At the end of May, One Family launched In Transit?, a report based on research on lone parent experiences of Job Seeker’s Transitional Payment (JST). The research was carried out in partnership with University College Cork and Trinity College Dublin and funded by the Irish Research Council’s New Foundations programme for collaborative projects between researchers and civil society groups.
The research is the first in-depth look at how lone parents have experienced a major change to how they are supported by the social protection system and it aimed to explore how the payment is ‘working on the ground’. Introduced between 2013 and 2015, JST effectively ended unconditional support of lone-parent families once the youngest child reaches 7 years of age. At that point lone parents transition from One-Parent Family Payment (OFP) to JST until their youngest child reaches 14 years of age. Engagement with activation services is required as a condition of the payment. JST is designed to prepare lone parents for transition into the workforce as the best means of addressing the very high incidence of poverty across all metrics in one-parent households.
The research tested the aims and operation of the payment against lone parents’ experiences of claiming the payment. Key issues that arose for the parents interviewed included the lack of information received about the payment. Many interviewees reported a loss of income with the move to the new payment. In the case of lone parents already working part-time, this is triggered by the fact that Working Family Payment (WFP) is an allowance that lone parents claiming OFP are entitled to but JST recipients are not. Another concerning issue involving loss of income affected recipients who were self-employed. This is caused by the lack of an income disregard for income derived from self-employment. Experiences of activation services were also problematic; participants spoke of being ‘bombarded’ with generic information of little use to them and a lack of support for the types of training, education or work opportunities they wanted to pursue. A particularly concerning issue that many participants spoke about is the experience, in their words, of being ‘cut off’. This reflects the practice of stopping or diverting a payment to another post-office. This has been raised in previous National Economic and Social Council Research (2018) research as a means of engaging with a claimant rather than imposing a sanction. However, our research revealed the distressing effect such practices have on JST recipients. Despite the problems experienced with JST, it was also valued by lone parents as means of balancing part-time working and caring while their children were still relatively young. In this respect many felt the cut-off age of 14 was too young and favoured a longer period of being able to balance work and care.
These research insights form the basis for several recommendations which would make JST a more effective tool to support parents into education and employment, and ultimately reduce the high levels of poverty in one-parent families. As well as extending the child qualifying age until the lone-parent family’s youngest child leaves second-level education, other recommendations include more training of case workers informed by the lived reality of lone parents; tailored supports which would more effectively assist lone parents with making the transition to sustainable and well-paid work; the provision of childcare that is age-appropriate care for older children; and an end to the practice of diverting payments along with a policy of documenting the number and types of communication attempts made with a recipient for transparency and consistency. Allowing recipients to claim WFP if working part-time and having an equivalent income disregard for self-employed income would also address the loss of income recipients already working experience when moving to the payment from OFP.