Research indicates that households receiving the Family Income Payment are economically vulnerable due to the rise of insecure work.
The research paper, Supporting low income working families: Enabling Resilience, also finds that “the weight of evidence favours the conclusion that FIS does support labour market participation”, and points to “an ongoing tension associated with FIS’s dual role as a measure to promote employment and as a child income support”.
Family Income Supplement (FIS) is a means-tested in-work and Child Income Support (CIS) introduced to Ireland in 1984.
Currently, in order to qualify for FIS, applicants must be engaged in full-time paid employment, defined as not less than 19 hours per week or 38 hours per fortnight, to last a minimum of three months. Applicants must also have at least one child of school-going age, or aged between 18-22 years and in fulltime education.
FIS payments are calculated as 60% of the difference between a family’s average weekly income and an income limit set according to family size, while one-parent family payment , child benefit, and back to work family dividend can be availed of concurrently with it.
The paper, written by Jane Gray and Clíona Rooney of the Social Services Institute at Maynooth University, includes analysis of administrative data on FIS recipients in the Midlands region and in-depth biographical interviews with 30 participants, as well as expert informants.
“Our analysis of recipient interviews reveals that, despite the support provided by FIS, working people on low incomes continue to struggle to meet the daily needs of their families,” it said.
Some of those interviewed said they feared changes to FIS, and the report said “the extent to which FIS played a significant part in assisting participants to cope with those challenges — from paying for fuel, to managing high mortgage costs, to the psychological benefits of receiving benefits without others being aware of it — is a striking feature of their narratives. FIS recipients’ lives remain hard, but the payment provides a basic level of security that assists them to confront the challenges they face.”
Respondents in the Midlands said the recession had not ended there.
“Participants were also careful about turning their heating on and off,” said the report. “Participants took risks by not paying for car tax or insurance. Respondents discussed paying bills late. Rather than employing trades-people, participants engaged in DIY. Many emphasized that they did not drink, gamble, or smoke.”
It said that in the post-recession era, “many employment opportunities are characterized by part-time, often insecure hours, and/or by temporary or seasonal working” and that the apparent growth in low quality and precarious work has implications for how families engage with the labour market, suggesting that increasing proportions of households are likely to be dependent on shorter working hours.
The report acknowledges “a concern amongst policymakers that FIS may act as a ‘poverty trap’ by dissuading recipients from increasing the number of hours worked.
It said the availability and cost of childcare is a major issue, and short-time, temporary and seasonal working conditions “are not always conducive to managing caring obligations because of their unpredictability”.