Late last Monday evening, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection published a report outlining the impact of the reforms of the One Parent Family Payment. Since 2012, when the reforms were first implemented, SVP has continued to highlight some of the negative impacts and unintended consequences of the changes. We have been particularly critical of the decision to abolish the features of the One Parent Family Payment which supported lone parents to take up part-time employment.
The report confirmed much of what we had expected – despite a small increase in full time employment, over 50% of lone parents stated they were worse off financially, and poverty rates had increased. As a result, 40% of parents reported that their well-being and the well-being of their children had been negatively impacted.
Despite these stark findings, there were no recommendations to address these issues – the 141-page report only mentions childcare and housing twice. It seems this patchy report had a bearing on Budget day as the incremental measures announced failed to provide a comprehensive package of supports that would improve access to education, training, and sustainable employment. Even after the increase in the earning disregard, Family Income Supplement (FIS) and minimum wage in Budget 2018, a parent working part-time will see their income decrease when their youngest child reaches the age of seven, because FIS is no longer payable with the Jobseekers Transition Payment.
We are also still a long way from a ‘Scandinavian’ style system of early years education and childcare. The roll out of the Affordable Childcare Scheme has been delayed and the overall funding allocated under Budget 2017 falls short in delivering the targeted elements of the scheme – only 24,000 children are receiving targeted subsidies as of this September, compared to 33,000 previously. While this figure is likely to increase over the course of the year, it suggests that access to affordable childcare has become more difficult.
There have been some recent positive initiatives to improve access to education, such as enhanced grants for lone parents and better access to supports while at University. However, we had hoped this Budget would have addressed the anomalies created by the reforms that made access to the SUSI grant more difficult.
So, what next? The overall tone of the report suggests that the Government will continue with a ‘work first approach’. This is problematic, as it does not consider the low level of educational attainment among lone parents, making access to quality employment more difficult, nor does it consider the impact low paid, insecure employment has on family wellbeing.
Good quality employment has wide ranging benefits, not just financial, for parents and their families. However, labour market activation can’t occur in a vacuum and changes in the tax/benefit system need to be considered alongside other policy changes such as childcare and family friendly employment practices, and legislation relating to precarious work, minimum wage, and maintenance. Policy decisions in these areas must be firmly rooted in evidence on the employment, social welfare and parenting experiences of one parent families.
The Government now has four recent reports at their disposable – Review of the Amendments to the One-parent Family Payment since January 2012 (October 2017), The Position of Lone Parents in Ireland (June 2017); Supports and Barriers to Higher Education for Lone Parents (August 2017); and Lone Parents and Activation, What Works and Why: A Review of the International Evidence in the Irish Context (September 2016). This evidence should be compiled, analysed and a concreate, cross departmental action plan developed and implemented. The plan should be holistic, integrated, and person and family centred. The new National Anti-Poverty Strategy should also have a specific target with supporting actions to reduce poverty rates in one parent households.
And what next for SVP? The Social Justice and Policy Team will continue to engage with members to understand the persistent and emerging issues facing one parent families and advocate to ensure that the needs of lone parents and their children are better supported.