Today, our Government will condemn thousands of children to even deeper levels of poverty

Today is the last day of the One-Parent Family Payment for anyone whose youngest child is aged seven. Approximately 11,000 families will immediately lose income.

IN DECEMBER 2011, Ireland was still on a belt-tightening exercise and it was hard to imagine economic growth. Nobody expected that the Budget that year would be anything other than tough – and it was. Budget 2012 introduced a variety of ways to provide less in public services whilst extracting as much revenue from citizens as possible. It was incredibly difficult, but overall as a country, we took it on the chin. We had to. We all did what we had to do to get by, and now government is speaking about a new era of prosperity.

Why, then, is one group of people in Ireland still being targeted by reform policies that are resulting in even greater poverty and hardship? Why is the harsh thinking of sacrifice continuing only for families who are poor enough to be on social welfare and who are supplementing this by working part-time in low paid jobs as currently permitted? Why are these people having their modest amounts of earned income taken from them? I am writing, of course, about recipients of the One-Parent Family Payment (OFP).

11,000 parents will immediately lose income today

Today, 25 June, is the last day of the One-Parent Family Payment for anyone whose youngest child is aged seven. Over 30,000 parents are being moved off social welfare or onto other payments, predominantly the Jobseeker’s Transition Allowance and Jobseekers’ Allowance Payment. Approximately 11,000 of these parents will immediately lose income, money they can badly afford to lose. Parents report losses to One Family’s helpline ranging from over €100 to €30 per week which is a huge amount of money.

There are over 215,000 one-parent families in Ireland today from all kinds of backgrounds and circumstances. Men and women can become lone parents because of separation, divorce or abandonment. Many may have experienced traumas such as domestic violence, abuse and bereavement. At the time this process of reform was introduced, just over 90,000 of these families were in receipt of the OFP. Years of cuts have led to one-parent families being those with the highest levels of consistent poverty with 63% of individuals from these households experiencing one or more forms of deprivation (EU-SILC 2013). This reform will lead to even more families experiencing poverty.

Counterproductive to the government’s own policy 

Yet government’s thinking behind this reform process is to connect parents to the labour market via education, and to move them from a passive reliance on social welfare to independence; presumably free of poverty in the labour market. However, the reality is that many will now have to give up their part-time jobs as they will lose money due to different criteria on their new payment. Unless parents can work 19 hours per week they will lose out and this is just not possible for many people. This requirement is counter-productive to government’s own policy and will, of course, cause thousands of children to live in deeper levels of poverty.

We would all be forgiven for not knowing that government does actually have targets in place to reduce child poverty but they do. The national policy framework for children and young people 2014-2020 Better Outcomes Brighter Futures commits government to ‘lift over 70,000 children out of consistent poverty by 2020, a reduction of at least two-thirds on the 2011 level.’ Despite this, rates of child poverty have risen sharply in recent years particularly for poor children in one-parent families.

Whilst one section of the Department of Social Protection is busy moving parents onto payments that will cut their modest incomes, another section is tasked with working to lower child poverty rates. They certainly can’t be accused of making it easy for themselves, or for parents or children.

A lack of affordable, quality childcare

One of the big problems for all parents, but most particularly lone parents, is the lack of affordable, quality childcare. Our childcare costs in Ireland are second only to those in the US. Children and young people cannot and should not be left alone to fend for themselves. For a person parenting alone, there is just one income available to meet all household, accommodation and childcare costs. It partially explains why so many one-parent families survive on the verge of homelessness. Most families in emergency accommodation today are one-parent families.

One Family has been saying for years that this reform of the One-Parent Family Payment will fail if there is not affordable, quality childcare and out-of-school care; if access to education and training is not greatly improved; if all the relevant departments and agencies don’t work together in a coordinated way; if policies don’t support the connection between parents and the workplace; and if employers don’t offer family-friendly careers. Sadly none of this has been done and we are being proven right.

Child poverty has become a major issue

Meanwhile we will continue to meet and speak with policy-makers – government and opposition TDs, civil servants, advisors and Ministers. Whilst some on the Labour back benches are rightly wary of the impact these reforms are having on their constituents, others continue to blindly defend the policies and their leader. Many government TDs were not interested in hearing about our concerns and the problems they are causing for their constituents but we appreciate those who are.

Child poverty has to become the major issue for our next government, whoever they might be. It is up to all of us to make sure that all politicians standing for election are fully committed to lowering child poverty and understand the measures that need to be taken to achieve this. Otherwise we will condemn another generation of our children to a life of poverty, lost potential and missed opportunities.

Karen Kiernan is CEO of One Family, Ireland’s organisation for people parenting alone, sharing parenting and separating She is also a member of the Advisory Council of Better Outcomes Brighter Futures.

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