One-parent payment reforms 'increased employment', report finds

Reforms of the One-parent Family Payment (OFP) over the past five years have increased employment and reduced welfare dependency, according to research published today.

However, the government-commissioned report warns that unless the changes are accompanied by further increases in employment the reforms' objective of reducing poverty will not be met - writes

It says there is an increased probability of being at risk of poverty as a result of the changes.

The report by Indecon economic consultants was published this afternoon by the Department of Employment and Social Protection which commissioned it.

It recalls that, until four years ago,if you were a lone parent and relatively poor, you qualified for the One-parent Family Payment until your youngest child turned 18, (or 22 if he/she was in full-time education).

In the words of this report, "there was an expectation that lone parents would remain outside of the workforce indefinitely".

The Paris-based OECD argued that this contributed significantly to the low levels of employment among such parents and to high levels of poverty.

Echoing policy shifts by Fianna Fáil's last welfare minister, Mary Hanafin, the Fine Gael-Labour coalition began to gradually reduce the ceiling for the youngest child from 18 to seven.

The report states that most OFP recipients moved to other income supports like the Jobseeker's Transitional Payment (JST), Jobseeker's Allowance (JA) and the Family Income Supplement (FIS).To retain these payments, most were required to demonstrate that they were seeking work, education or training.

However, the report also notes that as a contribution to post-recession public service savings, the coalition cut the level of earnings the lone parent was entitled to without affecting her/his OPF entitlements by 42% - from €147 per week to €90 per week in 2015.

Indecon found that, overall the reforms over the past five years increased employment and reduced welfare dependency.

However, concern is expressed that while 52% of the families involved did not suffer a loss of income,48% did lose out.

Indecon says that unless the changes are accompanied by further increases in employment,the reforms' objective of reducing poverty will not be met.

"A key challenge for policymakers is to assist these lone parents to become more integrated into the Irish labour market," the reports states.

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, acknowledged the recommendation that further supports be implemented to assist lone parents to obtain full-time employment or increased hours of work.

In a statement welcomingthe success of the reforms in increasing employment and in reducing welfare dependency, she said these were making real changes to the lives of lone parents who had moved into employment.

However, she expressed concern that many of those who lost the OPF Payment remained unemployed, or were in low paid or part-time employment.

And she also conceded that the balance of evidence indicates that there is an increased probability of being at risk of poverty as a result of the changes.

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