The Irish Times view on poverty rates: lone parents’ struggles

The desire of most lone parents to work and provide directly for their children is clear

The poverty rate among Ireland’s working lone parents more than doubled in just five years from 2012 with their living standards now among the worst in Europe, according to a new report from the St Vincent de Paul.

 

A rising economic tide does not lift all boats, as a succession of studies has shown. The least well off fall further behind and become trapped in persistent poverty in the absence of precise and targeted government intervention. The latest analysis from the St Vincent de Paul shows that between 2012 and 2017, while the economy recovered and unemployment levels fell, the poverty rate among working lone parents more than doubled.

The causes have been traced to rising rents and childcare costs along with low pay levels for part-time employment. Measures to address some of these issues have been taken within the past year. But the State has a long way to go in creating pathways to decent and family-friendly employment. Government policy, prompted by the EU, has begun to address the causes of poverty and of structural, long-term unemployment. Our percentage of working lone parents, at 58 per cent, is the lowest in the euro zone. Childcare costs were identified by 60 per cent of lone parents as a disincentive to entering the workforce while 45 per cent regarded housing costs as a heavy burden. Some corrective actions were introduced in the last budget.

Research by the ESRI has shown that, between 2011 and 2018, changes to social welfare policies resulted in an income loss for employed lone parents. Some restitution has been made. But when all childcare costs, welfare payments and other factors are taken into account, there is a financial incentive to be unemployed. To improve employment participation levels, it suggested that job activation programmes be developed and financial incentives introduced through welfare and taxation changes and additional childcare subsidies.

The desire of most lone parents to work and provide directly for their children is clear from official figures. They show a much higher participation rate when children enter second-level education because of the reduced need for expensive childcare. If the Government wishes to reduce poverty levels within lone-parent families, childcare subsidies and taxation change are required.

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