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Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 980 No. 4

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The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar At the best of times being a parent is an enormous challenge in having to provide for oneself and one's kids. It is particularly difficult for lone parents who do so without the support of a partner, without a second income and without someone to share in the burden, cost and time taken by childcare.

To answer the Deputy's question, we are helping all parents, but especially lone parents, to improve their living conditions by creating jobs. The number of lone parents who are working has increased. The rate of unemployment is down by almost two thirds and the Deputy will know that it is down again today. We are increasing welfare payments that had been cut back in the past. They are being restored with an increase kicking in to the one-parent family payment and the jobseeker's transition payment in a few weeks' time. We have introduced the working family payment to replace the family income supplement, which allows lone parents who are working to keep more of the money they earn and to have their income topped up so they can avoid poverty.

We have reduced the costs of childcare and we will further enhance that with the introduction of the affordable childcare scheme later in the year.

We are increasing pay. The minimum wage has increased and pay has been restored for people who are public servants. It is also increasing across the private sector. We are reducing the costs of medicines and prescription charges are being reduced. General practitioner, GP, visits, which are already free to all children under the age of six, will be extended to a further 100,000 people from April onwards. Those are the measures we are taking to reduce the costs of living, to assist lone parents into work and to ensure they have more money in their pockets.

We are also focusing very much on education. We have, for example, restored the costs of education grant, and as a result record numbers of people from non-traditional backgrounds are now participating in higher education.

I have immense respect for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and have worked with it on many occasions; especially when I was the Minister for Social Protection, but I do not believe the report that was issued today tells the full picture. This morning I asked for the statistics from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, which collects the official statistics on poverty in Ireland. The CSO figures show that the consistent poverty rate - the official measure of poverty in Ireland - jumped from 18.4% in 2012 to 26.3% in 2013. Since 2013, however, for each of the past four years, consistent poverty and deprivation among lone parents has actually gone down. It fell to 23.1 % in 2014, there was a slight increase to 23.2% after that and then 20.7% in 2017. The most recent figures we have are for 2017 and they are less than those for 2013. This demonstrates that the policies we have implemented in helping people get back to work, helping them into education, improving welfare and reducing the costs of childcare are working. I predict that when we see the 2018 figures they will have improved again.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald The tone of the Taoiseach's response is not unexpected but it is almost depressing. The measures his Government is taking are clearly not working for hundreds of thousands of people across the State but in particular for those families headed by a lone parent.

  The Irish Times carried a very interesting series on child poverty. If the Taoiseach has not read some of the articles I would recommend them to him. One of the articles compared the standard of living of a mother of two from the midlands with an appropriate counterpart living in another jurisdiction. The article made for incredible reading. The woman concerned is at work. Such are her struggles to ensure her family can get by that she rations the number of times the kids are allowed to boil the kettle. Can one imagine having to count the number of times that a family can boil a kettle in its house? I put it to the Taoiseach that this is how tight things are. Many of the interventions cited by the Taoiseach are, in effect, subsidies for low-pay employment.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Deputy's time is up.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I am asking for additional time. I will not debate the ins and outs of parenting and the challenges of it, and I am not going to trade statistics with the Taoiseach. I will simply tell the Taoiseach something that he should already know, that is, more needs to be done because people are struggling and suffering.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Please Deputy.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald What by way of addition is the Taoiseach going to do now about the cost of living crisis being experienced by families across the land? When will the living wage - not the minimum wage - be the floor and the basic income in this jurisdiction?

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