Thousands of lone parents whose youngest child reaches 13 will no longer be able to claim one-parent family payments under a new Social Welfare bill that has been slammed as “harsh” and “heartless” by unions and opposition parties.
Under the terms of the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010, there will also be moves to disqualify unemployment people from collecting welfare payments if they refuse an offer of employment for any reason.
The leader of the country’s biggest union and Ictu general president, Jack O’Connor, said nothing could highlight the “sheer intellectual bankruptcy of this administration more then the heartless proposals continued in the new Social Welfare Bill”.
He added: “They are reprehensible beyond belief, exhibiting the worst characteristics of the 19th-century Poor Law regime, penalising the most vulnerable in our society.”
Fine Gael’s Olwyn Enright, who is social and family affairs spokeswoman, said the most vulnerable in society would surely once again feel that they had been harshly targeted.
Among the changes proposed are:
* Reduced eligibility for the one-parent family payment from April 2011 from ages 18 to 13. The department currently pays it until the youngest child reaches 18 or 22 if in full-time employment and around 90,000 get the payment at present.
* The bill proposes to penalise unemployed people who refuse jobs which are deemed ‘suitable’.
* If enacted, the law would cut payments by about a quarter to those who turn down training courses, while those refusing job offers would have their dole payment disqualified.
* People convicted under Social Welfare legislation would have their names, addresses and fines published.
Mr O’Connor said: “This is a direct consequence of the budgetary policy reversal by the Government between April and August of last year in which the prospects of any element of balancing the burden of adjustment in society were discounted in favour of a decision to impose the entire O4bn deficit cut on working people and those who depend most on public services.”
Ms Enright added that the announcement to reduce eligibility of the one-parent family payment from ages 18 to 13 had been done without any plan to actually facilitate those in one-parent families into education and employment.
“The decision to cut the one-parent family payment is harsh and, damningly for the Government, is not backed up by a clear plan,” she said, adding that Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuiv was ignoring the fact that 80 per cent of one-parent families were already engaged in education, training or work.
The one-parent family payment is currently paid to a parent until the youngest child reaches at least eighteen. The payment is less than thirty euro per week for each child.
Sinn Fein Vice President Mary Lou McDonald ccused the coalition government of pushing families further into poverty.
“It is highly hypocritical of the Government to propose to cut social welfare rates for people refusing certain jobs or training courses when they are doing absolutely nothing to create jobs or training courses,” she said.
“Of course, in this current climate nobody should be refusing work but we need to ensure that people are working to their ability and using the skills that they have been trained or taught to use.
“The Government knows there are no jobs out there and with this Bill they are pushing families further into poverty.
“There is no logic behind the proposal to cut the one parent payment when the youngest child reaches the age of thirteen. Does the Government expect a child at the age of thirteen to start bringing money into the household? Are we really heading back to the 60’s and 70’s when children left school to get jobs to support the family?
“This government continues to punish the least well off for the economic mess its policies created while bailing out its banker and developer friends.”