How lone parents are treated in the budget will be a test of the Government’s commitment to gender equality, organisations and individuals advocating for these families have warned.
The group, convened by Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Lynn Ruane, includes One Family, Spark (Single Parents Acting for the Rights of our Kids) and Barnardos.
They said there was a legacy of sexism in how lone parents – 98 per cent of who are women – are viewed by society. Moreover this also exists in policy and “gender proofing” budget measures should begin to reveal and address this.
"Absolutely I believe there's sexism in treatment of lone parents," said Louise Bayliss, co-founder of Spark. "When changes to the One Parent Family Payment were introduced by the then minister of social protection, Joan Burton in 2012, and which saw the incomes of many families fall dramatically, 98 per cent of those affected were women. I doubt there's ever been a more gendered cut."
Since the foundation of Spark in 2012, she said, the situation of families had deteriorated.
“Lone parents are in crisis . . . in a perfect storm of poverty, a rental and housing crisis and inability to work because childcare is too expensive.”
An ESRI report published in January found 21 per cent of lone parent families in consistent poverty compared with 6 per cent of families with two parents. Census 2016 revealed just over 356,000 children lived in one-parent families, some 21 per cent of all children.
Job seekers’ benefit
Among the group’s key demands is that the Job Seekers Transitional payment, which allows lone parents to work part-time, be payable until their youngest child is 18. A lone parent is entitled to the One Parent Family Payment until their youngest is aged seven. They then go on to the job seekers and can work part-time without their payment being affected. When their youngest reaches 14, however, they most go on to the Jobseekers’ Allowance and seek full-time work, meaning they cannot be available to care for their teenager after school without payment being affected.
“Our caring responsibilities to teenagers are completely ignored . . . There is only one of us, we need to have the option of part-time,” said Ms Bayliss.
June Tinsley, head of policy with Barnardos, said “too often children are forgotten in policy”. She said there was “an element of sexism” in policy on lone parents and gender proofing would begin to address this.
Child poverty was “not inevitable” and could be eradicated, she added. Ms Tinsley called for the establishment of a child and family public health nurse system, recruitment of 540 family support workers , introduction of two weeks’ paid parental leave, an additional investment of €43 million in the childcare sector and investment of €20 million to provide free school books for primary school children.
Senator Ruane called for an overhaul of the child maintenance system which puts an onus on lone parents to pursue ex-partners in the courts for maintenance in order to access their welfare entitlements. She highlighted the necessity of supports for lone parents to access further education, to break the cycle of poverty.
Senator Higgins said there is a “lack of ambition” at statutory level for lone parents. This is caused in part by a sexist view that they should be happy to “go into any old job”, revealing a lack of respect for the care work they did and care work in general, she added.