I'm going to be quite opinionated today, so I hope that I won't offend anyone, especially if you live in Dalkey....
Whenever a spokesperson for the Irish Government starts talking about protecting the most vulnerable, I expect yet another cutback to be announced. And so it was this weekend.
Lone parents seem to be the key target in the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010 due to be debated in the Oireachtas before the summer recess in early July. From April 2011 new lone parents whose youngest child is over 13 will no longer be able to claim one-parent family payments. From 2013, the cut-off point for these payments will be reduced each year until all recipients whose youngest child is 13 will be excluded in 2016.
So what happens to all these lone parents and their teenage children? Well apparently if they are not working - and most lone parents do work* - they will be able to claim the job seeker's allowance. But the very same Bill also proposes that job seekers should have their benefits cut if they do not take up suitable employment.
Who defines what is 'suitable employment'? Will any soul destroying job do? What about childcare and transport? And where are the jobs? Many lone parents are already in a disadvantaged position when it comes to taking up employment: they have only one income to pay for the childcare, there may be only one person to look after sick children, to cover for holidays, so they will hardly be the first choice for employers. Government spokespeople have been talking about the need to help lone parents with these issues - BUT no measures are included in the proposed legislation. It's all stick and no carrot.
Why is the Government doing this?
Apparently "current arrangements, whereby a lone parent can receive the allowance without any requirement for them to engage in employment, education or training, were not in the best interests of the recipient, their children or society. Despite improvements made to the one-parent family payment over the years, a large proportion of lone parents and their children are still experiencing poverty.”
So the answer to lone parents in poverty is to take away their payments!
Like many other men and women, I never planned to become a lone parent. And I hate
feeling like a social welfare sponger being an unemployed lone parent, and I would go back to work tomorrow if I could get suitable childcare (for children with special needs) and find another part time position in PR or something similar.
To me the craziest part of this is the underlying assumption that teenagers can look after themselves and that 'after ... primary education ... parents were facing less expenditure in bringing up their children' Well my teenager is very expensive, with school books, school uniforms, and school 'voluntary contributions' to fund her education. Plus
holidays educational trips to the Gaeltacht and French College, as well as paying for her clothes and social life - because the Government also frowns on school children working when they should be studying, so she is not expected to make a contribution!
Surely the most important issue here is the welfare of teenagers, and what is best for them. I actually think that it is more important than ever to be around for Angel: at least when she is not in school. To keep an eye on her and her activities, to have time to keep the lines of communication open, and to support her through her final exams. I do not think that lone parents should be faced with losing benefits if they need to be at home to support their teenage children.
Perhaps this measure is this designed to appease the Disgusted of Dalkey types who think that Dublin's outer suburbs are populated by hordes of predatory young girls strutting around in their short skirts with the sole intention of finding a gullible young man who will get them pregnant? This just so the Council will give them a house? And these are the same people who would call for lone parents to be fined or locked up when their unsupervised teenagers indulge in a spot of anti-social behaviour....
Lone parents come in many guises, the rebellious teen is just a small proportion. Young career women, separated women and men, widows and widowers all become lone parents. They all have different needs and face different issues. I don't believe that a one-size-fits-all solution will force every lone parents back to work, and if it does, we could be storing up a while new set of problems for the future.
* 84 per cent of lone parents surveyed by One Family in 2008 were working, looking for work or engaged in education.
Disclaimer: I am not affected by these proposals as far as I am aware.