Budget push for lone parent support; Report raises concerns over impact of welfare cuts on families

Budget push for lone parent support; Report raises concerns over impact of welfare cuts on families

A report commissioned by Government and due this week is set to raise serious concerns over the damage caused by recession-era cuts to lone parent families, putting the Coalition under pressure to address the issue in next week’s budget, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

The report by Indecon Economic Consultants, which will be given to Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty in the coming days, was drawn up to examine the impact of austerity measures on hard-pressed households.

The report was initially agreed by Leo Varadkar as social protection minister, during discussions on last November’s Social Welfare Bill. He said then that its conclusions “may help to inform any decisions we make going into the budget negotiations in September 2017”.

However, the findings are likely to put added pressure on Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe due to competing welfare demands for pension, childcare, and dole payments on the official €350m fiscal space, potentially throwing some of the plans into doubt.

The Indecon report is based on a national survey of 34,000 lone-parent families which began in April and is focussed on “the financial, social, poverty, and welfare dependency impacts” caused by cuts to the one-parent family scheme in 2012.

It was specifically tasked with providing an overview of the impact on families surveyed of the 2012 changes to the one-parent allowance.

This saw parents whose child was aged over seven excluded from the support which they had previously been able to access until their child was 14. The move was designed to encourage lone parents to return to the workforce, but critics said it inadvertently contributed to increased poverty.

While its findings have not yet been released, they are expected to call for:

Widening of the age restriction on the one-parent allowance.

Further increases to the income disregard which allows one-parent families to continue receiving State supports even if they have a private income. This level was cut from €146.50c to €90 in 2012, before being increased to €110 last year

Rises in one or all of the back-to-education, family income supplement, and rent allowances

While a spokesperson for Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty did not respond to queries last night, Ms Doherty told Sinn Féin TD John Brady at last week’s cross-party Dáil social protection committee that the report will be concluded “in the coming days”.

Both Fianna Fáil social protection spokesperson Willie O’Dea and Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald yesterday called for the Indecon report to be made public before next week’s budget.

Mr O’Dea said: “At the very least what it says should be fed into the social welfare bill” due after the budget announcements.

Ms McDonald said: “There cannot be a member of the Dáil or Seanad who is not well aware from personal interactions, the extent to which single parents really bear the brunt of austerity measures.”

While Ms Doherty has made it clear in recent weeks that increases to lone parent supports are among her budget priorities, the timing of the report is likely to cause issues for the Finance Minister. Mr Donohoe — who is due to discuss welfare with Fianna Fáil public expenditure spokesperson Dara Calleary this week — is already under pressure to increase the pension by €5, potentially raise the dole to €198 a week, improve childcare supports, and return the €850 bereavement grant.

Meanwhile, it is understood that Government plans to introduce a sugar tax early next year are likely to be delayed until late 2018 due to the need to align the move with any changes in Britain and Northern Ireland.

Mr Donohoe is to speak with Fianna Fáil housing spokesperson Barry Cowen about housing plans early this week, while the opposition party has made it clear it will not allow high-profile tax band changes if they impact on public services.

This story originally appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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