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 to 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 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: