Dáil Éireann - Volume 475 - 04 March, 1997

Written Answers. - Part-Time Job Opportunity Programme.

25. Mr. Kenneally asked the Minister for Social Welfare his views on the inequality which exists for different participants on the part-time job opportunity programme in view of the fact that a married person is treated differently from a lone parent; the steps, if any, he will take to eliminate this inequality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5299/97]

Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): I assume the Deputy is referring to the continuing social welfare entitlements of lone parents and married people participating on the part-time job opportunity programme. The issue he is raising stems from the fact that the contingencies of lone parenthood and unemployment are provided for in differing ways under the social welfare code. The difference referred to is not based on marriage, but on the basis of one parent or two parent households.

Briefly, the position is that a lone parent who may be married in receipt of the one-parent family payment may secure a higher net income than people who were previously in receipt of an unemployment payment in cases where earnings from the part-time jobs opportunity programme represent the sole source of income. This situation arises as a result of specific policy decisions taken to deal with these quite separate contingencies.

There is clear evidence to show that there are high risks of poverty associated with lone parenthood. I would draw the Deputy's attention to the ESRI's report “Lone Parents in the Republic of Ireland: Enumeration, Description and Implications for Social Security” which contains several references to the risks of poverty associated with lone parenthood. Specifically, the report states that when the income data for households of different types are analysed to calculate relative risks of poverty, unmarried lone parents emerge as the highest risk category. The report notes that studies of lone parents in the United Kingdom, the USA and other countries report a pattern of poor socio-economic status, marginal attachment to the labour force and generally low standards of living and concludes that there are [1428] reasons to hypothesise that lone parents in Ireland may also be susceptible to such patterns.

The part-time job opportunities programme is a pilot scheme which is run by the Conference of Religious in Ireland (CORI). Overall responsibility for the scheme, which has created some 1,000 part-time jobs for unemployed people in six pilot areas, lies with the Department of Enterprise and Employment.

While participants on the programme are drawn predominantly from the unemployed, places are also made available to lone parents in order to provide them with an avenue back to the active labour force and thereby reduce their dependency on the social welfare system.

Programme participants who were previously unemployed receive a weekly allowance with increase for adult and child dependants where appropriate in lieu of their unemployment payment. In addition, they are free to avail of other work opportunities which may arise in the non-community employment period.

Lone parents, on the other hand, are not obliged to satisfy the availability for work condition required of unemployed people. The income they earn under the programme is treated in the same way as any other income they may have and is taken into account as part of their means for the purpose of determining the weekly rate of one-parent family payment payable in their case.

The one-parent family payment is a payment for both men and women who, for a variety of reasons, are bringing up a child or children on their own. No distinction is made between married and unmarried persons in this context. It is available to a person who is unmarried, widowed, separated, a prisoner's spouse, or a person whose marriage has been annulled and who is no longer living with his or her spouse. It is a means-tested payment which takes account of any income or earnings which the lone parent may have. The nature of the payment acknowledges the particular difficulties faced by lone parents rearing children on their own.

The Deputy will appreciate that my Department is implementing policies aimed at targeting particular groups of recipients for special attention in line with their requirements. I am satisfied that the difference in treatment between these two categories of social welfare recipients is appropriate in that it reflects the different nature of the contingencies of unemployment and lone parenthood.

The Deputy will also be aware that I have established a Commission on the Family which is examining how best we can support families, both two parent and one parent families. I will arrange for a copy of its interim report to be sent to the Deputy for his information.