COLETTE BROWNE: Facts about lone parents rubbish claims they abuse welfare system

SOME of you halfwits have been blaming bankers and politicians for savage cutback, but righteous truth merchant, and Fine Gael TD, Derek Keating, has finally had the courage to identify the real cause of our current woes — single mothers.

What were you fools thinking, believing that dapper fraudsters in designer suits had led us to our current sorry impasse when clearly young women pushing buggies are the real reason the country is going to hell in a handcart.

Now, there are some who would argue that single mothers in this country have historically had enough odium heaped upon them and their children by pious politicians, but Mr Keating has decided the time is right to dump another digger-load of sanctimony over their heads.

In an extraordinary rant in the Dáil on Wednesday night, before voting for the many regressive measures contained within the Social Welfare Bill, the Fine Gael TD revealed that he had done some research of late and was appalled by what he found.

Budding anthropologist Mr Keating said he has discovered a sinister subset of single mothers, those with “three and four children”, who only stop spreading their legs to stick out their hands to ask for more benefits.

“I came across a case recently and when I examined it I noted multiple such cases. I discovered young women who find themselves caring, not for one child or two, but for three and four children by multiple fathers who are uncaring and failing in their duties of care and support with the consequences picked up by the taxpayer,” he thundered.

This proliferation of promiscuous women and feckless fathers “who do not accept their responsibilities”, is creating “a new lifestyle of welfare economy” which is “morally and socially wrong”.

While Mr Keating was quick to note that there were some “deserving” cases in receipt of social welfare, he said the State simply couldn’t afford to continue to support these naïve, wastrel women and their exponentially increasing broods.

Unfortunately for Mr Keating, the only thing he seems to have failed to uncover, in all of his painstaking research, is any evidence to support his judgmental dirge.

Preferring to rely on reactionary rabble-rousing anecdotes, like most politicians devoid of a leg to stand on, pesky facts, predictably, excoriate his claims. So, in an act of uncharacteristic charity, this column will try to teach him a few home truths.

There are 87,735 recipients of the one-parent family payment, comprising 98% women and 2% men, down from 92,326 in 2010. Of this number, nearly 60% have only one child, 28% have two children and the remaining circa 12% come in the category of having three or more children — with many of these families comprising women who are divorced or separated after their marriages broke down.

There are no figures to indicate how many of these children have “multiple” fathers, but perhaps Mr Keating, if he is so desperate to know, could endeavour to call to these women’s homes brandishing a clipboard and a DNA test and find out.

Additionally, while the Fine Gael TD loudly upbraided the State for blithely picking up the tab for absentee fathers, if he had bothered to contact the Department of Social Protection, during any of his extensive research, he would have learned that women claiming the one-parent payment have to make efforts to get maintenance from children’s fathers, up to and including instituting court proceedings, in order to qualify, or remain eligible, for the payment.

In fact, the department even has an office devoted to chasing errant parents for payments, the Maintenance Recovery Unit.

The fact that a small minority of men evade their responsibilities, and ignore court orders, is hardly something that can be mitigated by Big Brother by cutting off payments to women and their children entirely, as Mr Keating seemed to suggest.

The notion that lone parents do not want to work, and are happy to remain perennially on benefits, is also belied by the fact that approximately 60% are in employment with most working part-time because they can’t afford this country’s extortionate child care costs which, in reality, act as the major stumbling block to re-entering the workforce on a permanent basis.

While Mr Keating seems to be labouring under the misapprehension that becoming a single mother is some kind of passport to riches beyond the ordinary worker’s wildest imagination, again, regrettably, the facts, don’t support his thesis.

In 2009, according to the CSO, 16.6% of lone parents were living in consistent poverty, compared to 5.5% of the population, while 36% were at risk of poverty.

Last year’s budget, in which lone parents lost 5% of their income, compared with married couples with children who lost 1.3%, will not have helped ameliorate these figures — particularly when the immiserating measures, like the reduction in child benefit and the back-to-school allowance, contained in this year’s budget are taken into consideration.

Another politician preferring to rely on anecdotes and stereotypes to explain the reasons for regressive cutbacks in the budget is none other than Finance Minister Michael Noonan. In a bullish performance on Prime Time on budget day, he baldly claimed that the Government came under pressure to reduce the back-to-school allowance from people in working class areas because recipients “are getting the back to school allowances and not spending it on the expenses of going back to school”.

I contacted the minister’s office on Friday, eager to see the evidence that proves the existence of this aberrant behaviour, and was still waiting for a response at the time of going to print yesterday because, bluntly, there is none. Not a single shred.

Patently, the minister hasn’t a jot of evidence to suggest that families are spending this money on anything other than school expenses — although, suggesting that they are makes it much easier to justify a whopping 33% cut in the grant.

In truth, the likely real, and rather more unpalatable reason, the allowance has been so drastically cut is because there has been a huge spike in the numbers of families sufficiently destitute to now qualify for the payment — up 17.5%, from 77,401 to 90,909, between 2010 and 2011, and, presumably, still rising.

Unable to justify cuts in allowances, politicians instead prefer to bandy about unsubstantiated slurs and damaging innuendo because it’s much easier to cut people’s benefits after they’ve been vilified and turned into figures of public opprobrium.

So, they tell us that licentious single mothers are endangering the moral fabric of society, imply that low-income earners are lavishing the back-to-school payment on fags and booze and archly tell the unemployed that all of their problems would be solved if only they would go back to work — advice akin to telling famine victims that they wouldn’t starve if they would only eat.

There is no doubt that there are some who abuse the social welfare system, but they constitute a tiny minority, and the cynical attempts of Government to depict vast swathes of recipients as worthless deadbeat scroungers, as a pretext for attacking their meagre allowances, is beyond contempt.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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