Policy | DSP will Review Changes to One Parent Family Payment

The Department of Social Protection agreed to review the changes to the One Parent Family Payment (OFP) at Committee stage of the Social Welfare Bill 2016 on Thursday 17 November.

It is essential that review of the OFP reform be carried out urgently, as One Family has consistently called for. A cohesive report on the potential outcomes should have been conducted prior to implementation which could have avoided the negative impacts experienced by a large number of lone parents in part-time work.

Family Income Supplement (FIS) will also be reviewed; a new proposed Working Family Payment was included in the Programme for Government last May.

The analysis of the State’s child poverty rates is immediately necessary. One in nine (11%) children aged 0-17  live in consistent poverty (SILC 2014). Children living in one-parent family households are almost twice as likely to live in poverty than other children, with 23% of children in a one-parent family experiencing deprivation.

The Back to Work Family Dividend (BTWFD) will also be reviewed. This is welcomed as the halving of this payment after one year, and suspension after two years, is clearly causing lone parents to be worse off in work. An improved longer term solution is needed.

1st Amendments:

(5) The Minister shall review the changes introduced to the One-Parent Family Payment in 2012 particularly in light of the report by Dr Millar and Dr Crosse on lone parents and activation and shall bring forward a report to the Committee on Social Protection on same within 3 months of this Bill being enacted.

(6) The Minister shall review the operation of the Family Income Supplement to see how it could be improved to encourage and facilitate people to re(enter) the workforce and shall bring forward a report to the Committee on Social Protection on same within 3 months of this Bill being enacted.

The first list of amendments can be found in full on this link.

2nd Amendments:

(1)Report on One-Parent Family Payment changes. That an independent report shall be conducted on the financial and social effects of the changes to the One-Parent Family Payment since 2015, taking account inter alia of poverty rates among those in receipt of the payment and that the report shall be presented to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social Welfare within six months of enactment of this Bill.

(2)That an analysis of the State’s child poverty rates is carried out annually and that an independent report shall be issued to the Minister and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on  Social Protection.

(3)Report on operation of Back to Work Family Dividend 14. That a report shall be issued to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection on the effects of the Back to Work Family Dividend to recipients and to include inter alia the poverty rates among those in receipt of this payment.

The second list of amendments can be found in full on this link.

 

Policy | FamiliesAndSocieties Third Annual Meeting

IMG_4617One Family acts as a stakeholder within the FamiliesAndSocieties project which aims to investigate the diversity of family forms, relationships, and life courses in Europe; to assess the compatibility of existing policies to family changes; and to contribute to evidence-based policy-making.

Stakeholders are an integral part of the project; providing a link between the research outputs and how they can be translated into family policies across Europe. One Family uses its knowledge and expertise from working with one-parent, shared parenting and separating families to highlight policy implications and to suggest appropriate and workable policy response.

Valerie Maher, our Policy & Programmes Manager, attended the third annual FamiliesAndSocieties meeting and stakeholder workshop earlier this year.

Some of the findings of FamiliesAndSocieties from February 2013 to December 2015 include:

  • Family forms have become more varied and individual and family life courses are increasingly diverse. We need to be aware of different family forms and treat them equally; policy to support children irrespective of family forms they live in is imperative.
  • Vulnerable families and their wellbeing – lone parents and large families are more “at risk” because the reconciliation of work and family is particularly challenging for them. This can lead to economic problems as well as impacting on social and emotional wellbeing (e.g. time pressure and stress, reduction of social contacts, less quality time with children).
  • Forces that might be crucial for the wellbeing of (vulnerable) families were often related to worklife balance (e.g. changes in institutional childcare provision, changing gender roles) as well as the role of the “culture of work” and employers’ attitudes towards family responsibilities of their employees.

You can read more about FamiliesAndSocieties here, including the outputs and results of the project to date.

Policy | Election Promises

onefamily_party_promises_web_sliderOne Family has been campaigning for equal rights for lone parents and those who are sharing parenting in the lead up to the election. The One Family election manifesto has six key points that need to be addressed by the next government to ensure these concerns are heard and dealt with.

  1. Work to end child poverty in Ireland.
  2. Ensure that work pays for everyone.
  3. Undertake a full review of the One Family Payment Reforms.
  4. Support shared parenting.
  5. Recognise and protect all families in the Constitution, not just married families.
  6. Invest in our family law courts and services.

We have analysed each party manifesto to identify their commitments to these six points in the document below.

Election Promises to One Family

Policy | Email Your Candidates to End Child Poverty and Review Reform of OPF Payment

With just one week to go until General Election 2016, we urge everyone to email their local candidates to ensure that one-parent families are on their agenda. We are calling for six key commitments which you can read about below.Election Manifesto 2016_1

Election Manifesto 2016_2

It’s easy to email all of your local candidates in just one minute; click here. You can also download two handy documents with questions and take away messages for candidates who call to your door, to help ensure that they know that these issues matter for all families in Ireland.

#GE2016 #EndChildPovery #MyFamilyMatters

Use the social share buttons below to ask your friends and family to support our Election Manifesto for one-parent families.

askonefamily | Child and Family Relationships Act 2015

On Monday the 18th January 2016, some parts of the Child and Family Relationships Act 2015 were commenced. These changes in legislation may have a direct impact on those parenting alone, sharing parenting and parenting after separation so the following information on Guardianship, Custody, Access and Maintenance may be relevant to you:

Guardianship

  • For an unmarried father this means that he may automatically become a guardian of his child if he has lived with the mother on a continuous basis for 12 months and at least 3 of these months must be after the birth of the child.

This 12 month period only takes effect from the date this was enacted, so from the 18th January 2016 and is not retrospective.

  • For other family members, such as grandparents, civil partners, step-parents and others who have acted in “loco parentis” (in the place of the parent) of a child they may apply to court for guardianship. The requirements for this is that a person is in a relationship, either in marriage or civil partnership, or has lived with the parent of a child for over 3 years and has shared the day to day care of the child for at least 2 years.
  • If a person has cared for a child on a day to day to basis, continuously for 12 months and there is no parent or guardian able or willing to exercise the rights and responsibilities for the child then they may apply for guardianship, so for example this may be a grandparent caring for their grandchild or a foster parent caring for a child.

Access

  • For grandparents the Act means that they can now apply directly to the District court for access with their grandchildren, if they do not already have access.

Custody

  • A court may make an order for custody following an application by a person other than the mother or father. This may be a person who is a relative of the child; it may be a person with who the child has resided with, or if the person is married to, in a civil partnership with or who has cohabited with the parent of the child for at least 3 years and has been involved in the day to day care of the child for at least 2 years. A person may also seek custody where the child has resided with this person who has had day to day care of the child and who does not have a parent or guardian who is able or willing to take on the responsibilities of being the guardian.

Maintenance

  • A maintenance order may be sought, requiring the cohabiting partner of a child’s parent to pay maintenance for the child, provided they are a guardian of the child.

Enforcement Orders

  • These relate to access and custody whereby if a court order is made in respect of custody or access and this is unreasonably denied or not taken up then a parent or guardian may apply for an enforcement order. Such an order may require that:

A parent or guardian, or both attend counselling, mediation or a parenting programme

That additional access may be granted

That a parent or guardian be reimbursed for expenses as a result of the denial of access or the refusal to take up access.

Any decision made by the court will be made in the best interests of the child and the court will consider the views of the child where possible given his/her age and understanding.

 

 

Policy | Back to Education Allowance – What does it mean for Education and Employability?

JOB 200x200Stuart Duffin, Director of Policy and Programmes, One Family, responds to the recent findings of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) that there is ‘no evidence that the Back to Education Allowance employment support programme is effective helping unemployed people to find jobs’.

The relationship between education and the economy is longstanding. Employers generally see achievements related to the subject discipline in education as necessary but not sufficient for people to be employed. In some employment contexts the actual subject discipline may be relatively unimportant.  Achievements outside the boundaries of a discipline (such as the possession of so-called ‘soft skills’) are generally considered to be important for a job. Yet ’employability’ is not a major feature in education programmes in Ireland; or why should it be?

‘Employability’ refers to achievements and potential to obtain a ‘job’, and should not be confused with the actual acquisition of a ‘job’ (which is subject to influences in the environment, a major influence being the state of the economy). Employability derives from complex learning and is a concept of a wider range than those of ‘core’ and ‘key’ skills. The transferability of skills is often too easily assumed. There is some evidence to suggest that references to employability make the implicit assumption that graduates from education are young people. The risk is of not considering employability in respect of older graduates, who have the potential to bring a more extensive life-experience to bear. Employability is not merely an attribute of the new graduate. It needs to be continuously refreshed throughout a person’s working life.

There are many definitions of what it is to be employable and views on the processes that develop this attribute which are based on the premise that, in education, employability is about good learning. One of many definitions of employability is: ‘A set of skills, knowledge and personal attributes that make an individual more likely to secure and be successful in their chosen occupation(s) to the benefit of themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy.’

Therefore, employability goes well beyond the simplistic notion of key skills and is evidenced in the application of a mix of personal qualities and beliefs, understandings, skilful practices and the ability to reflect productively on experience.

Notice that the commonly used terms ‘knowledge’ and ‘skills’ are not used. They have been replaced by ‘understandings’ and ‘skilful practices’ respectively, in order to signal the importance of a rich appreciation of the relevant fields and of the ability to operate in situations of complexity and ambiguity. There is a parallel here with Stephenson’s (1998[1]) suggestion that the capable person can work effectively on unfamiliar problems in unfamiliar contexts as well as on familiar problems in familiar contexts (which is really a matter of routine). Given that this account of employability stresses complexity, it follows that pedagogy for employability (and the associated assessment) (a) needs to take the inherent complexity of the construct into account, and (b) will be promoting similar achievements to those that teachers in education , at all levels, tend to value. Much of the discussion of employability implicitly refers to the full-time student who enters education at around the age of 18 and who graduates at the age of 21 or 22, and deals with matters beyond the boundaries of the subject discipline(s) concerned.

For older students (many of who will opt to study part-time), employability may take on a different route, since they may well have experienced employment and/or voluntary work prior to (or whilst they are) engaging in education. For them, the emphasis that they give to employability may be on the development of subject-specific understanding to complement what they have already learned about employability in general.

There is also a need to acknowledge the employment-relevant learning that ostensibly full-time students derive from part-time employment as they seek to fund their passage through education. Students, therefore, will develop their employability in ways that reflect their particular circumstances. It might be hoped that they would become capable in the sense outlined by Stephenson (1998).

Capable people have confidence in their ability to:

  1. Take effective and appropriate action.
  2. Explain what they are seeking to achieve.
  3. Live and work effectively with others.
  4. Continue to learn from their experiences, both as individuals and in association with others, in a diverse and changing society.

Capability is a necessary part of specialist expertise, not separate from it. Capable people not only know about their specialism but they also have the confidence to apply their knowledge and skills within varied and changing situations and to continue to develop their specialist knowledge and skills. Stephenson’s words point beyond employability at the moment of graduation towards employability in the context of lifelong learning (a point that is implicit in all the definitions of employability).

We have a system in Ireland whereby:

  1. We see education as solely not about investing in human capital and enabling people into a better place.
  2. We lack a coherent and integrated set of supports and aftercare while in education to enable sustainable employment options in the future.
  3. We lack, with the Department of Social Protection understanding of human capital investment and employability skills.
  4. Lack of skills of DSP staff to support and guide people.

Going forward, the Back to Education Allowance should be an education support not an employability support; and therefore taken out the auspices of Social Protection and given to Education and Skills. After all, they are the experts. Though attention is focused on the transition between education and employment, it is important to remember that – as stickers in the rear windows of cars provide reminders in respect of pets – employability, for most people, is for life.

 

 

Policy | At the Centre of Social Welfare Change

One Family Director of Policy & Programmes, Stuart Duffin, writes about what should be at the centre of social welfare change.

As an election looms for Spring 2016 we need to begin to raising public awareness on the issue of poverty and its effects on health. Our social welfare system is undergoing fundamental change. Reforms affecting many working lone parents are plunging many into even deeper poverty and reinforcing inequality. Restructuring is creating a system which is leaving more parents without constructive supports, whilst those who may qualify must engage with a system which lacks compassion and fails to treat them with dignity and respect.

The Government’s approach to simplifying welfare is undermined by increasing conditionality, and the erosion of a rights based approach to entitlement. The characterisation of one-parent families as undeserving – ‘skivers’ enjoying an overly generous system or worse, actively defrauding the system at the expense of hard working taxpayers – ignores the evidence about the reality of parents’ lives. This rhetoric is used to justify the approach. Many one-parent families who are on the JobSeekers Allowance for example, are required to engage in stressful work seeking activities despite inadequate childcare provision. Parents are blamed for not being in paid work while the real barriers to employment such as the lack of jobs, lack of affordable and suitable childcare, non-family friendly practices and employer discrimination, and our low wage economy are not tackled effectively. At the same time, an immense amount of unpaid work in caring for children (most often done by women) or socially worthwhile volunteering goes unrecognised and unrewarded.

The need for a new architecture for social welfare and protection has never been more pressing.

Therefore, One Family is developing and promoting a Manifesto for Change, which includes:

  1. Parents need income security at a level where no one is left in poverty and all have sufficient income to lead a dignified life.
  2. Make respect for human rights and dignity the cornerstone of a new approach to welfare.
  3. Radically simplify the social protection system.
  4. Invest in the support needed to enable families to participate fully in society.

Our future is better when we feel secure and supported; not when we are vilified and our needs are ignored.

One Family’s Manifesto for Change will be available on this site prior to General Election 2016.

Policy | OFP Reform – The Real Life Impacts

Dad and child's handsIn recent months, much has been written and said about both the problems and benefits for one-parent families on social welfare that have been put through the One-Parent Family Payment (OFP) reform process. At the heart of this are the cuts in income faced by many parents who are working part-time and in receipt of social welfare.

We asked Theresa, Emer and Sharon, each of whom is parenting alone, working part-time and has been recently transitioned from the OFP, to share the reality of their experiences of this reform process. Despite the fact that Theresa, Emer and Sharon is each doing what Government said this reform is supposed to enable – activation – all of their families have suffered a substantial financial loss. You can read what they told us below.

One Family believes that it is counter-productive to Government policy to enforce income losses on poor families when the objective of the reforms is to support people off welfare and out of poverty into sustainable employment. It is also counter-productive to imply that people parenting alone and in receipt of the OFP do not want to work. They do, and many are also in education.

These debates have not been helped by  misinformation about how comparatively ‘well-off’ some families are on social welfare, or how much better off they could be in different circumstances; for example, if they were to increase their hours of part-time employment to become eligible for Family Income Supplement (FIS). One Family is responding clearly with some facts and the real-life case-studies of Theresa, Emer and Sharon in order to demonstrate the reality for the families we work with and represent.

Some facts in response to Government briefings:

  • Atypical examples | It is unhelpful that atypical examples are being consistently put into the public domain, such as the example indicating that a lone parent with three children who works over 19 hours per week and qualifies for BTWFD will earn the same as a teacher. There are very few lone parents with three children (Census 2011 indicates 15.7% on all one-parent families, but this could be as low as 11% for those actually in receipt of a social welfare payment); the childcare costs associated with this atypical example are not factored in; and neither is the fact that BTWFD is only available at full rate for one year, is reduced completely after two, and is not available to those transitioned before 1 January this year. The ‘typical’ one-parent family includes one child (56.11%) or two children (28.17%).
  • Other countries | Comparisons to other countries that require lone parents to be available for work when their children are younger than 7 are unhelpful and unrealistic as the structures in place in countries referenced such as New Zealand, the UK and the Netherlands are not comparable to Ireland due to the lack of available childcare here and other structural barriers. Also, there are far higher rates of investment in social services in these countries that practically enable parents to return to the work force.
  • FIS | It is unhelpful to posit the gain that parents might get if they are able to increase their hours of work to over 19 whilst on the JSTA so that they become eligible for FIS, as this is extremely difficult for many to achieve. We are aware of many sectors, including government funded services, where people are unable to increase their hours. These commonly include childcare staff (particularly those providing ECCE hours); SNAs and other school staff who are frequently let go every summer; and retail staff who are subjected to zero hour contracts etc. It seems unrealistic that Government will be able to work with employers on this or that employers can be expected to always be in a position to create more hours, and it is unrealistic to expect employees to be able to demand more hours if those hours are not available.
  • BTWFD | Since the reform introduction, some 17,000 lone parents have already transitioned from the OFP scheme to other income support payments in 2013 and 2014. This means that none of these parents were entitled to the Back To Work Family Dividend (BTWFD) which is supposed to support families to move from social welfare into employment.
  • Childcare | The severe lack of affordable, accessible high quality childcare being uniformly available throughout Ireland remains a massive barrier. This problem for all families with children is far from being resolved; or any workable, time-lined potential solution been put forward by Government. Ireland’s childcare costs remain amongst the most expensive in the world, second only to the US. These reforms aimed to move more lone parents into the workplace are being implemented at a time when even many parents in working two-parent families feel they have no choice but for one partner to leave work owing to childcare costs being unaffordable. People parenting alone do not have a parenting partner to assist with childcare, school runs, school holidays etc. while at work and often do not have family support available.
  • Income loss totals | Approximately 11,000 parents and families have lost income as a result of being transitioned to Jobseeker’s Transitional Allowance (JSTA) or Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) from the OFP. We do not yet know how many have or will gain financially, but we hope that this figure is high.
  • Income loss amounts | The figures proposed by DSP of the losses that parents will face have been consistently under-estimated, based on testimony to One Family from many parents. We have heard of losses ranging from €30 to €140 per week. In the real-life case studies below, three parents clearly outline how they have lost from €45.20 to €115 per week.

Theresa, Emer and Sharon are all doing what Government says this reform process was implemented to support, and which should result in an increase in income: they are all working part-time over 19 hours per week and in receipt of FIS.

OFP Reform_Theresa

OFP Reform_Emer

OFP Reform_Sharon

Policy | Why Reform of the One Parent Family Payment is Not Working and Our Solutions

Today we have sent the document below to all Ministers, TDs and Senators to clearly outline why the current process of One-Parent Family Payment reform is failing and to put forward solutions. This document can be downloaded as a PDF here.


WHY REFORM OF THE ONE-PARENT FAMILY PAYMENT IS NOT WORKING AND ONE FAMILY’S SOLUTIONS    

Today there are over 215,000 one-parent families in Ireland – 25.8% of all families with children (Census 2011). Of the 95,000 parents in receipt of the One Parent Family Payment when reform of this payment was first announced in Budget 2012, none have benefitted from the reform and an approximate 10% are worse off financially as a direct result of being activated, all are worse off due to cuts. The calls total to One Family’s askonefamily helpline is approaching an increase of 50% in the past 15 months.

Reform of the One Parent Family Payment (OFP) is being phased in with the stated aim of enabling lone parents to move from social welfare into education and employment. To date almost 15,000 parents have been moved from OFP when their youngest child reached the age of at least 7 years old; with almost another 40,000 parents scheduled to be transitioned to other payments – primarily the newly introduced Job Seeker’s Transitional Allowance (JSTA) or Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) – in July 2015. Currently, 65,000 people are in receipt of the One Parent Family Payment.

What are the failures of this reform?

This current system of reform, combined with cuts that were introduced at the same time and the lack of required supports, is failing families. More one-parent families are living in higher levels of poverty. Reform has done little to support lone parents in overcoming systemic barriers, as it has not been appropriately resourced and effectively planned across government. This reform does not address the lived realities and challenges that can be associated with parenting alone.

Reform Doc Graphic_How do we know it is failing and why is it failingWhat is One Family calling for?

Graphic_PAUSE and REFORMWhat are the solutions?

We are calling for changes in order to address the catastrophic failures that this reform process has created which have resulted in higher levels of poverty, and lower levels of employment and education for one-parent families. The solutions we put forward will make measurable, genuine improvements to the lives of some of the most vulnerable families in Ireland, creating the way for a more productive, inclusive and sustainable workforce and society.

Since 2012, One Family has also promoted our 10 Solutions Campaign; a holistic, low to no cost model of progressive reform that would make government policies more successful and life better for one-parent families. Below we expand on some of the negative impacts of the current reform process and summative solutions.


FAILURES AND SOLUTIONS

Reform Doc_Table 1

 

 

Table 3

Statement | Clarification of One Family Policy Position in Relation to One-Parent Family Payment Reform

Statement

One Family is very disappointed by comments made in relation to our policy work on TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne show on Wednesday 1 April 2015. To set the record straight, One Family does not endorse the reforms to the One Parent Family Payment (OFP) as currently being implemented by Government.

We have stated previously that changes are necessary as one-parent families are continuously those most at risk of, or living in, poverty in Ireland today which is not acceptable. We have made numerous proposals and submissions to Government on how progressive, positive changes could be made – changes that would improve the lives of lone parents and support them to build better futures for their families – and actively engaged with the Department of Social Protection on how best to achieve this. However, One Family does not endorse these reforms as currently being implemented as they will fail.

Our policies and submissions are informed by the parents we work with, those parents from around the country who participate in our Policy Panel, those who take our surveys, and those who engage with us through our askonefamily helpline and in many other ways. These include our 10 Solutions which are low or no-cost changes that Government could implement which would help in improving outcomes for people parenting alone. One Family has always been clear that badly planned and implemented reforms combined with cuts will not work to move one-parent families out of poverty.

The comments made by Deputy Joanna Tuffy on Tonight with Vincent Browne on Wednesday could be taken as an implication that One Family approves of the reforms now being enacted. This is a misrepresentation of our policy stance. While the Department has made some adaptation to its original reforms announced in Budget 2012 – with, for example, the introduction of the Job Seekers Transitional Payment (JST) which we welcomed – it is simply not enough and we have consistently highlighted this. Reform should not seek to address lone parents as a homogenous group. Changes must be informed by the reality of the lives of people parenting alone.

The real impact of these current reforms is that many thousands of parents will experience catastrophic reductions in their weekly income. Parents being moved from the OFP to JST or Job Seekers Allowance include parents currently in part-time employment. Many will now be forced to give up their part-time jobs, due to a complex and unwieldy system. This will result in even greater levels of poverty being experienced by these families. We have called for free part-time education to be made available to lone parents in acknowledgment of their caring responsibilities, for those who wish to pursue it. For those parents presently in employment and education or who wish to return to either, the biggest barrier remains the lack of availability of affordable, accessible, quality childcare. Despite promises made in the past, this issue has yet to be adequately addressed. All of this is being compounded by a serious lack of consistency and clarity of information being communicated to parents at some local social welfare/INTREO offices, creating severe uncertainty and stress for parents already struggling.

One Family presented stark evidence of the real impact of the current reforms to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection on 18 February, as did representatives of SPARK. Deputy Tuffy chairs this Committee but was not present at that time. However, we have always engaged with the Deputy and with representatives of the Department of Social Protection and will continue to do so. As our CEO Karen Kiernan stated to the Committee on closing in February: “One Family has always called for and supports the reform of the payment. The problem is that it was combined with cuts. It was never really going to work and it has not been working to date. From now on, better implementation and planning are required. There is a lot that could be done but there are many errors on the ground about which we are very concerned. We have heard about the litany of cases of people who have actually lost money. We are concerned that the payment is not working now. In order for it to work, changes are needed. I will leave it at that. Our door is wide open in terms of collaborating and assisting.” The full transcript can be read here.

We will continue to work with whomever we can. One Family’s door remains wide open to the Committee and to the Department for collaboration and assistance.