By Martina Anderson
Research in recent years has identified Lone Parents as being at particular risk of poverty and or social exclusion.
The research points to the inability of many lone parents to re-enter the workplace due to the unavailability of accessible and affordable childcare. It confirms the greater risk of poverty due to low household income. It identifies the reliance on welfare benefits as a necessity for many lone parents.
We know that well paid work is the best route out of poverty and for parents who want to work, finding accessible, affordable childcare is absolutely essential.
Despite significant funding and support, childcare provision here remains limited, or difficult to access, and for too many families, in particular lone parent families, the net cost of childcare can be a major barrier to taking up paid employment.
Tax credits and allowances can be important in offsetting some of the childcare costs yet uptake is not universal and the coalition has continued to cut the amounts that parents can draw down.
We accept that for every child, good quality childcare matters and can impact significantly on educational outcomes, health and wellbeing, and for some can help lift them out of poverty in the longer term.
The work we in OFMDFM are currently doing to give effect to the Executive’s Child Poverty Strategy as well as the development of a Childcare Strategy will help alleviate at least some of the problems that lone parents here have faced for too long.
I would like to give you an update on some work which is either being proposed or ongoing to alleviate the problems and difficulties faced by lone parents.
OFMDFM Ministers are now leading the work across Government and with key stakeholders to co-ordinate the development of a Childcare Strategy.
Already an additional £12m has been secured over the Budget period, and Departments have already embarked on a range of measures to increase childcare provision here, such as benefit uptake initiatives, childcare subventions for eligible participants on access courses, as well as addressing registration and inspection delays.
I anticipate that the Ministerial Group taking this forward; will provide robust leadership and strategic direction to oversee the implementation of future proposals. This approach will require discussion with regional childcare partnerships and other key stakeholders. I welcome the involvement of advocacy groups in holding us to account and working with us to ensure that the responses we develop are tailored to take account of and to address the specific needs of Loan Parents.
Proposals on a draft Childcare Strategy will issue for public consultation early next year. It is important that parents and advocacy groups contribute to that consultation exercise. We want and we value your knowledge and experience in helping us to shape the optimum response to your needs.
OFMDFM is also responsible for overseeing the delivery of the Child Poverty Strategy. The Executive’s Strategy has identified a number of priority areas for action. One such ‘Priority Action Area’ is to provide support to families with specific needs for example, lone parents. By its inclusion in the published strategy, I hope we provide evidence of our commitment to addressing the needs of parents like yourselves.
By working across government departments we are currently developing a Delivery Plan to progress the strategic priorities within the Child Poverty Strategy.
In our first meeting with representatives of Departments we asked them to review their original actions and to be more imaginative in addressing your needs, whether they are in the fields of health, education, employment or poverty.
Working together we must ensure that your children are not at any greater risk of losing out on health or education as any other. This two-pronged strategy, of addressing your current needs and working to address your children’s longer term, needs and aspirations, is the right way to tackle the wider issues of poverty, poor health and educational under achievement. All of us must work to achieve a better society not only for ourselves but more importantly for the next generation. That is our challenge and it must also be our legacy.
Once the Child Poverty Delivery Plan is approved by the Ministerial led Poverty and Social Inclusion Stakeholder Forum we will then issue it for public consultation.
Work is also being progressed on a child poverty reduction pilot study. This study will allow for parents on benefits with caring responsibilities to take up part time work whilst retaining more of their income. Currently someone on benefits and in work is retains only a fraction of their income before their benefits are cut on a pound for pound basis.
The lessons learned from the pilot study will help us ensure that we have the necessary infrastructure in place to allow those low income families, including lone parents to take up the opportunity of part-time work and in doing so help to tackle the number of families and children in poverty.
Our work in addressing Child Poverty is made all the more difficult by British government policies on Welfare Reform which I do not believe are not designed to make work pay but rather to make the poor poorer. There are already 11,000 children in this city living in poverty and this figure will grow according to the report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which shows that Child Poverty will increase over the next decade due to decisions made by the coalition government in England.
We are determined to push forward with the Executive’s commitment to promote children’s’ well being and reduce poverty for the next generation.
The Executive understands the issues that lone parents face and we will work with you on an ongoing basis to create a better future for those we care about most – our children.