-mails telling us about the financial reality that is facing lone parents as a result of this proposal are tumbling out to Members .
The motion states: "from July 2015, lone parents with children aged seven years and older will no longer be entitled to the one-parent family payment". One of the key statements made by the Minister when she introduced the legislation has come back to haunt her. I wonder if she has reflected on whether she would have said she would only proceed with the measures to reduce the upper age limit to seven years in the event that she got a credible and bankable commitment on the delivery of a system of safe, affordable and accessible child care, similar to what is found in the Scandinavian countries by the time of the 2013 budget. No credible and bankable commitment on the delivery of a system of safe, affordable and accessible child care has been forthcoming not only in budget 2013, budget 2014 and budget 2015 but it does not look that a credible Scandinavian model of child care will be available.
An interesting aspect of the debate since 2013 is that the focus has not just been on the financial ramifications of the proposal since 1 July but that cost and access to child care have moved centre stage. What comes up time and again in e-mails and in street demonstration is the problem facing lone parents in providing care for the children. The statistics show that 60% of lone parents have one child but some have two or three mouths to feed. Those who are fortunate enough to be working, even if they work for the minimum 19 hours a week, find that when the cap on the rent supplement is factored in, they are really struggling. Part of the problem for this cohort relates to the excessive cost of child care. They are struggling to put food on the table.
As a result of the implementation of the withdrawal of the one-parent family payment from lone parents with children aged seven and older on 1 July, many will have to reconsider whether to continue to work the 19 hours or more. The Minister acknowledges that working the 19 or 20 hours a week is a pathway to work, that the lone parent will get more hours at work, and that the numbers affected are relatively low. I know the figures that have been bandied around that the overall figure of those affected was down to 10,000. I heard another figure that 4,000 lone parents were supposed to be affected. Even if the figure is 4,000, it is 4,000 too many. It is a penny pinching measure. For the level of fury it has generated among those who are affected, and the extent of the savings that will result, it does not seem to me to be worth the candle. I know the Minister of State will put forward the argument the Minister has put forward from day one that this is about getting people out of the poverty trap and that it will move them to engage in further education and in upskilling, which will lead to more jobs.
I am involved with a committee of the British-Irish body which is dealing with a report on youth unemployment. Youth unemployment is a variable figure and can include people up to 30 years of age. A recent survey published by employers showed they thought more of a person with work experience rather than academic qualifications. I am not for one moment dismissing the notion that people should not go into further education and that they should not upskill but it is not the panacea, that is, if one pursues further education, one will get a job. That is not what is happening on the ground.
What is at issue is that people who have been relying on a certain amount of money at a period critical to the development of their child or children will no longer will get that money. I believe this change has been devastating. A lone parent with one child working 20 hours a week on the minimum wage will have lost a total of €108 per week when all the reforms introduced by the Government have been implemented. Lone parents who cannot obtain enough hours to qualify for family supports will be in an even worse situations. The cuts to the one-parent family payment will force lone parents to give up paid work and rely on welfare as they will not be able to work and pay for child care on low wages.
This goes back to the original point I made, which is that the argument has now moved on from being simply about economics and money to being about the cost of child care and the dilemma that is facing people in the category we are discussing. They are going to have to decide whether to stay in low-paid jobs with small numbers of hours each week, all the while trying to figure out how their children are going to survive, or to come out of the employment cohort and stay at home to look after their children. Basically, this proposal is forcing low-income lone-parent families to choose between welfare poverty caused by living on welfare alone and work poverty caused by doing low-wage part-time work with minimal State support. We believe that is anti-care and anti-family.
I do not want to sound totally negative about this. I hope that when the Minister of State replies to this debate, he will offer some hope to people in the category we are talking about. While it is obvious that there will be no row-back on this decision, I suggest that one way of dealing with the problems caused by it would be to address the challenges of child care costs and access to properly funded child care. The Minister of State is aware that the one year of free child care that is currently provided is proving insufficient. I know the Government has been signalling its intention to extend the scheme. When the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, was in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs she said that a second year would be provided, but that has not materialised yet. I hope it will be considered in the budgetary framework. There is certainly a need in this area. I understand perfectly that this is a challenge for the Government in the context of budgetary considerations.
If I leave the Minister of State with any message, it is that the child care issue needs to be addressed. If that is done, the impact of this issue on the people we are discussing might be minimised. I know that various figures are being bandied around. I spoke to someone recently who said that between 4,000 and 5,000 people could be affected. Others have said that the correct figure is closer to 10,000. Regardless of the accurate figure, it is clear that this involves a significant group of people in this country. If one knows just one lone parent who has suddenly found the ground being taken from under him or her financially, one's heart will go out to him or her and one will ask why this is being done to someone who has no other options. I fully understand that one size does not fit all. Every case is different. There are some people who might not be capable of getting involved in further education, or who might not have the inclination to do so. There are others who might have to attach a certain priority to their children and therefore cannot move out of the particular lifestyle they have, in terms of the amount of work they have or the contract they are working under. All of those factors have to be taken into account. That is why I am saying that if the Government is not going to row back on its decision, the least it should do is try to address the child care issue.