Proposals to reconfigure the the lone parent allowance scheme may be unconsistutional, according to a senior Labour TD.
Kathleen Lynch (pictured) has suggested the new plans, which will see single parents lose their right to the payment when their child reaches 13, will face a legal challenge because the proposal discriminates against the children of unmarried women, the Irish Times has reported.
Currently, the benefit ceases when the child reaches 18, or 22 if the child is in full time education. The Government's proposals are broadly in line with recommendations contained in an OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) report published in 2009.
Speaking in the Dáil yesterday she said the Minister proposed to introduce “a provision that will give rise to an element of discrimination relating to how certain children enter the world and which will influence how they progress in life.
“A distinction is being made in respect of the relationships relating to one type of child and another type of child,” she added
She said the proposal would create a situation where “if I am a widow and have a child in education” she would “be in receipt of the dependant element of my payment until he or she reaches the age of 22. If, however, I have a child and am in a relationship but am not married and if I am deserted, abandoned or if my partner dies, my child will only receive the payment until they reach the age of 13.”
Ms Lynch added: “Apart from the marital status of their mothers, what is the difference between the two children to whom I refer? I am frightened by the fact that we appear to be reintroducing this concept of difference and I am sure it will be successfully challenged.”
Ms Lynch was speaking during the Dáil debate on the Social Welfare Bill introduced yesterday by Minister for Social Protection Éamon Ó Cuív. He said the Government believed the current arrangement by which a lone parent receive one-parent family payments until their child reached 18, or 22 if in full-time education, “without any requirement to engage in employment, education or training, are not in the best interests of parents, children or society”.
Mr O'Cuiv said that “despite improvements” made to the payment and significant spending on supports to lone parents, a large proportion “are still experiencing poverty. The child of a lone parent is four times more likely to be in consistent poverty than the population overall. In general, the best route out of poverty is through employment.”
From next year the one-parent family payment will be made until the youngest child reaches 13 for new recipients, and this would not affect them until 2024. “For existing recipients there will be a tapered six-year phasing out period” so the cut off would come into effect in 2016. “For existing recipients, the cut-off point of 18 years will remain for 2011 and 2012. In 2013 it will be 17 years, in 2014, 16 years, in 2015, 15 years and in 2016, 13 years.”
The Government's proposals echo proposals made in an OECD report last year. That report, entitled ‘Doing Better for Children’ criticised Ireland for spending too much on single parent families compared with most other Western countries.
The report said: “There is little or no evidence that these benefits positively influence child wellbeing, while they discourage single-parent employment”.
It recommends phasing out the payments when children reach compulsory school-age and that the savings be used to improve family income or early childhood education.
The new proposal does not go as far as the OECD recommendation which would mean phasing out the payment when a child reaches age 5. In Britain, where payments to lone parents are also generous, the cut-off point for payment now takes place when the youngest child reaches age 7.
Almost 90,000 people received the one-parent family payment. Lone parents are disproportionately likely to be in poverty.
Marriage is one of the best protectors against poverty. A US study by Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill showed that if marriage rate in America were the same today as in 1970, the rate of poverty would be cut by between 20 and 30 percent.