Despite the huge increases in employment participation in Ireland in recent years and in employment opportunities generally, the proportion of lone parents in employment is low compared to other developed countries. This was borne out by an OECD report on reconciling work and family life, published in 2003, which found that employment participation among lone parents at 45% in this country is among the lowest in the OECD. This is despite the huge employment growth and increasing female participation in the workforce in recent years.
It is also true that both employment and labour force participation by lone parents in Ireland is lower than for other family units.
A sub-group of the senior officials group on social inclusion is examining obstacles to employment for lone parent families, with particular emphasis on income supports, employment, education, child care and support programmes and information.
This group is scheduled to report to the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion by the end of July. We must also look closely at income supports and at how we can adjust those supports to better address the social problems that can arise for those who receive these payments. In this regard, my Department has established a working group to review the income support arrangements for lone parents. Issues being addressed include the contingency basis of the one-parent family payment, cohabitation, individualisation, maintenance and secondary benefits. The findings of this group will feed into the work of the senior officials sub-group.
It is intended that the outcome of these reviews will contribute to concrete proposals designed to better support and encourage lone parents in achieving a better standard of living, employment and education opportunities, and a better future for themselves and their children. These will be the main criteria against which recommendations in the reports will be judged.
I am committed to reforms that will improve the quality of life for lone parents and their children by offering them respect and support while avoiding poverty traps.