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Dublin: 13 °C Tuesday 19 March, 2019
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Column: We need to help lone parents into work and away from welfare dependency

Ireland spends almost €1 billion a year on One Parent Family Payments, but the results have been poor. We need to support lone parents properly, writes Minister Joan Burton.

Joan Burton

PAID WORK IS the best way out of poverty. As a result, while I have always championed the social welfare system as a safety net for those who need it, I equally believe it must be a spring board to work for those able to do so.

That is why my Department will spend over €1 billion this year on work, training and educational schemes to help 85,000 people on the pathway back to work.

The notion that the welfare system must be a springboard is especially true when it comes to lone parents.

We will spend about €935 million this year on the One-Parent Family Payment (OFP). But research has demonstrated that, despite significant spending on OFP over the years, the results have been poor in terms of tackling poverty and social exclusion.

Put simply, we have to help more lone parents into work and financial independence.

One of the single biggest myths about welfare is that lone parents do not work. About 36 per cent of OFP recipients, for example, are in paid work of some sort. But the goal must be to increase that percentage and – over time – ensure lone parents can progress to full-time work.

That is why I have announced details of a new scheme this week to help on this front.

Jobseeker’s Transition is designed to allow former recipients of OFP, whose youngest child is under 14, to receive the full support of the Department’s activation services to help them return to work, training or education, while recognising the particular difficulties they may face, such as childcare and limited qualifications.

The scheme needs to be seen in context with changes I previously announced.

Under those changes, the age threshold of the youngest child for a parent to qualify for OFP is being reduced on a phased basis to 7 years of age between July 2013 and July 2015. It means that, after July 2015, OFP will no longer be paid to any recipient once their youngest child has reached 7.

These changes are aimed at supporting lone parents into work and preventing long-term dependency on welfare.

“We don’t yet have the type of childcare system we need in this country”

But of course, it would be foolish to suggest that the parents in question could overnight return to full-time work.

Seeking full-time work is not a reality for some lone parents, who, until their child is older, will only be able to work part-time. Although the Government is working on it, we don’t yet have the type of childcare system we need in this country.

It is also the case that some lone parents may not have been in a position to complete their education or accumulate significant work experience, posing additional obstacles.

This is where Jobseeker’s Transition comes in. Jobseeker’s Transition will be a targeted version of the Jobseeker’s Allowance scheme, which provides means-tested financial assistance and activation supports.

Recipients of Jobseeker’s Transition will be required to engage fully with the Department’s activation process. For example, they will develop a personal development plan in conjunction with their case officer that will identify suitable education, training and employment programmes to enhance their skill sets and make them more job-ready.

Crucially, however, those in receipt of Jobseeker’s Transition will be exempted for a transitional period from the full conditionality of the Jobseeker’s Allowance scheme, specifically the criteria that jobseekers must be available for and genuinely seeking full-time work.

This will allow the lone parents in question to seek part-time work rather than full-time work if this better suits their family circumstances. They will also be able to access existing childcare supports to enable them to engage in education and training programmes. The transitional period will run until their youngest child reaches 14 years of age.

Jobseeker’s Transition will be introduced as part of a Social Welfare Bill which will go before the Oireachtas next month.

It will, I believe, be a compassionate, supportive and effective approach to helping lone parents transition to work and provide for their families’ long-term best interests.

Joan Burton is the Minister for Social Protection and a Labour TD for Dublin West

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