One Family’s Response to Minister Varadkar’s Comments on Reform of the One-Parent Family Payment on RTÉ Radio 1 on 26th September 2016
Today Minister Varadkar, in an interview on Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1), discussed the changes to the One-Parent Family Payment (OFP). The Minister was adamant that there were no cuts made to the payment by the last Government, but rather to the conditionality of the payment. While this may be technically correct, it does not acknowledge the fact that a result of the reform is significant cuts to income for many one-parent families. Both the reform of the OFP and its implementation have been plagued by poor planning and communication, and a lack of joined up thinking on the part of the Department; impacts have included the creation of unnecessary fear and worry, and reduced income for many already vulnerable families. Lone parents already in work and in receipt of Family Income Supplement saw an immediate 40% reduction in their payments as a direct result of the reform. Government policy has not worked. Government has failed these families.
Minister Varadkar also outlined measures being put in place to reduce unemployment figures in line with the most advanced European economies. However, these economies invariably provide state-subsidised, affordable, accessible childcare to support parents to enter work. Ireland must follow suit if it wants to match the employment rate of other European countries. The immense cost of childcare in Ireland was acknowledged during the interview by the Minister who stated that “one of the biggest things” this Government could do is to reduce the cost of childcare. Yet despite this acknowledgment of the lack of affordable, accessible childcare currently available and how immense a barrier this is for parents to work, the Minister was emphatic that no reversal of the reform will be implemented. One Family contends that continuing to enforce the reform with a flawed childcare system in place is senseless.
The Minister further stated that the key to making work pay is to promote not just any job but getting a better quality job. One Family agrees that an investment in education and training supports is imperative in order to achieve this but this is just one essential step that must be taken, and it must be taken now. As outlined in our previous response to Minister Varadkar and in our Pre-Budget Submission there are a number of other steps that the Department could take to remove current educational barriers impacting on one-parent families.
The reform of the One-Parent Family Payment has failed, as evidenced by the already low-income families who have become poorer owing to its impacts. It is disappointing that the Minister, like his predecessor Joan Burton TD, continues to fail to acknowledge this; that Government policies and services that would address the major barriers faced by lone parents trying to access employment and/or education have yet to be proposed or implemented; and that lone parents and their children – 59% (almost three in five families) of whom experience enforced deprivation (SILC 2014) – are suffering the impacts of an intrinsically flawed Government approach.
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
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.
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Trading as One Family, Cherish CLG is a company limited by guarantee not having a share capital, registered in Dublin, Ireland with registered office at 8 Coke Lane, Dublin 7 and registered Company Number 45364. One Family is also a charity (Charity Regulatory Authority No. 20012212 and Charity No. 6525).
Directors of One Family: Helen Hall, Jennifer Good, Nuala Haughey, Rosemary Wokocha, Donagh McGowan, Eimear Fisher and Jack Eustace.