In Seanad debates today and on Friday 27th April, Senator Jillian van Turnhout has strongly opposed the cutting of the One-Parent Family Payment as part of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2012.
Until 2011, lone parents were entitled to the One-Parent Family Payment until their children are 18, or 22 if in full-time education. The age at which the payment stops was cut to 14 last year, and the current amendment proposed by the Government would see it slashed to the age of 7 by 2014.
Senator van Turnhout, an activist for children’s rights and former chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, argued that the children affected by this change are among the most at-risk in the State today: “One-parent families are the unit group in Irish society most at risk of poverty. Children in one-parent families are poorer than other children. This is not speculation. It is a fact.”
In the debate on the Bill, Senator van Turnhout outlined her disgust at the idea that lone parents are lone parents by choice: “More than 90,000 people, the vast majority women, did not choose to belong to the family unit group in Irish society most at risk of poverty.” Not only is this argument insulting to those who have left abusive or dysfunctional relationships, or who have been deserted and left with full responsibility for their children, “it feeds into a notion that lone parents are a legitimate or worthy target of welfare cuts.”
Tackling the idea that these cuts will break long-term welfare dependency and force recipients into employment, the Senator asked “If it was the case that none of the 90,000 lone parents in question are working, my first question would be; where are the 90,000 jobs for them to take up? However, it is not necessary to ask this question since 80% are either working or in education.”
Once the cut-off point for payments reaches 7 years in 2014, the State will face a crisis of childcare. The Senator said that, in spite of Government hopes, “I have grave concerns about the viability of such comprehensive and affordable childcare and after school care provisions being delivered within the next three years.”
These cuts are being undertaken without adequate consultation with experts and with those that represent lone parent families and children. While accepting that the money available to the State is tight and that welfare reform can be positive, Senator van Turnhout opposed the cutting of support for the most at-risk in society: “Reform is not about pulling the rug out from under already vulnerable people.”