Budget debates

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A critical reform – Joan Burton

Responding to the debate, the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, spoke of how Frank Cluskey had introduced the unmarried mothers allowance in the 1970s, which enabled the closure of the institutions on which they had, in the absence of an income, been dependent.  Society had changed, but the Economic and Social Research Institute stated that the one-parent family payment may still have a disincentive effect on partnership and there should be a more couple-friendly system of family income support.  We had to ask ourselves why outcomes were so very bad for some lone parent families.  The one indicator we had was that a lone parent might stop education at a very early age or was restricted in building up educational qualifications and this was a predictor, going back to education, of a poor child growing up to be a poor adult.  This was a critical reform (interruption of ‘hear! hear!’).  Organizations were correctly concerned about the poverty experienced by lone parents and their children.  She accepted the comments made about profound disability and apologized to families upset by the proposals.  She wanted to encourage children to stay in school or training and there had been discussions about a partial capacity payment.  She hoped by the end of January to advance some of the proposals made.  Job activation measures would also be announced then.


Trevor O Clochartaigh (SF, agricultural) quoted Frances Byrne of OPEN who described the budgetary changes for single parents as disastrous.  The cut in the lone parent allowance might be justifiable as a stand alone cut, but not in the context of the many other cuts which those families faced.  Lone parent families were four times more likely to live in poverty and they had lost 5% of their annual resources in the previous budget.  Lone parents and their children were poor during the celtic tiger and still were.   David Norris (ind, Dublin University) criticized the way in which part-time work earnings were taken into account in lone parent payments,: ‘it is unfair on somebody who has the initiative to go out and and work.  It is an indication of how low the levels are already if part-time work earnings can be taken into account’. 


David Cullinane (SF, labour), quoted Fergus Finlay of Barnardos who had said that we were fast approaching the situation where children would go hungry because their parents could not afford sufficient food.  This went to the heart of the reason why his party was opposing the cut in child benefit.   If this proposal had been poverty-proofed, it would not have passed the test.  Singling out larger families was particularly bad.  Although the minister might believe that the cut was quite small, that was in the context of other charges.  The government could have listened to the proposals of organizations like One Family, Barnardos, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and others.  He was concerned that more families and more children would live in poverty.  Likewise, Jillian Van Turnout (ind, Taoiseach nominee) singled out the cuts in child benefit and lone parent allowance, because they would increase the exposure of larger families to poverty, especially in conjunction with the cumulative effects of other cuts, such as school transport.