One Family submission to Citizen’s Assembly on Gender Equality

  1. About One Family

One Family, founded in 1972 as Cherish, is Ireland’s organisation for people parenting alone, sharing parenting and separating.  One Family believes in an Ireland where every family is cherished equally, and enjoys the social, financial and legal equality to create their own positive future.

We do two main things – we offer specialist family support services to families and we campaign to improve the lives of one-parent families and those sharing parenting. The services we offer include the national askonefamily lo-call helpline, employability programmes, parenting services, support for those experiencing a crisis pregnancy, and counselling services – all to help people who parent alone or are sharing parenting to be confident parents with happier children. We also provide professional development training to people working with one-parent families.

You can view a video we made in 2013 which has real-life stories of one-parent families here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGwGYWTGS10&t=1s.

 

  1. Policy Context:

The frameworks within which we operate include a human rights-based approach as well as a child’s best-interest approach. The work we undertake with separated parents and their children is fraught with gender issues both objectively real and subjectively felt. We work extensively with both mothers and fathers across our specialist family support services to assist them to maintain a strong focus on their children, despite the parental conflict. In general, we do not find a gendered approach to complex family dynamics including separation to be helpful, informative or child-centred.

There are however gender dimensions to one-parent families that are objectively visible and these must be acknowledged. In this submission we will not be able to address all the nuances of gender that are relevant in our work so we are limiting this paper to the most prevalent issues. We regret where we have omitted important issues and hope that other organisations and individuals will be able to address them.

 

  1. Gender Stereotypes and Norms:

Discrimination towards lone parents is, in itself, gender discrimination as the vast majority of them are female[1] (or are perceived to be) and they are constantly subject to judgmental policies, laws and practices. Today these judgements are mainly associated with welfare dependencyand perceived entitlements, but we believe there is a constant undertone of judgement around female sexuality as well that has deep roots in how we treated unmarried mothers and their children for decades in Ireland.[2]

One-parent families experience far higher rates of consistent poverty, homelessness and unemployment than other families. Children living in one-parent families form the majority of children in Ireland living in poverty[3]. This is ongoing, widely evidenced and at this stage indefensible.

Gender and care are complex and must be looked at in conjunction with family type and a child-centred approach to avoid a reductive view. The cultural norms and expectations around parenting become very explicit in separated families and, in particular, when people enter adversarial court proceedings. This can be when parenting behaviours that may be invisible in an intact family then become visible and problematic.

Lone fathers may be completely invisible in relation to care giving and whilst more men are staying very actively involved with their children following separation, we believe that negative attitudes towards Dads who are sharing parenting arealso gender discrimination.

Fathering is not, to date, well supported in Ireland either practically, culturally or in workplaces. This lack of support is coupled in some instances with reluctance by some separated fathers to parent or by some separated mothers to enable them to do so. We believe that as more policies are put in place to support fathers, then practical supports should also be made available to increase confidence and skills if required.

A financial support in the form of a tax credit that was in place to support separated fathers and mothers was removed with no consideration of the additional costs of sharing parenting and providing two appropriate homes for children.[4] The credit is now only available to one parent after separation, often the mother as it is linked to Child Benefit, leading to further conflict between mothers and fathers. Despite years of campaigning on this by many individual and organisations this has not been restored and there is a lack of institutional knowledge and support for shared parenting in Ireland, particularly when compared to our European neighbours by a number of government departments.

 

  1. Gender & Family Law Courts:

What happens post-separation in court-ordered parenting decisions is complex and varied, relying mainly on anecdotal evidence. However, it can be observed that there are several cultural behaviours that may privilege stereotypical gender roles and ignore the best interests of children.

It is widely reported that for those sharing parenting, the starting points for negotiations may not begin with both parents being equally responsible for children. What may emerge ultimately from court cases is that the mother primarily has day to day care with a lesser contact time for the father. This is not always the best solution for every family and more resources need to be available in and out of courts to assist families and judges to make individual decisions that suit all family members.

It is also widely reported that courts can have a strong pro-contact presumption even in families where there has been domestic abuse and One Family has been aware of inappropriate court-ordered contact for children with a violent or neglectful parent. Again, additional resources can assist courts in making decisions that are safe for children and the high prevalence of domestic abuse must always be taken into consideration.

Our experience and research tells us that both mothers and fathers in separated families strongly experience discrimination in the courts and in wider society.[5] There are distinct and important issues for both parents which need to be addressed. In our view the best way to do this is to increase supports for family court users; increase supports for fathers to parent; and increase supports for one-parent families in general whilst maintaining a focus on children’s best interests. There are considerable dangers in making laws based on extreme cases and due to the highly privatised nature of family law in Ireland it is challenging for all relevant information to be made available in courts.

There is a widespread phenomenon of unpaid child maintenance in Ireland and this is described as financial abuse by COSC. This is generally experienced by mothers and their children where fathers will not or cannot pay voluntary or court-ordered maintenance. This leads to feelings of gender discrimination by mothers in separated families and increased levels of child poverty. Ireland urgently requires a statutory Child Maintenance Agency as part of a comprehensive Court Welfare Service.[6]

 

  1. Employment:

Parenting alone makes visible the invisibility of parenting work that all families and parents undertake. The lone parent must be the carer and the worker/student/ trainee all at the same time with very little support. Government policies have been particularly unhelpful in acknowledging the reality of lone parent’s lives despite extensive research indicating both the challenges they face and the solutions required.[7]

85% of lone parents in receipt of social welfare payments are female[8] so the treatment of these parents and their children is again a highly gendered issue. Lone parents on social welfare are required to be available for full-time work, training or education when their youngest child is fourteen years old and they are transitioned onto the Job Seeker’s Transition Allowance when their youngest child is seven. By re-categorising them within the social welfare system as jobseekers their role as parents is rendered irrelevant and invisible although they are still required by society to be available as excellent parents until their children reach adulthood. Activation measures for lone parents need to recognise their continued parenting responsibilities until their children are 18 years old.

We see that the vast majority of lone parents are in low-paid, part-time work and they experience significant challenges in transitioning to higher paid employment in order to fully sustain the costs of raising children. This employment is also frequently precarious, meaning it intersects negatively with the current system of social welfare and employment supports. There are many reasons for the prevalence of female lone parents in precarious and low-paid employment which include government policies, barriers to accessing education[9], poor accessibility to early years and in-school childcare as well as a lack of support from employers for parents, carers and part-time or flexible employment options.

UK research[10] points to the fact that people who experience separation are more likely to experience work absences and to leave their jobs. This results in a loss of experience and talent from the work force.

Some government departments do not provide the sensible pro-active policies that could be put in place to support one-parent families often due to a perceived fear of fraud by two-parent families. Instead of challenging this, government policy over many years has been to continue to make one-parent families fit the two-parent family mould and this is simply not working.

Prior to the One-Parent Family Payment reforms/cuts in Budget 2012, lone parents were disproportionately poor and working in part-time low paid work and 98% of OFP recipients were female. Since the reforms in 2012 these issues have been further exacerbated. Approximately half of all Working Family Payment recipients are lone parents, which indicate how reliant these families are on state income supports to stay in work[11]. Lone parents in Ireland are also now five times more likely to experience in-work poverty than other households with children[12]. This means that there are a disproportionate number of women detached from the labour market in this group. Government must ensure that women can avail of equal opportunities to enter employment in comparison to their male counterparts.

A higher proportion of male lone parents are engaged in work outside the home in comparison to female lone parents and women are more likely to be invisible within the social welfare system. Properly designed and implemented activation strategies have a role to play to enhance gender equality and to ensure that female lone parents can attain similar levels of attachment to the labour market as men and increase their employability skills and economic independence. This is in line with Europe 2020 targets to increase female labour market participation.

However activation policies also need to take into account the caring responsibilities of lone parents. Access to affordable, flexible and accessible childcare is a key issue to enable those parenting alone to engage with education and work. An ESRI report found that due to the prohibitive cost of childcare, 16% of lone parents are better off not working[13].

  1. Article 41.3: One Family has been seeking an expansion of Article 41.3 of the Constitution in relation to the definition of the family for over 45 years.

There are many important reasons for reviewing and expanding the understanding of family in the Constitution which include:

  1. The Constitutional definition of family only affords rights and protection to the marital family and no other set of people are considered a Constitutional family. This is wildly at odds with not just the reality of family life, but also with social policy and even legislation in Ireland which can, within limits, recognise other types of families.
  2. An expanded understanding of family will build on other recent changes such as the Children’s Referendum; the Child and Family Relationships Act; marriage equality and the role of women in the home.
  3. Census statistics and Growing Up in Ireland data show us the rich diversity of family life in Ireland today. One in three children in Ireland are born to parents not yet married to each other; one in three families do not conform to the traditional model of a married couple in their first marriage; and one in five children live in one-parent families.

Article 41.3 discriminates against all types of non-marital families andonly married families (same sex or opposite sex or divorced) are provided protection. We are seeking an expansion of the current definition of family to include all types of non-marital families, as any unmarried parent/s and their children are not a Constitutional family. This has permitted discrimination against children of unmarried parents for decades in this country including the ‘Baby Ann’ adoption case[14], pregnant women and unmarried mothers losing their jobs[15] and the treatment of unmarried mothers and their children in various institutions.

Having consulted with experts and bringing our own experience of working with diverse families to bear, we believe that a good workable solution is to edit Article 41 to add in Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights[16]. This new wording offers high level symbolic change that does not put restrictive wording or automatic rights for anyone into the Constitution but allows legislation to be crafted for specific situations as required.

It removes the barriers to family equality that are there at the moment, it is child-centred and is potentially helpful to any households/families based on caring arrangements including siblings, other non-nuclear family members, foster families and non-marital families. Though the wording of our Constitution could be considered to have only symbolic significance, it is incredibly important and could go some way to provide symbolic reparation to the thousands of unmarried mothers and their children mistreated in Ireland for many decades, particularly those in Mother & Baby Homes[17] and Magdalen laundries.

In 2013 we established All Families Matter[18]– a campaigning coalition calling on the Constitutional Convention to progressively review the Irish Constitution in relation to the family. Members at the time included BelongTo, Family Resource Centre National Forum, GLEN, ICCL, Marriage Equality, New Communities Partnership, One Family, TENI and Treoir.

We wrote an article at the time calling for the then Constitutional Convention to consider Article 41.3 and this can be read here: https://bit.ly/2SRVBSC.

We made a video that succinctly describes the problem of Article 41.3 as it stands for families that are not considered Constitutional. The video can be viewed here: https://bit.ly/3bZklj9

 

  1. Gender Equality vs the Best Interest of the Child:

Even though the work of the Assembly is focused on gender equality, it is important to remember that our Constitution, the Children & Family Relationships Act 2015, Children First and case law all require us to take a child’s best interest approach when looking at issues where parents and children’s needs intersect. We are aware of issues related to families and parents that are highly sensitive where a gender equality perspective can over-ride a child’s best interest approach. There are several examples of this:

  • Automatic Guardianship for Unmarried Fathers: there are advocates for automatic guardianship for all fathers who argue that it is necessary for gender equality and that children deserve a legal relationship with their parents irrespective of whether they are married or not. This argument has great appeal and merit until you consider all the instances in which a child may be conceived or born into, including acts of conception that are crimes. This issue is not simple or straightforward and this is why we do not have automatic guardianship in Ireland. Without knowing the individual circumstances of each child, it is impossible to protect their interest with a blanket automatic guardianship of all fathers even though this may be appropriate in the vast majority of cases.
  • Parental Leave Benefit Act: this act was introduced in November 2019 by the Department of Employment Affairs & Social Protection and the Department of Justice and Equality to provide greater gender equality in the provision of parental leave for parents of newborn babies. The interpretation of gender equality adopted by the Departments meant that it became impossible for a single parent to avail of all the leave. So while two-parent families can maximise the amount of time their babies have access to them with fourteen weeks of paid parental leave, our understanding is that lone parents can only access seven weeks. It is important for all babies to have access to their parents at this critical time and not just those in two-parent families. Because the majority of lone parents and new parents are women, there is an additional negative gendered impact if the leave remains non-transferrable. One Family understands the reason why it is non-transferrable is to ensure that fathers avail of the leave and that it is not routinely transferred to the mother by fraudulent means in two-parent families[19]. Thus a well-meaning gender equality approach coupled with a conservative approach to fraud prevention has resulted in a poorer outcome of opportunity for some babies and their parents.
  • National Childcare Scheme: whilst the National Childcare Scheme purports to provide quality education and care for young children, in practice it is primarily operating to provide childcare to women to participate in education and employment. Whilst the latter is a laudable aim and one that is critically required by people parenting alone, the emphasis should be on a quality educational experience for young children.
  • Contact Post-Separation: there is a widespread perception that family law courts may at times privilege the rights of parents to have contact with the children they do not live with, over the safety of the children involved. Due to a lack of resources to ensure all relevant information is brought into private family law cases, courts may not always be aware of all the issues taking place in a family and we are aware of instances of court-ordered contact with an abusive or negligent parent. In these cases Tusla are unable to act on a child protection notification to change a court-ordered action. There is a gender dimension to this as most contact parents are fathers.

We recommend that in all the work of the Assembly gender equality can be balanced with the needs of vulnerable affected people such as children.

 

  1. Gender Identity

One Family recognises the diversity of gender identities and expressions experienced by family members in Ireland and we work regularly with service users who identify as transgender or non-binary. We believe this is an important aspect of gender that needs to be considered in all aspects of society, legislation, policies and services in order to ensure the full human rights of transgender people and to ensure their good physical and mental health. We also recognise increasingly that parents need appropriate services to support their children on their individual journey of gender identity and these services, particularly healthcare services, are currently lacking in Ireland.

 

 

Ends

[1] Census (2016)

[2] Submission to Mother & Baby Homes Commission (2020) One Family. https://onefamily.ie/mother-baby-home-commission-submission/

[3]CSO SILC (2018)

[4] One Family Pre Budget Submissions 2014-2019 https://onefamily.ie/media-policy/policy-submissions/

[5] National Shared Parenting Survey (2017) One Family. https://onefamily.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/One-Family_Shared-Parenting_Results-and-Recommendations_FINAL-REPORT_Online.pdf

[6]Child Maintenance Position Paper (2019) One Family.https://onefamily.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Child-Maintenance-Position-Paper-7-19.pdf and https://onefamily.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Vision-for-a-Court-Welfare-Service.pdf

[7]Pre Budget Submission 2020 (2019) One Family, Page 4: https://onefamily.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Budget-2020_One-Family-Pre-Budget-Submission-2020.pdf

[8]DEASP (2019)

[9]An Independent Review to Identify the Supports and Barriers for Lone Parents in Accessing Higher Education and to Examine Measures to Increase Participation. Delma Byrne and Clíona Murray. Maynooth University (2017)

[10] Resolution (2014) Divorce is hurting British workplaces. https://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/british-businesses-are-suffering-as-a-result-of-divorce-and-separation

[11]DEASP (2019)

[12]Society of St Vincent de Paul, Working, Parenting and Struggling? An analysis of the employment and living conditions of one  parent families in Ireland (2019)

[13]Lone Parent Income and Work Incentives (ESRI 2018)

[14] ‘Baby Ann’ adoption case Supreme Court Judgment. Murray J. 2006 http://www.courts.ie/Judgments.nsf/09859e7a3f34669680256ef3004a27de/b43e456d7a8eea87802572250052b81b?OpenDocument

[15] 1980s Ireland was no place for women. Dan Buckley in the Irish Examiner, 2019. https://www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/views/analysis/1980s-ireland-wasno-place-for-women-931480.html

[16] Article 8 of the ECHR – Right to respect for private and family life “1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. 2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

[17] Submission to Mother & Baby Homes Commission (2020) One Family. https://onefamily.ie/mother-baby-home-commission-submission/

[18]https://www.facebook.com/AllFamiliesMatterIreland/

[19] Email communication by DEASP representative.

One Family submission to the Mother and Baby Home Commission

Who We Are

One Family is Ireland’s organisation for people parenting alone, sharing parenting and separating. We provide a range of specialist family support services to one-parent families and advocate for improvements in policies, legislation and services.

One Family was established in 1972 as Cherish. At that time Cherish was Ireland’s first organisation for single mothers, organised by single mothers, and run on a human-rights, rather than charity/ ‘benevolence’ based model.[1] The organisation’s early work was concerned primarily with providing direct support, information and advocacy to thousands of women in crisis who were unmarried, pregnant and who felt they had no choice but to hide their pregnancy and possibly have their babies removed for adoption. Over time the organisation was able to provide visibility, social supports and legal protections to these families in partnership with others resulting in more unmarried mothers being able to decide to keep their pregnancy and parent their own child.

Whilst we are not providing direct testimony to the Commission in this submission, as organisations that have worked for many decades with unmarried mothers and their children we are aware of the direct experience of hundreds of thousands of women. We are bringing our collective knowledge and experience to bear in our observations and recommendations to the Commission. We believe this submission can inform the work and findings of the Commission as it is based on the longstanding credibility we hold as an organisation working directly with vulnerable parents and their children.

Terms of Reference

We note the Terms of Reference which were provided to the Mother and Baby Homes Commission.  We note the mandate on consent where you are directed to consider the extent of mothers’ “participation in relevant decisions … (and) … whether these procedures were adequate for the purpose of ensuring such consent was full, free and informed.”   

In relation to this, we strongly caution against interpreting consent as being fully and freely informed on the basis of signed documentation given the direct experience of many of the women we supported. As has been well discussed elsewhere many women were not aware of what they were signing, were not aware they had a choice and did not consciously consent to the adoption of their child. 

We note that Section 1 (I) “to establish the circumstances and arrangements for the entry of single women into these institutions…” permits a review of how women came to enter and stay in institutions often against their will and where they lost control of their children through adoption. This system of containing women in Mother & Baby Homes, in order to conceal the pregnancy and the resulting child, contributed to a society which protected itself against the perceived social deviations of unmarried mothers and any associated economic costs. We look forward to the findings of the Commission in relation to this issue and in particular to the social history module.

As an organisation that continues to work with women today who parent alone in difficult circumstances, frequently from unplanned or crisis pregnancies, we believe that there are direct links between the period of time that the Commission is examining and the challenges faced by many lone parents today. We note that many of the negative attitudes, policies and laws that mitigate against the success of one-parent families today are based in beliefs, customs and practices that were current in the mid part of the last century.

 

Single Mothers in 2020 

Widely available research and Census data clearly show on an ongoing basis that living in a one-parent family in Ireland is extremely disadvantageous. Most poor children in Ireland live in one-parent families; those who parent alone are four times more likely to live in consistent poverty; single mothers are the most socially isolated people in Ireland and experience higher levels of depression and anxiety; lone parents have less access to savings than anyone else; most homeless families in Ireland are headed by a single mother. Having said that, when economic and poverty issues are accounted for; children in one-parent families do just as well as other children. Therefore issues related to structural poverty, economic exclusion and inequality are paramount, and can be addressed though policies which recognise one-parent families and political will.

It is our experience that some of our legal, social and policy institutions continue to work against women (and men) who parent alone, or who parent outside a ‘traditional’ married family. We still have significant historical structures that preference a two-parent married family over a one-parent or unmarried family. These structures range from the highest legal levels of our Constitution through to systematic unequal treatment between one and two-parent families in policies employed by various Government departments.

Lone parents in receipt of social welfare supports experienced significant cuts in Budget 2012 which catapulted thousands of their children into higher levels of poverty – to this day the effects of these cuts are still felt.

The ESRI has noted the gendered impact of Budgets in the austerity period and most cuts were experienced disproportionately by women and children.[2]

Many people parenting alone report to us the ongoing negative stereotyping by society and media in relation to their families. Sometimes this can be subtle, and sometimes quite overt. A survey of 166 parents undertaken in 2014 by One Family found that the majority (78%) of those surveyed think that members of one-parent families have experienced shame or embarrassment because of their family type.

Transitional Justice | Recommendations & Reparation Efforts

We welcome the engagement of the UN Special Rapporteur on the “promotion of truth, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence”, and the adoption by the Minister for Children & Youth Affairs of a more robust Transitional Justice framing, which “aims to achieve not only individual justice, but a wider societal transition from more repressive times … that … will find out and record the truth, ensure accountability, make reparation, undertake institutional reform, and achieve reconciliation.” [3]

We note in Section 6 of the Terms of Reference that “the Commission may include in its reports any recommendation that it considers appropriate…”

We request that the Commission strongly considers the following recommendations in your forthcoming reports to Government as a means to provide some recognition, recompense and rebalance for the harm inflicted on unmarried mothers and their children in the past – consequences of which many families still experience today. Our recommendations are:

  1. Support the women who directly suffered in Mother & Baby Homes: Implement the eight recommendations of the Clann Project, in particular recommendations for access to data; inclusion of all stakeholders; redress and reparation through material benefit and symbolic representation; and legal remit through legal aid, extension of statute of limitations and criminal investigation.
  2. Support the parents and children living in poverty in one-parent families today: In order to break the historic and continuing mistreatment of unmarried parents and remove the ongoing stigma endured by ‘single mothers’. In particular, we recommend the full implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Council of Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures in relation to child-poverty in one-parent families. We strongly recommend that Government implement all recommendations from its various research reports in order to address the poverty and educational/ employment exclusion endured by lone parents. We welcomed the 2017 pilot gender-proofing of Budgets and we recommend a mainstreamed equality proofing approach to budget development.
  3. Provide high level symbolic gestures to recognise diverse families: In the first instance, we call on Government to establish a National Family Day where the State publically celebrates diverse families in Ireland and explicitly builds on the positive contribution to society of all parents.

More substantively, we call for a referendum on Article 41.3 of the Constitution to expand the definition of the family in order to provide rights and protection for all families including unmarried families and in particular unmarried mothers and their children. This will provide a significant symbol of inclusiveness and reparation on behalf of the state and the Irish people.

We know from our work that part of the painful legacy of the Mother and Baby Home system is this continued erasure of unmarried mothers and their children. They are simply not recognised as a family in our Constitution and remain formally invisible. While the Children & Family Relationships Act 2017 made significant strides in working to provide protection and respect to a diverse range of families with children, we need a Constitution which recognises all families and acknowledges the changing demographics and family formations arising throughout Europe.

Article 8 of the ECHR indicates how a new definition of family in Ireland could be interpreted and provides a robust solution to a Constitutional amendment. One Family is happy to provide possible wording to address this referendum issue.

 

Ends

[1] “Single Issue”, Richards, M., Poolbeg Press, Ireland, 1998 and https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B009OJ8YGA/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb

[2] THE GENDER IMPACT OF IRISH BUDGETARY POLICY , Doorley, K., et al. ESRI (2018)  https://www.esri.ie/pubs/bkmnext367.pdf

[3] Investigation confirming Human Remains on the Site of the former Tuam Mother and Baby home

https://www.dcya.gov.ie/docs/09.03.2017_Recovering_Truth_and_Justice_Remarks_by_Minister_/4155.htm

One Family’s Election Manifesto 2020

One Family’s Election Manifesto 2020

Families living in makeshift accommodation and children going without a warm meal shouldn’t happen in Ireland. It’s not who we are. But every night thousands of children and families go without these basic needs, caught in a broken system that pulls them under. It doesn’t have to be this way. Poverty and homelessness are not inevitable. They are symptoms of a broken system.

One-parent families now make up over a quarter of all families in Ireland. Yet many are struggling to stay afloat against a rising tide of poverty. These families are three and a half times as likely to be at risk of poverty as two-parent households (CSO – SILC 2018).  In our Election Manifesto we give our Top Four Election Priorities click here for a copy of the manifesto 

  • End Child Poverty: Meet and expand on the current target to lift 100,000 children out of poverty by 2020. Develop another target and commit to a strong implementation system with high level political support. Ensure adequate income levels for all families and households through independent benchmarking of income supports.
  • Reform Family Law & Court Welfare Service: Build on family law reforms and commit to developing a comprehensive public Court Welfare Service including a statutory Child Maintenance Service. Ireland is decades behind our European neighbours and must ensure the safety of children and parents in family law proceedings.
  • Protect All Families in Ireland: Commit to a referendum to update Article 41.3 of the Constitution to extend rights and protection to all families.
  • End Homelessness: Ireland has a national crisis of homelessness which disproportionately affects one-parent families. Commit to prioritising the building of social housing for families and ensuring that children do not spend longer than 6 months in emergency accommodation.

We are also asking voters to hold ‘would-be’ politicians to account with a series of questions to test their commitment to these priorities.

[1] List of research at One Family Budget 2020 submission. https://onefamily.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Budget-2020_One-Family-Pre-Budget-Submission-2020.pdf

Analysis of the Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) 2018 results (released November 2019)

The latest Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) report published on 28 November 2019 shows that lone parent families continue to be the poorest families with children in this State. They endure the highest rates of all types of poverty for families (‘at risk’, ‘deprivation’ and ‘consistent’ poverty).

While One Family welcomes the drop in rates since last year, the ‘at risk’ and ‘consistent’ poverty rate drops are not statistically significant and continue to keep one-parent families trapped in poverty.

Numerous Government and independently commissioned reports have identified the issues and offered similar conclusions – lone parents need targeted supports to help them and their children out of poverty.  While we welcome measures in Budget 2020 that offered supports to working lone parents more needs to be done.

Creating a child-centred response to poverty, which includes full recognition of diverse family forms, will stop the extreme inequality between different types of families in Irish society, as we outline in our Pre-Budget submission 2020.

At risk of poverty rates for lone parents

  • In 2018, households with one adult and children aged under 18 have the highest at risk of poverty rate at 33.5%. This rate is 9.9% for households with two adults with 1-3 children aged under 18. Lone parents are three and a half times as likely to be at risk of poverty as two-parent households.

Definition of At Risk of Poverty: Households with incomes below 60% of the national median income of €264 per week / €13, 723 per annum are at risk of poverty.

Deprivation rates for lone parents

  • In 2018, households with one adult and children aged under 18 had the highest deprivation rate at 42.7%. This rate is 14.3% for households with two adults with 1-3 children aged under 18. Lone parent families are almost three as likely to be living in enforced deprivation as two-parent families.
  • People in lone parent households continue to have the lowest disposable income out of all households with children in the State.

Lone parents continue to struggle to meet living costs for themselves and their children every day. Housing, food, heating and clothing costs continue to put lone-parents under considerable stress, with the costs of schooling adding to this burden. Ireland is not a poor country and government needs to introduce targeted supports for one-parent families. Government commitments through the Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures strategy to lift 100,000 children out of poverty by 2020 must be met if these trends are to be reversed in a stable and consistent manner.

Definition of Deprivation: Households that are systematically financially marginalised from availing of the goods and services considered the norm for most people in society are considered to be enduring ‘deprivation’.   Deprivation is the inability to afford at least two of the eleven basic deprivation indicators outlined below. Furthermore, experiencing two or more of these indicators, for example, going without a substantial meal for  24 hours and being cold because it is too expensive to heat a home, creates ‘enforced deprivation’ for many lone-parent households.

  1. Two pairs of strong shoes
  2. A warm waterproof overcoat
  3. Buy new (not second-hand) clothes
  4. Eat meal with meat, chicken, fish (or vegetarian equivalent) every second day
  5. Have a roast joint or its equivalent once a week
  6. Had to go without heating during the last year through lack of money
  7. Keep the home adequately warm
  8. Buy presents for family or friends at least once a year
  9. Replace any worn out furniture
  10. Have family or friends for a drink or meal once a month
  11. Have a morning, afternoon or evening out in the last fortnight for entertainment

Consistent poverty rates for lone parents

  • In 2018, households with one adult with children aged under 18 continue to have the highest consistent poverty rate at 19.2%. This rate is 5.0% for households with two adults with 1-3 children aged under 18. Lone parents are almost four times as likely to be living in consistent poverty as two-parent households.

Definition of Consistent Poverty:  Households living with incomes below 60% of the national median income of €240 per week, and experiencing deprivation based on the 11 deprivation indicators outlined above, are living in consistent poverty.

How Poverty Traps:

Time plays a role in poverty. We know that the longer any lone-parent family is exposed to an ‘at risk of poverty’ category, the more likely they are to start experiencing enforced deprivation. These two types of poverty combined then force lone parent families into ‘consistent poverty’.  Consistent poverty is living in a poverty trap, where the daily and weekly living is nearly always living ‘on the back foot’, never able to plan head, participate in social life easily, and are usually always in some type of debt. (See EAPN for further poverty analyses: https://www.eapn.ie/poverty/understanding-poverty/)

Read our Press Release on the SILC results:

One Family Pre-Budget Submission calls for evidence based targeted supports rather than blanket increase in social welfare

Minister Doherty must resist attempts to give blanket social welfare increases and instead use research to focus increases on the most vulnerable groups

[Dublin 20 July] One Family, Ireland’s organisation for people parenting alone, sharing parenting and separating has today said Budget 2019 must focus on evidence based targeted supports rather than blanket increases to social welfare. The charity’s comments came at the launch of its Pre-Budget Submission ahead of the Pre-Budget Forum in Dublin Castle.

Karen Kiernan One Family CEO said, “Budget 2019 must focus on targeted ‘evidence based’ increases to social welfare and we call on Minister Doherty to resist attempts to give blanket increases to all social welfare recipients. The Minister should use the realms of research that clearly show children living in one-parent families are consistently more likely to be poor than children in two parent families to target supports to one-parent families.”

Consistent research has shown that children in one-parent families are most at risk of poverty, Government must now act to support these vulnerable families. One Family’s Pre-Budget Submission includes recommendations that would enable Government to provide targeted supports to children living in poverty.

They include:

  • Full restoration of the Income Disregard for One-parent Family Payment and Jobseekers Transition. Increase earnings disregard to €161.40. In 2011, before the 2012 cuts were introduced, the earnings disregard equated to 16.9 hours of National Minimum Wage employment. A disregard of €161.40 would restore these hours and payment levels.
  • Standardise the child maintenance process and provide support for those parenting alone who are pursuing child maintenance. Do not leave this process solely to the parent with care responsibilities.
  • Raise the base rate of the Qualified Child Increase (QCI) from €31.80 to €35.00 per week for one-parent families most at risk of poverty and raise the QCI for children over the age of 12 to €37.80 per week, in recognition of the higher costs faced by families with older children.

One Family’s Pre-Budget Submission can be viewed here.

About One Family
One Family is Ireland’s organisation for one-parent families and people sharing parenting, or separating, offering support, information and services to all members of all one-parent families, to those sharing parenting, to those experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and to professionals working with one-parent families. Children are at the centre of One Family’s work and the organisation helps all the adults in their lives, including mums, dads, grandparents, step-parents, new partners and other siblings, offering a holistic model of specialist family support services.

These services include the lo-call askonefamily national helpline on 1890 662212, counselling, and provision of training courses for parents and for professionals. One Family also promotes Family Day every May, an annual celebration of the diversity of families in Ireland today.

Further Information

Karen Kiernan, One Family, CEO  | t: 01 662 9212 / 086 850 9191.

Noel Sweeney, Communications & Events Manager | t: 01 662 9212

Moving from Welfare to Work:  Low Work Intensity Households and the Quality of Supportive Services 

Report by the National Economic and Social Council of Ireland (NESC) – Launch and Seminar.

The report is co-authored by One Family Board Chair, Dr Anne Marie McGauran, and Dr Helen Johnston, both working in the NESC and can be downloaded here.

FINDINGS:

In Ireland the percentage of people living in households where no-one is working, or have a marginal attachment to the labour force, is higher than in most other EU countries. These households are diverse: unemployed people, lone parents, people with an illness or disability and ethnic minorities. ‘Low work intensity’ households experience much higher poverty rates and have a long-lasting negative impact on the children growing up in them. There are significant costs to the State.

The Report came to three overall conclusions:

1 – There is a need to develop a stronger focus on the household, by continuing to expand activation supports to adult dependents, people with a disability, and carers who wish to enter employment. A seminar speaker, Herwig Immervol, also supported this finding by suggesting that households, rather than individuals, need to be considered, as a whole, in activation measures. (link below)

2 – Stronger links are needed between employment services and employers, and between all services in order to support jobless households. Resources for this co-ordination need to be provided.

3 – Increase intensity of support to ensure effective outcomes particularly for those most distant from the labour market: lone parents, people with illness/disability, and those with literacy difficulties, poor English, no work experience or contacts, a history of addiction or time in prison. Supporting this finding the seminar speaker Deborah Rice also found that well-trained caseworkers who can develop good relations with clients and have some autonomy contribute to positive outcomes (link below).

The report also examined welfare and employment services and found that, though generally supportive, there is a lack of trust between service users and Intreo, where people can feel they have no choice in relation to activation/training options offered.

The programme for the full seminar can be accessed here.

Social Inclusion Forum 2018

On May 10th, 2018, One Family attended the annual Social Inclusion Forum (SIF) in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.  The theme of the Forum was Social Inclusion in a Changing Environment. 

The SIF was established by Government, and convened by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP), as part of the national structures to monitor and evaluate Ireland’s National Action Plan for Social Inclusion (NAPinclusion).

This event was the principal forum for wide public consultation and discussion on social inclusion. It provides an opportunity for engagement between officials, community and voluntary organisations, and most importantly, people experiencing poverty in relation to policy.

The theme for this year’s Forum focussed on how national social inclusion and development issues interact with the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals[1]

The Forum ran a number of Workshops

  1. Tools for Change: How Does the Public Sector Duty Relate to Poverty and Social Inclusion Policies?
  2. Strengthening the Voice of the Social Inclusion Forum: What Role Should the Social Inclusion Forum Play in the New National Action Plan for Social Inclusion?
  3. Equality Proofing Public Expenditure: Lessons for Poverty Proofing
  4. Childcare Policies: Supporting Participation and Early Childhood Development
  5. Community Work at Local Level: Its Contribution to Understanding and Responding to Poverty and Social Exclusion

One Family participated in the “Tools For Change” workshop  which looked at the Irish Human Rights and Equality Act 2014 (IHREC). In this Act, in Section 42 (Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty[2])  , all public bodies in Ireland have a legal responsibility to promote equality, prevent discrimination and protect the human rights of their employees, customers, service users and everyone affected by their policies and plans.  The discussion and debate during the workshop opened up issues relevant to lone parent families.

One Family pointed out that this legal duty in the public sector needs to be fully implemented and enforced. It would support the rights of both public sector workers themselves and clients engaging with public services. In particular, there is a need to ensure that proper training and support for staff in human rights and equality issues is not carried out in a vacuum. Pilot programmes with IHREC which have actively included front-line workers and clients in detailed consultations in the public services show great enhancement of those services. They make the work-service provision environment better for all.  One Family has repeatedly called for training, information and support for Intreo case-workers in order to understand the realities of lone parent families, to be fully knowledgeable about all services and supports available. Without an whole-of-government, fully integrated wraparound supports and services, lone parents will continue to experience routs to education and work as an obstacle course.

The Forum closed with a robust session on how the UN Sustainable Development Goals intersect with our national social inclusion and poverty reduction targets and strategies. Participants spoke strongly against using any measures or interventions which would re-prioritise already established anti-poverty goals, targets or strategies. Participants rejected measures which do not align explicitly with those already established. Lowering or moving poverty-reduction targets caused by political decisions during the recession, for example the cuts of Budget 2012, are not a coherent strategy. If the cuts born so heavily by lone parents from the 2012 Budget onwards  were made by reason of a ‘recession’, by the same token, increases should be made in 2018 in a rising economy. Throughout the day the lives and realities of lone parent families, along with other disadvantaged groups, were raised consistently from various quarters.[3]

 

[1] https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

[2] https://www.ihrec.ie/our-work/public-sector-duty/

[3] https://www.welfare.ie/en/downloads/SIF2018Brochure.pdf

Presentation to Joint Committee on Education & Skills Barriers to Education Facing Vulnerable Groups: Lone Parents

  1. One Family

One Family was founded in 1972 as Cherish and provides support, information and services to people parenting alone, those sharing parenting of their children, those going through separation; as well as to people experiencing an unplanned or crisis pregnancy. One Family believes in an Ireland where every family is cherished equally, and enjoys the social, financial and legal equality to create their own positive future. Full information on One Family can be found at www.onefamily.ie.

  1. Introduction

One Family works towards the full inclusion and integration of one parent families into the fabric of Irish society. Parenting alone, and sharing parenting in new complex and blended family forms, is an increasing and emergent social reality. Many parents will parent alone through the course of their lives, either temporarily or permanently. The traditional ‘breadwinner’ model of family life has given rise to most of our social and economic infrastructure and tends to ignore or evade the multiple, on-going demands of lone parenting. The first requirement, therefore, in removing barriers to economic and social inclusion is recognition and acceptance of the realities of diverse and fluctuating forms of family life.

Lone parents are a group who experience multiple disadvantage in Irish society and access to education is part of that. One Family welcomes the opportunity to submit to the Joint Committee on Education & Skills and appreciates your interest in this important issue.

    3. Data and Research

3.1  Demographics: one in five children in Ireland live in a one-parent family while one in four families are headed by a lone parent. There were approximately 218,817 lone parents in Ireland in 2016[1] which is an increase of over 3,500 families since 2011. Almost 90,000 were single; a further 50,496 were widowed, while the remaining 68,378 were separated or divorced. The number of divorced people in Ireland nationally has increased from 87,770 in 2011 to 103,895 in 2016. The vast majority (86.4%) of one-parent families are headed by mothers but many families share parenting of their children. Overall, recent Census data[2] shows there is a steady increase in diverse families in Ireland and this is replicated throughout Europe.

3.2       Lone Parent’s access to Wealth:

TASC’s The Distribution of Wealth in Ireland[3] report indicates that one-parent families are:

  • less likely to own their own home and face significant barriers to owning property;
  • have savings of €300 on average, which is less than 10% of others;
  • have an average net wealth of €30,600 compared to an average figure of €218,700 for all households.

 

3.3       Employment Rates:

Available employment figures[4] indicate that the employment rate of lone parents (aged 15-64) is 58.5%, dispelling any myth that people parenting alone are not working.

The employment rate of lone parents is directly linked to the age of their youngest child, as follows:

  • Youngest child aged 0- 5 years, employment rate is 46.8%
  • Youngest child aged 6–11 years, employment rate is 59.8%
  • Youngest child aged 12-17 years, employment rate is 65.6%.

Therefore as children get older parents are more available for work, this is directly linked to the childcare needs of children.

3.4    Education Participation:

Lone parent participation in education has decreased by approximately 20% between 2011 and 2016[5]. The reasons for this trend can be complex and varied, but One Family consistently hear from parents that barriers to accessing education are significant.

A parent’s availability for education may also be inferred from their availability for employment as above. Both situations share many similarities in that the time and work needed to balance parenting and study/work need to be managed.

3.5   Children’s Well-Being:

It is well recognised that the educational levels of parents have direct impact on the lives of their children with the educational level of a mother in particular having a direct impact on the well-being of her child/ren[6].

The draining away of lone parents from higher education therefore is of particular concern. The CSO notes that “higher educational attainment levels are linked with lower unemployment rates. Those with primary education/no formal education were over four times more likely to be unemployed in Q2 2017 (14%) when compared with those who had a third level qualification (3%)”. [7]

International research similarly shows that despite the complex interactions between parental social, economic and educational positions and conditions, the educational levels of both parents are a significant influence on the life expectations and outcomes of their children. Education is a gateway to more sustainable, quality employment which lifts lone parents out of poverty in the longer term. Educational access enables engagement with society generally, to shared customs, beliefs and behaviours, to marketable skills and professions, and to political engagement. The children of lone parents are entitled to such supports through their parents’ access to mainstream social capital.[8]

3.6  Government Policy:

as far back as 2006, a Government Discussion Paper: Proposals for Supporting Lone Parents, put forward a number of actions to support lone parents. Among these recommendations there was an express objective to “Facilitate participation in employment /education and training in a positive and systematic way [9].

3.7   Maynooth University Research:

Twelve years later, in 2017 Maynooth University Independent Review to Identify the Supports and Barriers for Lone Parents in Accessing Higher Education and to Examine Measures to Increase Participation[10] arose from a commitment made in the 2016 Programme from Government.

One Family was consulted as part of this review process as a representative stakeholder group. The recommendations of the Review echo One Family’s recent Pre-Budget Submission[11].  The report notes especially that while lone parents have attracted considerable policy attention in welfare, and education and training, with regard to activation measures; much less specific attention has been paid to lone parents in higher education and suggests an urgent need to widen access for these families. The need to improve access to higher and tertiary education has also been highlighted by our colleagues in An Cosán in their recent campaign.[12]

The complexity of the current system of supports was also highlighted in the Review, including the inadequate dissemination of information, guidance and awareness-raising to lone parents regarding the ‘bundles’ of supports that are offered by different government departments and agencies.  The effectiveness of high-support guidance intervention on well-being, career efficacy and employability factors  has been shown in recent research on activation, giving rise to an urgent need to train Intreo case workers in the very complex set of opportunities and barriers facing lone parents .[13]

4  Barriers to Education for Lone Parents

4.1  Work Life Balance:

Balancing parenting responsibilities and managing finances with accessing education is a difficult task, especially so for lone parents, who often do so with half the resources and double the responsibility.

4.2  Lack of pathway to education:

there are well documented additional challenges for young parents who wish to stay in education as well as older parents who wish to return as mature students. There is no clear pathway of progression for parents who cannot readily move from second level to third level education.

4.3 Lack of income to access education:

the income supports that are in place in Ireland are overly complex to access and at insufficient levels to avoid poverty in many cases. One example is that the age of a child generates a barrier to support. Currently, if a child is over 14 yrs, transfer to BTEA is compulsory when a lone parent has moved onto Jobseekers Allowance. As a result of this forced transfer, access to a SUSI maintenance grant is denied to these parents.

4.4  Housing:

Ireland is experiencing a housing crisis with most homeless families being one-parent families. If a family is living in insecure housing they are very unlikely to be able to enter or maintain participation in education. Some financial housing supports are specifically unsupported in conjunction with some educational supports and so access to education depends on housing tenure. This is both unfair and illogical.

Such barriers often result from uneven and contradictory systems of support, such as the clash between being in receipt of Rental Support on the one hand, but excluded by virtue of receiving that support on the other – for example the SUSI grant.

4.5  Childcare:

the challenges for parents in accessing affordable, high quality childcare for their children is well documented. It is extremely difficult to access out of school care as well which may be required for educational participation.

4.6  Inclusion:

single mothers are the most socially isolated people in Ireland[14] and particular efforts must be made to recruit and maintain them in education.

 5. Recommendations to remove Educational Barriers for Lone Parents

Whilst the issue of barriers to education for parents is complex and some structural barriers such as homelessness and childcare require cross-departmental funding and exchequer investment to solve, other issues can be more directly addressed.

5.1  Income Supports:

Lone parents who have transferred to BTEA were particularly highlighted in Maynooth University’s Independent Review as the most economically vulnerable group among lone parent welfare recipients[15]. One Family recommends the following changes to income supports to ameliorate some barriers to education for lone parents:

  • The reinstatement of the student grant scheme (maintenance grant) for BTEA recipients would create a more equitable, less complicated and targeted approach for supporting lone parents in higher education.
  • The student grant scheme should be available for part-time and online education.
  • The rigidity of how SUSI classifies students as being dependent or independent causes difficulty for people parenting alone who access a different housing tenure and may lead to them losing their grant. Reassessment is only in very restricted circumstances.
  • We recommend that SUSI be available to parents engaging in education, regardless of the age of their youngest child (up to a limit of 18). There are several administrative options in how to achieve this. It is important that that once a lone parent is in receipt of One-Parent Family Payment/ Jobseeker’s Transition and the SUSI maintenance grant has begun that their payment continue until their course is completed.
  • In general, the SUSI grant should be reviewed and the levels increased. The maintenance portion of SUSI education grants only provides a contribution towards the costs of participating in education and ignores the reality of caring for children.
  • Additional funding for lone parents either in the form of cash transfers or in the form of universal scholarships for lone parents within Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) should be provided. The Department of Education’s 1916 Bursary Fund offered 200 bursaries for an overall target group of lone parents, first-time and mature student entrants, students with a disability, Travellers, Further Education Award holders, and ethnic minorities. Whilst this is a welcome start, this is actually a nominal and piecemeal response to the education needs of such a huge group of marginalised people, especially those of lone parents. Given that 25% of Irish families are one-parent families, 80 Bursaries set aside for lone parents appears as a gesture, rather than a systemic action towards genuine recognition and educational inclusion.

5.2  Complexity of Supports:

the complicated nature of the current systems of supports can block access purely on a bureaucratic level. We recommend stronger dissemination of information, guidance, and awareness-raising regarding the ‘bundles’ of supports offered by different government departments and agencies to parents.

We also concur with Maynooth University’s recommendation that there is a persistent need for training and awareness for Intreo case-workers who operate frontline services and supports in the Department of Employment Affairs & Social Protection[16].

We are concerned that supports and payments from two government departments interact with each other in a negative way and we strongly recommend that the Department of Education & Science collaborates with the Department of Employment Affairs & Social Protection in order to ensure that parents can access education irrespective of their housing tenure.

5.3 Access Pathways:

Taking an education-first approach will result in improved employment rates for one-parent families in the longer term. Jobseeker’s Transition (JST) payment recipients are a distinct group with a specific set of needs. The time spent on JST is a unique opportunity to invest in a package of supports and services to ensure that these parents can access education or employment. Broadening access to JST will also allow parents with older children to enhance their employability through further education and training. These recommendations would remove a number of structural barriers which currently prevent lone parents from accessing education.

The provision of specialist bridging programmes such as One Family’s New Futures and New Steps for lone parents[17], which directly support progression, job-readiness, and incorporate wrap-around parenting and family support services, offer an example of a genuine way into heretofore exclusionary educational institutions.

5.4  Pro-Active Inclusion:

Lone parents are a considerable body of potential students who are systematically excluded, since the requirements for their participation are not being met. The profile and needs of this large student cohort should be  integrated explicitly into the ethos of each Higher Education Institutions (HEI). This needs to be visibly stated by colleges and universities, who have the responsibility of welcoming people who are parenting alone onto campuses. There is a need to provide lone parents with tutoring that generates both the technical skills and ‘cultural’ competencies required for higher educational engagement. Like other students, they need the tools to succeed.

While there are established Access to Higher Education programmes available across the networks of further education colleges, Institutes of Technology and Universities, there is a need to meet the specific needs of students, current and potential, who are lone parents.

5.5   Housing Tenure:

The ability to access and stay in education should not be linked to housing tenure, indeed education is a route out of homelessness into independence and security for lone parents. The following recommendations are critical for access to education for lone parents:

  • Allow those in receipt of Rent Supplement to engage in full time education. This would remove a number of structural barriers which currently prevent lone parents from accessing education.
  • Address the anomaly by which lone parents in receipt of Rent Supplement cannot receive their One-Parent Family Payment or Jobseeker’s Transition Payment and the SUSI maintenance grant on taking up an education or training course.
  • Ensure all lone parents in receipt of Back to Education Allowance can receive the SUSI maintenance grant to help meet the costs of accessing education.

5.6   Childcare:

The provision of affordable, accessible and quality childcare, including early years and out-of-school care are pre-requisites for lone parents’ ability to engage with work or education. Childcare costs in Ireland are the highest in the OECD for lone parents and the second highest for couples.[18] One Family makes the following recommendations:

  • Increase accessibility so that families in every county can access subsidised and affordable childcare, with particular emphasis on access to out-of-school care.
  • Reach the European average of investment in early years education and care so that labour market participation for parents, mothers and lone mothers, can be a reality and their children can benefit from high quality learning. Ireland ranks lowest among 28 EU countries for investment in pre-primary education. Ireland currently invests about 0.1% of GDP, considerably lower than the EU average of 0.8% [19]  Investment is required to address the poor infrastructure of childcare and the crisis in the lack of childcare workers.

Ends

[1] Census 2016 http://www.cso.ie/en/csolatestnews/presspages/2017/census2016summaryresults-part1/

[2] Census 2016 http://www.cso.ie/en/csolatestnews/pressreleases/2017pressreleases/pressstatementcensus2016resultsprofile4-householdsandfamilies/

[3] https://www.tasc.ie/download/pdf/the_distribution_of_wealth_in_ireland_final.pdf

[4] CSO QNHS Q2 2017. http://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/er/qnhs/quarterlynationalhouseholdsurveyquarter22017/

[5] Census 2016. http://www.cso.ie/en/census/

[6] Growing up in Ireland : DYNAMICS OF CHILD ECONOMIC VULNERABILITY AND SOCIO-EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT:  AN ANALYSIS OF THE FIRST TWO WAVES OF THE GROWING UP IN IRELAND STUDY https://www.esri.ie/pubs/BKMNEXT284.pdf

[7] http://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/er/eda/educationalattainmentthematicreport2017/Ibid.

[8] Erola, J et al, (2016),  Parental education, class and income over early life course and children’s achievement, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. Volume 44, June 2016, Pages 33-43, Elsevier. Open Access:   https://ac.els-cdn.com/S0276562416300038/1-s2.0-S0276562416300038-main.pdf?_tid=d89fc2fa-c2f7-4188-bfbe-8134e6c06dbd&acdnat=1521208135_5a6f1b80f20cfd812e758e547662485c

[9] https://www.welfare.ie/en/pressoffice/pdf/pr200306.pdf

[10] https://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Education-Reports/supports-barriers-lone-parents-accessing-HEd.pdf

[11] https://onefamily.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/One-Family_Pre-Budget-Submission-2018.pdf

[12]http://www.dhr.ie/tag/education/

[13]http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/Debates%20Authoring/DebatesWebPack.nsf/committeetakes/SPJ2018012500002?opendocument#D00100

[14] Margret Fine-Davis, Attitudes to Family Formation in Ireland: Findings from the Nationwide Study, Dublin, Family Support Agency and Social Attitude and Policy Research Group, Trinity College, December, 2011

[15] Byrne, D., Murray, C. (2017) An Independent Review to Identify the Supports and Barriers for Lone Parents in Accessing Higher Education and to Examine Measures to Increase Participation. Maynooth University. DSP, DCYA, DES.  “https://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Education-Reports/supports-barriers-lone-parents-accessing-HEd.pdf

[16] Ibid (p.13)

[17] https://onefamily.ie/how-we-support-families/parenting-supports/for-parents/back-to-work-education/new-futures/

[18]  OECD, ‘Ireland Economic Survey of Ireland’, September 2015

[19] https://www.earlychildhoodireland.ie/latest-eu-report-highlights-irelands-embarrassing-track-record-investment-care-young-children/

Policy | Assessment Change Could Reduce the Impact of Poverty on Lone Parents

One Family, Ireland’s organisation for people parenting alone, sharing parenting, and separating, has voiced its concern that child maintenance is to be assessed as parental income under the Affordable Childcare Scheme. According to the organisation, if child maintenance is assessed as child income rather than parental income it could significantly reduce the impact of poverty on lone parents.

Karen Kiernan, CEO of One Family responding to comments made by representatives of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) at a seminar on the Childcare Support Bill organised by the Children’s Rights Alliance said, “One Family has serious concerns about this issue and we have written to Minister Zappone and the members of the Committee on Children and Youth Affairs and asked them to make the appropriate change.”

There is a clear rationale for the Affordable Childcare Scheme to exclude child maintenance as income; currently a number of income sources are excluded from income assessment for state supports such as the Working Family Payment.

Ms. Kiernan added, “I can understand why the Department have chosen this provision. They believe that by including it would prevent a poverty trap but there is no indication that excluding child maintenance from assessment would form a poverty trap. These payments do not vary for recipients when they leave or enter employment, so the exclusion of this income source would not serve as a disincentive to enter or increase employment.”

The payment of child maintenance varies significantly based on the vagaries of the relationship with the maintenance payer. Feedback from the One Family national helpline and from frontline staff in the District Court in Dublin indicate that a significant majority of court-ordered maintenance orders are not complied with fully or at all. It is also extremely likely that non-court-ordered arrangements are also not fully adhered to in many cases. This can cause significant difficulty and stress to the family in receipt of the payments as their social welfare payment may have been reduced, their rent supplement may have been reduced and they be left at short notice without a full income in any given week.

The issue of child maintenance and the negative impacts of non-payment on vulnerable children and their parents has become an issue of great political interest with bills being introduced both by Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein in recent months. The non-payment of maintenance is regarded by a Government agency Cosc as domestic abuse and should be taken very seriously. This relatively simple assessment change would protect vulnerable children and help towards lifting 100,000 children from poverty by 2020.

#AffordableChildcare and #EndChildPoverty.

 

#AffordableChildcare  #EndChildPoverty

 

 

Policy | One Family Welcome Child Maintenance Proposal

One Family welcome the launch of Sinn Féin’s proposal paper on the establishment of a statutory Child Maintenance Service. This proposal is an important first step in clearly asserting that the payment of child maintenance is not a discretionary gift, but a legal requirement, and the responsibility of both parents.

It is the State’s responsibility to intervene and assert and protect these rights in a systematic and equitable way, whether lone parents are in receipt of financial state supports or not.

A summary of their proposal is as follows:

Context:

  • The proposal is child-poverty focused and highlights that the consistent poverty rate for children in lone parent families is 26.2%, according to SILC 2015 figures.
  • Lone parents face a number of challenges such as unemployment; underemployment and they are often in part-time, low paid precarious work.
  • They also have inadequate access to affordable and accessible childcare.
  • Lone parents face significant barriers in accessing education or full-time employment.
  • Changes to the One-parent Family Payment (OFP introduced in 2012 has exacerbated these issues and challenges.
  • UN CEDAW 2017 Recommendation to Ireland to “Consider establishing a statutory authority and prescribing amounts for child maintenance in order to reduce the burden on women of having to litigate to seek child maintenance orders”.
  • Child maintenance payments can play a pivotal role in reducing consistent poverty. In the UK there has been a 30% reduction in the poverty gap as a result of impact of compliant child maintenance payments.

Three Options for a Child Maintenance Service Model:

  1. Parental Arrangements – Parents willing to negotiate can avail of advice, support and information in agreeing amount. This option is not available in cases of domestic violence.
  2. Direct Pay – Situations where non-custodial parent is willing but agreement cannot be reached. This allows the Child Maintenance Service to calculate an appropriate amount. Once agreed, the payment is then made directly between both parents.
  3. Collect & Transfer – This will occur where the non-custodial parent refuses to engage. The Child Maintenance Service will calculate, collect and make payment. This should be an automatic option in case of domestic violence.

Other Key Points:

  • The service should be free at the point of access.
  • 20% penalty where collect & transfer is needed in order to incentivise payments.
  • Strong enforcement powers which will allow them to take monies directly from all forms of earnings.
  • Fully supported information & advice service established to be accessible to all lone parents.
  • Strong links with Revenue to assist access to property details as well as income.
  • Domestic violence training for all Child Maintenance Service staff.
  • Fast track options should be available.
  • In order to decrease poverty – child maintenance should not be calculated as means with regard to any state supports.
  • In the UK the service costs €230 million per annum for 2 million lone parents.

One Family Response

Children living in one-parent families are living in the most socially and financially deprived homes in Ireland. Lone parents have the highest rates of consistent poverty, the lowest disposable income and the highest rates of deprivation. The government has made clear commitments to reduce child poverty and the formation of a Child Maintenance Service provides a clear opportunity for the government to increase household income for lone parents.

Current mechanisms available to parents to seek maintenance orders, and their subsequent enforcement, rest with those who are seeking the payment, placing an excessive burden on them. Parents must utilise the family law courts to legally seek and enforce these requests. Many parents find the court process daunting and overwhelming and require, often costly, legal advice in order to fully utilise the family courts system effectively. There is also inconsistency and a lack of transparency regarding how the courts decide how much maintenance should be paid by the non-resident parent. State intervention is needed to better support these families.

Some countries, mostly Nordic (Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden) and some Central European states (Germany), operate systems of guaranteed maintenance which involves state departments making provisions to ensure children actually receive maintenance consistently even where non-custodial parents are unwilling to pay. Countries such as the United Kingdom, Ireland and United States view child maintenance as a financial obligation on liable relatives governed by family law placing the burden on custodial parents in seeking maintenance arrangements. The affect of these two aforementioned approaches to maintenance governance and provision mean very different outcomes for one-parent families.  Children have better outcomes in those countries where a guaranteed state mechanism is in place for the payment of child maintenance.