One of the objectives of the one-parent family payment is to encourage lone parents to consider employment as an alternative to welfare dependency while at the same time supporting them to remain in the home if they so wish. It is generally accepted that one of the most effective routes out of poverty for people in the active age groups is through paid employment. Income support for lone parents is designed to assist them in overcoming the particular obstacles they may face in taking up employment or training opportunities and to encourage them to return to employment instead of remaining dependent on social welfare payments.
Ireland has among the highest percentage of lone parent families in the EU, with over 11% of households headed by a lone parent, a relatively low proportion of which are in employment, compared to other countries. Figures from the national action plan against poverty and social exclusion in 2001 show that 42.9% of lone parents in Ireland had a level of income which put them in the category of at risk of poverty. It is important that this issue is addressed.
That is the reason I have given a commitment in my Department's statement of strategy to review the operation of income support arrangements for lone parents. This will take account of recent reports and emerging analysis in this area, such as the review of the one-parent family payment published by my Department and a recent OECD study, entitled "Babies and Bosses", published in November 2003. As a first step, my Department will chair an interdepartmental committee later this year that will bring together the Departments that have a role in the creation of policy around the issue of parenting alone. This committee will establish terms of reference for the review. Furthermore, it will serve to facilitate debate on the issue of parenting alone, enable networking at a policy level and analyse and detail the progress needed to address gaps in current policy and programmes.
The intention is to have the overall review completed in time for consideration in the context of the next phase of the strategy to combat poverty and social exclusion, beginning in 2006.