Lone parent benefits may come to an end once a child reaches the age of 13 a new scheme being suggested by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mary Hanafin. One billion euro is paid out in lone parent allowances each year.
In an interview with The Irish Times, Ms Hanafin said the Government’s policy on the one-parent family payment was not working. She has told Cabinet colleagues the issue should be discussed formally by Government and systems in place in other countries examined.
She pointed out that children of lone parents were almost four times more likely to live in poverty than children in other family circumstances. “It’s not for the want of actually financially supporting people,” she said, adding that there were financial incentives to cover childcare and other costs to encourage people into the workforce. “But as a long-term policy it’s just not working for the interests of the child.”
“The idea of continuing to pay somebody until their child is 22 if they’re in full-time education, it just mitigates against that lone parent herself having a stable relationship or marrying or even taking a full-time job, because of the attachment to ‘the book’,” she said.
Ms Hanafin said the UK was in the process of ceasing the benefit when children reached seven years of age. She thought that was too young and would put too much pressure on both children and parents.
“What I had been looking at was seeing about 13, when the child has gone to secondary school,” she said. Children’s school days would then be longer and after-school activities would give lone parents greater opportunities to work, she said.
“But I think you’d have to give a few years’ notice to allow the lone parent the opportunity to get maybe upskilled or training or some education. That’s my thinking on it at the moment now. I think it’s probably a more reasonable age.” She knew some Government colleagues would be “sensitive” and “wary” about changing the policy. No decision had been taken, she said.
“I’ve indicated to my colleagues that I think we should discuss it as least as a social policy, because anyone obviously is going to say: ‘Oh, I don’t know, do you want to start ‘attacking’ the lone parents?’ I mean, it’s not about that. But I think it’s time that we had literally a social policy discussion rather than just an economic discussion . . .”
Ms Hanafin stressed that the vast majority of lone parents were working and not in receipt of social welfare payments. “The lone parents who are working away, who are not on social welfare, they’re the ones who really resent the talk about lone parents on welfare and the dependency that some people have. They just get on with their lives.”
According to the department’s statistical information on social welfare services, 87,840 people were in receipt of the one-parent family payment in 2008. Just over 1,800 were men. Expenditure on the payment increased by 10.9 per cent last year to more than €1 billion, while the number of recipients rose by 2,756, an increase of 3.2 per cent on 2007.