Lone parents forced into work by policy changes lost income

About 99% of recipients of the One Parent Family payment are women

Lone parents who were forced to take up work as a result of changes to the One Parent Family Payment from 2011 suffered a fall in income, a new study shows.

The report, from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), finds the changes, which were controversially introduced by former tánaiste Joan Burton, resulted in employed lone parents who had been in receipt of the payment losing 1.9 per cent of income while their non-employed counterparts saw no change.

About 99 per cent of recipients of the payment are women.

The ESRI report says two key issues hindered the policy’s success – lack of affordable childcare and an over-concentration of employment options for lone parents in low-paid and part-time work.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty has said lone parents and their children are a priority group in tackling child poverty.

Under the changes implemented under Ms Burton, lone parents who had been eligible for the payment until their youngest child was 18, or 23 if in full-time education, were no longer eligible once their youngest turned seven.

Instead they were to move onto Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) and engage in “activation” programmes to get them into employment.

On foot of protests, a transitional payment, known as Jobseekers Transitional payment (JST), was introduced in 2015 – available until the youngest child is 13 and during which the lone parent does not have to actively seek employment but must engage with the department to identify training and employment opportunities.

In addition to these changes the income disregard – the amount a lone parent could earn before their benefit was cut – was reduced from €146.50 a week for those on the One Parent Family Payment, to €130 weekly on the JST or JSA.

The report says: “We find that changes to social welfare policy for lone parents resulted in income losses for employed lone parents but had little effect on non-employed lone parents. All other changes over the period decreased the income of both employed and non-employed lone parents.”

Poverty and deprivation

Ireland is not an outlier in terms of the scale of lone parenthood, the report says. In 2016, 17.6 per cent of children lived with a single parent – just above the OECD average of 17.1 per cent.

“However, Ireland does stand out in terms of poverty and deprivation experienced by these lone parents.

“Persistent poverty . . . was 26 percentage points higher among lone parents than for other adults compared to an average gap of between five and 20 points evident in other countries.

“This indicates that poverty among lone parents in Ireland appears more endemic and not solely due to transient shocks such as short-term loss of employment.”

Employment rates among lone parents in Ireland are far lower than the OECD average. While in other OECD countries, 67 per cent of partnered mothers were employed and 65 per cent of lone mothers were, in Ireland 63 per cent of mothers with partners worked, and just 46 per cent of lone mothers employed.

Lone mothers working in Ireland are much more likely to be in part-time employment (52 per cent) than their OECD counterparts (21 per cent).

“Childcare costs in Ireland are among the highest across the OECD” and policy changes which marginally increase a mother’s gross income but fail to take into account the cost of childcare are unlikely to be effective,” the report says.

"Recently announced childcare subsidies show positive impacts on the financial incentives for lone parents to be in employment," said Dr Claire Keane, co- author of the report.