MINISTER FOR SOCIAL Protection Joan Burton has published the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill which will give effect to a number of reforms announced in Budget 2012.
The Bill will provide for changes to the One-Parent Family Payment (OFP) scheme, namely the reduction of the maximum age of the youngest child to be eligible for the payment.
A number of advocacy groups have criticised the proposals to cease the payment to lone parents once their child reaches the age of seven.
OPEN, Barnardos and the National Women’s Council of Ireland said the measure was “regressive and counterproductive”.
The age limit will reduce to age-seven in 2014. From 3 May 2012, the maximum age limit of the youngest child for receipt of the payment will reduce to age 12 for new applicants.
There will be no changes for existing applications until next year, when they will come in on a phased basis.
Until 2011, the OFP provided long-term income support until children were aged 18 or 22 if still in full-time education so this move is a radical change. Parents in receipt of the payment were not required to engage in employment, education or training.
Burton said the changes are in the “best interests” of working-age parents, stating that long-term welfare dependency and passive income support are also not the best routes for children or society.
“Parents of young children face the very real challenge of balancing work and children. However, supporting parents to participate in training, education and work once their children have reached seven years of age will improve both their own economic situation and the social well-being of parents and their families,” added the Minister.
Frances Byrne, director of OPEN, disputed the Government’s claims. She said the organisation is “dismayed” at the low cut-off age. She believes it will only serve to increase poverty for lone parents and their children, who have already seen “disastrous” cuts in Budget 2012.
Byrne said OPEN, Barnardos and the National Women’s Council are prepared to fight for the removal of the measure from the Bill.
Burton said that her department, with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, is looking for ways to enhance the level of childcare provision in Ireland.
As of December 2011, over 90,000 people received the One-Parent Family Payment. The scheme will cost an estimated €1.06 billion this year.