Senator Zappone demands that lone parents become involved in policy-making process (video)


Following the cuts to the One-Parent Family Payment, Senator Zappone continued to fight for the rights of lone parents in the Seanad on July 15th.  The Senator insisted that the people whose lives are directly affected by the policy must have their voices heard and called once more for the establishment of a working group to review the changes and make recommendations ahead of the budget.  Findings from a Civic Forum of lone parent families and their representatives were already published by the Senator in advance of the cuts but these have fallen on deaf ears.  Senator Zappone stated clearly the suggestions made in the report, arguing that employment alone is not sufficient to lift one-parent families out of poverty as it is impossible for them to compete with two-income households.  The Senator advocated affordable and accessible education and childcare, as well as income supports, as the solution to this issue.  Watch the video or read her full speech below.

Exactly three months ago we debated this issue in the House when my Independent colleagues, Senators van Turnhout, Mary Ann O'Brien and Mac Conghail, and I raised it. More importantly, lone parents and their representative organisations have protested vehemently against the implementation of these cuts without the provision of child care support, but their voices, and ours, have fallen on deaf ears. This is what I find most difficult to understand. Why are the citizens whose lives are directly impacted by this policy not listened to?

I recently published the findings from a civic forum I held in Leinster House in April, attended by more than 30 lone parents. I am privileged to have met and engaged with these self-advocate lone parents, who gave their time, energy and ideas for this transparent, inclusive and dynamic process. It resulted in recommendations for progressive changes which were presented in an outcome report from the civic forum. A couple of them - Lynn Ruane, from the Students' Union at Trinity College Dublin, and Stuart Duffin, from One Family - are in the Visitors' Gallery, and I welcome them. I provided a copy of the report to the Tánaiste and I will be delighted to provide a copy to any of my colleagues who are interested. The message of the report is clear. Lone parents wish to reduce long-term social welfare dependency, so they are in agreement with the Government on that. They wish to balance their ambitions to learn, earn and care and to achieve financial independence and well-being for themselves and their children.

However, it must be recognised that demanding that lone parents achieve financial independence and lift themselves out of poverty through employment alone, when it is often of a precarious and low-paid nature, is a lot to ask. The Government appears to assume that lone parents are poor because of the one-parent family payment. This is not the case. Lone parents are poor despite the payment. In an economy where two-income households are the norm, a one-parent-led household will always be in a disadvantaged position financially. Effectively, it is trying to compete with the greater earning potential of two-parent families. While two-parent households have, between them, 48 hours to manage care, paid work, family responsibilities and rest, lone parents have 24 hours for the same. The assumption that paid employment alone will lift lone parents out of poverty is incorrect and must be reviewed. However, through education, high-quality employment and affordable and accessible child care and income supports, this can be achieved. I welcome, as do lone parents, the provision of access to Intreo's education, training and employment services to allow lone parents to develop skills and qualifications that will assist them in securing high-quality employment. I also welcome the recent change to the policy to allow access to the SUSI maintenance grant for those in receipt of the jobseeker's transitional allowance. However, I am still concerned about access to higher education for lone parents whose youngest child is 14 years old or above. They will only be able to access the back to education allowance, and I have concerns about the suitability of that scheme in providing a sufficient level of support for lone parents and their teenage children to realistically allow them to undertake a course in education. I know from my experience of working in parts of Tallaght that providing access to and sustaining courses in higher education contributes significantly to lifting people out of poverty.

I would be interested to get an update on the research referred to by the Tánaiste when we tabled our motion a number of months ago, which was sponsored by the Department of Social Protection and carried out by Dr. Michelle Millar.  The aim is to identify the best practice in how to assist lone parents in improving their access to education and employment. It would be great to get an update on the research. I would like to hear if the Department is planning on conducting a review on the outcomes for the women who are leaving the one-family payment scheme for jobseeker schemes. As their status as lone parents will not be evident in our social welfare system anymore, I hope that we will have a mechanism of tracking these families in order to review the impact of the reform. This was suggested by the National Women's Council recently.

Based on my experience of working with self-advocates, I recognise that it is essential that the one-parent family policies are informed by the experiences of lone parents and that they are included in the policy-making process. That is not a lot to ask. Hence, I have called for the establishment of a special working group with a predominance of lone parents, their representatives and leading policy experts in this field to review the recent changes to one-parent family policies and make recommendations for budget 2016. These matters should be treated as a priority. Also, the working group could consider the constructive suggestions to improve the jobseeker's transitional allowance scheme as has been advocated by the organisation called One Family.

The working group could consider lowering the hour threshold for FIS for lone parents to accommodate the needs of those parenting alone, especially in the absence of legislation to protect low hour workers as proposed by the Civic Forum.

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