Wednesday, 10 November 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
126. Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals to provide more assistance to lone parents in receipt of social welfare payments who find themselves in financial difficulty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28217/04]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mr. Brennan): The main financial support available to lone parents is the one-parent family payment which was introduced in 1997 to replace a number of schemes which catered for different categories of lone parent. These schemes included lone parent’s allowance, deserted wife’s benefit and the non-contributory widow and widower’s pension for those with dependent children.
The one-parent family payment, OFP, is based on the contingency of lone parenthood and the need for social welfare support for parents with children where a person has not secured adequate, or any, maintenance from the spouse or the other parent. One of the objectives of the one-parent family payment is to encourage lone parents to consider employment as an alternative to welfare dependency, while at the same time supporting them to remain in the home if they so wish. It is generally accepted that one of the most effective routes out of poverty for people in the active age groups is through paid employment.
The main element of this policy is an earnings disregard of €146.50 per week. Earnings above this limit are assessed at 50%, up to a maximum of €293 per week. The earnings disregard is designed to facilitate lone parents in entering or re-entering the workforce by enabling them retain entitlement to their payments until they become established in employment. It also facilitates them in availing of training opportunities to prepare them for employment. Lone parents who exceed the upper income limit applying under the one-parent family payment may qualify for the family income supplement. This scheme is designed to provide income support for employees on low earnings with children. It helps to make work pay for employees with children, in circumstances where otherwise they might only be marginally better off in work than if claiming other social welfare payments.
The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards, provides for exceptional needs payments to help meet essential, once off expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of his or her weekly income. An application for an exceptional needs payment can be made by contacting the community welfare officer at the local health centre who will carry out an assessment of the applicant’s circumstances to determine whether the issuing of an exceptional needs payment is warranted.
I am committed to review the income support arrangements for lone parents. This review will take account of recent reports and emerging analysis in this area, such as the review of the one-parent family payment, published by my own Department in September 2000. Full account is also being taken of policies and programmes pursued in other EU countries, as set out in their national action plans on social inclusion.
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