Lone parents rally against cuts

On 5 December last year a group of lone parents gathered on the lone parenting board on rollercoaster.ie to discuss how the Budget measures outlined that day in the Dáil would affect them. Said one:

Jesus I am hopping mad. […] I see this as an attack on parenting and children and will march protest, scream or whatever is necessary. Who is with me???

Within two hours a Facebook group was set up and SPARK (Single Parents Acting for the Rights of our Kids) was born. Yesterday, representatives of SPARK, along with two other lone parent groups – OPEN and Treoir – told a Dáil briefing organised by Senator Jillian Van Turnhout about the financial hardship and barriers to work and education bequeathed to lone parents by Budget 2012.

From April of this year the income disregard for lone parents will be cut from €146.50 per week to €130, with plans to cut this to €60 a week by 2016. Says Michelle Frawley of SPARK, “This, along with the complete lack of any plans to provide affordable childcare, will mean single parents find it more difficult to join the workforce”.

From April 2012 new claimants of the One Parent Family Payment (OPFP) will no longer receive the payment once their youngest child reaches 12 – before now, OPFP was paid until the youngest child reached 14. This age limit will be dropped further, to 7, after 2012. Says Frawley, “[There is] no support from then on to assist lone parents who have to fund childcare costs from one single income – this effectively removes their ability to work part-time. OPFP currently allows for additional income to fund the cost of working and childcare - one of the primary reasons for its introduction in 1997. 59% of lone parents work part-time and the removal of the OPFP subsidy to part-time workers will make working unviable for lone parents due to cost of school holiday childcare once their children are 7.”

She goes on: “Couples on two incomes struggle to pay for both housing and childcare in this country - how the Government expects single parents to pay both out of one wage is beyond reason.”

According to SPARK’s Louise Bayliss, the cuts “will keep us away from work. Over 60% of us work already and these cuts mean we’ll be forced into welfare dependency.”

Community Employment schemes have “effectively been closed” to lone parents – prior to Budget 2012 lone parents working in CE schemes received a double payment of OPFP to cover transport and childcare costs. Now, as Bayliss pointed out at yesterday’s Dáil briefing, “Lone parents will be paid an additional €20 for 19 and a half hours work with no childcare or travel allowance. They will not be able to afford to participate in these schemes.”

Changes to the maximum rent limits for rent allowance, cuts to fuel allowance, the back to school clothing and footwear allowance, the back to education allowance and to the children’s allowance for families with 3 or more children will all have an impact on lone parents – 9.3% of whom were living in consistent poverty in 2010, and 20.5% of whom were at risk of poverty in the same year. 49% of lone parent households experienced two or more types of enforced deprivation in 2010, compared to 23.6% of two-parent households.

The reduction in maximum rent for those receiving rent allowance is a source of “huge concern” for lone parents, according to Bayliss.

“The state is the major purchaser of private rental accommodation and has the power to control the rental market, yet it is expecting individuals to negotiate directly with landlords and expects families to be forced to move if they cannot reach the imposed limits. Lone parents may be forced to move miles from schools, childcare facilities and existing support networks.

Lone parents appreciate that rent supplement is very expensive for the exchequer. However, it arose because the State failed to provide adequate social housing when it was in a position to do so. It is unfair that poor policy-making should result in vulnerable families having to move and having no security of tenure.”

SPARK have organised a protest for Saturday (18 February) and will march from the Garden of Remembrance to the GPO, starting at 2pm.