On Wednesday April 15th Senator Zappone put forward a motion on the topic of One-Parent Family Supports. The Senator along with her Independent colleagues believe the changes in one-parent family policies have not been effective in achieving the stated objective of encouraging single parents into job activation and education.
The Senator denounces the Rationale of the policy changes which she believes to be incorrect, hence that single parents should work full time once their youngest child reaches the age of 14 whereas the State does not compel two-parent families to do so. Senator Zappone acknowledges the Tánaiste's commitment to social welfare reform and getting the reform right, and how single parents are actively trying to dismantle the stereotype of long-term welfare dependency. The Senator explains that this is why she held a Civic Forum in Leinster House on Friday April 14th. The event concentrated on proposing positive recommendations for change that will be compiled into a report that will be submitted to the Government and joint committee for consideration.
The motion calls for a comprehensive review of the policy decision to compel single parents to work full-time and asks if this policy is consistent with a child's right to parenting and is consistent with the equality of family status, are better ways for single parents to reduce long-term social welfare dependency, to balance their ambitions to learn, earn and care, and eventually to achieve financial independence and well-being for themselves and their children.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout spoke after Senator Zappone in the debate, stating that "It is with pride that I second the motion". Senator van Turnhout said that from having discussed with many groups in preparation for this debate, the move from one-parent family payment to the jobseeker's transition allowance is causing single parents considerable uncertainty and fear,
The Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton engaged constructively in the debate. The Tánaiste stresses that the reforms reduce the age of the youngest child for receipt of one-parent family payment on a phased basis over a long phasing and that the aim of these reforms is to reduce long-term welfare dependency by providing lone parents with enhanced access to the Department's range of education, training and employment supports, and to further assist in the provision of appropriate supports to lone parents.
Though this motion was not passed, Senator Zappone was delighted to hear that there is a commitment to common respect for one-parent families.
Senator Zappone’s full speech and the Minister’s response below:
Senator Katherine Zappone: I move:
That Seanad Éireann:
- notes that 1 in 4 families with children in Ireland is a one-parent family, that over half a million people live in one-parent families (Census 2011) and that over 30 per cent of the Irish population experienced two or more types of enforced deprivation, compared to 63.2 per cent of those in lone parent households (SILC 2013);
- further notes that Budget 2012 restricted eligibility for the One-Parent Family Payment (OFP) to those parenting alone whose youngest child is aged seven, and initiated phased reductions of income disregards for lone parents to equal those of jobseekers allowances, albeit we welcome the Government decision in November, 2014 to halt the final €30 cut;
- acknowledges the Minister for Social Protection’s decision to establish the Jobseeker’s Transition Allowance Scheme for lone parents with children aged between 7 and 14;
- regrets that accessible, affordable, quality childcare to accompany policy changes has not been delivered, though acknowledges the €14 million investment in after-school care;
- notes with concern that almost 40,000 lone parents are expected to transition from OFP with 30,200 transitioning on 2nd July, 2015 (just as school holidays cause childcare costs to increase), and how this change will impact negatively on thousands of working lone parents who will be financially worse off; and
- welcomes the Minister for Social Protection’s recent announcements that people in receipt of OFP will maintain eligibility for the half-rate Carer’s Allowance and that she commits to resolving anomalies for those taking up Jobseeker’s Transition and accessing SUSI maintenance supports; and
calls on the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection to:
- acknowledge that changes in labour market policies regarding lone parents are resulting in unintended consequences, such as lone parents giving up work or full-time education, and agree to immediately review recent policy changes in light of this;
- resolve with immediate effect all remaining administrative and policy anomalies concerning the roll out of Jobseekers Transition including access to Carers Allowance, Back to Education Allowance and self-employed or enterprise supports and to ensure no working lone parents with children over 14 are financially worse off after transitioning to Jobseeker’s Allowance;
- honour previous commitments and implement a ‘system of safe, affordable and accessible childcare’ to accompany the changes to OFP; and
- engage in a comprehensive review of the policy decision to compel lone parents to work full time and to examine whether this policy is consistent with a child’s right to parenting and consistent with equality of family status.
I welcome the Tánaiste to the House. It is timely to debate these issues now as the Government puts the final touches on its much-anticipated spring statement and when all people, especially those whose boat has not yet lifted with the upward swell of the economy, await their chance for prosperity, well-being and equal participation in building a new Ireland.
I have proposed this motion along with my Independent colleagues because we believe the changes in one-parent family policies have not been effective in achieving the stated objective of encouraging single parents into job activation and education. Equally significant, we believe the underlying rationale for the policy changes is not correct. The rationale is that single parents should be compelled to work full-time once their youngest child reaches the age of 14. The State does not compel two-parent families to do so.
Before I lay out our case, I must acknowledge the Tánaiste's commitment to social welfare reform and getting the reform right. That is why our motion welcomes and notes a number of her decisions to amend the policies announced since 2011, and also the leadership and extensive work of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection to support these positive amendments. I acknowledge also the ambition and commitment of single parents themselves to reach for higher education and employment that pays while balancing their parental responsibilities of care. They are actively dismantling the stereotype of long-term welfare dependency. That is why I held a civic forum with many of them in Leinster House yesterday and why we concentrated on proposing positive recommendations for change, some of which I will mention this evening, and all of which will be compiled into a report that we will submit to the Government and joint committee for consideration. I appreciate the expert assistance of Dr. Mary Murphy in this regard, in addition to the assistance of the advocates for one-parent families, some of whom are with us this evening, including One Family, the National Women's Council of Ireland, the Union of Students in Ireland, SPARK and Trinity College Dublin Students' Union.
While public policies in the 1990s supported a mother worker regime where part-time work was facilitated alongside parental caring responsibilities, as exemplified by the higher income disregards that supported child care costs, the latest changes from the mid-2000s are such that single parent policy shifted towards an adult worker regime in which the adult is expected to work full-time with care, in theory, provided by a public service or purchased in the marketplace. The ideal should instead be a carer-earner model - with appropriate incentives and support for higher education - that facilitates an adequate level of labour market participation while also accommodating care choices. This is unlikely to be facilitated by a system that privileges or insists on full-time employment. We think that this is unlikely to be facilitated by a system that privileges or insists on full-time employment. Government policies are rooted in the assumption that the way out of poverty is a job. We say that the way out of poverty for one-parent families is education and a job that can balance caring responsibilities.
Let us consider some of the evidence that we have to date, subsequent to the changes in one-parent family policies. In 2013 the survey in living conditions cited that the consistent poverty rate for the Irish population was 8.2% but that the rate was 23% for one-parent families. It also recorded that over 30% of the population experienced two or more types of enforced deprivation but that 63% of those living in one-parent households experienced deprivation. Senator van Turnhout will speak on the impact that such poverty and deprivation has had on the children of one-parent families.
With regard to employment, Department of Social Protection figures for 2011 show that 49% of recipients of the one-parent family payment were in employment. This decreased in 2013 to 36%. It increased again in 2014 and 2015 but at the end of January 2015 45% of recipients were in employment, which is still under the 49% figure. There are a number of reasons for the fluctuations, the main one being of course the economic crisis which affected everyone, including single parents in employment.
Many single parents lost employment, but another key factor is what happened at the beginning of 2012. Previously, recipients of the one-parent family payment could participate on a community employment scheme, receive their one-parent family payment and also get a payment of the community employment allowance. As the Tánaiste knows, this was stopped. A direct result of this was significant decline in the number of single parents in community employment.
The Tánaiste is also aware of the various calculations that have been put forward indicating that, when 30,200 single parents transition on 2 July 2015, just as school holidays cause child care costs to increase, this change will impact negatively on thousands of working parents who will be financially worse off. The Department of Social Protection estimates that two-thirds will transfer to the jobseeker's transition allowance and our motion has welcomed the establishment of this scheme as a better option than jobseeker's allowance.
However, the jobseeker's transition allowance has a lower income disregard than the one-parent family payment and hence, for example, a worker earning €200 will lose €29 a week after the transition. Those parents who have no child under 14 years will transfer onto the jobseeker's allowance and there are concerns that many of them will have to give up their part-time employment due to the jobseeker's allowance conditionality requirements. Those single parents who are in paid employment of sufficient hours to qualify for the in-work benefit FIS as a top-up to their one-parent family payment will transfer to the FIS scheme exclusively, which will provide a lower level of income support than they currently receive, even with the back-to-work family dividend payment.
There is also great concern regarding lone parents' access to education, especially for those whose youngest child is over 14 and those who wish to pursue education goals in the future. We have welcomed that the Government has revised its policy regarding lone parents currently in full-time education and whose youngest child is under 14. One-parent family payment recipients in full-time education can remain on the payment until their course is completed but this arrangement is for recipients coming off one-parent family payment up to 2 July 2015 only.
Those who exit one-parent family payment after this date will have to opt for the jobseeker's transition allowance or the back-to-education allowance. If one qualifies for jobseeker's transition allowance, one will be eligible to receive the SUSI maintenance grant, which is crucial for child support. However, a parent whose youngest child is 14 years or above will be treated the same as if he or she had no dependants and will only be able to access the back-to-education allowance without any maintenance support for child care and travel.
As was pointed out yesterday in our civic forum, it is considerably less costly to the Exchequer to support single parents through higher level education than it is to support them on welfare for the entirety of their lives. For these reasons, and others allied to them, the motion calls for a comprehensive review of the policy decision to compel single parents to work full-time and asks if this policy is consistent with a child's right to parenting and is consistent with the equality of family status.
Some of the positive recommendations coming from the civic forum include the following. Single parents in or wishing to access full-time education and those in part-time employment should be able to access one-parent family payment support until their youngest child is 18. The State should recognise that all citizens under 18 years of age are children and thus still dependent on parental support. If lone parents are already in employment or education, they do not need the removal of the payment to activate them. Further, how is it that one parent in a two-parent household can be classified as a dependant, in our social welfare policy, yet a child between the ages of 14 and 18 in a one-parent household is not recognised as a dependant?
Another recommendation is that if the State insists on a transition to jobseeker status after the youngest child reaches seven, we should bring back the higher levels of income disregards for those on jobseeker's transition allowance, by way of supporting the caring responsibilities of lone parents, given there does not yet exist adequate public locally-based child care services that do school collections from their child's school.
There are many more recommendations, including the need for quality part-time options, such as work, training and education, to be recognised. It is not easy for single parents to negotiate increases in part-time hours within a context of mini-jobs, zero contract hours and the idea of bundling slivers of time. It would be helpful if the Organisation of Working Time Act was amended from a 15-hour minimum threshold to a 20-hour minimum threshold.
We think these are better ways for single parents to reduce long-term social welfare dependency, to balance their ambitions to learn, earn and care, and eventually to achieve financial independence and well-being for themselves and their children. This is why we call on the Government to engage in a comprehensive review.
Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): At the outset, I thank Senators Zappone, van Turnhout, Mary Ann O'Brien and Mac Conghail for raising this important issue. The one-parent family payment scheme has played an important role in providing income support to lone parents since its introduction in its present form in 1997. The period from 1997 to 2010 saw the number of recipients increase by 50% and the annual expenditure increase by approximately 330% or €770 million. However, despite significant levels of investment, in which the State spent in excess of €1 billion per annum for a five-year period from 2008 to 2012 and notwithstanding the good points on which everyone agrees, the scheme has consistently failed to prevent lone parents being significantly more at risk of consistent poverty than the population as a whole. This means the outcomes for lone parents and in particular for their children are significantly worse than for other people in the population.
According to the most recent survey on income and living conditions, 23% of lone parents are at risk of consistent poverty. This is 2.5 times greater than the population as a whole and this figure is simply not acceptable. This is not a new phenomenon, however, and it has been a feature of the scheme since its inception. In 2004, at the height of the boom, lone parents were more than 4.5 times at risk of consistent poverty than the population as a whole. We cannot afford to keep doing the same things and expect a different outcome. Previous to the reforms to the scheme, Ireland was on its own in how we supported lone parents. Lone parents could have been on the one-parent family payment scheme until their youngest child turned 18, or 22 if they were in full-time education. Other countries have moved away from providing long-duration income support towards a shorter, more active engagement approach with more support. For example, in New Zealand, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the North of Ireland, the equivalent supports for lone parents cease when the youngest child reaches the age of five. I acknowledge and commend the many lone parents who have engaged in employment in order to improve the outcomes for their families. However, as somebody who works extensively with lone parents and organisations dealing with lone parents, I constantly meet lone parents, particularly women, who may have left education, training and work until they were in their late 40s or early 50s and then found, as has been described eloquently by Senators Zappone and van Turnhout, that they could not get well paid employment. That is the crux of the matter. If one does not get into education, training and work experience, followed by employment, before one's late 40s or 50s, it is very difficult to do so subsequently. So many say to me that they only wish they had gone back to school and got training and qualifications at a much earlier stage in their life. On that important fact, there is considerable agreement on both sides of this House.
Not all lone parents were in a position to get back into employment. Many have been in receipt of one-parent family payment for 18 or 22 years - maybe another ten years if they have two or three children with more than a ten-year gap between them - without ever working or engaging in education or training. This represents a significant portion of anyone's working life, and in many instances it creates a welfare trap for those who are just as bright, industrious and hardworking, and, indeed, intelligent, as anyone else in the country. They deserve the best of opportunities in getting into education, training and well paid employment. Since I became involved in this area, which was 20 years ago, that has always been my approach. I have seen the impact on those who have not been able to be involved in education, training and bettering their life opportunities. It meant that lone parents in that situation were so distant from the labour force that they found it impossible to secure well paid employment when their payments ceased as their children went into adulthood. By not proactively engaging with lone parents, the State, in effect, is consigning these individuals and their families to a life of welfare dependency and putting them at an increased risk of poverty. Put simply, the one-parent family payment in its previous guise has to a certain extent failed lone parents and their families. It has provided income support to lone-parent families, but it also has ensured that some of these families are more likely to suffer from consistent poverty than the population as a whole. That is why we had to change our approach to supporting lone parents.
As Tánaiste and Labour Party leader, I have always believed that the best protection against poverty is secure and fairly paid work, and there is no doubt that the road to that is through education, training and work experience. The Labour Party in government is focused on providing opportunities for all people. We need to provide for greater levels of opportunity for lone parents and their children. We need to have a more active engagement to offer them the supports and services they need so that they can secure economic independence and build a better future for their families.
The genesis of the current reforms to the one-parent family payment was contained in the 2006 report "Proposals for Supporting Lone Parents". This report recommended that a time limit for receipt of the payment should be put in place. The report also advocated that lone parents should be engaged with in a systematic manner in terms of facilitating their movement to education, training and employment supports. This is the critical issue. If one leaves doing that until late in people's lives, it is difficult for them to achieve their goals.
The reforms reduce the age of the youngest child for receipt of one-parent family payment on a phased basis over a long phasing. The final phase will see the age of the youngest child at which payment ceases being reduced to seven years for all recipients from 2 July 2015 onwards. It is expected that approximately 30,000 lone parents will transition from the one-parent family payment on that date. This is in addition to 16,000 lone parents who have already made the transition since the reforms commenced in 2013.
The aim of these reforms is to reduce long-term welfare dependency by providing lone parents with enhanced access to the Department's range of education, training and employment supports, and to further assist in the provision of appropriate supports to lone parents. The Department is sponsoring research by Dr. Michelle Millar whose aim is to identify best practice in how to assist lone parents in improving their access to education and employment to ensure they have greater levels of opportunity for themselves and their families.
To ease the transition of lone parents from the one-parent family payment, I have introduced a wide range of measures. These measures, depending on the individual circumstances of the lone parent, aim to extend his or her eligibility to the one-parent family payment, remove conditionality, improve the financial incentive to take up employment or offer increased support for lone parents to engage in education and training. Lone parents who are recently bereaved are exempted from the reform. These reforms do not affect lone parents who are carers, but such lone parents, if they have any time, are free to become involved in the education and training and any other scheme that may be of interest to them.
In order to help lone parents with young children who are affected by this reform, I introduced the jobseeker's allowance transitional arrangement. Under this arrangement, lone parents whose youngest child is between seven and 13 years of age are exempt from the requirements of being available for and genuinely seeking full-time employment. This means that no lone parent with a youngest child under 14 years of age will be required to take up employment in order to receive income support from the Department. That is their choice in accordance with how they wish to arrange their affairs. There is no compulsion whatsoever involved. What is on offer is a series of opportunities that lone parents, as they see fit, may wish to take up.
All of the lone parent customers will have access to the new Intreo service. They will have for the first time the opportunity to access a case officer on a one-to-one basis in order to agree their own personal development plan. This will enhance their access, whether to education, training or employment. We will be giving those lone parents all the support we can to achieve their ambitions and goals. Individuals on the jobseeker's allowance transitional arrangement can move into employment, including, if they wish, part-time employment, but this is not a prerequisite for payment. The transitional arrangement thereby allows such lone parents to balance their caring responsibilities and significantly reduces their requirement for child care.
For lone parents who are already in employment and in receipt of family income supplement, FIS, we have for the first time introduced automatic increases in their family income supplement entitlement - Senators will be aware that many lone parents will receive significant increases. This ensures that their income will increase to partially compensate them when they transition from the one-parent family payment. To further encourage lone parents to take up employment or to increase their hours of employment, departmental staff are actively promoting the family income supplement scheme as the best financial option available to lone parents. Departmental staff are actively promoting the family income supplement scheme as the best financial option available to lone parents. Lone parents who can increase the number of hours they can work to 19 hours per week will be significantly better off than if only in receipt of the one-parent family payment. On foot of the age reforms over the past two years, the evidence shows more lone parents than expected increased their working hours and claimed FIS for the first time. I expect this trend to continue with this year's reforms. To further assist, I have asked the Labour Market Council to specifically examine the issue of how employers nationwide can assist lone parents in increasing their hours of work to enable them to qualify for the FIS payment. In addition to the FIS, lone parents who transition off welfare and into employment are eligible for the new back-to-work family dividend payment which is also contained in the Social Welfare Bill 2015. This payment allows lone parents and jobseekers to retain their child proportion, roughly €30 per week per child, of their social welfare payment when they move into employment. As the dividend has no impact on a family's FIS entitlement, it offers an additional and significant incentive for lone parents who are moving into a greater level of work of €30 per child per week for the first year and half of this for the second year.
The Government is committed to improving the provision of child care, including the supports available for lone parents. We have introduced the after school child care scheme and the community employment child care scheme, both of which offer heavily subsidised child care places and aim to assist lone parents to access either a community employment place or to take up employment. Both these schemes build on the existing 25,000 subsidised child care places which the State provides to low income parents in order to facilitate their movement into employment. This is a significant and vital investment and the Government is keen to build on the existing supports. For this reason, my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Reilly, has established an interdepartmental group to carry out an economic and cost benefit analysis of policies and future options for increasing the supply, accessibility and affordability of quality child care. My Department is involved in, and represented on, this group. My officials are feeding the group's deliberations on the child care requirements of lone parents and jobseekers to enable them take up employment opportunities.
I am pleased to say that in accordance with the aim of the reforms, any recipient of the one-parent family payment who is already undertaking an education course and is in receipt of a SUSI maintenance grant will be allowed to retain the one-parent family payment until completion of the course of education. In addition, there are no restrictions on a recipient of jobseeker's allowance transitional arrangement to undertake a full-time education course and such person will also be able to receive a SUSI maintenance during that time. The reforms of the one-parent family payment are essential to the creation of a new, more active engagement process for lone parents. I know from meeting constantly with people who have moved into education and training that the transition towards paid employment, combined with family income supplement or other income supports, offers serious job and career prospects to lone parents as their children grow up. The feedback to the Department in relation to the changes has been extremely positive, particularly from the parents who have taken up the opportunities, starting in most cases with education and training over a prolonged period.
I thank Senators for raising this issue, particularly those who spoke on the motion. We all share a common vision and ambition in that we want to see people supported by a strong and good social welfare system. Ireland's social welfare system is among the best in Europe. For example, our rates are hugely in excess of the rates in the North of Ireland and in almost every other country of the European Union. Notwithstanding the economic difficulties of this country, we have been able to maintain that. However, as I said, we must continue to work to assist and make available the talents, intelligence and desire of lone parents to be involved in work, to start their own businesses and have good careers that will assist themselves and their children to financial independence.
I know there are some people for whom this may not be an immediate objective. For example, approximately 20,000 lone parents are not involved in education or employment. By choice, they are involved in the full time care of their children. I want to stress that there is no change of any kind to their payment. As stated by Senator Zappone, the key and road to positive developments is education and training, which is precisely the Department's desire for lone parents. The reason we have contacted lone parents is to give them the opportunity to engage with departmental officials in regard to the building of a career plan, which if it is not possible for them to undertake this year can be undertaken in three or four years' time. There is too much talent there and it must not be left in a kind of poverty and welfare trap, which is what this debate is about. I again thank those who contributed.
Senator Katherine Zappone: This has been a very good debate. I thank the Tánaiste for her passionate and systematic outline of what she is doing and why she is doing it. I am also grateful to the Senators who spoke during the debate. We have demonstrated our common passion and respect for single parents. It is great to hear that coming from the Seanad. We accept that the reforms initiated by the Government are based on passion and respect for single parents. Our criticisms of some of those policies and our recommendations for change are also based on that. We do not think the Government has got it right yet. It has moved back from some of the changes it initiated. We think the Government needs to move back from more of them.
Government Senators, in particular, put forward views during the debate about some of the things the Government is doing, but unfortunately those things do not really bridge the gaps we have identified. They are not putting food on the table or fuel in the tank. They are not ensuring quality child care is accessible. We will continue to argue that more needs to be done, particularly with regard to raising the rationale that underlies much of the policy. Many of us spoke about the importance of education and employment in terms of enabling people to get out of poverty. We mentioned the failure to provide for the child care that needs to be in place in order to support that. We will continue to say there is a need not only for education and jobs, but also for an acknowledgement that parental responsibility of care in a one-parent family is equivalent to that in a two-parent family. We do not believe lone parents should be compelled to go into full-time work after their youngest child has reached the age of 14, particularly in the absence of adequate and affordable quality child care supports. This is an example of where current Government policy is neither sufficient nor acceptable.
I suppose we question some of the policies that are currently in place and have not been changed. While we acknowledge the decision to establish the jobseeker's allowance transition payment in recognition of the care duties of those parenting alone whose children are between the ages of seven and 13, we believe the care duties of those parenting alone whose children are aged 14 and over are not recognised. This means the need and ability of each parent to balance care and work or education, and his or her freedom to make appropriate parenting choices, particularly in one-parent families, is not properly recognised. It is for that reason that we believe there is no equality of family status in this regard. We accept that the jobseeker's allowance transition payment has been introduced, but it is important to remember that the income disregard which was put in place within that structure to facilitate additional child care costs is still lower than that which applies under the one-parent family payment. Some families will lose income as a result.
We have based many of our arguments on the figures that we have drawn from our research. Those figures suggest that the lone parents who are losing out financially as a result of the way these changes are operating do not represent a small minority. This is affecting more than a small minority, particularly because we still do not have enough affordable and accessible child care arrangements for the parents of one-parent families. We accept and welcome that provision has been made for access to Intreo and to personal case officers, but we do not think there is any justification for cutting the income of working lone parents to pay for this. They already constitute the poorest group. There is less of a financial incentive for a lone parent to work because of child care costs. The only people who can avail of the back to work family dividend are those who can get their employers to agree to guaranteed contracts. Many lone parents work in the retail industry and are therefore caught in a trap of lower hours. We have already spoken about after-school places. Many speakers indicated that while they welcome the establishment of such initiatives, there has been poor take-up in some cases because they were not designed around parents' needs.
I would like to speak about the issue of education with specific reference to parents staying in full-time higher education. While there has been a move back from some of the changes that were made, it should be noted that those single parents who moved to the back to education allowance, as distinct from the jobseeker's allowance transition payment, will not get a maintenance grant. We are concerned that access to education, especially higher education, for lone parents in the future may not be guaranteed for one-parent families. An active inclusion approach is welcome. We are welcoming that. However, we think that a failure to recognise adequately the responsibility of care for one-parent families is continuing to underlie all of the Government's policies. It is being recognised in words, but not necessarily in terms of the actions that are required to acknowledge the caring responsibility of one-parent families. That is not happening yet. For example, we do not understand why it has been decided that 14 is the appropriate age at which payment transition should happen. We have heard the argument that the more time a single parent spends in part-time work, the less time it might take him or her to move out of poverty. We do not feel that the other side of our responsibility to one-parent families, in relation to their care, has been sufficiently acknowledged.
I have reviewed the Government amendment carefully but I have not seen any statement that there will be any kind of review of policies. Our motion concluded by calling on the Government to "engage in a comprehensive review" in light of the concerns we have. I note and welcome the reference in the Tánaiste's speech to two reviews that will be going on. The first review, to be carried out by Dr. Michelle Millar, will identify best practice in how to assist lone parents to improve their access to education and employment - we believe housing should also be included in this context - to ensure they have greater opportunities for their families. It seems that a second review will stem from her request to the Labour Market Council to specifically examine how employers can assist lone parents to increase their hours, thereby enabling them to qualify for family income supplement. My colleague with whom I have consulted and I share the hope that these two significant reviews will include a questioning of some of the fundamental assumptions which, as we have tried to point out, have been underlying the policies that have been adopted to date. Indeed, some of the changes brought about by this Government may to a certain extent have represented an acceptance of the incorrectness of those assumptions.
I have decided that I will not push this to a vote. I assume the Government will agree that we can feed into those reviews and into the work of the joint committee, which has been mentioned by Senator Bacik and which I acknowledged in my earlier remarks, some of the more extensive recommendations that have come from working with lone parents and their families, particularly at the civic forum. This has been a fine debate. I am grateful and delighted to hear that there is a commitment to common respect for one-parent families, particularly single parents who have ambitions to earn, care and learn. As I said at the outset, this is necessary to enable them to participate in, and find their place in, the building of the Ireland that all the rest of us hope to have an opportunity to build.
Amendment agreed to.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
Read the full debate here: