One Family’s Response to Minister Varadkar’s Statement on Lone Parents and Educational Supports
One Family is disappointed to read Minister Varadkar’s statement of 17 August 2016 in relation to lone parents accessing education. While the Minister has correctly outlined a number of supports currently available to people parenting alone, the statement fails to recognise some of the major barriers faced by lone parents trying to access education which have recently been discussed in the media.
- As highlighted in One Family’s Pre-Budget Submission those in receipt of Rent Supplement should be permitted to engage in full-time education. This would remove a number of structural barriers which currently prevent these parents from accessing education. Currently the only option available to those dependent on Rent Supplement is to apply for Back to Education Allowance (BTEA). Ability to stay in education should not be linked to housing tenure.
- The BTEA and the SUSI maintenance grant should be payable together to lone parents who are undertaking an educational or training course. The current system provides no additional income to meet the costs of childcare, course materials and travel costs.
- We also recommend that the Department extend Jobseeker’s Transition Payment (JST) to those who are engaging in education, regardless of the age of their youngest child (up to a limit of 18).
We agree with the Minister that inaccurate information is a cause for concern. One Family have continually called for more clarity and information to be made available by the Department of Social Protection (DSP) to lone parents who are being transitioned off the One-Parent Family Payment (OFP) when their youngest child reaches seven years old. It is imperative that all available options open to parents are explored and explained clearly when a parent is required to change their primary social welfare payment. The OFP reform has been rife with implementation issues and the people suffering from this insufficient planning are lone parents who are already struggling financially and their children. We are aware of a number of cases through our askonefamily helpline where parents have been misinformed as to their entitlements and options.
The DSP have consistently promoted Family Income Supplement (FIS) and the short-term Back to Work Family Dividend (BTWFD) as the best option for lone parents who are working a minimum of nineteen hours when they lose their entitlement to OFP. However, due to the complex nature of our social welfare and educational systems, this may not be the best option for every parent, particularly if they wish to access education at a later stage and require financial supports such as the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) in order to do so. While there may be a temporary financial gain to moving from OFP to FIS and BTWFD, if a lone parent has future intentions to enhance their skills and employability through further education or training, it may be a viable option to remain on JST as this is a qualifying payment for access to BTEA.
The emphasis on work and FIS often forces lone parents to maintain employment in low-wage jobs with unpredictable work to support their families, rather than receiving training or education to obtain higher-paying jobs that could lift them out of poverty in the longer term.
Minister Varadkar also outlines the option to work part-time while studying. Given that there are no financial supports available for part-time study at third level, the Minister is effectively suggesting that a lone parent should work part-time while attending full-time education, and also juggling their full-time parenting responsibilities in the absence of affordable childcare to support this option. This statement shows a lack of understanding and awareness of the issues being discussed here.
The suggestion by the Minister that broadening access to BTEA is “wide open to abuse” is in our view a derogatory observation which implies that social welfare recipients are attempting to use social supports in a dishonest fashion; an implication that our clients often tell us they experience in their local social welfare offices. We strongly recommend that the DSP adopt an innovative and supportive stance to removing the barriers impacting the vulnerable families that they aim to support rather than over-focussing on the possibility of fraud. These barriers facing poor families are multidimensional, interconnected and complex. Government actions must take them into account and ensure access to affordable, secure housing and to affordable childcare, and finally address our society’s long history of employment and educational discrimination.
CEO, One Family