Budget to prioritise children and lone-parent families, says Minister

Regina Doherty says social protection focus in October must be on those most at risk

Minister for Employment and Social Protection Regina Doherty at  her pre-budget forum: “There genuinely are some groups of people that are more at risk of poverty than others, and one of them is children.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Minister for Employment and Social Protection Regina Doherty at her pre-budget forum: “There genuinely are some groups of people that are more at risk of poverty than others, and one of them is children.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Lifting children and lone-parent families out of poverty will be the priority for the new Minister for Social Protection in October’s budget.

Regina Doherty, speaking at the department’s annual pre-budget forum in Dublin on Friday, referred several times to this issue.

She said she did not, at this point, envisage increases in all welfare payments, as happened last year under her predecessor, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

She said Mr Varadkar was in a situation last year where there had been no increase for several years in any payment, and it was felt an increase would have to go to all recipients.

“There are certain cohorts of people who are at more risk of poverty than others and what we need to do is look at the people who are most vulnerable first and work back.

“So whatever amount of money that I have, [my job] is to ensure that we distribute that to the people who are most at risk. And obviously when you look at the people who are most at risk, that is lone parents and their children.

“That’s not to say that everyone isn’t deserving of being listened to and their issues being addressed but there genuinely are some groups of people that are more at risk of poverty than others, and one of them is children.”

Consistent poverty

Government figures indicate there are 139,000 children in consistent poverty, with 20 per cent of these in lone-parent families.

The Minister also announced an optional change to the way fuel allowance is paid, giving recipients the option to receive it in two lump sums rather than weekly. This will allow people, if they choose, to buy fuel in bulk rather than week-to-week.

Among the calls made by the 45 groups attending the forum were requests for the restoration of the telephone allowance and of the full job-seeker’s allowance to people under 26, and an increase in the earnings disregard for lone-parents in receipt of the one parent family payment or job seeker’s transitional payment.

Ms Doherty acknowledged the “criticisms” of the lower-rate job seeker’s allowance for young people, but said it was not her “role . . . to give those people more money.

“My role is to ensure they either get into education or back to work and the Intreo system is genuinely working. We need to be targeting our money and the spend at getting children out of poverty.”