State policy ‘makes life more difficult’ for lone parents

MORE lone parents should be allowed access to the Rental Accommodation Scheme, while Fás needs to drop its “stupid” start times for courses, an Oireachtas committee heard yesterday.

One Family and OPEN, two groups which offer support to lone parents, outlined financial disincentives to marriage before the Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs and claimed that current government policy was making life more difficult for parents raising children on their own.

Both One Family and OPEN said the changes to the rent supplement system was key to lone parents falling into the poverty trap, aligned to a lack of affordable childcare.

However, both groupsdenied that lone parents did not want to work and were happy instead to claim benefits.

Frances Byrne, director of OPEN, said: “There is an unfortunate underlying assumption that the current social welfare system acts as an incentive to the formation of one-parent families.

“We would point out that no evidence is provided for this in the report [prepared by Colm Rapple for the committee) or indeed in any other publication.

“It is absolutely not the case that lone parents are very slow to take up training and/or education opportunities.”

She said two pilot schemes for a Fás social inclusion model had been dramatically oversubscribed in Finglas and Tallaght.

However, she said Fás was not helping lone parents with the early start times it sets for courses.

“Fás will need to reform its delivery of mainstream training – it remains something of a mystery why their best courses begin at 8.30am when parents are en route to school.”

She said the reason given of “industry standards”, did not correlate with training for hair or beauty salons, which never open before 9am. Committee member, Fine Gael TD Seymour Crawford, said the start times were “stupid”.

Candy Murphy, policy and research officer, said there was a lack of research available on the reason for cohabiting and not cohabiting.

Ms Murphy argued that the rental scheme needed to be expanded and could make use of existing vacant housing stock, thereby easing the financial burden on some lone parent families

Labour’s Deputy Rosin Shortall agreed that there seemed to be a lack of access to Fás for lone parents.

The committee heard that in some cases lone parents are €70 or more better off a week by not working, yet the Department of Social and Family Affairs has not been able to show the number of people moving on and off the lone parent family payment.

Fine Gael TD Olwyn Enright claiming this made it impossible to review whether the system was working properly.

Ms Murphy said: “Nobody enters lone parenthood lightly – I have never met anyone who entered it for €100 a week.”

Fianna Fáil TD Charlie O’Connor admitted to frustration over the lack of progress on proposals to help one parent families proposed by the late Seamus Brennan back in 2006.

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