The Single Files: what family means to singletons
Fine-Davis says social policies need to be developed that support families and single people. “The Government needs to take on board that we do have more single people and that is manifesting itself in more social isolation. This is a social issue that we need to deal with.”
The single father 'To meet someone you need money and if you spend money, the child will lose out'
When Dermot O’Donovan’s partner died suddenly two years ago he was thrust into the role of single parent.
He had been working as a lorry driver but found the cost of commuting more than 30 miles each day to his workplace, combined with paying for childcare, as no longer financially viable.
“I didn’t want to go on the dole but I couldn’t afford to go to work.”
He has since sold his car, and is dependent on welfare payments of €217.80 a week. Some €32 goes in rent, €13 on electricity, €15 on gas, €6 on bins, and at least €80 on food. He continues to list the outgoings, noting one week recently he had only 10c left after paying all his bills.
“I don’t drink or smoke. I don’t have a TV because that’d be €30 a week. We’ve nothing to do at night. My young fella has an Xbox alright and he plays the old games he got when his mother was alive.
“I’ve no social life,” he adds. “My son said to me recently, ‘I want you to get a girlfriend’. I nearly fell down to the ground when I heard that.”
While he was touched by his eight-year-old’s concern, he felt conflicted. “To meet someone you need money and if you spend money in the pub, the child will lose out, and I don’t want to do that to him.”
While O’Donovan says he doesn’t feel ostracised, he has little contact with other parents. “They salute you when they collect their kids from school and are gone; everyone has their own things to do.”
O’Donovan (39), who is from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, says he has been told that his lone parent’s allowance will soon be withdrawn and he will be put on jobseekers’ allowance instead. This means “if a job comes up and if I don’t take it I get cut off”. But, he asks, who will look after his son?
“One day I got work as a coach driver, I signed off the day. I got a baby-sitter, I borrowed a car and put petrol in the car. I got paid €80.”
He then gave that money to the local authority to offset his rent allowance. “They took the €80 from my rent. So I done the day for nothing.”
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has acknowledged such welfare rules have created potential poverty traps, and her department is reviewing the payment system with the Department of the Environment.
For O’Donovan, change can’t come soon enough. “I feel it’s no wonder some men run away from their responsibilities because it’s hardship looking after a child on your own, and there is no real backup there.”