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Social Welfare Bill 2012: Committee Stage (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 2

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  11 o’clock

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea I welcome the change with regard to the starting date for the change affecting lone parents as this alleviates the situation slightly. However, I recall the Minister telling the Seanad last year that she would not make any further alterations in the age limits for children in respect of whom the mother can receive the lone parent's allowance, until such time as we had a Scandinavian-type child care system available in this country. With all due respect, while I welcome the postponement of the starting date, I do not think we will achieve a Scandinavian type child care system within those extra couple of months.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh These are technical amendments to allow for future amendments. I will not delay on this now, but hopefully we will have time to focus in on these properly. This is why I have argued for a lot more time. These are very complex changes the Minister is suggesting for a whole range of issues. I do not believe we will have sufficient time tomorrow to debate them, unless the Minister asks the Government Whip and the Taoiseach to allow us more time. Tomorrow we will have from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., just three hours, to discuss a huge range of highly complex issues which introduce substantial changes. I appeal to the Minister to do anything she can to allow for more time for this tomorrow.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy It is helpful that the change in the reduction to the qualifying age is being postponed, but commitments were made last year with regard to reducing the age of the youngest child. The situation in terms of child care for lone parents has not improved. The ideal situation would be that child care and jobs would be available. We are all aware that families most at risk of poverty are families where there is nobody in the household in work. Choosing to work is a Hobson's choice for the people we are discussing here, particularly where they do not have someone, such as a family member, available to assist with child care. In the absence of available child care for a seven year old, for example, what is a parent to do? It is untenable to leave young children without making proper provision for their care.

I know there is provision in the Social Welfare Bill for particular areas and that there will be some improvements. However, this problem is not confined to individual areas. Lone parents can be found in every town and village. Until there is some mechanism in place to assist them with child care, it is dangerous to make these changes. Are we suggesting children should be left at home on their own if there is no provision made for child care for them? I believed that when the commitments were given on this issue last year, there would be some debate conducted to ensure there would at least be reform that would provide for this, rather than just deferment of the commencement date.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins Last year, the reduction in the qualifying age of children for payments to lone parents was one of the most significant issues discussed in the Dáil. There was an outcry from all the children's organisations that this was happening and lone parent groups came out to protest at this change. The Minister, to stave off the attack on her Bill, gave a commitment that she would not make the changes in reducing the qualifying age unless we had Scandinavian style child care facilities in this country.

We see that an additional 6,000 child care places will be provided for after school primary children. This will probably help approximately 5,000 lone parents and people on low wages. This is not a Scandinavian style child care facility. What people expected to see was a complete reform of child care and of where and who it targeted. They expected change in care facilities for preschool, after school, primary school children, infants and even for children up to 15 years of age, who still need a certain amount of care after school.

This proposal is not what people were expecting. We should make a big issue of this, because it does not deliver on the commitment made by the Minister. Now, the Minister is pushing back the starting date for six months to see if the money being pumped into providing the 6,000 additional child care places will work. If she discovers half way through the year that it is not working, will she push the start date back another six months? If this proposal is what the Minister suggests is Scandinavian child care, it is a joke. Most lone parents would say that.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton With regard to the situation in respect of lone parents, we had very detailed discussions on this last year. One of the most important reforms to the social welfare system is the effort to create a situation where lone parents here move to a situation that exists in most other European countries and also the North, where their exclusive status as lone parents ends as the child reaches schoolgoing age. As has been said, a range of child care facilities are available for these children, including both preschool and after school facilities. It is important we move to that situation and I want to see that happening along the lines of what is available in a number of other countries at affordable prices for parents.

The second big change in which I have been involved over the past year in terms of social protection has been the launch of the new type social welfare system. This is not a passive social welfare system which leaves people on social welfare indefinitely, leaving them alone without re-approaching them with opportunities such as education, training, work experience or work. We must change our social welfare system from a passive system to an active one. As Members know, most people on social welfare would like to get a job, or if they cannot get a job, they would like to get the education or training that will make them job ready when employment opportunities become available.

With regard to this amendment, this is the reason that where we have lone parents whose children will age out over a number of years, we want to have appropriate facilities available for parents returning to education, training and work. We also want to have a situation where we do this for parents in a way that is structured. I launched the first Intreo offices of the new social welfare activation model with the Taoiseach in Sligo a couple of months ago and there are now ten such offices operational throughout the country, some of which are in Dublin, including one in Kings Inn Street.

Essentially, what I want for lone parents whose children are surpassing the age at which their status in the social welfare system is defined exclusively by virtue of the parent being a lone parent, is to see their status change.

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