NGO Alliance Call on Government to take Ten Urgent Actions to Keep One Parent Families Afloat during Lockdown
The National One Parent Family Alliance says that unless urgent measures are implemented, lone parents and their children will be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 restrictions and school closures.
The newly established National One Parent Family Alliance (NOPFA) says that as with the initial lockdowns last year, lone parents are worried about holding onto their jobs and managing childcare and home-schooling, about how they will afford their rent and, in these cold winter months, how to heat their homes.
The Alliance comprises nine national organisations including Barnardos, Children’s Rights Alliance, FLAC, Focus Ireland, National Women’s Council, One Family, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, SPARK, and Treoir. The Alliance was established in 2020 in response to the unequal impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on one parent families and a shared concern about the high levels of poverty experienced by lone parents and their children.
They welcomed the confirmation from the Minister for Social Protection that the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) is available to parents who cannot work due to childcare issues and school closures. But they believe that Government needs to go further and ensure that one parent families are not pulled into deeper poverty.
The Alliance is calling on Government to implement ten urgent actions to keep families afloat during lockdown. These actions include a temporary increase in the Fuel Allowance, a discretionary utility debt fund, and a top-up income support for the poorest children to help families with the additional costs associated with home-schooling. In addition, they want Government to ensure that working lone parents can access childcare services, where there is capacity and in line with public health advice.
The Alliance is urging employers to work flexibly with employees and help retain links with employment if a parent cannot work due to childcare issues. They say there is also an urgent need for equality and human rights proof the State’s responses to the pandemic, in the context of the Public Sector Equality Duty.
Karen Kiernan, CEO of One Family and chair of the NOPFA said: “Parents are finding this lockdown incredibly hard. When you are parenting alone, you are the primary caregiver and breadwinner for the family; the pressure is all on you. With the schools closed, it makes all the inequalities, all the struggles, and all the difficulties much, much worse. Government should do the right thing and do all they can to support people parenting alone through this next difficult period.”
Louise Bayliss, Co-founder of Single Parents Acting for the Rights of our Kids (SPARK) added: “We know from our networks of lone parents who are working or in education that they now have less leave, less savings and sometimes less goodwill and support to help them through this current lockdown. It is important to maintain lone parents in employment and education, if at all possible, and this should be a policy priority for Government.”
With just over 86% of one parent families headed by a woman parenting alone, Sandra McCullagh, Women’s Economic Equality Coordinator with the National Women’s Council stated: “The limited access to childcare will, unfortunately, result in more women leaving their jobs, placing more lone parents at risk of poverty and further exacerbating gender inequalities. Therefore, every effort should be made to extend access to childcare facilities to all working lone parents, in a manner that is safe for children and workers and in line with public health advice.”
“We believe that it is important to invest now in at-risk families before they fall deeper into deprivation and financial hardship. Investment in income supports will mean that one parent families are supported through the extremely challenging time and will help safeguard against the devastating impact of COVID-19 restrictions on children’s wellbeing.” said Tricia Keilthy, Head of Social Justice at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP).
The following spokespersons are available for interview:
Karen Kiernan, One Family (086 850 9191)
Louise Bayliss, SPARK (086 061 2060)
Sandra McCullagh, National Women’s Council (087 740 4891)
Tricia Keilthy, SVP (086 410 9302)
Notes to the editor.
The Alliance has written to the Minister for Social Protection, Minister for Children, Disability, Equality, Integration and Youth, and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment asking that the following 10 actions are taken by Government without delay:
1. Run a widespread public information campaign and issue a clear communication that parents are entitled to receive the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) if they are unable to work due to lack of childcare. Issue guidance to employers to work flexibly with employees and help retain links with employment until parents can return to the workplace. (Responsibility: DSP & DETE)
2. Communicate directly to eligible employers that they can utilise the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) for employees who can’t work due to childcare issues and to encourage them to do this rather than lay parents off because of childcare. (Responsibility: DETE & Revenue)
3. Run a public facing campaign to make tenants and PUP recipients aware of the entitlement criteria for the more flexible form of Rent Supplement. (Responsibility: DSP)
4. Make a double payment of the Fuel Allowance (€56) for two weeks at the end of January/beginning of February to help low-income households with additional heating costs associated with being home more (Estimated cost: €18 million, Responsibility: DSP)
5. Increase funding to the Exceptional Needs Payments budget to assist families with utility arrears and ensure accessibility to and flexibility from Community Welfare Officers. (Responsibility: DSP)
6. Establish a discretionary utility fund of €5 million to provide assistance to individuals and households struggling with COVID-19 related heating and electricity costs. This fund should be open to recipients of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment as well as other relevant schemes including the Working Family Payment (Cost: €5 million, Responsibility: DSP).
7. Introduce a temporary top-up payment for Qualified Children (€30 per week for children over 12 and €15 per week for children under 12) to help families with the additional cost of food, electricity, internet and communication services, educational resources and indoor social activities. This should be made payable while schools are closed (Estimated cost per week: €8.4 million, Responsibility: DSP).
8. Amend the Parental Leave and Benefits Act 2019 as a matter of urgency to give effect to the Budget 2021 commitment to increase Parents Leave by 3 weeks and to extend the period in which Parent’s Leave can be taken up until that child turns two. Address the current inequality experienced by lone parents under the Parents Leave scheme so that they don’t experience a greater burden than two parent families. (Responsibility: DCEDIY)
9. Prioritise lone parents in the provision of childcare services for essential workers and extend access to childcare facilities to all working lone parents of preschool and school-age children in line with public health advice. (Responsibility: DCEDIY)
10. Special measures are required to be put in place to ensure protection from discrimination and to ensure access to information and services for groups in COVID-19 response and recovery. Public bodies should consider the specific needs of people protected under equality legislation in establishing special measures or making changes in service delivery to ensure that they are non-discriminatory.
In September 2020, the Alliance made a joint submission to Government on the impact the pandemic on lone parents and the step that needed to be taken to prevent further hardship for these families. You can read the full submission here.
Data from the CSO shows that in 2019, 45% of one parent families were experiencing enforced deprivation which means going without basics such as adequate heat, nutritious food and suitable clothing. This compared to a rate of 17% among other households with children.
The Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty places a legal obligation on all public bodies, in their daily work, to have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and protect human rights. This duty provides a framework to systematically consider and reflect the needs of service users experiencing or at risk of inequality or discrimination.