Lone Parents and Employment What are the Real Issues

A new research report from One Family, the leading provider of specialist family support services to one-parent families in Ireland, was launched this morning by Mary Hanafin, Minister for Social and Family Affairs at a unique forum of social partners in Dublin.

The report entitled: ‘Lone Parents and Employment: What are the Real Issues?’ is the first nationally representative study of One-Parent Family Payment (OFP) recipients in Ireland and analyses data from over 1600 respondents.

Key Findings

Candy Murphy , Research & Policy Manager with One Family, was the principal researcher and author of the report and in her address at the launch she summarised the results into three key findings:

Firstly, she identified that the study clearly demonstrates the high level of motivation among lone parents on the OFP to participate in employment. The vast majority of those surveyed (84 per cent) are currently working, looking for work or engaged in education or training. The study highlights how pathways are required to support lone parents to pursue their career plans and to achieve sustainable employment.

Secondly, balancing work and parenting is a challenge. For lone parents, their participation in employment is not at the expense of parenting but rather is something that must be accommodated with an important parenting role.

The third key finding she highlighted was that the results demonstrate that lone parents are not a homogenous group but are highly diverse with differing needs and experiences. Three clear subgroups of lone parents were identified: older parents, parents from new communities and male lone parents.

Policy Context

The context in which the research was undertaken is one in which the Irish Government has set out a proposal to change the way the state provides welfare supports to lone parents. These reforms will among other things incorporate a requirement to be available for work when the youngest child reaches a certain age, yet to be specified.

Such policy reform is taking place within a growing Irish and international policy climate that supports greater ‘activation’ or labour market engagement of those of working age most reliant on social welfare, including lone parents. The results of this study will inform this debate.

Key Recommendations

The study recommends the development and implementation of a 4 part strategy to support lone parents into sustainable employment. This strategy includes:

  • Actions to reduce child and family poverty
  • Support for a wider range of education, training, development  and employment options
  • Actions to enable lone parents to successfully balance employment and parenting
  • Building up a stronger picture of needs of identifiable subgroups

Ms Murphy calls on the Government to continue with its plans for reform, but she advises, ‘Rather than pursuing a compulsory approach, we strongly recommend that this activation process be voluntary, building on the strong motivation to work found in the study and accompanied by a package of supports, as is the situation in other countries that have adopted a similar approach.’

She goes on to outline that ‘These supports must include greater access to affordable, quality childcare for lone parents, the removal of the rent supplement poverty trap and support for greater access to education, training and qualifications, in order to succeed. The report spells out in detail how such supports should be rolled out ’.

Fiona Weir, Chief Executive of One Parent Families|Gingerbread, UK, said at the conference that similar proposals for compulsory activation in the UK are being strongly opposed until the proper supports are in place and the proposals are piloted and the results analysed.

“The imminent welfare reform changes in the UK will pile pressure on lone parents, at a time when the labour market is creaking under the strain of growing unemployment. This is the wrong policy at the wrong time and it is lone parents and their children who will lose out.

I would hope that the Irish Government will not go down this route but will rather engage in a positive way to support lone parents in moving into sustainable employment”.

Responses from Social Partners

The launch of the research report was followed by a panel discussion, chaired by Ms Mary Doyle, Assistant Secretary at the Department of the Taoiseach, involving a unique forum of representatives from the social partners, including IBEC, ICTU, DSFA, CDVEC and FÁS. Representatives from these organisations who all have a stake in how lone parents can be supported into employment outlined their response to the research and indicated what actions their particular organisations are taking to address the findings.

Karen Kiernan, Director of One Family concluded proceedings: ‘One Family are already working to help build the pathways required to support lone parents to enter and progress into sustainable employment. We look forward to working with our partners in progressing the study’s proposals and in helping lone parents to achieve their aspirations with associated benefits for them and their families.’


For more information or for interviews please contact:

Candy Murphy, Research and Policy Manager, One Family, 087 2933180, or

Paul Kelly, Communications Manager, One Family, 086 8218465

Notes to Editors:

  • A summary of the report can be found on our website here.
  • The full report is here.

The research was funded by the Combat Poverty Agency under their Poverty Research Initiative.

The research was assisted by the Dept. of Social and Family Affairs.

Speakers at the seminar included:

  • Candy Murphy, Research and Policy Manager, One Family
  • Fiona Weir, Chief Executive, One Parent Families | Gingerbread, UK
  • Helen Faughnan, Head of Family Affairs Unit, DSFA
  • Ann Gilton, Manager, FÁS Social Inclusion Unit
  • Cathie Hogan, City of Dublin VEC
  • Conor Farrell, Research Officer, Social Affairs, ICTU
  • Finola McDonnell, Senior Policy Executive, IBEC

Case studies:

Rent Supplement

The research indicates that the current practice of administering Rent Supplement is a major barrier to lone parents in their attempts to gain employment due to the significant loss of benefit once the parent starts to increase their hours in work.

Karen is a 39 year old Irish woman who has been on the OFP for nine years and she has been living in private rented accommodation receiving Rent Supplement. She has two children now aged 12 and 10 years old. Over the past eight years Karen has been engaging in adult education with a view to progressing to a well paid job that can move her off social welfare. Having started with parenting courses in One Family, Karen moved to attain a First in a degree course from NUI Maynooth which was achievable as it was offered on a modular basis and she accessed a scholarship from Bank of Ireland .

Karen’s difficulty now is that she cannot find a job that pays enough to cover her childcare costs and that will compensate for the huge loss in her Rent Supplement that would be immediately implemented on starting work. This poverty trap means that work would not pay for her and she is unable to progress.

New Communities

The research indicates that lone parents from new communities tend to be relatively highly educated and highly motivated to work. Poor English and lower levels of family support and health are challenges for them.

Ada is a 34 year old Nigerian woman with two children who has been on the OFP since 2003 since coming to live in Ireland . She has a degree in psychology and many years experience of working in a bank in Nigeria gaining regular promotions.

After acquiring residency, Ada tried unsuccessfully to gain employment in banks or insurance companies but was consistently unsuccessful at gaining interviews for even entry level jobs in an Irish bank. She believes that her name, Irish address and country of origin worked against her. During this time she kept busy undertaking various training courses in NUI Maynooth and with FAS, and undertook part-time waitressing work to supplement her social welfare payments.

Ada is currently pursuing a Masters in HR whilst participating on a Community Employment Scheme. Her goal is to get experience working in an Irish office environment, progress to get a better job, get her Masters, and integrate in Ireland .

Lone Parents – Is Employment an Option?

One Family, the leading provider of specialist support services for one-parent families in Ireland, launched a major survey of lone parents and employment on 2 October 2007 .

The survey, funded by Combat Poverty Agency and supported by the Department of Social and Family Affairs, is the largest survey of One-Parent Family Payment recipients to be carried out. The survey aims to identify the real issues affecting lone parents in accessing employment and sustaining meaningful careers.. The findings of this research will  be used to inform the Government’s plans for reforming state support for lone parents.
Candy Murphy, Policy Manager with One Family said: “It’s crucial that we properly examine the reality on the ground for lone parents in order to inform government policy. Lone parents at present experience serious obstacles in accessing quality education and employment and are often caught in  poverty traps. It is vital that the State supports lone parents in a way that can help them overcome obstacles rather than perpetuate existing problems.”
As Candy Murphy said: “ This survey represents a real opportunity for lone parents on social welfare to influence government policy in areas that seriously affect their lives, particularly in relation to breaking down the barriers that currently prevent many lone parents accessing meaningful employment and moving out of poverty. We would ask all 8,000 lone parents that receive the questionnaire to complete it and return it to One Family. We also want to emphasise that all responses will be treated in the strictest confidence”
One Family believes that the research currently being conducted will highlight the areas of support needed and the real challenges facing lone parents. “It is important that lone parents’ voices are heard in the consultation process before decisions affecting their families’ lives are made at a national level. We know that this research will provide a further insight into the experience of lone parenthood and an opportunity for decision makers to hear what lone parents have to say”, Ms. Murphy said.
For further information please contact
Catherine Joyce, Communications Manager 01 664 0125/ 086 343 2542