Lone Parents: Lived experience and participation beyond the rhetoric










Firstly, we would like to thank all of the lone parents without whom this project would not have been possible.  It was only with their openness, honesty and helpfulness that added the ‘human’ element to this piece of research. 


We would also like to thanks Joe Finnerty for his availability and assistance. 


We would also like to extend our gratitude to Dr. Peter Herrmann for allowing space for the exchange of ideas and for encouraging us to challenge our perceptions of the world and social policy.



Compiled and researched by: 

Maria Culleton

Noreen Gleeson

Cliona McCormack

Sharon McCormack

Ciaran McGuinness

Beth McKenna

Joanne Ryan

Nicole Scannell

Denis Spillane


June 2005






 1. Introduction

1.1 Research Rational

1.2 Aims

1.3 Objectives

1.4 Definition of Lone Parents

1.5 Definition of Participation

1.6 Social Characteristics of Lone Parents

1.7 Changing Family Structures in Ireland

1.8  Motherhood

1.9 Synopsis of Each Chapter



2. The Welfare State, Poverty and Lone Parents


3. Difficulties endured and support networks employed


4. Fatherhood and Social Policy


5. Lone Parents: Education and Exclusion


6. Preschool Education


7. Lone Parents and Work


8. Housing and Lone Parents


9. Crisis pregnancy and sexual health


10. Health Inequalities and Health Promotion


11. Germany

11.1 German Welfare State

11.2 Employment and Women

11.3 Housing and Lone Parents in Germany

11.4 Comparative Study – Cork and Nordhausen



12. Conclusion

Appendix 1 – Presentation



1. Introduction


Maria Culleton, Noreen Gleeson, Cliona McCormack, Sharon McCormack, Ciaran McGuinness, Beth McKenna, Joanne Ryan, Nicole Scannell and Denis Spillane


1.1 Research Rational


The key focus of our research project centres on lone parents, i.e. both mothers and fathers who bear day to day primary responsibility for one or more dependent children, and the experience borne by lone parents in their everyday existence within a social, familial and economic context.


A significant corollary of our research on the experiences of lone parents is that of social perceptions of and attitudes towards lone parents.  These attitudes have been expressed and subsequently interrogated by the media in recent months. For example, describing lone parents, Kevin Myers (The Irish Times, 8th February 2005) labelled lone parents as: “unmotivated, confused, backward and lazy…making the worst career decision of their lives and becoming professional unmarried mothers, living off the state until the grave takes over.”  Myers also posits blame on the Welfare State itself, accusing it of: “Creating benefits addicted fatherless families who will be raised in a culture of personal and economic apathy….”


Through qualitative research, structured interviews and documentary evidence our research hopes to dispel myths surrounding lone parenthood that still perpetuate in Irish society today.  Our research rationale attempts to expose the prevalent prejudices held by what still tends to be a hegemonic system despite or indeed because of a thriving and growing economy and to highlight the preoccupation with the binary of married/unmarried.  We anticipate that interviews and supporting research findings should highlight the inequalities experienced by lone parents in terms of access to employment, education.  Similarly in a psychosocial context, the experiences of isolation, issues around self-esteem and higher incidences of depression would be raised through our research.


1.2 Aims


·       To explore the real life experience of lone parents, in their own words and examine their ability to participate fully in society


·       To examine social policy and its impact in relation to lone parents


·       To combine and co-ordinate individual and collective work in order to create a coherent research project


·       To attempt a comparative local social policy study between Cork, Ireland and Nordhausen, Germany


1.3 Objectives


·       To locate lone parents who were willing to offer their perspectives


·       Identify and interrogate key areas as health, housing, education, poverty, employment and supports (formal and informal)


·       To work collaboratively using various qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection


·       To work in co-ordination with students from Fachochschule, Nordhausen and for the purposes of this to participate in an exchange programme.


1.4 Definition of Lone Parents


Defining ‘Lone parent’ can be problematic. There is no consensus on the proper terminology for ‘lone parent’ in society. It is not a homogenous group. Definitions and statistics may vary according to who is perceived as ‘lone parent’ and by whom, and their purpose for understanding the complex diverse phenomenon. There can be numerous definitions according to what one is looking at. Such diverse characteristics can include such things as routes to lone parenthood, ages, gender, martial status such as divorced, widowed, separated following marriage or cohabitation with or without dependent children of different ages.

To clarify the diversity of lone parenthood and how it can be perceived, some examples are drawn. An elderly widowed man with a non-dependent son is a lone parent as is a divorced man with two young dependent children living with him.


The definition we are taking of ‘lone parent’ for this research project is from a social policy and public policy perspective. We are looking at the subset of ‘lone parents’ whose ‘needs’ we expect to be significant, as they are dependent on the state for some or all of their income and other resources, as they are dependent on the state for some or all of their income and other resources, such as the ‘One Family Payment.’. Therefore our definition of ‘Lone Parent’ is that of welfare recipient ‘Lone Parent’ and not lone parent per se. They can be defined for the purpose of this research project in relation to the Department of Family and Social Affairs definition, of a ‘person who is unmarried, widowed, a prisoners spouse, separated, divorced or whose marriage has been annulled and who is no longer living with his/her spouse” and who have specific circumstances and characteristics to quality for benefits, such as the One Family Payment.

Such characteristics include but are not confined to


·       Having a dependent child under 18years of age between 18-22 in full time education in a recognized school or college and who is living with you

·       Are not co-habiting, which is deemed as living with someone in ‘husband and wife’ style

·       Having earnings less that 239 Euro per week

·       Satisfy a means test


{ Government of Ireland, 2005}


The definition we are taking is due to our social policy interest in looking at a specific group in the ‘lone parent’ population. This definition ensures that the ‘lone parent’ group we are researching meet specific requirements, although acknowledge diversity still exists in circumstances and ambiguity remains in the working definition. Using this definition will allow us easier access and availability to current data and statistics. It allows us to specifically deal with the sub group of lone parents what reside in the lower income group.


1.5 Definition of Participation


Through an emphasis on ‘participation’ rather than the popular ‘social exclusion’ model we hope to be able to focus on the positive aspects and abilities of lone parents. A discourse of exclusion often emphasizes external structural forces and denies the agency of groups (such as lone parents) in society (Ratcliffe, 2000). Our study is built on the premise that one-parent families are an integral and valuable part of our society and as such their participation must be enabled and encouraged.


Any discussion of participation requires a consideration of how such a term was conceptualised in the Irish context and the means by which the institutions of the state regulated human behaviour with regard to this understanding of participation. This structuralist approach acknowledges the way in which the structure of society influences the possibilities of human behaviour.


Ireland’s welfare regime does not neatly fit with the comparative typologies of welfare regime models (O’Donnell, 1999). Instead the Irish welfare state appears to straddle two welfare models- Esping-Andersen’s Liberal model and Leifried’s Latin Rim model. The Liberal model is characterised by modest universal schemes, extensive means tested assistance and the welfare system remains a compensator of last resort. Intervention is necessary to support people unable to insure themselves and not attached to the labour market. The UK welfare state typifies the Liberal model, while Ireland is a weaker example (Kennelly and O’Shea, 1998). Within the Latin Rim welfare regimes the state does little to regulate employment or to redistribute income. Great emphasis is placed on the family, private charity and the Church as providers of assistance. These countries do not have histories of full employment and employment levels among women are particularly low. Such welfare states are rudimentary but are in the process of catching up with more developed models and have strong promises of welfare provision enshrined in their Constitutions. However, social protection in the Latin Rim (including Ireland) continues to be work focused (Leibfried, 2000). Ireland with its long history of dominance by the Catholic hierarchy in social matters and reliance on voluntary charity (often provided by the Church itself) developed and continues to display many of the attributes of a Latin Rim welfare regime.

In this context the structures and traditions of Irish welfare constructed participation in society as intimately connected to labour force participation. By defining welfare as the final (and hence stigmatising) resort the space was never open for citizens to develop away from market forces. In terms of Esping-Andersen’s theory social rights in Ireland were highly commodified.

Ireland is a relatively low-spend, low taxation economy. Peader Kirby (2002) has eloquently argued that despite the fast growing economy of the late 1990s and very early years of this century the Irish welfare system ‘proved ineffective in modifying in any significant way the inequalities generated by market forces and, indeed, may even have exacerbated them’ (p.134). The dominance of market logic has become the guiding principle of public life as economic matters take a clear precedence over social matters. Ireland has seen a situation in which, in the words of Polanyi (1957), ‘instead of the economy being embedded in social relations, social relations are embedded in the economic system’ (p. 57). The central dilemma we must resolve is how we can ensure that the economy can serve the social needs of citizens (Kirby, 2002).


Our definition of participation is broadly based on Marshall’s threefold-division of citizenship into civil, political and social rights. Civil rights focus on freedom of speech and the right to conclude contracts, political rights incorporate the right to vote and protest, while social rights relate to social justice and the right to health, education, shelter and a basic minimum income. In his Theory of Justice John Rawls stated that. ‘When the principle of participation is satisfied, all have the common status of equal citizen (1972; 227). Habermas recognised the passive and active (participatory) elements of citizenship. ‘Received membership’ depicts the citizen as the bearer of prescribed rights where the individual is required to do little to ensure the maintenance of that status. ‘Achieved membership’ implies an active participation by and an integration of individuals into their society (Fitzpatrick, 2001). In the Irish welfare context an emphasis on social rights has been diluted by a greater liberal emphasis on the duty and obligation of citizens. Participation, as an active involvement and decision, allows the citizen to reclaim their social rights.


Participation is usually seen as implicitly positive. However, it must be enabled and because of this we cannot blame groups such as lone parents for their perceived lack of participation. When participation is denied or obstructed citizens are often reduced to dependency and despondency and further participation becomes more improbable. Of particular relevance when considering lone parents (as the majority of them are women) is the construction of women’s rights in Ireland. The basis for civil, political and social rights of Irish women was curtailed by the Conservative ethos of the Church and a reliance on the male-breadwinner concept of welfare (D’Arcy, 1999). Indeed within the Constitution women were located in the private sphere. As the state resituates itself, becoming ever subservient to market forces, it may attempt to isolate itself from democratic accountability (Kirby, 2002). Participation is often further limited by the accumulation of disadvantage over time (through childhood poverty, lack of educational and employment opportunities etc…) and through the geographical concentration of disadvantage (as in outlying local authority housing estates). Policy must focus on creating a ‘participatory infrastructure’ (Lister, 2000) which when in place can make projects sustainable, minimise social conflict, overcome passivity and paternalism, create a sense of community and most importantly facilitate the identification of marginalized voices.


Participation then is reflected in labour market participation but is also essential in the political and social spheres. Sen looked at the ‘functionings’ that constitute a person’s wellbeing. These include the basic necessitities of nourishment and health but also the complex achievements of being happy, having self-respect and taking an active part in society. For Sen this functioning is related to capability, and most importantly for our study, a person’s capability to live a life of their choosing. This requires a welfare system and an understanding of human endeavour that makes room for ‘a variety of doings and beings as important in themselves (not because they may yield utility, not just to the extent that they yield utility)’ (emphasis original, cited in Kirby, 2000; 166). An individual’s wellbeing involves a much broader spectrum than just income adequacy (although this is of itself often a precursor to wellbeing), well-being requires that individuals can live the life they choose and that they can function as they wish in their own society.


Current social policy and ‘welfare-to-work’ programmes often focus on access to work as at the heart of any participatory society, however, John Gray (2000) believes that the goal of policy,

‘cannot merely be to get the maximum number of people into paid work. It must reconcile work with family and personal life. Human beings have vital needs that are not met by participation in the labour market’ (p.27)


While recognising the positive effects for lone parents of paid employment, such as a possible rise in income, development of a new social network and a boost to self-confidence, we must acknowledge that paid work (especially low-paid, low-skilled work) does not necessarily lead to participation in society and that the only valued form of work in society should not be paid work. Indeed marginal jobs may lead to little increased participation and arguably if active citizenship is defined purely in terms of formal work, those on home-duties will be further excluded from participation (Lister, 2000).


In light of this theoretical conception of participation we aim to focus on:


One-parent families’ abilities, desires and attempts

§       To maintain a basic minimum standard of living

§       To be a member of the workforce where possible

§       To be involved in wider society in a social or political capacity.

§       To have access to education and public services (healthcare and housing)

§       To be recognised as valuable and active members of society



1.6 Social Characteristics of Lone Parents

1.6.1 Age

As the lone parent ‘group’ is made up of unmarried, separated and widowed parents one would expect a wide age group range. Recently there has been considerable polemical debate regarding lone parents in general and the increasing number of teenage lone parents. From such debates, one would assume that this number was quite high. In 2002 however, under twenty-year-olds made up 14.5% of the total births outside marriage. What is clear, nevertheless is that the majority of unmarried lone parents are relatively young. Fahey et al (2001) found over a third of unmarried lone mothers to be under 25 and a further 27.7 to be between 25 and 29. Separated mothers were older, where half were in the age-range of 35 to 44 and twenty per cent aged over 44. Widowed women were older still with over eighty per cent aged between forty and fifty-nine.


1.6.2 Education

“The educational attainment of lone parents is low. Statistics show that approximately 47% of the lone parent population has either no formal education or primary level only”(DSCFA, 2000 cited in OPEN: 2004, 48). The research carried out by OPEN concentrated on lone-parents in receipt of the One-Parent family allowance and it is not clear if this forty-seven per cent includes all lone parents or just those in receipt of the allowance. In accordance with Fahey: (2001), one would expect the educational attainment of widows to be lower as they are older. If the 47% figure includes widows then it may not be a clear representative of educational attainment of lone-parents in general. However, Fahey et al (2001) found that unmarried mothers aged 20-24 also had low levels of educational attainment; “just over 50 per cent have an Intermediate Certificate or less” (Fahey et al: 2001,48).


1.6.3 Social Class

Among the challenges of discerning the social class of lone parents is that there is a lack of data on occupational position among women in full-time house duties, also due to family circumstances women may be forced into accepting paid employment which they are over-qualified for. (Fahey et al: 2001) This could be especially true in the case of part-time work, which may be a more favourable option when trying to combine parenting and work. Fahey et al found that 11.4 per cent of married women were in the higher professional or managerial sector compared to just three per cent of unmarried lone parents. Separated and widowed lone parents also had a low level of participation in this sector with five per cent of the former and 5.4 of the latter in such professions.   Conversely 9.7% of married women were participating in unskilled manual labour compared with 21.1 per cent of unmarried, 18.3 per cent of separated and 24.9 per cent of widowed lone parents.


1.6.4 Housing Tenure

According to the Combat Poverty Agency (2004), lone parents are the main group (75% approx.) of people on local authority housing lists. The Combat Poverty Agency (2004) blamed the difficulty in accessing employment caused by lack of affordable quality childcare and therefore limited financial resources as a possible reason for such predominance in local authority housing lists. (Combat Poverty: 2004) Fahey et al, on the other hand believes it impossible to “distinguish tenure situations which are the result of lone parenthood from those which existed as a prior condition”(Fahey et al: 2001, 51).

The Labour Force Survey (1997) reveals 43.8 per cent of unmarried lone mothers were living in local authority rented housing compared to just eight per cent of married mothers. At the same time sixty-four per cent of married mothers were owner-occupiers with a mortgage compared to just 9.4% of unmarried mothers. (Fahey et al: 2001, 51).


1.6.5 Labour Market Status

There is great disparity concerning statistics on lone parent’s participation in the labour market. The Combat Poverty Agency (2004) estimate that 45% of all lone parents are working, while McCashin (2004) suggests that 60 per cent of lone parents are economically active. The 2001 National Economic and Social Forum report referred to Community Employment as “by far the most significant [employment] programme to date” from the point of view of lone parents (OPEN: 2004, 38). A major incentive of this scheme is the earnings disregard whereby a parent on the scheme can retain the OPF payment in addition to the CE allowance. (OPEN: 2004). 


A major barrier for the participation of lone parents in the labour market nowadays is the affordability of childcare. Recently many different groups (Combat Poverty Agency, Treoir, OPEN, and One Family) have frequently raised this challenge.


1.7 Changing Family Structures in Ireland

Structural approaches emphasise the way in which the structure of society influences human behaviour based on rules or laws.  Structuralism helps us to understand the rapid social changes that occur in society e.g. changing family structures (Churton, 2000).  The concept of structuralism refers to the whole society, social structure and the relationship of its parts (Cuff et. al. 1992).  This approach concedes that the structure is imposed by society and we need to discover the laws that guide the social structure.  Institutions as value systems regulates human behaviour on the basis of established rules e.g. marriage, religious institutions and political institutions. Hence institutions play a role in maintaining the overall social structure.  To find explanations for social phenomenon such as changing family structures

“we must seek separately the efficient cause which produces it and the function it fulfils” (Durkheim, 1938 cited in Porter, 1998:12).  Durkheim coined this approach structural functionalism. 


This piece will show how mainly the Catholic Church as an institution, which has had influences on the state, has in turn influenced the structure of the family.  More recently, the EU and subsequently Ireland’s vibrant economy have influenced family structures.


The structure of the family varies considerably worldwide and has done so throughout history.  It is relevant initially to view some definitions of the family.  For example, in the past sociology has viewed the family as:  “…a social institution that unites individuals into co-operative groups that oversee the bearing and raising of children.” (Macionis and Plummer, 2002:436)  This definition has diversified over time.  More non-traditional descriptions of the family have emerged, such as: “…people with or without legal or blood ties who feel they belong together and wish to define themselves as a family.” (Macionis et al, 2002:436).  The change in these definitions of the family is evident and it can be applied to the structure of the family in Ireland.


1.7.1. Population Patterns

Changes in population mirror individual decisions related to family size.  Emigration is closely linked to Ireland’s population patterns.  This has implications for family structures, the connections that families have to property and the arrangements of birth and marriage.  Due to the Irish Famine (1845-1850) the population decreased from 8.2million in the 1840’s to 4.2million in 1922.  Ireland’s independence from Britain in 1922 failed to bring an end to emigration, with a decline continuing until 1961.  However, due to factors such as fertility, marriage and ageing from the 1960’s to the 1990’s Ireland is presently switched from a high fertility/high emigration trend to a low fertility/low emigration trend.  Furthermore, in recent years, Ireland has faced significant immigration.  For example in 1998, 4600 people requested political asylum.  The feedback from this new demographic trend is diverse and still developing.  The modernisation of Ireland’s population has proved to display noticeable changes in the nature of the family structure. (Tovey and Share, 2003) Subsequently, both the Church and State have played a dominant role in shaping family formation, in past and present day Ireland.


1.7.2 The Irish Catholic Church

In traditional forms of Catholicism in Ireland, liberal insistence on individual moral responsibility, on equality as opposed to hierarchy and on participation instead of submission to authority were generally not apparent.  For many decades after independence in 1922, Ireland maintained a highly religious population, for whom Catholic values and ideals devised numerous features of political and social life. (Hardiman and Whelan in Crotty and Schmitt, 1998)  In ‘traditional’ Ireland, the Catholic Church as an institution imposed a strict discipline in relation to sexual morality.  The role of ‘the mother’ was largely dominated and controlled by the Church.  The home was supervised and scrutinised by the Church.  Women’s role was seen as familial, self-sacrificing and altruistic and the Catholic Church’s social teaching emphasised the family ideal and the natural role of woman as mother and homemaker.(Tovey et al,2003)  Hence the Catholic Church determined the behaviour of woman and families which influenced the maintenance of a social system. 


In Ireland the Catholic Church and the Nation-State developed both simultaneously and in mutual interdependency.  State and Catholic discourse were intertwined (Tovey et. al, 2003).  The Catholic Church’s influence on the state can be exemplified by examining the Irish Constitution and its disposition on family structures.  Similar to the Catholic Church’s views, the Constitution considers women essentially as wives and mothers within the framework of the family.  Article 41.2.1 notoriously claims that: “In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.” (Government of Ireland)  Also, the Constitution delineates precise views on the family and marriage.  Article 41.3.1: “The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptive rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.”   Article 41.3.1:  “The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the family is founded, and to protect it against attack.” (Government of Ireland). Hence the behaviour of the family and the structure of the family was largely determined by these institutions.


The turning point in the relationship between the Church and the family, in Ireland, occurred in the early 1960’s.  This was due to a combination of changes in churches at a global level combined with the expansionist and consumerist economic policies of 1960’s and a new era of acceptance of international influence.  This resulted in a shift in public perceptions of religious institutions in general. (Tovey et al, 2003)


New prosperity and growth in Ireland contributed to a new optimism for the future of Irish society. It also contributed to a critique of the Catholic Church as an influencing institution to the structure of society (Tovey et.al. 2003).  Ireland’s entry in the EU in 1973 added to the demise of the Catholic Church’s hierarchical position in Irish Society.  In general the structure of the society and its behaviour became more influenced by economic institutions e.g. the EU in place of the Church and their value systems.  Directives from the EU have played a role for example in assisting women to access the labour market in an equitable manner comparable to their male counterparts.  Again the influence of the Church regarding the woman’s position within the family structure declined because of the changing economic and social role of women.  They were freed from the ideological power of the church.


This declining power of the Catholic Church affected marriage patterns and the influence of marriage as an institution.  The numbers of people never married in 1996 for the 30-34 age group were similar to those in 1960 at approximately 5 per 1,000 of the population.  In the interim period the numbers getting married peaked at 7.4 per 1,000 in 1974 but had declined by 1996 (CSO, 2003).  Figures for 2003 shows this has not changed with the CSO reporting 20,302 marriages for 2003; 5.1 per 1,000 of the population.  The recent rise in non-marriage rates for the level of family formation has to be examined in the context of declining importance of marriage as a prerequisite to family formation.  Fahy et. al. (2001) examined the changing relationship between marriage and family formation.  From 1960 to the mid 1970’s the trend in first births followed at a one to two year lag behind the trend in marriages – marriage came first then the children.  From mid 1970’s onwards the trend began to change as the number of non-marital births increased and by 1990 there were more first births than marriages.  There was an upsurge in first births in 1994 and this widened the gap with marriages even further.  At the very least this suggests to us that there is a change in the sequencing and significance of marriage in family formation.  The links between sexuality, marital life and reproduction have been severed.  There has been an obvious decline in the Catholic Church’s previous presiding in enforcing traditional religious practices and morality.  Irish attitudes towards sex roles in parenting and women’s participation in employment are moving closer to the European norm, creating a less rigid and more open society (Hardiman and Whelan in Crotty et al, 1998). The mean age of first marriages in Ireland for females is 28.2 years.  The mean age at childbirth is 32.5 years.  This is in contrast to 29.5 in 1980 (CSO).  This indicates that people are getting married later and delaying childbearing until they are ready.  Increased female participation in the labour force has also contributed to these trends.  Hence families are smaller.  Values and norms are shifting and people are pursuing their own interests.  It is clear that they are not trying to meet society’s expectations or fulfil traditional roles as families were in the past.

This reflects the changing roles of institutions, demonstrating that political institutions are now exerting more influence over family structures in society.


Due to the changes in family structures that have taken place in Ireland, for example lone parenting, family law experts are calling for Article 41 of the Irish Constitution to be amended, The main reason for this demand is that the Constitution only offer protection to the family based on marriage.  It fails to recognise the current realities of family life, which incorporates a variety of family form.(www.onefamily.ie).   Divorce is a prime example of the current reality of family life and changing family structures.  The 1996 census reported 9,787 divorced people in the Country and a further 78,005 people separated.  The corresponding figure in 1985 was 25,000.  These rates are still spiraling with the 2002 census reporting 35,059 people divorced and a further 98,779 separated (Census, 2002)


In relation to cohabitation the Census 1996 shows that there were 31,298 family units consisting of cohabiting couples.  This accounted for 3.9% of all families in 1996 (DFSA, 1998).  The 2002 census shows a huge increase in these types of family units.  It reports that there are 77,616 cohabiting couples and 29,709 have children. (CSO, 2002)  As demonstrated the Constitution’s views on the family has been heavily influenced by the Catholic Church and it remains unchanged today, ignoring the effect which political and economic institutions have had on the structure of the family. 


Up until the 1970’s the Church and the State converged in terms of their ideological and legal position on the family.  This influenced family structures.  However, since the 1970’s economic developments have caused a divergence between the position of the church and state on matters concerning the family.  This has influenced people’s decisions in relation to when to start a family and in relation to family size.    


Lone parenthood, the focus of this project, is a significant increasing trend in Irish society today.  The following information and statistics show the effects of changing influences in society e.g. from religion to politics and economics and the institutions that regulate these.


1.7.3 Patterns of Lone Parenthood

Due to many shortcomings in Irish data relevant to the early-mid 1900s many researchers have reported that it is very difficult to source figures to determine the prevalence of lone parenthood over time.  Even more recent data on the composition of families, formation, dissolution also has its limitations and as a result exact figures on numbers of lone parents are difficult to determine.   This is due mainly to the definition of Lone Parents used in data collection, lone parents not identifying themselves as lone parents due to the stigma attached and the possibilities of over and under counts.  The data on lone parents that is commonly used is derived from the Census of Population, Labour Force Statistics and Social Welfare Statistics.  While these statistics report different figures they all paint the same picture.  They all demonstrate that there has been an increase in the number of lone parents over the last few decades.  

Table 1.1 shows the number of lone parent families with children under 15 years recorded by the Census between 1981 and 1996:


Table 1.1: Lone Parent Families with Children under 15 years


Number of Lone Parent Families with children Under 15

Lone parent families as % of all families with children under 15













(Census 1981, 1986,1991,1996, taken from Fahy & Russell, 2001)


The growth in the lone parent category is very marked.  Between 1981 and 1986 there was a 23% increase in the number of lone parent families and a further 22% increase from 1986 – 1991.  Between 1981 and 1991 a decline was reported in the number of families based on couples therefore there was a noticeable shift in proportion of families headed by a lone parent.  The percentage of lone parents rose again between 1991 and 1996 by 28%. This clearly highlights the significance of this change to Irish family formations. 


Between 1996 and 2002 the number of lone parents have continued to increase.  The number the number of all lone parents with children of all ages according to the 2002 census is approximately 153,863.  85% were headed by females and 15% by males.  60% of lone parents are aged between 25 and 39 years of age (Combat Poverty Agency 2004).  The census is likely to undercount the number of lone parents due to the fact that the figures do not necessarily include lone parents living with their parents.  The number of children enumerated with a lone parent according to the census 2002 was 273,580.  It is obvious from these statistics that lone parenthood has contributed to changing family formations in Irish society.


The remainder of this section will now look at some of the reasons attributed to the increase in lone parenthood. The main cause of high levels of lone parent families in the past was the untimely death of a partner.  Fahy et.al. (2001) state that a child born in 1900 was just as likely to spend some or most of his/her childhood in a household lacking a parent as a child born in the twenty-first century.  According to the Census of Population 1926 12% of children under 15 years had lost one parent to death. This reason has not disappeared but non-martial births and marital breakdown have replaced it as the main routes into lone parenthood.

1.7.4 Non-Marital Births

The number of births outside marriage has been on the increase since the 1950’s.  However, it is important to point out here that only a subset of these births result in lone parenthood. Nevertheless, the concern is that non-marital childbearing has contributed to a major increase in lone parenthood (Fahy et.al.2001).  There has been an unbroken upward trend over the past four decades of births taking place outside marriage: Table 1.2 clearly demonstrates this:

Table 1.2


Births outside marriage

Births outside marriage as % of total births




























(CSO, 2003)

Little is known of the partnership circumstances of these women (Fahy et. al. 2001).  However, Table 1.3 gives us a guide as to how many of these women giving birth outside marriage are lone parents by looking at how many are in receipt of social welfare payments.  It is very clear using this method that the majority are lone parents

Table 1.3


No. of non marital births

Unmarried Lone Parents Payments

Unmarried Lone Parents Payments as % of non marital births

















DSFA, 2001


1.7.5 Marital Breakdown

The Labour Force Statistics from 1981 highlight the increasing prevalence of marital breakdown in Irish Society.  There are no comprehensive statistics on marriage breakdown so information on marital status is used to inform us on this area.  The total number of separated people in 1980 was 14,100.  The corresponding figure in 1997 was 83,000.  The census 2002 reported that 134,838 people are divorced or separated.  Again it is important to point out that not all these breakdowns result in lone parenthood as not all couples may have any children or any dependant children but marital breakdown is a significant route into lone parenthood.


Widowhood has become a much less common route into lone parenthood in recent decades.  The following Table 1.4 demonstrates how the pathways into lone parenthood has changed from the 1986 census to the 1996 census with the categories of never married and separated increasing significantly:

Table 1.4


Census 1986

Census 1996

% of lone parents

never married



% of Lone Parents separated



% of Lone Parents Widowed



Fahy et.al. (2001)


In conclusion there have been dramatic changes in Irish family structures.  Relationships between mothers and fathers and between parents and children have altered significantly.  In this context lone parent families should have their specific needs addressed by Irish Society and its institutions to empower them to participate in society so they can reach their full potential.

1.8  Motherhood

Concurrent with the change in the structures of families in Irish society is the concept of motherhood and what it means now to be a mother. Traditionally in Ireland the role of the mother has been of primary importance as was the value of having births within the context of marriage. However both the role of the mother has changed as has the trend of births within marriage.


                        Becoming a mother is ‘believed to mark the fulfilment of adult status for women’ (Kent 2000; p105). Kent states that even women who are not mothers are often defined in relation to them, as potential mothers, childless, childfree or infertile and that ‘the lives of women are constrained and shaped by the idea that all ‘normal’ women become mothers and that those who do not are believed to lead unfulfilled and unsatisfactory lives’ (ibid). Becoming a mother also represents a loss of identity according to Richardson (1993) who lists a number of losses associated with motherhood. They include loss of status, loss of identity, loss of independence, loss of privacy, loss of social networks and loss of an idealised and romanticised view of motherhood.


                        Motherhood has been discussed in relation to modernity and the changes that have occurred in motherhood (see Mahon et al, 1998; p15-38, Kent 2000; p107). Mahon et al state that modernity has had two major impacts on women’s lives. Firstly, it has enabled women to control their fertility and secondly, it has enabled them to engage in paid employment. Family planning has enabled women to control the number of children in their family, to decide when to have children and in some cases women have decided not to have children at all. This is important as there has been an increasing participation of women in the workforce and this has been difficult due to the pressures of balancing work and family life. Kent (2000; p107) discusses modernity and the marginalisation of ‘mothers’. This developed due to the gender difference where men enjoyed the social status of engaging in the privilege of having an occupation while the mother was relegated to the ‘private sphere of the home’. This was the view of feminists since the 1970’s and 1980’s. Gender differences saw the role of the male as been independent and autonomous with men enjoying the privilege of social status according to their occupation or class. The role of the female however was perceived to be that of reproduction and the ‘natural’ ability to have children and to care for them. A woman’s status was also linked to that of her husband and as a result single mothers would be the least valued. While in today’s society the decision to have, or to not have a child, can be due to a number of reasons including the decision of a woman to focus on her career etc. therein remains an aspect which Mahon et al (1998; p17) refer to as a lack of spontaneity in having children as in today’s society it can be now a conscious decision and can be embraced when women are ready for parenthood. 



1.9 Synopsis of Each Chapter


Chapter 2 by Joanne Ryan begins with a brief historical background of the emergence of a system, which is now known as the welfare state. It aims to explore the poverty and inequalities experienced by lone parents in the Irish welfare state.  Different typologies of welfare states are discussed and Ireland is placed within its corresponding welfare regime.  A brief exploration of how successful welfare states are at eradicating poverty follows, first in a general context and then in the specific context of lone parents.  The research was carried out on five lone mothers living in Cork City.  From the research findings and other literature and research carried out on this social group, poverty and inequalities will be addressed as well as related areas of importance in relation to these phenomena.


Chapter 3, by Maria Culleton, will discuss and identify difficulties endured by lone parents according to recent research. For example, the stigmatization of lone parent families; possible adjustment difficulties for the children of lone parents; parental stress; difficulties encountered in the areas of housing, education and supervision; problems endured by teenage lone parents and the issue of poverty amongst lone parents. It will then discuss support networks utilized by Irish lone parents, for example, state benefits and the family. This topic was approached by using a feminist methodology and, as a background to the research, will briefly provide a feminist critique of the Irish welfare state. Subsequently research findings will be discussed, which are based on qualitative interviews with lone parents in Cork.


Chapter 4, by Nicole Scannell deals with social policy and fatherhood. Fatherhood in Ireland has become politicised following the publication of various strategies regarding the family and fatherhood. The proliferation of men’s groups has further questioned the barriers that single fathers face in Ireland.  These men’s groups are heavily influenced by the neo-liberal conservative discourse that dominates men’s groups in the USA.  These conservative movements have served to further marginalised lone mothers and enforce the idea that marriage is the most fundamental structure in society.  Countering these discourse and, at times, running through it are concerns about the welfare of the children. Thus, a review is made of the structures in place (legal and ideological) and their impact upon the actors (single fathers) and a determination is made whether or not these structures do actually further serve to marginalise lone mothers as well as removing the rights of ‘non-resident’ fathers. 


Chapter 5, by Cliona McCormack contains a study of lone parents’ participation in education focusing on younger lone parents under the age of twenty-three. In order to examine the reasons for their current low levels of participation it looks specifically at the importance of education for this group, the barriers to their participation, the relationship between education and employment and Irish education policy and education schemes targeted at lone parents. Surveys of a number of lone parents currently enrolled in third level and back-to-education programmes were used to elicit their own opinions on this subject. The chapter finishes with a brief case study of one secondary school engaged in the Baby Think it Over programme.


Chapter 6, by Noreen Gleeson aims to establish how preschool education is beneficial for children from one-parent families, who are living in designated disadvantaged urban areas.  This conviction will be explored in the context of the welfare state in Ireland and by applying functionalism as the methodology.  An initial historical overview and policy evaluation in relation to preschool education in Ireland will provide the background for this section.  In order to highlight the correlation between preschool education and its significance in the educational progression of children from one-parent families the following areas will be examined: the theory of cultural deprivation; lone parents, poverty and education; quality and disadvantage.  Subsequently, research was carried out in three preschool settings in designated disadvantaged urban areas in the south side of Cork City, which adds new perspectives to this discussion.


Chapter 7, by Sharon McCormack examines lone parents and ‘work’.  It begins by examining the Irish Welfare State as a Liberal Welfare State and how citizenship has evolved to be conditional upon participation in the labour force and the implications of this for lone parents.  It will also discuss the implications of the new adult worker model for lone parents based on the results from the one to one interviews.  The work ethic dominates Irish Society and this will be evident through an examination of policies and employment schemes in Ireland.  It will be argued that the concept should include and value unpaid work in the home.  It is recommended that Irish society should balance the ethic of care with an ethic of work.  Six lone parents were interviewed for this section of the project.  The chapter also explores how lone parents make the decision to work inside or outside the home.  Finally, structural barriers to employment are discussed.  This section is guided by the Structuration methodology looking at the impact of both structures and agency in determining the lives of lone parents.


Chapter 8, by Beth McKenna, deals with housing and lone parents.  Housing in Ireland is primarily provided by  the private market, such as property developers, estate agents etc. The criteria required to access this private housing market ensures that lone parents are excluded. The dominance of this market compared to that of the public provision of housing, social housing ensures the housing system is unbalanced, inequitable and is reinforcing the disadvantages lone parents face in Irish society. This project focus on the challenges lone parents in the social housing sector or those waiting for that sector face in accessing the housing system, a housing system ,dominated by the private market. It also focuses on the challenges they face in accessing suitable , quality and affordable housing in this unbalanced housing system which is compounded by unbalanced government policy. The impact this has on their wellbeing and that of their children is researched as is the impact on the wider community.

Chapter 9 by Ciaran McGuinness seeks to examine a woman’s experience of crisis pregnancy and the decision making process in a crisis pregnancy situation.  There are several factors, which influence the likelihood of crisis pregnancy.  These include, psychological, relationship, situational and contextual. Three choices that a woman is faced with in the case of crisis pregnancy (abortion, adoption and keeping the child) are discussed.  Sexual health in relation to school based sexual education programmes are also examined.  In examining these areas a case study is made of one women’s experience when faced with a crisis pregnancy in order to further analyse the topics of crisis pregnancy and sexual health.

Chapter 10 by Denis Spillane, the primacy of the family in the Nation State and the perceived threat posed by newly emerging practices of family life will be addressed in an effort to contextualise the position of lone parents in Irish society. Similarly in exposing the links between gender and health inequality, a clear and realistic portrayal of the lived experiences of lone parents will be presented. Drawing upon a feminist methodology, feminist theories and critiques, the tendency of the state and health promotion strategies to focus on behavioural contributory factors of health related issues will be exposed. It will be argued that barriers to economic independence and full labour participation, existing patriarchal and sexist approaches of the state and state institutions, namely the medical profession, the legacy of the Church and its policing of morality, the medicalisation of women, impact largely on the lives of lone parents.

Chapter 11 examines the German welfare regime including the controversial introduction of Hartz 4 reforms.  This chapter also outlines the difficulties encountered when attempting a comparative study between Germany and Ireland.




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A Fact Sheet on Lone Parents; Dublin: Combat Poverty Agency, 2004.


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The Celtic Tiger in Distress; Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002


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Social Theory and Nursing Practice;  Houndsmills: Palgrave, 1998.          


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Richardson, V., 1993:

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A Sociology of Ireland (2nd Edition);

Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 2003.










2. The Welfare State, Poverty and Lone Parents

                                                                                                            Joanne Ryan

2.1     Introduction


This qualitative research aims to give an insight into the poverty and exclusion which lone mothers face in Irish society today. The number of lone parent families has increased substantially in recent times and simultaneously the number of parents in receipt of the One Parent Family Payment has also increased significantly. (See DSFA: 2002).

The amount of lone parents living in poverty has also risen enormously in the past ten years: OPEN notes that ‘in 1994 lone parent households accounted for 1 in every 20 households in consistent poverty and seven years later, in 2001 one-parent families accounted for 1 in 5 of those consistently poor’ (OPEN: 2004a, 8).

Through a combination of academic literature and lone mother’s description of their experiences in their own words, this study aims to address poverty and exclusion vis à vis lone mothers and explore the areas which relate to these phenomena.



2.2     Methodology


Every piece of research needs a methodology, that is a philosophical evaluation of investigative techniques within a discipline.  The methodology, which I have employed, is a feminist methodology.  One of the main reasons for doing so is that the majority of lone parents [especially those in receipt of the One Parent Family Payment (OPFP)] are women.  97.5% of recipients of the One Parent Family Payment are lone mothers. (Based on a calculation from statistics of the DSFA: 2002).  The five parents I interviewed were also lone mothers and I did not encounter any fathers when trying to locate parents to interview


Irish society has become more accepting of the diverse forms which families take in recent times, however there are still many shortcomings in our treatment of those who deviate from the ‘normal’ father-mother-children family structure. This is particularly evident when looking at situations where the traditional male ‘breadwinner’ is absent: in the context of lone mothers.  The Irish Constitution refers to mothers in the context of their ‘contribution to the common good by working in the home’. (Art. 41.2.1, see McKeown: 2001).  For lone mothers, who are both breadwinner and primary caregiver, this contribution to ‘the common good’ is not remunerated adequately.


The Irish welfare state corresponds to Lewis and Ostner’s(1991) strong breadwinner outlook. Lewis and Ostner imagined a policy regime based upon the strength or weakness of the male breadwinner outlook.  They broke down these regime types into three categories:

Strong breadwinner outlook; moderate breadwinner outlook and weak breadwinner outlook.

Variations in the different models are found in how women are treated in the social security system, in the development of childcare and in women’s labour market participation. (Hobson: 1994)

Since the boom of the Celtic Tiger, women’s participation in the workforce has increased substantially.  This has created a serious need for welfare provision on a public level. Women (along with The Church and voluntary organisations) were once the providers of welfare preceding their entry into the labour market.  It has been and still is assumed and accepted that women engage in unpaid work in the home.  This unpaid work has not been recognised or valued.  Men have been the breadwinners and participants in the labour market while women carried out the household duties and were the primary carers of children, elderly relatives etc.  The value of such work is now being recognised for the large part it has played in society and is outlined by the serious need for state welfare in areas such as childcare and caring for the elderly as well as many others. Up to now there was not so much need for state intervention. 

Through their dependence on men, women’s social citizenship was entirely related to their spouse’s while they engaged in invaluable work. In ‘Building an Inclusive Society’ (2002) one of the objectives is to promote women’s participation in the labour market, however this can only be achieved if women are treated equally and the state intervenes in the provision of family-friendly services.

“The paradox that welfare relies so largely on women, on dependents and social exiles whose ‘contribution’ is not politically relevant to their citizenship in the welfare state, is highlighted now that women’s paid employment is also vital to the operation of the welfare state” (Pateman: 1989, 148)


Women are forced to be dependent on their partner, the breadwinner. ‘The welfare state has reinforced women’s identity as men’s dependents’ (Pateman: 1989, 138). Gender inequalities can be seen throughout our society.  The Irish government has a highly patriarchal nature whereby women are a minority. Currently in the Dail there are 144 men and just 22 women.  There are five times more men than women in the Seanad.  Just three women hold ministerial positions compared to 15 men.  The National Women’s Council of Ireland estimate the gender pay gap to be 15% between the average hourly wage of men and women and less than 3% of the top executives in our country are women.  Furthermore, the National Economic and Social council is comprised of 26 men and merely 5 women.  With such low representation in decision-making roles, the inequalities, about to be outlined, correspond to the minimal participation of women in the creation of policies to counteract such inequalities.




2.3     Methods


This research was carried out on five lone mothers two of whom were in a residential setting.  All of the mothers are in receipt of the OPFP.  The participants from the residential setting pay a ‘fee’ of twenty euro if their child is under six months and thirty euro thereafter.  This payment includes housing and food costs so the parents then have to provide food for their children and various other materials such as baby monitors, clothes, nappies etc.  This is likely to affect the findings of those at risk of deprivation, as these parents do not have to worry about costs such as heating or food.  However, the parents were aware of the accommodation being temporary and anticipated difficulties in having to pay rent bills and food independently subsequent to leaving the accommodation.  Furthermore, one of the mothers in the residential setting explained that her reason for going there was the fear of not being able to provide financially for her child when he was born in addition to coping with being a mother for the first time.  As she did not have support from kin, she felt that she needed the emotional support of the residential setting as well as some time to get used to motherhood before having to worry about the financial element.


Interviews were conducted based on a questionnaire of open-ended questions, which I have included in Appendix A.  I encountered difficulties in actually finding lone parents to interview.  I phoned many organisations that provide services for parents and it was difficult to arrange interviews.  It appeared as if these organisations were inundated with researchers and some were not interested or did not have time to organise meetings.


  When I carried out the interviews I found that no academic literature could have prepared me for the reality of a face to face interview with the real people that I was writing about.  In the residential setting, the mothers were a little baffled as to why I had chosen to write about lone parents, why I wanted to ask them the questions I asked and were a little apprehensive when it came to discussing welfare and earnings.  After assuring them that I was not an undercover welfare inspector, that the information which they provided me with would be treated in strict confidentiality and that they would remain anonymous, they relaxed and answered the questions which they felt comfortable with. 

 The questionnaire, which I have included in the appendix, was used mainly as a guide but the interview was in the form of a conversation based on these questions rather than specifically focusing on answering them.

 For convenience of recognition in this study, Parent A and B is assigned to the parents from the residential setting.  Parent C, D and E to parents living independently in private-rented accommodation.


2.4.1   The Welfare State


In post-war Britain, Beveridge recognised ‘five giant social evils’ which had undermined British society before the war: ignorance, disease, idleness, squalor and want.  These elements of social unrest prompted the development of the categories of the welfare state, as we now know it: education, health, employment, housing, and poverty.

Until recently the most influential typologies of the welfare state were those advanced by Wilenski and Lebeaux (May: 2003).  They distinguished two ‘models of welfare’: the ‘residual’ based on ideas of economic individualism and free enterprise, and the institutional, based on notions of security, equality and humanitarianism.  Titmuss later added another type, which was named the ‘industrial-redistributive’ model typified by West Germany where welfare functions were parallel to the economy and needs were met on the basis of work performance.  (May: 2003)


2.4.2   The three worlds of welfare capitalism


Following his study on 18 member countries of the OECD Gosta Esping Andersen (1990) distinguished three welfare state regimes, which he believed could be applied to developed countries.  These regimes were: The Social Democratic Regime, the Corporatist Conservative and the Liberal regime.

Universalism is the protagonist of the Social Democratic regime.  Esping-Andersen (1990) referred to the prevalence of ‘equality of the highest standards’ evident in the Social Democratic model.  The welfare state is inclusive of workers and non-workers.  Through an emphasis on training and education, the state ensures participation in the labour market. (Kennelly, O’Shea: 1998).  Through universal benefits, this welfare state creates cross-class solidarity (Esping Andersen, 1990).

            The Corporatist welfare state is far from universal, in this regime selectivity plays the leading role.  ‘Entitlement to social rights is based on attachment to the paid labour force’ (O’ Shea, Kennelly: 1998, 200).  Social protection is provided through a social insurance scheme whereby both the employers and employees contribute.  This poses a problem for those who are not in paid employment.  In such cases, these people are at the mercy of their families, local government, voluntary organisations, and the church for care and assistance.

            The final regime, which Esping Andersen distinguishes, is the ‘Liberal ‘ regime.  This is comprised of means-tested assistance, modest universal transfers and modest social insurance plans.  The state guarantees minimum protection and entitlement rules are strict.  Encouragement to participate in paid employment is explicitly evident in the modesty of the benefits received and through subsidies of private welfare schemes for paid workers.  Class structures are heavily enforced in this model through a majority of means-tested non-universal benefit system, which is stigmatising.


2.4.3 Critiques of Esping-Anderson’s typology


There has been much critique about the Esping-Andersen’s distinctions of just three welfare state typologies.  It has been argued that there was no correlation in this three-fold typology for: The Southern European countries, some of the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe and East Asian countries (Kilkey: 2000).  Many feminists also accused Esping-Andersen of being gender-blind. (Kilkey: 2000, May: 2003))

Because of its relevance to the Irish context, I would like to briefly discuss the Latin Rim model recognised by Leibfried.  Due to the limitations of this study, it is not possible to explore other suggested additions to Esping-Andersen’s typology.        

Leibfried’s ‘Latin rim’ model relies on civil society i.e. family, the church and private charity to provide welfare.  The state does little to regulate employment. (Kennelly, O’Shea, 1998).


2.4.4 Ireland a ‘latin-rim’ or ‘liberal’ welfare state?


It has been argued that Ireland represents Leibfried’s Latin rim model.  Pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland was certainly an example of the ‘Latin-rim’ welfare state.  Women were the main providers of welfare in the home and The Church and private charity also played a large role in the provision of welfare.  Schools and hospitals were run by religious orders.  There was a strong link between private charity and The Church.  Fundraising for such charities often took place in the form of church gate collections in local parish settings.  The St. Vincent De Paul still relies on church collections for some of their capital.

            The Ireland of today however, corresponds to the ‘liberal’ welfare state.  Benefits are means-tested and are modest in relative income terms.  The policy reforms of last year which became known as the ‘savage sixteen’ cuts are an example of such a regime whereby citizenship is linked explicitly to labour-market participation and benefits are low in order to force citizens to participate in paid employment.  Some welfare universality can be seen in Ireland nevertheless, examples of such are child benefit and medical cards for elderly people over seventy.  Kennelly and O’Shea (1998) among others have classified Ireland in the ‘liberal regime’, while asserting that is a ‘lesser example’ than other countries.


2.4.5 The Welfare State and poverty abatement


Goodin et al’s (1999) comparative assessment of the three worlds of welfare capitalism is an excellent comparative glance at examples of Esping Andersen’s three welfare regimes.  The study assessed how successful countries representing each regime, were in abating poverty.  In the study, the relative income poverty line is applied at 50% of the median income.  The study found that all three countries generated poverty over a ten year period to the same extent: about 20% of the population across all three countries would be poor on the basis of pre-government income.  The difference they found was that government transfers played a large role in alleviating poverty in the Netherlands, to a lesser extent in Germany and very little in the US.

The Netherlands also did more to alleviate poverty over time.  The proportion of people in the Netherlands who were hit by poverty in two or more years was under 8 per cent, in Germany it was double that amount, and in the US it was over three times that amount.


Hobson’s (1994) study on solo mothers based on the Luxembourg Income Survey had similar findings to Goodin et al applied in the context of solo mothers.  Sweden and the US represented opposite ends of poverty rates.  Sweden had the lowest rates of poverty among solo mothers and the US the highest.  While Britain and The US are both examples of ‘liberal’ regimes British solo mothers had a much lower risk of poverty than American solo mothers.  In Germany’s corporatist regime 49% of mothers depending on social transfers as their main source of income were poor.  While all mothers received a care benefit for children, this was to supplement their husband’s (breadwinner) earnings.  Where family-types deviated from the norm, that is the breadwinner was absent, solo mothers had a high risk of poverty. 

Sweden boasted the most extensive daycare services and thus had the highest proportion of women in the workforce.  Mothers in Sweden benefitted on the basis of citizenship, parenthood and as workers.  They received benefits as lone parents in the absence of alimony, had priority in the queue for daycare places and benefitted from family-friendly work practices providing job security after parental leave and the right to work part-time for six years of child rearing.



2.5     The One-Parent Family Payment and inequality


Women are forced to be dependent on men for their own welfare.  In the context of lone parents, this is evident in the criterion for entitlement to the One-Parent Family Payment.  Eligibility for the payment is subject to the parent (in 97.5% of cases this is women, DSFA: 2002) having previously sought maintenance from the other parent of the child.  The payment is granted when maintenance is either insufficient or non-existent.  The mother (for the most part) must not be cohabiting with the father of her child/children or with another partner.  This enforces women’s dependence on men.  Should the mother meet another partner and decide to cohabit, she risks losing the payment and being forced to depend on her partner for an income.  Mary McIntosh (1989) referred to this as the enforcement of prostitutional dependence of women, on the men they slept with.  Nicola Yeates (1997) displays the resemblance of the Poor Law and the deserted wives benefit.  Under the Poor Law women had to prove their sexual and moral innocence and prove that they had been deserted by their husbands for at least twelve months, in the case of the deserted wife’s payment it was three months.


In the research sample, four out of five of the mothers believed that the criterion for the OPF payment was unfair and that the cohabitation rule was regressive.  One of the parents, however believed that it was just, as the payment was especially for single parents and therefore did not apply if one was not single. Two of the parents had partners, another said that despite the cohabitation rule she had lived with the other parent of her child for two years but the relationship did not work out:


“ I did live with him before but we were careful.  I’d go to my mother’s when I had to see the Community Welfare Officer” (Parent C)


“I’ve been going out with X for two years and he asked me to move in with him in the summer.  I’d like to but I can’t risk losing the entitlements.  I’m used to being independent, I couldn’t be asking him for money.” (Parent D)


One of the mothers was content to live separately from her partner.  She believed that it was better for her child if she did:


“He stays over a lot but he has his place too.  I like it better that way.  We have our own space.  I think it’s better for Y (child).  I don’t think she’d like it if he moved in and he certainly wouldn’t want to move, not now. (Parent E)


Living with a partner while claiming the OPFP is considered fraudulent.  The payment actively hinders recipient’s possibilities to get back together with the other parent of their child/children and prevents them from finding a new partner if they so wish. There are many advantages to having a partner (of course if the parent wishes) for example in the context of poverty a partner could contribute to the household income, as well as many other things.



2.6     Income Adequacy   


Income needs to be put in the context of the welfare state type it belongs, in the Irish case the ‘liberal’ regime.  One’s income in a liberal welfare regime has very different value than that of  a social democratic regime.  It is not enough to claim that an income is adequate or inadequate without assessing the social services, which are in place and contributors to what is known as income in kind.  For example, a working lone mother who is fortunate to have kin who provide childcare free of charge may be much better off than a lone mother who is a consumer of childcare in the market. 

Other structural influences such as healthcare provision must also be taken into consideration. A lone parent engaged in paid employment who earns in excess of the limit for eligibility for a medical card may not be better off financially than a mother who does not work but is eligible for a medical card.  As demonstrated earlier Hobson’s (1994) study on solo mothers illustrated that Swedish mothers enjoyed the most comprehensive daycare facilities and social services and in line with the value of such services had the lowest rate of poverty. 


The One-Parent Family Payment (OPFP) as outlined by Maria Culleton (for an outline of rates of payment see Chapter 3) was introduced in 1997 with the objective of relieving hardship in the case of the parent not receiving adequate or any maintenance from the other parent of their children. (OPEN: 2004).

In my interviews, the adequacy of the OPFP was addressed.  The majority of the participants did not believe to have an adequate income:


“After I pay for the ESB (electricity) and the telephone, put petrol in the car and buy food, I’m left with twenty euro for the week” (Parent E)


“It’s not adequate, I am always stressed about money.  I used to be so carefree, now I dread seeing bills.  As soon as one is paid off another comes.  It’s never ending” (Parent D)


Just two of the parents had children at school-going age and The Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance (BSCFA) proved inadequate at covering the costs of going back to school:


It doesn’t cover all the expenses, there are books, uniforms, shoes and my daughter always needs a fiver for this and a tenner for that in school.  It [The BSCFA] pays for some things but it’s not enough”(Parent E)


“I’m lucky because  [child] is just a year younger than my sister’s child so he gets most of his books and uniforms so the allowance comes in handy for the extras, but if it wasn’t for that it would definitely be a struggle to get everything for September” (Parent D)


Adequacy is a subjective term and it is important to consider other aspects such as expenditure and money management when addressing this term.

The parents interviewed prioritised food, rent, bills and baby products. Everything else was considered almost a luxury.


“I had my baby four months ago and there are more costs than you realise at the beginning like sterilisers, monitors.  Most of my money is going on things like that” (Parent B)


“I pay off my electricity bill every week.  It’s the only way to keep on top of it.  We only use the heating in the living room, if not the bill is sky-high”

 (Parent C)


 “The rent allowance covers most of the rent but not all, the rest of the money is in one hand and out the other between shopping, gas and electricity and the telephone I don’t really see any of it” (Parent D)


“I try to buy whatever food is on offer, things like two for the price of one.  I try to shop in LIDL too.  The shopping there is much cheaper than regular supermarkets” (Parent E)


One parent has a teenage daughter and thinks that the allowance should change according to the age of children.  For her the cost of raising a teenager was much higher than of a child.


“ My daughter is at the stage where she wants to meet her friends and go to the cinema or for pizza and things like that.  It causes a lot of problems; she can’t understand that I can’t afford things like that” (Parent E)


The 2002 census showed that there were 131,191 households headed by a lone parent (CSO: 2002).  The total amount of OPFP recipients for 2002 was 79,195 so just over 60% of lone parents are in receipt of the benefit.  It must be noted that the census figure may not be completely accurate as some lone parents may live with their parents and are unlikely to be recorded as lone parents in these instances. 


The most recent quantitative research results regarding lone parents and poverty are available from the EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC: 2003).  This research measured the amount of people living in consistent poverty, which is the official way of measuring poverty in Ireland and the one which underpins the National Anti Poverty Strategy and the National Action Plan for poverty and social exclusion.

“Consistent poverty is defined as being below 50%-60% of average disposable income and experiencing enforced basic deprivation.  Basic deprivation refers to a set of eight indicators, which were regarded as necessities and possessed by a majority of those in the Living in Ireland Survey”

(Govt. of Ireland: 2002,8)

The EU-SILC (2003) shows that 32.6% of lone parents are living in consistent poverty.  From my findings, it was not possible to provide results of relative income poverty, instead I concentrate on accounts of the interviewee’s situations and basic deprivation indicators were discussed.



2.7     Basic Deprivation


In the EU-SILC (2003) there was a high level of basic deprivation among lone parents.

Over 77% of adults and children, living in lone parent households that were at risk of poverty reported deprivation.  33% could not afford to buy new clothes, 31% experienced debt problems arising from ordinary living expenses and a little over 24% had to go without heating at some stage in the twelve months preceding the survey due to lack of money.  (EU-SILC: 2004,3). It is paradoxical that Ireland’s economic success is constantly being referred to in the media, however an alarmingly high proportion of lone parents can not buy new clothes or can not afford to heat their homes.

The corresponding results for households containing two adults with children were somewhat lower.  1.6% were unable to afford new clothes, 10.5% experienced debt problems arising from ordinary living expenses and 10.5% were deprived of heating at some stage in the year preceding the study due to inadequate financial resources.


“A few times I haven’t put on the heating to keep the bills down.  I’d try to stick it out as long as I could and put on extra jumpers or even our coats.  I’d try my best to always have healthy food.  He does often get hand me down clothes though and so do I” (Parent D)


“These [Deprivation indicators] don’t affect me for the moment because I’m here in [name of residential setting], but I know a friend who has two children and she’s on her own and she has to be really careful with her money ‘cos she just doesn’t have it.  She buys all her clothes, second-hand from the charity shops”. (Parent A)

“Well I wouldn’t always be able to buy things as soon as we need them.  I mean sometimes if she [daughter] needs new clothes I have to wait and pay off other things first and see if we can afford them” (Parent E)


Other qualitative research “Living on the Book” (OPEN: 2004a) showed that lone parents had a high instance of deprivation.  The interviewees described the difficulties they encountered trying to afford heating, new clothes and also got into debt in order to pay bills.




2.8     Choice of working in the home


One of the aims of the One Parent Family Payment is to support parents to work solely in the home if this is their wish. (OPEN: 2004)  Without the security of an adequate income this aim will not be fulfilled.  This objective is not apparent at policy level.  An earnings disregard is available for lone mothers who choose to work which begs the question: What about those who want to work in the home?

“a welfare state can really claim to provide women’s social rights only if lone mothers are enabled to live independently of men, out of poverty, and also are not forced to chose between paid work or full-time care to avoid poverty”.(Kilkey and Bradshaw:1999,177)

Two of the five mothers surveyed, worked, although one worked just three hours per week.  Those who worked said that it had improved their life and they didn’t have the same struggle ‘to make ends meet’ as before working.  Those relying solely on ‘the book’ reported more deprivation than those who worked.


 “It’s definitely better now that I am working.  I don’t have to be worried about putting on the heating and the cost of it.  We eat better food nowadays too.  I can afford to buy fresh healthy food.” (Parent C)


“Since I started working part-time it’s a help. It’s not a lot [of money] but it helps. (Parent E)

“I want to look after my child full-time but it’s hard to know what’s better sometimes.  I know that financially I would be much better off if I was working, the benefits are not enough to support you to work in the home” (Parent D)


The research findings of Sharon McCormack in Chapter 7 were similar.  Lack of recognition of unpaid work in the home was a huge issue for the parents interviewed.



2.9     Barriers to participation in employment for lone mothers


Participation in the labour market is extremely difficulty for mothers in Ireland due to the high cost of childcare.  This is even more complex in the case of lone parents who are relying on one income, and in taking up the option to work are solely responsible for the day care of their children.  This was identified by all six participants in Sharon McCormack’s study in Chapter 7.

Childcare costs in Ireland are the highest in Europe (Dooley: 2005, IT) and produce a serious barrier to employment for many women.  Certain policies have been progressive in this area such as the implementation of an earnings disregard for lone parents, however since it was put in place childcare costs have doubled. (OPEN: 2004b).  Childcare was considered a barrier for the mothers in the sample.  The two mothers who worked had school-going children and were able to work while their children were at school. It was not considered as much of a barrier however than loss of benefits.  This was a major barrier to employment, which was nominated in the interviews.  The mother who worked just three hours a week cited the fear of losing rent-allowance as the reason given for not working more than this.  Parent A planned to go back to work but was anxious to find part-time work so as to keep the benefits:


“ I only work five hours a week.  That gives me 45EU.  I can’t go over fifty Euro because I would start to lose my rent allowance.”  (Parent E)


“I will go back to work in a few months.  I can earn up to 150EU and keep the lone parents allowance and rent allowance.  I can’t risk not having the security of the payments.  I have him to think about now too.” (Parent A).


“I’m not sure if I would go back to work.  Maybe eventually when she goes to school but I wouldn’t like to lose the OPFP.”  (Parent B)


This coincides with the findings of Living on the Book (OPEN: 2004).  The parents in this research cite loss of the medical card and the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance as a deterrent for both taking up paid employment and influencing whether to take up employment on a part-time or full-time basis.



2.10    Savings


Savings for the most part were considered very important.  All mothers believed that it was imperative to have savings in case of unexpected expenses and in order to buy a car, or go on a holiday.  Not all the mothers were able to save however.


“Savings, are you talking about miracles? It’s hard enough just to live day by day…I’ve got debts, not savings” (Parent D)


“ Well I do have some [savings], generally I space out my money so that everything doesn’t get on top of me, like in September I’d start putting away for Christmas, just a little mind you, but so that I have some money for presents and stuff” (Parent C)


“Since I started working I’ve been able to put some money into the Credit Union.  That’s the best way.  It’s nice to have the security of it, you know. (Parent E)


In general, credit unions were considered a more customer-friendly way of saving.


2.11    Financial Exclusion


Research carried out in Britain by the Personal Finance Research Centre (1999) and commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that seven per cent of households in Britain did not use financial services.  Furthermore twenty per cent of households were on the margins of financial services provision.  Socio-economic factors determined the extent of financial exclusion experienced and those most at risk were either in receipt of income-related benefits, from low- income households or the head of the household was long-term unemployed.

Two of the five parents interviewed did not avail of any financial products.  They did not even use a current account.  One parent said that she did not need the account as all the money she acquired was needed to pay household costs etc.  She believed that financial products were for the better off in society and associated banking with wealth and savings.  She had had a bank account in the past however.


“It’s not like I’m loaded or anything.  I need the money to pay for things when I get it...  If I put it in the bank I’d be taking it out straight away anyway”(Parent A)


The other parent did not like using financial institutions and felt that the banks were not interested in somebody on a low-income.  While she had had a bank account in the past, she no longer used it.  In a period of hardship, she had applied for a credit card, without success.


“The banks don’t want someone like me on my income.  I’d never have anything in the account anyway.  I applied for a credit card once and there wasn’t a hope.  They said that my banking record wasn’t good enough” (Parent D)


 Two of the interviewees said that they had had bad experiences with the banks.


“I tried to get a loan once but I had to get a guarantor.  I am independent and I don’t want anybody knowing about my private life.  I needed the money though and I didn’t have any other choice.  I felt like a child having to ask my brother to sign it for me” (Parent C)


“ I had to cut my visa card.  It was just bringing me down.  The limit wasn’t that much but it was always up to the limit and the interest is huge.” (Parent B)


Budgeting on a low income is a complicated task and financial exclusion makes budgeting even more difficult.  People may be forced into borrowing from less regulated institutions and moneylenders.  This could trigger a circular effect whereby people borrow in periods of hardship and through lack of borrowing services to suit their needs are compelled to borrow at high return rates.  The hardship is postponed temporarily but will inevitably return, probably even worse than before.  Lack of access to appropriate financial services is likely to exacerbate poverty.


On a positive note The Household Budget Service operated by An Post (National Post Office) is a progressive system with an ‘easy pay’ option for household bills.  Through a direct debit facility payments can be made on rents and mortgages to local authorities and also on electricity, gas and phone bills. (Department of Social and Family Affairs: 2004)



2.12    Social Exclusion


In the last ten years approximately, Ireland has boasted unprecedented economic success.  For a majority in this country this implies a higher standard of living.  This success unfortunately has not had positive implications on the standards of living of a significant minority.  Poverty is a major factor influencing social exclusion in our society.  While social exclusion is not always as a result of poverty, poverty for the most part results in social exclusion.  The definition of poverty which underpins the National Anti-Poverty Strategy (NAPS: 1997) and the National Action Plan against poverty and social exclusion 2003-2005 (NAP-incl.) involves a combination of poverty and social exclusion.  That is, it outlines the fact that an outcome of poverty is exclusion from participation in activities, which are normal for the majority of people living in society:

“People are living in poverty if their income and resources (material, cultural and social) are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living which is regarded as acceptable by Irish society generally.  As a result of inadequate income and other resources people may be excluded and marginalised from participating in activities which are considered the norm for other people in society”

                                                            (Office of Social Inclusion: 2004)

An example of a higher standard of living can be seen in the increase in annual foreign holidays, which have become the norm for Irish people.  Irish people made over 5.4 million overseas trips in 2004. (McCarthaigh: 2005)

Three out of five of the interviewees in this study said that they had not enjoyed a holiday in the previous three years.


“No, I don’t [go on holidays].  I would love to get away even once every two years but there are other things I need before holidays” (Parent A)


“I can’t afford holidays.” (Parent B)


“I would love to get away somewhere this year alright but it’s just not possible” (Parent E)


The findings of the OPEN (2004a) study were similar to this; holidays were considered a rare treat as opposed to an annual event.  Likewise McCashin  (1996) found similar trends almost a decade ago.

“Virtually none of the women [in the sample] enjoyed what might be called a social life.  Almost none of them had a holiday in recent years, very few of them had a hobby or leisure activity.”

(McCashin: 1996,99)


While Parent C had been on holidays she emphasised that this was not something which could be sustained regularly, she had saved for some time before going.


“I went to Sweden in January with my daughter.  We went to a wedding there.  I had known about it for a year so I made a big effort to save up.  We had a great time.  [daughter’s name] loved it too.  It was such a treat.  I would love to get away more often.”


Parent D had access to a family holiday home in a seaside town.


“I go stay in [place] for a few weeks in the summer normally.  He loves the sea and the water.  It really clears the head.  I come back a new person.


Responses to questions on socialising were similar.  Interestingly parents with older children were more involved in social activities than parents with younger children.  Lack of financial resources were mentioned in some cases as obstacles to socialising, other factors influenced participation in social activities too, such as the demanding nature of parenting especially in the case of young babies.  The mothers with older children seemed to have established a rhythm and were better able to balance parenting with their own social needs.

One of the parents said that she didn’t have any spare time since her son was born:


“What spare time” (Parent A)


“I’m mostly taken up with looking after her.  She doesn’t sleep very well either so I find I’m too exhausted to do anything.” (Parent B)





2.13 Conclusion / Recommendations

Different studies have proven that the ‘social democratic’ welfare state is much more successful at reducing poverty. This study reinforces other research into the high incidence of poverty experienced by lone parents. Despite the OPFP’s aim to relieve hardship, multiple deprivation is evident from the accounts of the lone mothers who were interviewed. The Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance also proved inadequate, however it was difficult to assess this fully as just two of the parents had children of school going age.

Exclusion from financial products creates difficulties for money management and in the long run is likely to exacerbate poverty. 

In spite of the record-breaking success of the Irish economy in the last ten years, a significant minority of people are going without basic necessities and are excluded and marginalised from participating in activities which are considered the norm for other people in society.  The following are some recommendations for improving policy vis à vis lone parents:


·       The government claims to wish to support parents working in the home full-time, and to ‘provide levels of income support to those relying on social welfare sufficient to sustain dignity and avoid poverty’ (Building and Inclusive Society: 2002,7).  It is clear from both quantitative and qualitative research however that a substantial percentage of lone parents do not avoid poverty on social welfare payments such as the OPF payment, and The Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance does not meet even minimum educational costs. (OPEN:2004b)

Rhetoric of this kind is not acceptable and should be replaced by adequate policies to address this issue.


·       As the fear of losing benefits was outlined as a barrier to engaging employment, this must also be considered at policy level and schemes such as the Community Employment Scheme should be expanded and extended.

·       Abolishment of the cohabitation rule is vital. Women must not be forced into depending on their partners and must be recognised as individuals for the enormous contribution they make to society independently.

Eligibility rules such as these are regressive and actively preventing the parent from finding another partner whom among other things could contribute financially to the household.

·       If participation of lone parents in paid employment is to be achieved, then more family-friendly policies must be adopted.  The government should aim at providing state-subsidised childcare. Clear prescriptive indicators need to be put in place for adequate and affordable childcare.  Like in Sweden lone parents should have priority in obtaining a place in the queue as they clearly experience more difficulties in balancing work and caring responsibilities

·       The OPFP was established to avoid discrimination regarding the routes into lone parenthood, that is regardless of whether a parent was alone due to widowhood, being unmarried, separated or divorced. In the same fashion, a benefit should be established which aims to provide for all families who are at risk of poverty, regardless of the structure of such families in order to avoid stigma.

·       Financial exclusion needs to be researched further and government policy needs to address discrimination in relation to consumers of financial products and services. Not being able to access appropriate financial products and being forced to use less regulated services exacerbates poverty.






Text Box: As part of a comparative research project between Ireland and Germany the Higher Diploma in Social Policy, UCC (2004-2005) are conducting a joint research project on lone parents in both countries.  My area of research is that of income adequacy.  It aims to investigate the conditions of eligibility of the One Parent Family Payment and the adequacy of the payment.  In accordance with research ethics all interviewees will remain anonymous as will name of agencies or any other factor which may determine the identity of participants.



1)     What are your sources of income?



2)     What is your total weekly/ annual income?



3)     Does this include housing and medical costs?



4)     Do you work in the home or outside the home?




5)     If you work outside the home, what are your childcare arrangements?



6)     If you pay for childcare, how much do you pay per week? (what proportion of income)



7)     What are your main expenses?



8)     Do you have difficulty affording food, heating, clothes…(basic deprivation indicators)



9)     Do you have any savings?



10) Have you got a bank account, credit card, credit union account or loan facilities?



11) Did you find the assessment for the OPFP intrusive?



12) Under the cohabitation rule, a parent in receipt of the OPFP must not be living with their partner.  What do you think of this rule?



13) Are you single? Are you living with your partner? If not is this because of the rule for the OPFP?


14) Do you receive maintenance from the other parent of your child?




15) What do you do in your spare time?




16) Do you go on holidays?




Text Box: Thank you very much for taking part in this interview.  I appreciate the time given and effort you have made to answer the questions.








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Household Budget Service; world-wide-web version:

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Childcare costs exclude women from workforce; The Irish Times 10/03/05


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Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism; Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990


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The Welfare State Reader, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999


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Building an Inclusive Society, Dublin: Stationery Office, 2002


Solo mothers, social policy regimes, and the logics of gender; in Sainsbury, D. (Ed.):

Gendering Welfare States, Sage: London, 1994


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Understanding and combating financial exclusion; world-wide-web version:

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The Welfare State in Ireland: A European Perspective; in Healy, S. and Reynolds, B (Eds.) Social Policy in Ireland.  Principles, Practice and Problems, Dublin: Oak Tree Press, 1998


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Lone Mothers Economic Well-Being and Policies;  in Sainsbury, D. (Ed.) Gender and Welfare State Regimes, Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.


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Lone Mothers Between Paid Work and Care.  The policy regime in twenty countries;

UK: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2000


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Rise in number of Irish taking foreign holidays, The Irish Examiner: 04/02/05 



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Lone mothers in Ireland-A local study; Dublin: Oak Tree Press, 1996


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http://www.socialinclusion.ie/poverty.html/whatis, accessed 18/01/05


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Living on the Book, Dublin: OPEN, 2004


OPEN, 2004b:

Lone Parents, Poverty and Income Adequacy, Dublin: OPEN, 2004


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Gender and the Development of the Irish Social Welfare System; in Byrne A. and Leonard M. (Eds.):

Women and Irish Society, Belfast: Beyond the Pale, 1997




3. Difficulties endured and support networks employed

 Maria Culleton


3.1 Introduction:


The 2001 census estimated that there are 178,000 lone parents living in Ireland (Combat Poverty Agency, 2005b). There has been an increase of 20% in the number of lone parents living in Ireland over the last decade (ibid.). A lack of adequate healthcare, a lack of income, a lack of family-friendly work situations, a lack of suitable, affordable housing and barriers to education and employment have all been presented as difficulties for lone parent families within this project (ibid.). Lone parent families are also quite often stigmatised and subject to prejudices. I intend to examine the difficulties lone parents are thought to encounter, according to recent research, and to then compare these findings to my own research results. I will also examine the means of support most lone parents rely on, for example, their families, state benefits or child maintenance. Using my research findings I will assess the adequacy of such means of support. I will also examine the welfare state and its competence in providing for lone parents. I am approaching this project using a feminist methodology, which I believe adequately recognises the gender inequalities at the heart of our society, which are reflected in our welfare state and our attitudes towards, and responses to, lone parents.



3.1.1 Methodology:


A variety of conceptual approaches are used in modern social policy to discuss or explain diverse social issues, social problems, social groups, social services and people’s lives in general (Alcock, Erskine & May, 1998). Before research begins, the researcher must establish his or her conceptual approach or methodology. I have adopted the critical approach of feminism to explain the current status of Irish lone parents, the difficulties they encounter and the support systems they access. Feminist theory arose due to a lack of recognition of women in mainstream social theory. Feminists argue that women have been invisible in social theory and the gendered knowledge associated with all social theories - the female perspective has been ignored. Feminist theorists argue that uniquely female life experiences lead to the creation of unique ‘standpoints’ for women upon which all of their knowledge is based (Fulcher & Scott, 2003). In other words, gender influences the construction of knowledge. This means that women have an exclusive insight into certain areas of social theory that men do not have. The majority of Irish lone parents are female and by adopting a feminist methodology I hope to recognise the unique insight these women have into Irish social policy.

                                                                        I decided to approach the issue of lone parents with a feminist methodology because I believe that broad issues of gender inequality at the base of Irish society may contribute to the difficulties facing lone parents, the majority of whom are female. Feminist theorists believe that gender inequalities in the family, the workplace, the education system, the welfare state and society as a whole have lead to the suppression of women. By approaching the issue of lone parents from a feminist perspective I hope to adequately determine whether or not such gender inequalities influence the status of lone parents in Ireland.

                                                                        Comparisons are often made between lone parent families and two-parent families. Many feminists argue that the traditional family (a two parent family) is the site of gender inequality. Delphy (1977) describes the family as the site of patriarchy, a place where women’s unpaid work is exploited and where the male breadwinner controls the distribution of wealth and resources (Fulcher & Scott, 2003). In The Antisocial Family (1991) Barrett and McIntosh argue that the structure of the traditional family allows for inequality to be passed on from one generation to the next, through traditions surrounding property and inheritance (ibid.). They also argue that the family isolates women and leaves them vulnerable to their husbands who can oppress them sexually and financially (Fulcher & Scott, 2003).  Furthermore, they criticise the traditional family for devaluing alternative family structures, like lone parent households and for making marriage a socially appropriate step before having children (ibid.). If the feminist belief that the traditional family devalues alternative family structures is to be believed then we can argue that a society which emphasises traditional family values may promote patriarchy and detract from lone parent households. The Irish constitution emphasises the importance of the family above all other institutions and it can easily be argued that lone parents are still stigmatised in this country, possibly as a result of the emphasis on the traditional family. A feminist methodology allows the researcher to explore the family as a site of gender inequality and to assess the impact of the patriarchal preference for the traditional family on alternative family structures like lone parent households. 

                                                                        The feminist approach assumes the understanding that women have been denied the same rights and freedoms as men: Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) argued that gender differences were socially constructed and that women were confined to the home and denied independence and freedom (Porter, 1998). She saw education as a solution for women. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963) argued that women’s confinement to the role of mother meant that women had empty lives. The only way for women to gain freedom from these empty lives was through either work or education or through gaining a balance between work and home (Porter, 1998). Such feminist theorists recognise that a woman’s traditional role in the home often excludes her from the public sphere and makes her subservient to men. Lone parent families offer a challenge to traditional roles and so a feminist methodology is useful in exploring the impact of the growth in lone parent families on traditional gender roles and social values. Some say that we have entered a ’post-feminist’ age, where the objectives of feminism have all been met and there is nothing left to fight for. This seems unlikely, however it is possible that the growth in alternative family structures, like lone parent families, may force society as a whole to move away from traditional patriarchal values and to move towards accepting gender equality and social diversity (Fulcher & Scott, 2003).

                                                                        As a researcher, using a feminist methodology allows me to examine the issue of lone parents equipped with the understanding that broad gender inequalities reflected in different social institutions, including the traditional family structure, influence the status of lone parents. It also allows me to recognise the fact that, as women, the majority of lone parents have a unique perspective into issues of social policy that is often not recognised in mainstream social policy.


3.1.2 The Irish Welfare State:


Before we examine the difficulties facing Irish lone parents and the support networks they depend on we must first take a brief look at the Irish Welfare State. The welfare state is often the main provider for lone parents, as we will later discuss, and the structure of the welfare state can reflect valuable insights into the attitudes, values and traditions of society as a whole. The treatment different social groups receive at the hands of the welfare state reveals social perceptions and attitudes towards such social groups, therefore an examination of the welfare state is invaluable if we are to determine how the Irish state responds to the issue of lone parents and whether or not such responses are adequate.

                                                                         Ireland possesses a welfare state that is part liberal and part Latin rim. A liberal welfare state possesses strict rules regarding entitlement to benefits and typically provides only modest benefits (Pierson & Castles, 2000). The market is the central concern in a liberal welfare state. Latin Rim welfare states are those which are strongly influenced by the Catholic Church and which strongly promote the woman’s role within the home (ibid.). The Irish Constitution strongly emphasises the need to protect the role of the mother in the home and the importance of preventing women from having to work outside the home. In recent years Ireland does seem to be departing from this Latin Rim model as more and more women enter the workforce and the influence of the Catholic Church declines.

                                                                        The Irish welfare system developed in a ’piecemeal’ fashion: schemes were introduced at various stages throughout the past century in response to changing social needs (Curry, 2003). Irish Poor Law (1838) involved the establishment of workhouses all over the country under the principle that poverty could only be tackled by this system of workhouses: no help was offered outside the workhouses (ibid.). The 1840s famine resulted in a need for help outside the workhouses: this resulted in a new area of Poor Law referred to as ’Outdoor Relief’. This was later renamed ’Home Assistance’ in the 1920s (ibid.). Over the twentieth century separate schemes for different claims were established and Poor Law gradually faded out. Originally the welfare state only catered to the poor but over the twentieth century it extended its coverage to other groups and now influences the majority of households in the country (Peillon, 2001).

                                                                        The term ‘income maintenance’ is used to describe the cash payments given to eligible people who are experiencing certain contingencies as part of the Irish welfare system (Curry, 2003). The Department of Social and Family Affairs administers most of these payments. Income maintenance schemes include social insurance, social assistance and universal schemes, like child benefit. Generally access to welfare payments in Ireland is conditional - it is not based on citizenship alone but on contributions to the social insurance scheme, otherwise benefits are provided only after a strict assessment of needs and means. There are very few universal benefits offered by the Irish welfare state (Peillon, 2001). Universal schemes make payments irrespective of a person’s means or income, for example, child benefit.                                                                         Social insurance is a contributory scheme: eligibility for this scheme depends on contributions made while working and payments are financed by P.R.S.I. contributions from employers and employees, with the state covering any deficit that may arise. Social Insurance attempts to evenly spread risks, expenses and benefits over the whole community (Curry, 2003).

                                                                        Social assistance is a means-tested scheme. Those in receipt of social assistance have either no record or a broken record of social insurance contributions. It is a non-contributory scheme and payments are financed through general taxation. Social assistance is often perceived as a last resort and can be quite stigmatised (Pierson & Castles, 2000). 

                                                                        The Irish welfare state has been growing rapidly for the last fifty years (Peillon, 2001). The Social Welfare Act 1953 established a unified social insurance scheme and in 1963 child benefit was extended to all children (Curry, 2003). Child benefit payments recognised the extra costs that having children produce and contributed towards reducing poverty. It is now also perceived as a source of independent income for mothers (ibid.). Ireland now possesses what can be referred to as a ‘dual welfare system’: both social insurance and social assistance form the welfare state (Peillon, 2001).  Over the last three decades the number of people receiving income maintenance payments has tripled and in 2001 38% of the population were receiving some form of income maintenance (they were not all solely dependant on these payments however) (Curry, 2003). This increase can be partially explained by the introduction of new schemes over the last thirty years.  Schemes for women were introduced in the seventies, possibly due to pressure from the women’s movement at the time who also began to establish services for women not offered by the state at the time, though the state did eventually take over the running of many of these services (Peillon, 2001).          


3.1.3 The Voluntary Sector:


The voluntary sector in Ireland plays a large role in service provision, often taking over where statutory organisations leave off, or in starting services that the state later takes over. There is a strong tradition of voluntary services in Ireland, for example, religious orders carried out a lot of voluntary work in areas like education and health throughout the ages (Curry, 2003). The Catholic Church used to run many hospitals and schools and the state provided a framework within which these services could be offered (Peillon, 2001). Many community groups were established in rural areas in the twentieth century with the aim of helping their own community and voluntary services today are strongly influenced by this ‘self-help‘ tradition (Curry, 2003). The development of statutory services, like the Health Board, in the twentieth century gave voluntary organisations a point to work from. Over time the roles of both the state and the voluntary sector have grown in response to new social needs. Different voluntary organisations carry out different activities, ranging from fundraising to acting as representatives for certain social groups, from campaigning and providing funding to providing services (ibid.). These organisations can be funded by contributions or from state grants. Voluntary organisations provide people with the opportunity to help within their local community and they are often able to be more flexible than state organisations and so can offer help to a wider group.   


3.1.4 Feminist Perceptions of the Irish Welfare State:                              

Welfare benefits are used to ensure that a family can maintain a minimal standard of living if the breadwinner is unable to provide for the family (Peillon, 2001).  Once an individual gains entitlement to an income maintenance scheme in Ireland their dependants are usually entitled to support too (Curry, 2003).  Income maintenance in Ireland is not provided on an individualised basis, meaning that one’s marital status influences one’s entitlements. Feminist theorists argue that, in reality, the Irish welfare system is constructed around a gender bias that was designed to maintain the traditional family unit (Peillon, 2001). This bias promotes the ‘male breadwinner model’ and places women in a caring role within the home: claims are made for families rather than individuals and a married woman‘s right to benefits depends on her husband‘s rights and entitlements (Peillon, 2001). Direct rights are those rights which are acquired through work or through universal entitlement and derived rights are those rights which are dependant on one’s position in the household or one’s marital status (Report of the Working Group Examining the treatment of Married, Cohabiting and One-Parent Families under the Tax and Social Welfare Codes, 1999). Up until 1985 the husband, not the wife, collected child benefit payments meaning that women were entitled to no independent income at all: this placed women in a subordinate position within the home (Peillon, 2001). Article 31 of the Irish constitution further promotes this gender bias through its emphasis on the role of the mother within the home (ibid.).

                                                                        As head of the family the man must govern the family, earn wages and use those wages to provide for his dependant wife and children. This means that a woman’s quality of life depends on the generosity of her husband (Pierson & Castles, 2000). Up to the 1980s wives were perceived as being financially dependant on their husbands. The increased employment of women altered this perception and now, in order to be regarded as dependant, a wife must have either no earnings or earnings below a certain threshold (Curry, 2003). The social insurance scheme in Ireland possesses a gender bias which operates against women: women’s responsibilities in the home and their need to leave work due to childbirth means their social insurance contribution record is more likely to be interrupted and so they will be entitled to poorer benefits (Peillon, 2001). Unfortunately, the Irish social insurance scheme means that inequalities endured by women in the workplace will be reflected in their social insurance entitlements (Report of the Working Group Examining the treatment of Married, Cohabiting and One-Parent Families under the Tax and Social Welfare Codes, 1999).

                                                                        Feminists quite often criticise the lack of independence the welfare state creates for women and the invisibility of women within the welfare state up until recently (Pierson & Castles, 2000). They also criticise the traditional definition of men as property owners and women as property. Dependence on men for welfare benefits forces women into ‘prostitutional dependence’ on their male partners and makes women second-class citizens (McIntosh in Pierson & Castles, 2000). Men are appointed as women’s protectors but women are given no independent protection themselves (Pierson & Castles, 2000). Some feminists argue that women will have to provide services for themselves otherwise they will be forced into unpaid caring work within the home by the welfare state which promotes the male breadwinner model and which establishes and reinforces traditional gender roles (ibid.). Feminists also criticise the welfare state’s ‘male’ definition of work, which excludes caring work in the home.  



3.1.5 Lone Parents and the Welfare State:                                              


Lone parents have a high risk of poverty and require extra supports in terms of income, education, employment, housing and childcare access and provision (Report of the Working Group Examining the treatment of Married, Cohabiting and One-Parent Families under the Tax and Social Welfare Codes, 1999). The Unmarried Mother’s Allowance was introduced in 1973 - this became the Lone Parent’s Allowance in 1989 (Curry, 2003) and has since evolved into the One-parent Family Payment. The One- parent Family payment (OFP) offers a larger earnings disregard than previous allowances and, unlike earlier allowances; it requires unmarried parents to seek maintenance and assesses maintenance in the means test (Department of Social and Family Affairs, 2005). This payment encourages lone parents to work through the provision of an earnings disregard, however, there is no work requirement attached to the payment (only 29.2% of lone mothers with children under five work) (Report of the Working Group Examining the treatment of Married, Cohabiting and One-Parent Families under the Tax and Social Welfare Codes, 1999). The OFP aims to provide lone mothers with a choice over whether or not they pursue work outside the home. Many of the benefits available to lone parents are removed if the lone parent gets married or cohabits. Marriage or co-habitation usually result in a loss of income for lone mothers: the Irish social welfare system assumes economies of scale for couples: means testing will then lead to a reduction in benefits after marriage/cohabitation. The Report of the Working Group Examining the treatment of Married, Cohabiting and One-Parent Families under the Tax and Social Welfare Codes (1999) estimates that couples which contain: one partner who works while the other receives the One-parent Family payment (and may or many not work part-time); and couples who both receive welfare payments, are likely to lose income upon marriage. Individualisation of means-tested payments would prevent these income losses. Feminists criticise these rules around cohabitation, saying that sex makes women dependant on their partners, according to the welfare state (Pierson & Castles, 2000). Women are perceived as adult dependants who should be wholly or mainly provided for by their male partners. It can also be argued that the OFP treats lone mothers as victims and makes them dependant on the state rather than dependant on a husband like married women (Peillon, 2001). If the lone parent marries, the former lone parent is expected to become dependant on her husband rather than the state. There is also concern that the OFP may lead to welfare dependency (Report of the Working Group Examining the treatment of Married, Cohabiting and One-Parent Families under the Tax and Social Welfare Codes, 1999).


The previous discussion of our welfare state allows us to place the difficulties faced by lone parents and the supports they rely upon in a proper context. If we are to accept the idea that Irish society and the Irish welfare state both possess a gender bias it is easy to understand how lone parents, the majority of whom are female, may encounter greater difficulties in trying to maintain an adequate standard of living than other types of households. We must now examine these difficulties and the means of support that lone parents rely on.


3.2 Difficulties:


A review of current literature reveals that lone parents may be disadvantaged in certain areas in comparison to two-parent families. However, the idea that lone parent families are defective appears to be completely unfounded. Lone parent families are not a homogenous group and the adjustment, success and prosperity of lone parent families is dependant on a number of factors and is not determined by the absence of one parent. Difficulties facing lone parents in the areas of employment, health and education are discussed in detail in chapters 7, 10 and 5 respectively. Some other areas of difficulty that are thought to affect lone parents are discussed below.

3.2.1 Stigma and Prejudices:


Park et al (2001) found that 54% of survey respondents thought people should get married before they have children (Fulcher & Scott, 2003). Charles Murray in Losing Ground (1984) argued that fatherless families have led to the creation of an underclass: he blamed paternal absence for a variety of social problems including welfare dependency (Fulcher & Scott, 2003). Kevin Myers, in a controversial Irish Times article this year also articulated a negative attitude towards lone parents, who he referred to as ’mothers of bastards’. The use of such a derogatory term in a national newspaper is evidence of the level of prejudice that lone parents still encounter. Single parenting is often described as being an undesirable, defective way of raising children despite the fact that other factors have been found to exert greater influence over the adjustment of a child. It has been argued that the absence of one parent results in decreased social and parental resources and that this has a negative impact on children, however, poverty, not paternal absence, appears to be the real source of problems for lone parent families. The stigma and prejudices that still surrounds lone parent families may have a very negative impact on the children, influencing how they are treated, their self-esteem and their outcomes (Melanson, 2005). 


3.2.2 Child’s adjustment:


It should be recognised that adjustment difficulties seen in many children from one-parent homes may actually be rooted in problems that existed pre-divorce or pre-separation (if the parents were previously living together). Hetherington (1999) argues that marital conflict leads to poorer parenting practices and has a detrimental impact on relationships between parents and children and between siblings: therefore it is preferable to be raised in a conflict-free one-parent household than to be raised in a conflict-ridden two-parent household. Presence of conflict exerts a large influence over the quality of parenting (Melanson, 2005) and parenting skills and abilities are a more important indicator of a child’s adjustment than the number of parents in the household.

                                                                        Parents are role models for children, for example, McLanahan & Sandefur (1994) argue that a mother in a one-parent family shapes her daughter’s perception of what is sexually responsible behaviour through her own dating behaviours. This means that a well-adjusted individual will set a good example for a child regardless of whether that person is parenting alone. It also means however, that the absence of one parent may result in the absence of a role model for a child. The personality of the child, the parent’s abilities, the parent-child relationship, economic status and external supports available to the family all dictate the adjustment of the child within a lone parent family: the child’s adjustment cannot be predicted by any single factor, such as the absence of one parent (Hetherington, 1999).                                                                                                                              

3.2.3 Stress:


The stress of being both father and mother can lead to depression and anxiety in single parents that results in poorer parenting (Hetherington, 1999). Distress over poor economic conditions, when expressed by the parent through harsh treatment of a child, can result in adjustment difficulties for the child. The parent’s own adjustment difficulties are a huge predictor of a child’s adjustment: negative and severe parenting practices, parental illness and depression in the parent have a negative impact on a child, irrespective of the number of parents in the household. In two-parent families each parent can monitor the other parent’s parenting abilities - single parents do not have access to a second opinion like this, however, this gives them more control over the running of the household and may lend itself towards a more consistent style of parenting.


3.2.4 Education:


One-parent families do not have the same access to the same resources and support as two-parent families (NESF, 2001). Children from two-parent homes receive better results, attend school more regularly and are more likely to plan on attending university. Children raised in a home without a father are slightly less likely to perform well in these areas (Hetherington, 1999). It has been theorised that this is due to a decreased standard of living due to the loss of paternal income (ibid.). Hetherington (1999) theorises that 50% of the slightly poorer performance in school of children raised without their fathers may be explained by the decreased economic security and stability of these families and that 25% may be due to decreased parental supervision and attention. The remainder is explained as being due to the loss of social capital caused by the single mother’s need to move homes frequently.

One- parent families have fewer financial resources available to them, particularly if fathers do not provide child support. A lack of income means that there is less money available to be spent on school/university supplies and that the child is less likely to live in a wealthy neighbourhood with a well-resourced school (ibid.). Noreen Gleeson gives a more detailed account of the educational disadvantage endured by children from lone parent families in Chapter 6. 


3.2.5 Supervision:


 The absence of one parent means that children in lone parent families will spend less time every day with a parent than children in two parent families: lone parents are less likely to share meals with their children, have less quality time with their children and have less knowledge of their children’s comings and goings (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). This also means children have restricted access to a parent who can help them with school work (ibid.). Also, the absence of a parent means children are more likely to be left alone, without adult supervision, because there is no second parent to split the burden of childcare with (Hetherington, 1999). The presence of grandparents or a male partner decreases the likelihood of the above estimates (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). There are also benefits to being raised by a lone parent however: research shows that children in one-parent families may contribute more to the household and therefore may feel more valued (Melanson, 2005). McLanahan & Sandefur (1994) also found that children in one-parent families talk to their parents more than children in two parent families. Rodger (1996) argues that it is the involvement and interest of a parent not the presence of a parent that dictates the well being of the child (Fulcher & Scott, 2003).





3.2.6 Housing:


One-parent families are more likely to move homes more frequently (Hetherington, 1999). This means that they will be less aware of available community resources and so there is a loss of social capital. One-parent families are also more likely to endure poor housing conditions (Ferri, 1976). Speak (1995) points out that many lone parents are forced to rapidly establish households with very little support (NESF, 2001). They often face a shortage of affordable accommodation in the private rented sector and landlords may be reluctant to rent to them, especially if they are in receipt of the Rent/Mortgage Interest Supplement. Beth McKenna, in Chapter 8, discusses the stigmatisation of the rent supplement in greater detail.

 Many Irish lone parents are economically disadvantaged and this makes finding accommodation quite difficult: it is estimated that lone parent households accounted for 43% of the 1999 waiting list for local authority housing (ibid.). Lone parents are quite often in need of emergency accommodation. In Dublin, in 1999, 476 of the 1,202 households seeking emergency accommodation from the Health Board were one-parent families (Department of Environment & Local Government, 2000 in NESF, 2001). It should be noted that it is important for one-parent families to be housed in a safe area with good support networks if they are to be able to provide a suitable environment for their children (NESF, 2001). Good support networks reduce the isolation of lone parents, act as a source of ’in-kind help’ and help them in accessing services (ibid.).  Rurally based lone parents are at a large disadvantage: they suffer greater isolation than lone parents in an urban setting and they must also endure a greater lack of services and resources as well as greater difficulty in accessing reliable public transportation (ibid.).


3.2.7 Poverty:


 One-parent families appear to be particularly susceptible to poverty. The absence of the father increases the likelihood of a family being on state support (Ferri, 1976). A lack of economic success can result in a lack of social success, including the stability of one’s relationships and one’s sense of self-respect (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). Dependence on state benefits may result in a decreased sense of control and poor self-esteem if a single parent feels they are dependant on the government for their survival (ibid.). Also, many benefits and programs offered to single parents are stigmatised - this makes it difficult for single parents to seek help (ibid.). Poverty results in certain constraints for one-parent families, for example they go on fewer outings than two-parent families and lone parents are less optimistic about their children attending university because of financial constraints (Ferri, 1976).

                                                                        33% of lone parent households live in consistent poverty (EU-SILC, 2003). According to EU-SILC 42% of lone parents live on an income that is less than 60% of the average national Irish income. The Combat Poverty Agency suggests that 75% of those in income poverty are welfare dependant households (Combat Poverty Agency, 2005a). A large number of lone parent households are welfare dependant. Policies of indirect taxation (e.g. waste collection charges) have increased in recent years but no attempt has been made to moderate these costs for already vulnerable households (ibid.). The Combat Poverty Agency suggest that improvements and expansions to the Back-to-school Clothing and Footwear Allowance, the school meals scheme, child benefit, childcare schemes and medical card scheme are required to help lone parents to deal with the growing cost of living in Ireland. Joanne Ryan provides a more detailed analysis of the poverty and social exclusion endured by lone parents in Chapter 2.



3.3 Support:


The findings above indicate that, though lone parent families are by no means ‘defective’ or ‘lacking’, they are particularly vulnerable to a wide range of difficulties. It is therefore important to examine the support networks available to lone parents. The lone parent’s own family, the father of the child and the state may be sources of support to lone parents.


3.3.1 Child Support:


Collection and enforcement of child support is quite inefficient in this country: only 3.5% of those in receipt of the One-parent Family Payment also received maintenance (NESF, 2001). For those that did this source of income is often unreliable and insecure meaning that poverty continues to be a problem for the one-parent family. The courts assess the means of both parents before ordering maintenance payments and it is sometimes necessary to prove paternity before maintenance payments are ordered (information on Public Services, 2005). Fathers may be reluctant to pay child support for a number of reasons. Firstly, because they are unable to monitor how the money is spent, secondly because they do not trust their former partner. Finally, not living with the child may reduce the father’s commitment to the child and make the father less inclined to pay child support (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). Also, the stress of the situation may cause the father to disengage from the child and this may eventually result in an unwillingness to pay child support (ibid.). McLanahan & Sandefur (1994) argue that a father who does not take responsibility for his children sends the message to those children that children are not a man’s responsibility. This places the responsibility for a child firmly on the shoulders of the child’s mother.  


3.3.2 Marriage:


Chilman, Nunnally & Cox (1988) argues that there is greater acceptance of lone parents nowadays and that this decreases the pressure on parents to marry in order to ’legitimate’ a pregnancy. If the male partner is unemployed or poor there is no financial benefit to the mother in marriage and such marriages are more likely to end in divorce (ibid.). Marriage is by no means a ’cure’ for the problems of one-parent families. It appears that the majority of people no longer view marriage as necessary after they become pregnant. This contrasts with the dominant Catholic ideology in previous generations, which regarded lone parents as immoral and perceived marriage as a type of ’cure’ for such a situation.


3.3.3 Family:


Families are usually the main source of support for young lone parents. The Review of the One-parent family payment (2000) revealed that 66% of lone parents initially live with their own parents (NESF, 2001). This is the cheapest option and also means that a network of support is more readily available to the lone parent. However, this arrangement can be accompanied by role confusion within the family, over-crowding in the home and tension within a family (ibid.). When both grandmother and mother take on maternal responsibilities there may be a diffusion of accountability or one parent may undermine the other’s authority (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). A new addition to the family can act as a replacement for children who have grown up and left home, filling a void for the new grandparents (Chilman, Nunnally & Cox, 1988). A young lone parent often becomes a ’sibling’ to their child when grandparents get involved and the grandparents can serve as ‘substitute‘ parents (Ferri, 1976).  Some lone parents reported over-involvement from their own parents in the up-bringing of the child as a major source of tension and some of the parents of lone mothers reported that the addition of their grandchild to the family meant that they themselves required support also (NESF, 2001). Acceptance of pregnancy by the family helps young lone parents to deal with their new status. It also means that emotional and financial support are more readily available and that young mothers have assistance from experienced adults in negotiating social services (Chilman, Nunnally & Cox, 1988). Furthermore, it means that their families are available to help meet childcare needs. A lack of support from family is associated with greater anxiety and difficulty for young lone parents in adjusting to their new role as a parent (ibid.).


3.3.4 Voluntary Sector


Though a host of voluntary organisations, such as Gingerbread, Solo and One Parent exist, they are not referred to as a major source of support for lone parents in the majority of research literature pertaining to lone parent families. Voluntarily run chat rooms, such as gingerbread.ie, can be accessed on the world-wide-web and offer lone parents the opportunity to discuss their experiences and concerns with individuals in similar situations. Lone parent groups all over the country allow lone parents to establish connections with one another and to create support networks. Voluntary groups, like St Vincent de Paul, provide free childcare facilities in some towns and cities around the country, which may be beneficial to the many lone parents seeking cheap, available childcare. However, this service is quite limited and only available in certain key urban areas. It should also be noted that organisations like OPEN, the national network of lone parent groups, have played a major role in campaigning for the rights of lone parents and in bringing the attention of policy makers to issues concerning lone parents.

3.3.5 Welfare Benefits:


Earlier in this chapter, while discussing the Irish Welfare State, I argued that a gender bias existed in the welfare state, which forced women into dependency on either their husbands or the state. I also referred to concerns over the One-parent family payment creating welfare dependency. It is clear from research findings supplied by EU-SILC, NESF and the Combat Poverty Agency that lone parents are particularly vulnerable to poverty; therefore they are often forced to access income maintenance schemes. The following welfare benefits may help lone parents to deal with the cost of living. The means and situation of a lone parent dictates their eligibility for the majority of these schemes.



One-Parent Family Payment (OFP)


The One-Parent Family Payment (OFP) is available to single parents of both genders. In order to be eligible:

¬    You must be raising a child without the support of a partner

¬    You must pass a strict means test that examines your income, any maintenance you receive, any secondary properties you own, your savings and investments.

¬    You must apply for the payment within three months of becoming eligible

¬    You cannot have joint equal custody; the child (aged under eighteen or aged under twenty-two if in full-time education) must reside with you

¬    You cannot cohabit with a partner

¬    You must have sought maintenance from the child’s other parent

¬    You must earn less than Є293 per week (from 2005 those earning more than Є293 are entitled to a transitional payment equal to 50% of their former payment for six month, if they have been receiving the OFP for fifty-two weeks continuously).

The OFP consists of a personal rate plus additional sums for each dependant child. The personal rate depends on each recipient’s means. Those under sixty-six years can receive up to Є148.80 and those aged sixty-six and over can receive Є166. Є 19.30 per child is then added on to the payment.

The first Є146.50 of an applicant’s means are disregarded by the means test and half of the remainder of earnings (up to Є293) is then assessed as means. Those who earn between Є146.50 and Є293 per week may be eligible for a reduced rate of payment.

Eligible lone parents receive a book of payable orders that they can cash on a weekly basis at their local post office. They can also avail of the Household Budget Scheme, which assists recipients with the management of household bills. They may also be entitled to benefits such as a fuel allowance, a medical card, the Family Income Supplement or the Supplementary Welfare Allowance. Lone parents who return to full-time employment may be eligible for special tax allowances. Back to work allowances help lone parents to make the transition from dependence on the OFP to a return to employment and, under certain conditions, lone parents may still be entitled to some of their secondary benefits like the Back to School Clothing and Footwear allowance (Information on Public Services, 2005).

Child Benefit:


Child Benefit is given to the parents/guardians of children under sixteen (or under nineteen if in full-time education, FAS, youth reach training or children with a disability). Parents must apply for the benefit within six months of the birth/adoption of the child. Parents with twins/ triplets receive a special grant at birth, when the children are four and when the children are aged twelve. Twins receive one and a half times the monthly rate of child benefit and triplets receive double the monthly rate of child benefit. The current rates of child benefit are:

First and second child:                             Є141.60 per month (per child)

Third child and subsequent children:       Є177.30 per month (per child)

Once-off payments for twins/ triplets are currently set at Є635 (ibid.).

Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA):


Supplementary Welfare Allowance provides a basic weekly allowance to eligible people with insufficient incomes. It is a means tested payment. In order to be eligible for the SWA:

«    You must be an Irish resident who satisfies the means test

«    You may be eligible if you are receiving other social welfare benefits

«    You must work less than thirty hours per week. If your work arrangements disqualify you from receiving the SWA your dependants may still be eligible

«    You must not be in full-time education

SWA provides people on low incomes with a weekly supplement to cover certain needs like rent. Individuals may also be eligible for special payments to cover urgent or exceptional needs. Basic payments are made to those with no income or to those with an income below the SWA rate for their family size - the SWA may be used to bring your income up to a certain level.

The SWA may also be paid to those waiting for other social welfare benefits to be processed if they have no other income. Urgent Needs Payments can be given to those normally ineligible for the SWA to cover costs arising after a disaster such as a flood or a house fire. This payment may have to be paid back depending on the means of the recipients. Supplements may be given to cover certain weekly costs like heating expenses or food costs which arise due to special dietary requirements. The Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance can be given to the parents of children aged two to eighteen years (eighteen to twenty-two if in full-time education) who are already receiving the Child Dependant Allowance or other benefits or who have an income below a certain level. The SWA consists of a personal rate for the applicant and additional sums for adult dependants and/or a child dependant. The current weekly rates for the SWA are:

Applicant:                                                Є148.80

Qualified Adult/ Adult Dependant:         Є98.70

Qualified Child/ Child Dependant:          Є16.70


Family Income Supplement (FIS):


The FIS aims to help families who are not receiving an adequate income to cover all their expenses. The FIS is a tax-free payment for employees working over 19 hours per week (or 38 hours per fortnight) who have worked in the same job for at least three months and who have one or more children. The figure paid depends on family size and family income in relation to family size. The FIS provides 60% of the difference between your net family income (income minus tax, PRSI, etc.) and the income ceiling for your family size. The payment usually lasts approximately one year and does not change if the family income increases (ibid.).

Rent/Mortgage Interest Supplement:


When applying for the Rent/Mortgage Interest Supplement the size of the accommodation and the needs of the family are considered as is whether or not you have applied for local authority housing. The cost of accommodation is compared to the average cost of accommodation in that area. Your reasons for leaving your parents’ home will be considered (if applicable) as will whether or not you will share the accommodation (ibid.).                             


Lone parents are not always aware of the welfare benefits and services available to them and services provided do not always meet their specific needs (NESF, 2001). When accessing different welfare benefits and services they are often forced to repeatedly provide the same information: this can make accessing benefits and services difficult and undesirable (NESF, 2001). Many of the benefits and services available to lone parents are stigmatised which also acts as a barrier to lone parents (ibid.). Gaps in the provision of services are common and the quality and relevance of services is sometimes debatable. Also, many lone parents feel there is a lack of clear information available to them about existing benefits and services (ibid.). NESF (2001) suggests assigning an official to lone parents at key times (e.g. birth of child) to help the parent to access services at a local level with greater ease and to clarify the welfare benefits system to them. It should be noted that an M.R.B.I. Survey revealed that 81% of lone parents were satisfied with their treatment at the hands of the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs (ibid.).


3.4 Research:


I have now assembled and assessed the current research findings on the difficulties facing lone parents and the supports that most lone parents rely upon. I will now compare those research findings to my own research findings. Firstly, I will briefly discuss the research methods used:



3.4.1 Research Methods:


Qualitative interviews were conducted in person with five female lone parents. Questions were kept relatively open in order to prevent the interviewer from leading participants to a “correct” answer. The use of qualitative interviews is linked to the implementation of a feminist methodology: a feminist approach, as previously discussed, stresses the importance of accessing a unique female perspective on any given issue. By conducting qualitative interviews I hoped to allow the female lone parents participating in the study to convey their unique experiences and individual standpoints, without interference from the researcher. Each interview followed a similar format:

?       Each participant was asked to discuss any difficulties they felt a lone parent in Ireland might be particularly vulnerable to.

?       Participants were then asked what system of support (if any) they relied on.

?       Each participant was then asked whether or not this form of support was adequate.

?       Participants were then asked to give their opinion on the effectiveness of the One-parent family payment in helping lone parents to maintain an adequate standard of living.

?       Participants were asked what changes (if any) they would make to current provisions of state support for lone parents.


The small number of research participants means that research findings cannot be accepted as applying to the whole lone parent population in Ireland, however, the research findings do offer an insight into the experiences of certain lone parents in this country and many of the findings reflect the conclusions of other researchers in this area. It should be noted that there are no lone fathers in this sample – this is not part of the research design. It is merely due to the fact that no lone fathers presented themselves as being available when interviews were being carried out. The names of the lone parents interviewed are not used in order to protect their privacy.

3.4.2 Research Findings:


Participant 1:


Participant 1 became pregnant at seventeen and relied on the support of her parents during the pregnancy and thereafter. Her child is now three years old and both she and her child still reside with her parents. The child’s father had no role to play in the pregnancy and Participant 1 was entirely dependant on her parents’ support throughout the pregnancy.


Participant 1 found it very difficult to tell her parents that she was pregnant and she also expressed fear at the time over other people’s (friends, neighbours, etc.) reaction to the news. She was still in Secondary school and was forced to drop out for the year:

“I had too much going on to be able to work in school and do well. My parents decided I should take the year off and go back after I had the baby”.

She describes returning to school after her child was born as “tough” because she had to combine school work with her new role as a mother and because she had very few friends left at school. She also states that the future worries her - she is anxious when she thinks of the money she will need to adequately provide for herself and her child.


Participant 1 relied on her parents and the One-parent family payment until she finished school. She has since entered into part-time employment. Her wages and the OFP allow her to support herself and her child. She uses her income to contribute to bills at home and plans to eventually live independently of her parents once she has saved enough money. She describes her current income as adequate at the moment but fears that she will not be able to provide for herself and her child in the future, especially once her child enters primary school.

One-parent Family payment:

Participant 1 states that she relies heavily on the payment but that she does not like being on it due to the stigma she feels still surrounds the payment:

“I don’t like people thinking I’m looking for a handout and that I’m using my child to get it”.

She also worries that the payment will not guarantee her financial security in the future.


Participant 1 feels that an improvement in the state provision of childcare would greatly benefit lone parents. Her mother and sister currently meet the majority of her childcare needs when she is working, however, this has put a strain on the family. She also feels that the OFP is an insufficient source of income for mothers with school-aged children.


Participant 2:


Participant 2 became pregnant at the age of 22. The child’s father has offered a certain extent of financial support to mother and child. She currently lives alone with her child.


Participant 2 was forced to temporarily leave her job when she became pregnant. This placed a great deal of financial strain on her. She returned to work after the birth of her child but she has found it difficult to combine work life with being a lone parent:

“It’s hard to be a good mother when you come home wrecked after work. And it’s hard to do a good day’s work when you’ve been up all night with a sick child, but you have to - otherwise the bills don’t get paid”.

She also reported that being a lone parent allows her little or no time for a social life and that lone motherhood can be quite lonely.


Participant 2 is in receipt of the One-parent family payment. The father of the child also contributes to her income on an informal, somewhat irregular, basis. She also works and so, receives a weekly wage. Though her parents have not offered her financial assistance her mother takes care of her child while she works. Participant 2 reports that she often finds it difficult to pay all of her bills and rarely has money left over to save. The sporadic manner in which she receives child support from her child’s father is a great source of stress.

One-parent family payment:

Participant 2 states that the OFP is inadequate and that without her wages and the contributions of her child’s father she would not be able to survive. She also reports high stress levels caused by her lack of financial resources.


Participant 2 feels that the OFP needs to be increased if it is to provide an adequate income to lone parents. She also criticises the inconsistent, lenient enforcement of child maintenance in Ireland:

 “It’s not fair. Fathers don’t have to take any responsibility if they don’t want to and the government lets them away with it. It means that mothers like me have to go on welfare payments just to get by”.

Participant 3:


Participant 3 became pregnant at the age of sixteen. Her child is now one year old and both mother and child reside with her parents. Participant 3 has returned to secondary school since her child was born.


Participant 3 found it very difficult to reveal her pregnancy to her friends and family due to her age and her fear of their reactions:

“I was very young and I knew my parents would be upset. I didn’t want other people to know because I knew they’d talk about me behind my back”.

She still feels stigmatised as a lone parent, particularly at school where she feels she is treated differently by both teachers and classmates.


Participant 3 testifies that her parents provide complete financial support for her and her child. They have also pledged to provide for her when she attends college and they will continue to provide for her and her child until Participant 3 completes college. She states that she and her child would not be able to survive without her parents’ generosity.

One-parent family payment:

Due to her parent’s generous financial support participant 3 is not dependant on the OFP, however, she does feel it will be important to her when she is living on her own with her child in the future.


Participant 3 states that she feels very marginalized as a lone parent. She feels she would greatly benefit from a lone parent support group, where she could talk to young women in similar situations.  

Participant 4:


Participant 4 became pregnant at the age of 18. She initially lived with her parents but now lives on her own with her ten-year old child. She raises her child without any assistance from the child’s father. She is in receipt of the OFP and a rent supplement.



Participant 4 revealed that she is under a great deal of financial strain. She finds it difficult to meet the normal costs of living and she worries because she is unable to put any money aside for the future:

“I’m always juggling bills and I never have anything left over to save. I’m worried that I won’t be able to support my son if he wants to go to college”

She also worries that her lack of financial resources will negatively influence her son’s success in school.


Though Participant 4 originally relied on her parents’ financial support she is now dependant on the OFP. She was employed on a part-time basis but the work was irregular and did not provide a stable income. She also found it difficult to combine her job with her role in the home.

One-parent family payment:

Participant 4 describes the OFP as insufficient, though she feels that it works better than earlier allowances for lone parents. She argues that the sum she receives allows her to cover most household bills but is inadequate in allowing her to cover any other expenses, such as new clothes. Though she is also in receipt of rent supplement, a medical card and the back to school clothing and footwear allowance, she states that these benefits barely help her to make ends meet.


Participant 4 feels that the sum provided by the OFP needs to be greatly increased if it is to provide an adequate means of support to lone parents. She also wishes that there were more family-friendly work arrangements available to lone parents so that she would not have to be dependant on state benefits:

“I hate having no independence and relying on the government for money. I’d prefer a job that let me take care of my son and earn a proper wage, but I can’t find anything like that.”


Participant 5:


Participant 5 became pregnant at the age of 18. Her child is now three years old and the child’s father does not assist in the child’s upbringing. Participant 5 is currently attending university. She still lives with her parents.


Participant 5 finds it difficult to combine university with her responsibilities as a parent:

“It’s hard to leave my child with someone else all day but I’m doing it so that I can get a good job after college and be able to provide for the two of us. It’s tough trying to mind a child and do all my college work too but I haven’t got a choice.”

She also states that she has no room for friends or a social life and that this lifestyle can be lonely.


Participant 5 receives the One-parent family payment but she describes her parents as her main source of support: they provide for her financially and they also take care of her child when she is unable to.

One-parent family payment:

Participant 5 states that she originally found it very difficult to distinguish what benefits she was entitled to:

“I found it hard to figure out what money [benefits] I could get from the government. It’s really hard to know what you can apply for and the forms take ages to fill out. I would not have been able to do it except my parents helped me”.


Participant 5 feels that it is difficult for a young lone parent to assess what benefits they are entitled to and that the system should be made easier to navigate. She also feels that increased provision of affordable childcare would greatly benefit lone parents in a similar position to her.


3.4.3 Discussion of Research Findings:


All of the research participants displayed some level of dissatisfaction with the one-parent Family Payment, with the majority feeling anxious that the payment would not provide financial security for their household in the future. Some of the lone parents interviewed reported anxiety over covering future or current costs relating to their children’s education. This suggests that the welfare state is not adequately providing for lone parents in need of financial assistance. Some of the participants also alluded to feeling somewhat discriminated against due to their status as lone parents - this suggests that lone parents are still stigmatised in our society. The families of the lone parents interviewed all provided some degree of support to the lone parents, be it through childcare, housing or the provision of financial support. Only one of the lone parents interviewed reported that she received financial assistance from her child’s father, which correlates with research findings referred to earlier on in this chapter. It should also be noted that this lone parent expressed dissatisfaction with the unreliable nature of this financial support. Childcare was mentioned by some of the lone parents as an area that they believed required improvement: a lack of affordable childcare constrained some of the lone parents interviewed. All of the lone parents indicated that they were barred from full participation in society: some were barred by a lack of finances; one parent expressed distress over negative attitudes towards lone parents amongst peers and within the education system; some felt stigmatised as lone parents and some felt that they were unable to carry out their responsibilities as a parent whilst engaging in work or education. It should also be noted that a number of the research participants experienced some extent of isolation due to their status as a lone parent.

                                                                        Examining these findings from a feminist perspective, we can conclude that a certain gender bias still exists in the Irish welfare state. Only one of the lone parent received child maintenance from her former partner and this parent was unhappy with the unreliable nature of this income. This correlates with other research findings, which observed that child maintenance is inefficiently enforced in this country. It could be argued that the reason for this is that the majority of lone parents are female: women, as carers, are expected to take full responsibility for their children. In a patriarchal society, men may not be placed under the same obligation. Lone parent families challenge the traditional values of patriarchal society, which support a nuclear family with a male breadwinner and a female carer. Lone mothers often establish and maintain their households without help from a husband or father and this challenges the traditional family model. This may explain why, according to the above research findings, the Irish welfare state is unable to sufficiently accommodate lone parents: the Irish Constitution emphasises the importance of the traditional family, and lone parents, as a challenge to this family model, cannot be accommodated in a welfare system built on such values.  


3.5 Conclusion and Recommendations:


My research findings correlated with many earlier studies of lone parents, which suggested that lone parent households were experienced greater difficulties than other household types and that the welfare state was not sufficiently supporting such households. The adoption of a feminist methodology and the use of qualitative interviews allowed me to access the unique perspective of female lone parents in this country and led me to believe that the following changes must be made if lone parent families are to enjoy the same level of participation in society as other household types:

?       The OFP needs to be increased in order to remove financial strain from lone parents. The Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance should also be expanded in order to aid lone parents in comfortably providing for their children’s educations.

?       A profound need for affordable, available childcare exists amongst lone parents and policy makers must properly address this need.

?       Family-friendly work policies require expansion and family-friendly education policies should be implemented at both university level and secondary level, in order to ensure that lone parents are free to participate in education/employment whilst still fulfilling their role as parent.

?       Child maintenance payments must be enforced on absent fathers in order to remove the bulk of the financial responsibility for a child from lone mothers.    

?       Support groups for lone parents need to be established and expanded in order to combat the isolation endured by many lone parents.

It is difficult to fully assess the difficulties faced by Irish lone parents: as they are not a homogenous group we cannot generalise and assume that the research findings above apply to all Irish lone parents. For example, it should be noted that no lone fathers were interviewed and that applying the same research methods to a sample group of lone fathers could yield entirely different results. These research findings and previous studies on lone parents do reveal that lone parents are a very vulnerable group: they face greater difficulties, in a variety of areas, than other household types and the welfare benefits offered by the state appear to be an inadequate source of support for the majority of lone parents. Various difficulties encountered by lone parents, for example, a lack of childcare, have been widely documented over the last decade, however no effective strategies have been implemented to properly combat this issue. This suggests that, to some extent, policy makers are neglecting lone parents. The current state of affairs in Ireland means that many lone parents are barred from participating fully in society. Changes are urgently needed if the situation is to improve in the future.












4. Fatherhood and Social Policy

                                                                                Nicole Scannell

4.1 Introduction


For every single mother there is a single father.  There are many stereotypes of the single father who lives apart from his children. There are images of carefree young men who have abandoned their responsibilities in favour of a life free from the demands of children. 


There is no doubt, as is evident from research conducted that lone mother face a myriad of difficult challenges in their role.  Many of these women are at risk of poverty, if not already living in poverty.  They struggle financially and emotionally every single day of their lives.  This part of the project is not way intended to withdraw attention from that struggle. 


However, with the publication of strategies such as Strengthening Families though Fathers, a new rhetoric has emerged surrounding fatherhood and father’s rights.  Fatherhood has become deeply politicised in this country.


Rush in Fanning et al. (2004) argues that men’s groups operate much in a similar manner to the conservative groups in America. These conservative movements actually further marginalise lone mothers and enforce the idea that marriage is a basic principle upon which society should be grounded.


However, on the other hand, there are concerns regarding the child. The UN Rights on the Convention of the Child clearly state the need for the child to know both of his/her parents. 


The popular writings of John Waters in the Irish Times has further bolstered the view that single fathers are marginalised and discriminated against within the context of Irish family Law. 


4.2 Definitions


-        Non-Resident Father – father not living in the home – as defined by McKeown (2001a)

4.3 Aims 


-        To identify structures; legal and ideological facing actors (non-resident fathers)

-        To evaluate the state’s role in the maintenance of these structures

-        To explore the experience of non-resident father and lone mother


4.4 Objectives


-        To review some recent policy developments in relation to fatherhood and the family

-        To interview at least one non-resident father and lone mother

-        To draw on my own person experience as a child of a one parent family



4.5 Research Methods


-        Qualitative document analysis of social policy documents, legal documents, websites of men’s groups, newspapers.


-        Informal interview with lone mother and non-resident father


-        I will also be drawing on my own experience as I grew up in a one-parent family. 


4.6 Methodology


In a review of the welfare state in Ireland I wish to incorporate Bourdieu’s critical conflict theory.  Society, for Bourdieu, consists of a number of fields that in which the agents are permanently locked in a competition over resources.  The dominant player is interested in reproducing the system to their own gain.  For example, middle class values are reproduced through their education system and thus, the system continues in its current form.  However, within the context of the welfare state, it becomes more complex as there are several different players and the significant influence of the political field.  There is also the question of power and stigmatisation which is certainly relevant to lone parents. 


When conducting interviews I will employ the ‘phenomenological’ method of enquiry.  Miller and Brewer (2003) trace the history of the development of this approach to research. 


“People live in a taken-for-granted ‘life world’… in which they use familiar and ordinary ideas, beliefs and knowledge to understand the world.  This must be bracketed off in order to understand the true essence of phenomena” (Miller and Brewer, 2003; 228).


Phenomenology is basically about observing a particular subject matter or phenomena as it appears to the observer.  It involves abandonment of prejudices or a pirori knowledge.  Edmund Husserl, was the founding father of phenomenology.  Husserl maintained that we live a world which we only have knowledge of through our senses. 


Saratakos (1988) points out that phenomenology allows the researcher to strip the world down to its bare basics in order to understand the viewpoint of the actor and how they relate to structures. 


4.7 The Welfare State


The attempt to theorise the welfare ‘regime’ in Ireland is challenging.  Fanning et al (2004) argues that the theorising of Irish social policy has been a neglected area of research.  Irish history is marred by economic stagnation, the influence of the Catholic Church and subsequent economic boom.  Social services did not emerge in a coherent, sensible pattern. 


The Irish welfare mix is a crucial element in understanding the welfare state.  It is not only the state which provides welfare but also the Catholic Church, voluntary agencies and informal care.  Welfare is also dependent on the economic conditions of the time.  In times of recession there will be few resources available, in times of economic prosperity, there will be more resources and a commitment by the state to enhance the well being of society.


For example, during the 1990s, Ireland’s economy was named the Celtic Tiger.  For many years previous to this, Ireland had a stagnant economy.  Immigration was high, particularly amongst those who were highly educated – the so-called ‘brain drain’.  Fortunately, for some, an economic policy of low corporate tax, lackadaisical environmental policies and a willing workforce attracted a multitude of large multi national corporations to Ireland.  The result of a high level of investment coupled with significant European Union investment led to an economic boom, in a very short period of time. 


A commitment to the well-being of society is illustrated through the publications of many strategies and documents regarding equality, gender and education.  During the 1990s there was a proliferation of these strategies perhaps signifying the extra resources the Government was willing to invest to improve the life of citizens.  


One can apply the methodology of Bourdieu to the analysis of the welfare state in Ireland.  In attempting to define the welfare regime in Ireland, it may be useful to think of the welfare state as a particular “field”.  (s. Michel Peillon, 2001)


Bourdieu argued that society could not be sufficiently analysed in terms of class and ideologies.  During the course of his work he developed the idea that there were other forms of capital that people could possess.  These other forms are cultural, economic, symbolic and social. Bourdieu used the ‘thinking tools’ (Jenkins, 1992) of the concept of ‘fields’ and ‘habitus’. 


According to Bourdieu, fields are where people move about and struggle over desirable resources.  Bourdieu in an interview with Loic Waquant (1992) defines fields “as a network, or a configuration, of objective relations between position objectively defined, in their existence and in the determination they impose upon their occupants, agents or institutions, by their present and potential situation…in the structure of the distribution of species of power (or capital) whose possession commands access to the specific profits that are at stake in the field, as well as by their objective relation to other positions (domination, subordination, homology etc.)”  (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992; 97)


Each field, be it cultural, scientific or artistic, all follow a specified logic.  For example the economic field operates to its own internal logic whereby the notions of love and friendship are not included.  Bourdieu uses the phrase ‘business is business’ to further illustrate his point of the exclusionary nature of the economic field (ibid.)


An important concept in the notion of fields is further analogized by using the concept of a game.  In each game there are players who oppose another ‘team’.  The concept of game implies that there is something to be won or as Bourdieu writes “we have stakes which are for the most part the product of the competition between players” (ibid. 98)


The notion of a game implies that there is something worth struggling over, there is something worthwhile to emerge from this game – namely possession one of the forms of capital.  The dominant players of the game have a vested interest in replicating the system and have more power over capital. Capital may be in the form of cultural, symbolic, economic or social. 


Bourdieu maintained that the bourgeoisie middle class had a vested interest in controlling the education system and reproducing their system. However, conspiratorial this might sound, research has shown that students from the lower classes do not achieve a higher level of education and thus are disadvantaged throughout their lives.  For example, many Travellers do not attend third level education and when they do, their study is confined to the ‘community care’ field.  There are no Traveller teachers in Ireland, and certainly no Traveller doctors or lawyers.  The system simply does not allow for this to happen. 


Jenkins (1992) writes that when studying fields (that is, art, education or even welfare) one must understand that field’s position in relation to the field of power, which is the political field.  The political field is the one from which all other fields take their reference.  The different elements of the field most also be examined in order to decipher their position in relation to the capital over which the struggle takes place.


Economic capital refers to cash, assets and other material wealth.  Cultural capital refers to forms of knowledge skill and educational achievement. Social capital refers to group connections and membership of a particular social group. Symbolic capital refers to the form all capital takes when it is accepted as legitimate by society. (adapted from Peillon 2001)


Peillon analyses the type of capital which is present in the welfare field.  All the while is it important to remember the fact that there is the domination of the political field which informs the set-up of the other fields.  The political field struggles over the right to legitimately enforce laws and rules. Importantly, it can implement certain strategies which have access to the private lives of individuals and ultimately can control the lives and behaviors of a significant number of agents within the welfare field.  In this way the political field is intrinsically linked with the welfare field. 


Peillon refers to Habermas (1987) who argues that “social rewards are exchanged for compliance with the economic and political requirements of the system…” which illustrates “what is at stake in the welfare state” (Peillon, 2001:30).  As Peillon points out he is referring the conversion of resources which is an important element in Bourdieu’s work.  However, Peillon argues that even Bourdieu himself was unsure of the rules governing the conversion of capital – it is not as simple as changing foreign currency in the Bureau de Change. 


“The rate of conversion between economic and symbolic capital represents the main stake for the state in the welfare field” (Peillon, 2001:31).  The State in return for legitimacy offers high levels of social expenditure. 


One could postulate that this would be completely dependant on the country in question.  High social expenditure does not always guarantee sustained confidence in the state. 


Peillon also argues that because there so many different agents involved in the field of social welfare, this increases the complexity and number of stakes in the welfare field.  He illustrates this by arguing that one must not only review the accumulation of capital, but also the conversion of that capital “into each other, simultaneously”  (Peillon, 2001: 32)


Another important tool in applying Bordieu’s framework to the welfare state is the notion of habitus which “constitutes the principle according to which practices are generated” (ibid.). Peillon points to the situation when welfare agencies meet clients.  Within this arena there is a process of ‘mis-recognition’, that is the dominant agency is seen as at benevolent, caring force, however, its vested interest is in ensuring the population remain compliant. 


“… the effectiveness of misrecognition should not be exaggerated, for the strategies of control that are used by welfare agencies and to which misrecognition belongs are often met with strategies of resistance.  As soon as reference is made to control, mechanisms of resistance to control come into operation” (ibid. 33).


To illustrate these opposing forces within the field of welfare, Peillon uses the example of means tested benefits and universal benefits.  Each citizen demands a basic level of benefits and when there is demand for other benefits, which are means tested, there is a response “through strategies of resistance” (ibid.). People may also strive to reduce the perceived social stigma which is attached to those receiving welfare. 


This is of particular relevance to lone parents, whose rights are advocated through the presence of many voluntary representative groups.  However, there still remains in popular discourse particularly the media hostility towards lone parents. The following quotations are from the letters page of a popular tabloid Sunday newspaper.  In the previous week there had been an interview with a single mother who had three children and had outlined her financial difficulties due to the low amount of benefit she received from the Government. 


“We live in a society that seems to reward single mothers for becoming pregnant. Everything lands on their plate….”


“Most certainly single mothers should have their allowance cut.”


“…single mothers are always moaning about their lot.  The more they receive, the more they seem to moan”


“I firmly believe that single mothers should have their benefit cut.  They should be allowed one mistake only.  After that, they should be on their own.”

                                                            (Your Letters, Ireland on Sunday: 21/07/05)


Countering this discourse (reminiscent of Foucault’s notion of power and discourse) is the objectives of organisations such as Treoir. 


“To continue to provide and promote a professional, accessible, up-to-date information service to parents and those involved with them, in order to empower parents to access their rights and entitlements

To bring an awareness of issues affecting unmarried parents and their children to the general public

To continue lobbying for change in the laws and services to promote the rights and welfare of unmarried parents and their children”                                                                                         (http://www.treoir.ie/about/objectives.html (2005-05-28)



In relation to the article above regarding the payment of benefits to lone mothers, some of the responses focused on the fathers. 


“How typical that a woman is made an example of, if not responsible, for costing the state €240 each week.  What about the fathers of children of lone parents? What steps, if any, have been taken by the Department of Social Welfare to take these men to task?”

                                                            (Your Letters, Ireland on Sunday: 21/07/05)


There was also questioning of the system and a concern for women who claimed lone benefit and lived with their partners.  The conditions of the One Parent Payment stipulate that women must not co-habit with their partners. 


“At last the spongers will be exposed.  All the unmarried mothers living with their children’s fathers and claiming: all the separated women receiving maintenance in cash and also claiming, and all the men not financially supporting the children they have fathered….” (ibid.)                                       


Peillon points to the possible powerlessness of welfare recipients in terms of their lack of economic resources.  However, this does not mean that they will simply accept the system, they will find new ways and means of accumulating resources. 


In a recent conversation with a social worker, working in a deprived area of Dublin she jokingly commented that her clients knew more about the operations of the welfare system and knew ‘how to get more out of it’ than she did.  However, comical this may seem, she is illustrating the above point made by Peillon. 


In relation to social workers and those that “police access to social benefits” (ibid. 34), Peillon points out that these officials have power over their clients and as such, possess the ability to control and possible further stigmatise marginal groups – or reproduce “negative symbolic capital for their clients” (ibid.)  On a positive note, Peillon does argue there is exists a movement to combat this stigmatisation from the officials themselves “by the administrative agencies” (ibid.)


4.8 The Importance of Marriage


“Hello divorce, goodbye daddy”


In 1995 a proposal to amend the Constitution to allow for the dissolution of marriage was put forward to the Irish people. The 1937 Constitution of Ireland had criminalised divorce. There was a previous failed attempt to legalise it in 1986. In 1995 divorce was one of the most hotly contested and debated throughout the media. It even featured on news programmes in the USA and Australia who seemed to report often with dismay that Ireland had not yet legalised divorce. To other countries, it may have seemed that Ireland was still stuck some bygone era.


However, at home the mood was a lot different.  The anti divorce group, which were strongly influenced by conservative, Catholic discourse argued that legalising divorce would led to a complete breakdown of society.  The above quote is from an advertisement was placed around prominent positions throughout Ireland during the 1995 divorce referendum. This advertisement bares all the hallmarks of scaremongering tactics.  It instilled fear in general society, the majority of whom may never divorce.


Despite a vociferous campaign by the anti-divorce was legalised by the narrowest of margins (50.28%) in Irish voting history.  


The conditions of divorce in Ireland are so stringent that couples are required to undergo mediation, counselling and a four year separation before waving goodbye to Daddy. 


As is outlined in a later section, the notion of the importance of the family is strengthened by the Irish Constitution.  The family is viewed, not only in Ireland, but many societies, as a fundamental unit.  Any woman who had a child outside marriage was stigmatised.  They were more often than not banished to a home for single mothers run by religious orders and their babies given up for adoption either within Ireland or overseas.  These women often spent the rest of their adult lives behind the domineering walls of these institutions.  After death their graves remained unmarked, perhaps the ultimate betrayal of their existence.  Notably, the men who fathered these children, experienced no punishment.  The only hope of escape was the promise of marriage from a suitor.  In fact, I know of one woman who was sent to one of these homes during the 1970s and during the course of her pregnancy, her partner proposed.  Fortunately, they were in love and the marriage has lasted to this day.  However, many women were not as fortunate.  The fact that marriage was the only route out of these homes further emphasises the notion of the importance of marriage. Of notable importance is the fact the religious orders had control over these institutions.  These religious orders went to great lengths to ‘protect’ decent society from the perceived sins of these women. 


‘Illegitimate’ children, as they were termed were not viewed in the same light as children born to wedded parents either socially nor in terms of the law. The term ‘illegitimate child’ was removed from Irish law as a consequence of the Children’s Act 1987.  Prior to this children born outside marriage had no rights to inheritance or property. Socially lone mothers were stigmatised and it, in turn led to their offspring.  There was little toleration of ‘illegitimate’ and this was given further impetus through the legal system.  Property was an important commodity in Ireland due to its large reliance on farming and subsequent output.  There may have been a fear of ‘illegitimate’ children laying claim to property of their fathers, who where not married to their mothers. 


4.9 Concern about crime


There is a generally anxiety about crime, especially crime committed by young people, under the age of 16.  Irish law contains many provisions for the punishment of those who commit public order offences.  In fact one Judge has commented that the rise in crime amongst young people is directly attributable to the fact that many families are growing up without fathers. 


“Chief Justice Ronan Keane says fatherless homes are to blame. Garda statistics show the number of serious crimes committed by children under 16 rose by 70% in 2002…."The absence of the father role is a very serious matter in society it affects children very badly that there is no settled male figure in their lives," he is quoted in a interview published yesterday in a Sunday newspaper.”



However, one must also question other factors in the area of crime.  There are many children of one parent families who do not commit crimes.  While one may debate the advantages of a child growing up with two parents.  There has always been alarm regarding crime in this country and presently, there is much debate regarding the introduction of the Anti-Social Behavioural Order (ASBOS).  This Order gives more power to the Garda to deal with ‘anti-social’ behaviour.  There are strong divisions between those who support the Order and those that do not.  However, the point here is that Irish society has generally had a preoccupation with crime and the causalities of crime.  One parent families have generally been considered to be a contributory factor in the rise of ‘lawlessness’. 


Yet, as Rush points out in Fanning (2004), there is little mention of the welfare of children in these discourses on crime.


“By blaming fatherless homes for social pathology while expressing benign concern about children’s welfare” (Fanning et al, 2004; 98)


Attributing blame to one parent families for a rise in crime further stigmatises lone parents.  By placing blame at the feet of parents indicates an approach which further marginalises lone parents. 


4.10 Deserted Husbands?


The Deserted Wives’ Benefit was a payment made to women who had been deserted by their husbands. ‘Deserted’ wives had to make reasonable efforts to locate their husbands prior to claiming the benefit.   The use of the word ‘deserted’ appears to further stigmatise the recipient of such benefit.  However, the Social Welfare Act 1989 did allow for the introduction of the Deserted Husbands’ Benefit.  This decision was reversed by the introduction of the Social Welfare Act 1990 which dissolved the Deserted Husbands’ Benefit.  It was at this time that a ‘Lone Parents Allowance’ was introduced applicable to both fathers and mothers. 


A case came before the Supreme Court in 1998 whereby a man argued that he had been deserted by his wife many years previously.  He had to terminate his employment due to familial commitments and rely solely on unemployment assistance and welfare payments.  He claimed that he received significantly less assistance from the State than a ‘deserted’ wife and the law had discriminated against him on the basis of his gender and was thus, unconstitutional.


“..the provision of the 1981 Act which makes provision for deserted wives but not for deserted husbands in similar situations is in breach of the plaintiff’s constitutional rights and is therefore unconstitutional” (Lowth (Plaintiffs) v. Minister for Social Welfare and the Attorney General (Defendants) 14th July 1998)


It was argued that from 1970-1990, deserted wives gained financially more from social welfare than husbands who had been deserted.


The Supreme Court did not uphold the claim that deserted husbands were entitled to the same welfare benefits as deserted wives.  The evidence clearly showed that women were at a significant disadvantage in the labour market during this time and thus, needed financial assistance. This was compounded by the fact that up until 1973, women employed in the civil service and banks were requested to leave their jobs after they were married.  There was no such bar for men.  This legal framework further emphasises the role of the man as breadwinner and the woman as carer in the home.


The judgement of the Court concluded:


“that there were ample grounds for the Oireachtas to conclude that deserted wives were in general likely to have greater needs than deserted husbands so as to justify legislation providing for social welfare whether in the form of benefits or grants or a combination of both to meet such needs” (Lowth (Plaintiffs) v. Minister for Social Welfare and the Attorney General (Defendants) 14th July 1998)


Irish Times journalist John Waters commented at the time that this decision reflected a bygone age, when women remained at home and men worked outside the home. 


“For what they have done is outline… the unadorned fact that State, thorough its Constitution and Laws, continues to hold that the woman’s place is in the home, and the man’s is in the workplace” (McKeown et al, 1998;156: John Waters: 1998)


Arguably, I do not think that the State through this case upheld this particular view.  The Deserted Wives’ Allowance was introduced on the basis of labour market surveys and the fact that there were not as many married women working outside the home.  It was the State through the Marriage Bar that reduced the capability of women to work outside the home.


When reviewing Seanad debates the modern repercussions of this piece of legislation became clear to me.  Women who had been compelled to leave their jobs as a result of marrying faced a new problem when attempting to return to the work place post-1973. (http://www.irlgove.ie/debates-00/sjune/sect.htm)


This barrier reduced their capacity to secure higher paid jobs and thus gave further impetus to the introduction of a Deserted Wives Allowance or Benefit. 


4.11 Non-Resident Fathers and the Legal System


McKewon (2001b) identified several key barriers which non-resident fathers face when faced with marriage breakdown.  These include ideological barriers, legal barriers, income support barriers and also a lack of recognition by social services.


A review is now made of the legal framework concerning the rights of non-resident fathers.

4.11.1 Constitution of Ireland


Article 41

1.    1° The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.

2° The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the Family in its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State.


2.    1° In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.

2° The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.


The importance of the married family is enshrined in the above article of the Constitution of Ireland. Not only is the importance of the family recognised it is only women that are mentioned, albeit in terms of their importance in the home.  Mothers, not fathers are referred to and there is no mention of fathers within the Constitution.


It is clear from the above articles that the mother is viewed as having primary importance and is valued within the home.  Motherhood (within marriage) was deemed to be the overriding duty of all Irish women. This further implicates that fathers are seen as the breadwinners, working outside the home and providing financial support to their families. 


I have mentioned the importance of marriage the Constitution provides little comfort to unmarried fathers. In fact, the Constitution does not protect the rights of either married or unmarried fathers with respect to their children. The idea of motherhood is elevated and the status of fatherhood is reduced to breadwinner.  Women are primarily viewed as mothers, yet men are not viewed as fathers.  (McKeown et al 1998)


It has been argued by commentators that there should be “a constitutional provision which guarantees that a mother and father have equal rights to a child where the child is conceived through their mutual consent.  The right of each child to know and be cared for by both its parents, whether living together or not, should also be enshrined in  the Constitution” (McKeown et al 1998; 159)


In the case of the State (Nicolaou) V. An Bord Uchtala (1966), the Supreme Court held that within the Constitution only recognised ‘the family’ which involved a married couple.  To provide equal constitutional protection to both married and non-married families would be in contravention of Article 41, which declares the family is a special, fundamental unit of society which is guarded against attack.  This decision clarified the point that unmarried fathers were not recognised in the eyes of the law. 


In their submission to the All Party Oireachtas Committee Constitution – the Family the National Woman’s Council of Ireland argued that;


“In order to comply with international human rights requirements, and to reflect the

reality of family diversity in the Constitution must therefore have due regard to the

rights and concerns of all families.”  (NWCI, 2005:3)



4.11.2 Guardianship


The mother either married or not, is always automatically considered to be the guardian of the child. Guardianship, in legal terms, means the right of the parents to “make important decisions regarding that child’s upbringing, for example, decided on the child’s religion, education, medical treatment and where he/she lives”.  (http://www.oasis.gov.ie/relationships/civil_relationships/legal_guardianship_and_unmarried_couples.html)


Both parents, if married either before or after the birth of a child, are considered to be the child’s legal guardians.  However, for unmarried fathers, the case is different.  It is requested that they apply for guardianship of their children, with the permission of the mother.  If the request for guardianship is denied by the mother, the father then may choose to pursue his claim through the District Court.  However, it is worth pointing out there is no need for legal representation in the District Court and it is not dependent on whether the father’s name has been placed on the birth certificate. 


It is also the mother’s right as to whether she chooses to place the father’s name on the birth certificate.  Some women choose not to name the father on the birth certificate due to concern about the loss of benefits. (Ferguson & Hogan, 2005)


It is this legal process which leads to the demise of co-parenting and further stigmatises unmarried fathers. They are excluded from the legal process on the basis that they are not married.  There are implicit presumptions made regarding the single father (s. McKeown 2001).  A compromise is suggested by McKeown whereby an unmarried father is given automatic rights, as in the mother’s case. This guardianship may be later abolished if there is appropriate reason. McKeown believes that this will symbolically encourage a co-parenting approach. 


Granting automatic guardianship to fathers may not be the most appropriate way to initiate fathers to fatherhood.  There are many women who have experienced abuse at the hands of their partners, those who have been abandoned during pregnancy and those that for other reasons do not wish to have any contact for with their former partner. 


Gingerbread, the organisation which represents lone parents in Ireland recommends that rather then automatic conferral of rights to fathers, there should be a process whereby the system is explained clearly to fathers.  This could allow them to choose whether or not they wish to become the child’s guardian.


Paramount to everything is what is in the best interest of the child.  There can be no doubt that every child benefits from seeing both his/her parents.  Even short, sporadic visits can benefit children.  However, prolonged contact over a period of years is more favourable.


4.11.3 Family Law


The general consensus amongst men’s groups is that the family law system discriminates against single fathers. 


“..we have a biased, anti-man system that exacerbates hostility, leaves a legacy of bitterness from which families never recover” (http://www.menscouncil.com/)


The argument forwarded is that the women’s movement was involved in the formulation of family law and as a result, the family law system considers the interest of women above men.


“In formulating Family Law only the needs and interests of women were considered – those of men were ignored.” (http://www.menscouncil.com/)


“Men’s groups, men rights and men’s interests have been totally ignored. The result is that we have a family law system that has been successfully designed to insulate women from the suffering and hardships involved in marriage/relationship breakdown by inflicting all the suffering on men.”  (http://www.menscouncil.com/)


A cursory review of the family law system in Ireland does seem to indicate that women generally do receive custody of children and instigate the process.  McKeown et al (1998) argue that the family law is system is discriminatory towards unmarried fathers.  The authors point out that the legal system adheres importance to maintenance and access. In a review of the family law system, the authors, point out that guardianship orders (from unmarried fathers) are generally followed by maintenance orders from mothers. This is an area which should not be interlinked or connected.  (McKeown et al. 1998)


“… to some extent it reflects the traditional division of labour between fathers and mothers, where fathers are seen to control the money and mothers are seen to control the children and each can be used as resources or denying the rights of the other.” (McKeown et al. 1998; 171)


Ferguson and Hogan’s ‘Leaving Fathers Out’ study surveyed the attitudes of ‘vulnerable’ men, that is, men who are unemployed or live in poverty, to the family law system in Ireland.  Their results indicated that fathers were unhappy and dismayed at the amount of access afforded to them when applying for access visits to their children.  Many felt that they were at the mercy of the system and ‘expert’ judgements. (Ferguson and Hogan, 2004: 13)


Ferguson and Hogan recommend that there is a need to work with these men beyond their anger at the system.


“The challenge for professionals working with men who have been marginalised through the courts/separation system in not necessarily to pinpoint where their anger stemmed from, but to intervene in the systemic cycle in such a way as to (re) engage the fathers in as actively responsible way as possible.” (ibid. 15)


It is clear from their research that there are fathers who have been excluded from the system and do not get to participate fully in their children’s lives.  When they do participate it is in the role of the ‘Sunday’ dad.  The role they have is to just bring the children out for the day and spend money on them. 


From my own experience of visiting my father, I remember the lack of places that we could go.  Invariably, he would end up spending money in McDonalds or going to the cinema.  His flat was too small to allow for overnight visits.  As such, our visits were more like a special treat rather than anything else. 


4.12 Social Workers and Single Fathers


For the first time, researchers have carried out a study on the experiences of ‘vulnerable’ fathers who deal with social services.  The research is highly progressive and illustrates a need for all actors to engage with one another when it comes to the welfare of children.  Fergus Hogan and Harry Ferguson, authors of ‘Leaving Fathers Out’, published in 2004, argue for a father-inclusive framework to be employed by family and social workers when dealing with vulnerable fathers.


In particular, the researchers found that the structural conditions are a significant factor as they impede working class fathers from involvement in the family unit. In particular, the authors note that “…mothers …have an economic incentive to claim the lone-parent allowance, omit the father’s name from the birth certificate and effectively write the father officially out of family life” (Ferguson and Hogan, 2004: 34).  They recommend that professionals emphasise the importance of involving fathers in the child’s life. 


“Mothers and fathers need to get the message from professionals that how they choose to survive…in poverty… is their business, but excluding fathers …is morally unacceptable” (ibid. 35)


There is little indication that the system of payments to lone parents will be modified.  As such, people learn to survive in the best way they can, negotiating the field of welfare.  It may be ‘morally unacceptable’ to exclude fathers, but poverty is not just ‘their business’, it is the business of every member of society.  Poverty is also ‘morally unacceptable’. 


The authors conducted several interviews with family and social workers.  They found that social workers did not engage fathers when dealing with lone parents due to prejudice based on perceived characteristics of the non-resident father.  However, voluntary agencies were more likely to be father inclusive than statutory social workers. 


“…our findings suggest that social workers generally expect mothers to carry the load, leaving the potential resource those fathers have to offer largely untapped…”

                                                                                                                        (ibid. 5)


The researchers stress the need for family and statutory social workers to actively seek out the fathers and encourage them to have involvement with their children.  Although, as pointed out by many social workers in the report, this task may prove difficult as many mothers may not want to be in contact with the father of their children.  It may also increase the already heavy workload on social workers.


In informal conversations with social workers, I have learned that social workers are under increasing pressure.  This pressure comes from understaffing and funding.  Some may find it ‘easier’ to deal with just one parent as that is all they have time for. 


Ferguson and Hogan found that in the case of unmarried fathers, having a child has a positive impact on the both parent’s lives. 


“Fatherhood was seen by marginal young men in this study as at least one way for them to achieve something in life, in a context of totally perceived failures…committed fatherhood for such young men can be seen as vital route to social inclusion” (ibid. 4)


However, in a case study carried out by the authors they found that social services actively excluded a young unmarried father from his pregnant partner’s life.  His partner was placed in an home for pregnant girls which was a long distance from where she normally resided.  The mother indicated to the researchers that although she received excellent support from the staff of the home, there was little questioning of the father’s role in relation to the raising of their child. 


The authors argue that although there were plenty of supports which were (rightly) provided to the young mother, there was little support or help offered to the father. 


4.13 Research Methods


-        Informal interview with non-resident father


4.13.1 Father’s Perspective


Danny (23) is a non-resident father of a 4 year old girl, Sarah.  Sarah lives with her mother, Kelly (21).  Kelly and Danny were not in long term committed relationship when Kelly became pregnant.  Danny says that they have never been “boyfriend and girlfriend”.  As such, the pregnancy was unplanned.  Danny speaks of his shock when he found out.  Kelly rang him late one night and told him that she was pregnant.  Initially, Danny was dismayed and panic stricken.


“I just kept sayin…what? …what… on the phone, I couldn’t believe it. That’s all, I just couldn’t believe it! I kept sayin are ya sure?”


Danny said that he was not involved in any of the pre-natal classes and that Kelly’s mother and the rest of her family “kind of took over”.  He was not present at the birth of Sarah, something which he expresses regret over. 


“…if it happened again, I’d defiantly make more of an effort, I’d really like to be at the birth…”


I asked him if he deliberately excluded himself from the involved in pre-natal classes and other preparatory activities prior to birth.  It seemed that he felt as if he did not have a role to play as he focused on the relationship, or lack of, with Kelly. 


“.. I suppose ‘cause we weren’t going out… that there wasn’t really any need for me to be goin over there [Kelly’s home] … she had her Mam and her sisters….”


In relation to maintenance Danny said that he did pay money each week, in addition he also contributed in other ways such as purchasing clothing for Sarah. Danny expressed his concern about maintenance.  He works irregular hours and thus, does not receive a regular sum of money each week.  Kelly and Danny have worked out an informal arrangement for payment of maintenance.


“…I do give something every week…about €75… I couldn’t really give much more, she is happy with that though”


I asked if he had ever missed a weekly payment. He hesitated and said that he had. I questioned if Kelly had restricted his access to Sarah because of this.


“… well yeah… I have missed paying… you know, sometimes I don’t have it….so I wouldn’t go over unless I had something.”


When asked about joint legal guardianship, Danny indicated that he did not know if he was the legal guardian.  In fact, he was not aware of the process of applying for guardianship and he began questioning me about the laws surrounding guardianship! He did ensure that his name appeared on the birth certificate.


In reference to access visits and custody, Danny said that he is able to accommodate Sarah for overnight visits.  Danny lives with both his parents and he feels that it is good for Sarah to get to know everyone. 


“… my mam loves having her over … she loves kids, you know, I love havin her there too. It’s great ‘cause my mam helped out loads when she first started coming over”


Sarah, who is four, did not stay overnight with Danny until she was two.  I asked him why this was the case.


“… well I suppose that she was too young, you know.... I think that Kelly was very protective of her too…I visited her about three times a week until she was allowed come over, now she stays once a week, so I get two full days with her”


Danny indicated that he was relatively happy with the situation at present.  However, he indicated that he was worried about moving out his family home, because it meant that there would be nowhere for Sarah to stay. 


4.14 Research Methods


-        Informal interview with lone parent (mother)


4.14.1 A Mother’s Perspective


Martina (20), a lone parent, spoke to me about her relationship with her ex-partner and father (22) of her child.  Their child, Amy is three years of age. Martina was not in a long term committed relationship with her ex-partner when she became pregnant with Amy.  I asked Martina if the pregnancy was planned. 


“…the pregnancy was not planned”… laughter … “the time that I became pregnant we weren’t going out with each other at the time, it wasn’t a serious relationship at all”


On discovering her pregnancy, Martina decided that she would go ahead with the pregnancy.  She got in contact with the father (Barry) and informed him of the pregnancy. 


“…I knew when I was telling him that there was never going to be a relationship just because of my pregnancy”.


Martina went on to tell me that Barry chose not to tell his own family about the pregnancy until she had given birth to Amy.  However, Martina spoke of how Barry was “a typical young fella, out with the friends, enjoyin his social life”.


As mentioned earlier there is no obligation to put a father’s name on the birth certificate.  Martina is from a small rural town, in west cork, as such there is familiarity between people and a young pregnant girl would not go unnoticed by the community. Martina felt it was “only right” to put Barry’s name on the birth certificate.  Barry had also indicated strongly that he wished to have his name on the birth certificate. 


Regarding, guardianship, Martina is the sole guardian of Amy.  Martina points out that from the time Amy was born, she has made most of the decisions regarding Amy. I asked Martina to expand on this point. 


“For example, when Amy was christened, Barry did not play a major part….like… I chose both of the Godparents for Amy” 


At the time of Amy’s birth and up until she was six months old, Barry regularly visited Amy at least three times per week.  Martina expressed how she was pleased and encouraged Barry to visit. 


“… I loved seein him with Amy…I felt it was good for her”


However, the visits become more sporadic (once per week).  Martina points to the fact that Barry became romantically involved with another woman. 


As regards, maintenance payments, Martina said he did pay an irregular amount of money every week. 


“… it depended on his wages week to week, like I’d never say he was mean with the money, ‘cause he wasn’t…”


I asked Martina if these payments had not been made if she would have considered restricting access to Amy.  She stated that she would have allowed visitation regardless of the payment of maintenance or not.  However, as Barry has always paid maintenance, it is hard for the respondent to make judgments on hypothetical scenarios. 


Martina is now in a relationship with another man. Barry visits Amy once per week and pays maintenance of just under €100.  Martina also emphasised that Barry also bought Amy “lots of clothes and other bits and bobs”.


I questioned Martina about her relationship with Barry.  She spoke of how she would not speak to Barry if she met him out socially. 


“…as far as I am concerned, we are not mates, just he’s Amy’s dad and that’s all… I am with someone now anyway…”


It was not possible to question either of the respondents on their experience with professionals as neither of the participants had been in contact with social services.

4.15 Conclusion


It is clear from the research, both my own and others that there is a need for further research to be carried out in relation to the participation of non-resident fathers in their children’s lives. 


The conservative discourse of the Men’s Council seems harsh, yet there appears to be some truth to it. Despite the rhetoric of the Men’s Council’s criticisms of the family law system, it does indicate that the law discriminates against non-resident fathers.  Maintenance and access are dealt with together and as such, there is an exchange of capital.  The father pays maintenance to ensure that he has access to his children. 


The structuring of the benefits system also excludes fathers, as Ferguson and Hogan’s study clearly indicates. 


Perhaps it is time for a fundamental change in men’s attitudes to fatherhood generally.  Professionals can work with families to actively include fathers.  Although, as is evident in the case above, if there is no involvement with social services it is hard to see how this would be of benefit to Danny and Kelly and Martina and Barry. 


Blaming fatherless families for increases in crime serves to further marginalise lone parents.  Promoting marriage harks back to a time when people stayed in loveless, damaging marriages, fearful of the consequences of leaving their partner. 


Recognition of the diversity of family structures by Government agencies and society, at large would in some combat the legal difficulties unmarried parents face.



Personal Acknowledgements


I would firstly like to thank my Mum who has been a tower of strength throughout the course of this year (as usual!).  As a lone parent herself, I am eternally grateful for her sacrifices she has made throughout her life to ensure that I never went without.  I would also like to dedicate my part of my project to the memory of my father who passed away some years ago and inspired me to look at the role of fatherhood in social policy. 


I would also like to extend my gratitude to Shauna and Pete for all their midnight chats, in particular Shauna, whose wise advice I don’t think I could live without!


I would also like to thank Siobhan and Emma who are now thoroughly familiar with the area of social policy despite having never studied it.  They provided much solace and financial aid throughout the year to ensure that I did not starve!







Bourdieu, Pierre/Wacquant, Loic J.D,1992

An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology; Cambridge/Oxford: Blackwell 1992


Fanning, Bryan/Kiely Gabriel/ Kennedy, Patricia/Quin, Suzanne, 2004

Theorising Irish social policy; Dublin: UCD Press, 2004


Ferguson, Harry/Hogan Fergus, 2004

Strenthening Families Through Fathers: Leaving Fathers Out: The Dynamics of Excluding Fathers

Governments Family Research Programme; Department of Social Welfare, 2004



Jenkins, Richard, 1992

Pierre Bourdieu; London ; New York : Routledge, 1992


McKeown Kieran, 2001a

Fathers and Families: research and reflection on key questions; Department of Health and Children; Dublin 2001


McKeown Kieran, 2001b

Families and Single Fathers in Ireland; Administration Dublin : Institute of Public Administration, vol.49, no.1 (Spring 2001), 3-24


McKeown Kieran/Ferguson Harry/Rooney Dermot, 1998

Changing fathers? : fatherhood and family life in modern Ireland; Cork : The Collins Press, 1998


Miller Robert L./Brewer John D. (eds.),  2003

The A-Z of social research : a dictionary of key social science research concepts. London/California: Thousand Oaks/SAGE, 2003


National Women’s Council of Ireland, 2005

Submission to the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution - The Family; Dublin 2005


Peillon, Michel, 2001

Welfare in Ireland : actors, resources, and strategies; Westport, Conn. : Praeger, 2001


Sarantakos, Sotinos, 1998:

Social Research (Second Edition); Basingstoke : Macmillan, 1998


Websites Accessed:


BUNREACHT NA hÉIREANN 1937 – Constitution of Ireland - www.taoiseach.gov.ie/upload/publications/297.htm (2005-04-29)


Guardianship entitlements

http://www.oasis.gov.ie/relationships/civil_relationships/legal_guardianship_and_unmarried_couples.html (2004-05-30)



http://www.gingerbread.org.uk/responsf.html (2005-05-28)


Irish Government debates concerning re-enter of women post-1973 to labour market:



Lowth (Plaintiffs) v. Minister for Social Welfare and the Attorney General (Defendants) No.136 of 1994 [14th July 1998]

www.ucc.ie/law/irlii/cases/136_94.htm (2005-05-31)


Men’s Council of Ireland

http://www.menscouncil.com/ (2005-05-31)



http://www.treoir.ie/about/objectives.html (2005-05-28)








5. Lone Parents: Education and Exclusion

                        Cliona McCormack


5.1 Research aims




Looking at education in its wider context and particularly in relation to participation has led me to focus on formal education, rather than on training, which is inevitably more employment focused. While considering the position of lone parents as a large and varied group I will to some extent be focusing on young lone parents (under twenty-three years of age) because they are seen as the most vulnerable sub-group and by virtue of their age have had most recent contact with full-time education. There are also very obvious policy deficits in relation to young parents in education.



5.2 Methods


            In undertaking the research for this project I initially intended to conduct semi-structured interviews with lone parents in a range of educational environments. However, in the course of the work I found that the time constraints and pressures that lone parents in full-time education faced necessitated the use of open-ended surveys to gain the level of information I required. Using surveys is part of a larger methodology, which accepts that it is possible to ask questions about social phenomena (Harvey and MacDonald, 1993). Open-ended questions allow respondents to compose their own answers rather than choosing from a number of given answers. Using a qualitative survey method allowed me to elicit the views of lone parents in their own words, while allowing them to provide the information at their own convenience. While their responses were more difficult to quantify than if they had chosen from pre-scripted answers I felt that closed questions are often too limiting to reflect the myriad experiences of such a diverse group as lone parents. While I framed questions around what I saw as the main barriers to participation I also asked them what they saw as the biggest barriers to participation thus allowing them to provide information that I might not initially have considered important to the study. In general I met with the lone parents initially and explained the purpose and structure of the surveys then collected the responses after a week or so. I was careful to acknowledge that they were doing me a favour and that I was responsive to their schedules and priorities.


5.2.1 Participants in the Surveys


            Four lone parents aged between twenty and forty-eight from the DAMAS student-parent support network in University College Cork returned surveys. The twenty year-old was receiving no financial supports and was not in receipt of a UCC Students’ Union crèche subsidy as her child was minded by family members. The other students received a mixture of Higher Education grants, scholarships and the Back-to-Education Allowance and all received the UCC crèche subsidy, as their children were minded in the UCC crèche or another formal childcare setting. All were dissatisfied with the level of supports they received, particularly in relation to childcare. Three intended to gain employment after completing their current studies and another aimed to do further research at post-doctoral level.


            Ten lone parents aged between seventeen and twenty-three studying at the St.Vincent’s Trust in inner city Dublin returned surveys. Seven respondents were teenagers at the birth of their first child. All were positive about the support they received at the Trust and saw the main benefits of education as meeting new people and getting a good job. St. Vincent’s Trust is run by the Daughters of Charity who aim to help the most vulnerable in their own communities and they provide opportunities for students to study FETAC courses and FÀS training as well as the Junior and Leaving Certificates while receiving trainee allowances. The ten respondents were all members of the ‘Young Mothers’ group. While they studied in the morning their children were minded in the on-site crèche, unfortunately due to a lack of funding the crèche is closed in the afternoon and the young mothers are unable to follow any of the courses provided after 1.30pm.


            I also surveyed 53 childless second level students aged between 14 and 15 years of age who were involved in the ‘Baby Think it Over’ programme in their secondary school. The school is located in an area of designated disadvantage with many social problems and has piloted this American programme to encourage students to explore the difficulties of parenting at a young age. The programme allows teenagers to care for a simulator baby who exhibits all the behaviours of a real-life baby for a two-night period and aims to help them reflect on the experience of being a teen parent. Students were surveyed both before and after the simulation and their parents/guardians also completed a survey after the simulation. It is widely acknowledged by the community that the school is supportive of student-parents and its social worker, home school liaison officer and guidance counsellor use all available resources to facilitate their retention in school.



5.3 Methodology


            I intend to take a broadly structuralist approach to the issue of lone parents’ participation in education. The main parts of society- the family, the economy, the educational system and the political systems are all part of the social structure. Education became a social structure when the responsibility for educating children moved from the family to society. It is impossible to explain the educational process by focusing solely on the individual, without acknowledging that the individual is already located in the social structure and that this structure regulates their access and perhaps their reaction to education. The students in the educational system are not isolated individuals but are located within the distributional system of society. Their positioning is not of their choosing but is an inherited legacy (Parker, 2003). Social structures have particular conditioning properties and strong beliefs are created through the workings of the system.


My analysis of the educational structure in Ireland is that it is not facilitating the full participation of lone parents. This avoids a genetic or deficit explanation of educational disadvantage that would blame the lone parents themselves for their limited levels of participation. Whilst the supports and motivations of families and individuals to gain education are important they must be facilitated by structural supports (National Youth Federation, 1998). Often a lack of participation is not indicative of an unwillingness to engage with education but rather is a result of how education is structured- the programmes on offer may be the defining factor in who actually is able to participate (King, 2002). As John Parker (2003) has written, ‘sometimes the only complete solution is to abandon the structure itself. Total structural change is the strategy of revolutionaries- but it is seldom practical, simply because the past casts too long a shadow and cannot be denied’ (p. 147). Cognisant of Marx’s theory of history I am not advocating a throwing off of the current structure of education in Ireland, rather I am interested to note the way in which the structure can be modified, repositioned and improved to create an education system that facilitates the participation of all.


5.3.1 Structuration


Wary of an entirely macro approach to the issue I also wish to interrogate the effect that human (social) action has on social structure and more specifically to consider the motivations of individual lone parents who are engaged in education. In so doing I hope to play to the advantages of a structuralist approach- recognising that the education system is shaped by structural factors and that ideologies have powerful effects, while avoiding the disadvantages of such a methodology- the doubts about how much individuals really internalise the values of the system and the general reluctance to admit that society is slowly becoming more meritocratic (Heaton and Lawson, 1996). Kathleen Lynch (1999) a key commentator on education in Ireland has highlighted the flaws of a structuralist approach that ignores the micro levels of human action,


‘Structuralists claim that people are ‘pushed’ into certain educational positions. Whether they know they are being pushed, or whether they are pushed without knowing who is doing the pushing, is an open question. In either model the assumption is that they do not ‘choose’ in a free and meaningful sense of that term’ (p.89).                     


Following from this Lynch assumes a structuralist methodology that accepts the dynamic nature of structures that work through collective and individual agents. This she believes allows the researcher to locate strategies for action and change.


Such an approach allows for a consideration of social action whereby the actions of humans are meaningful and define situations. This necessitates an understanding of the meanings and motives that underlie such human behaviour (Haralambos, 1991). All societies are composed of individuals and no social phenomena have true meaning without the individuals who participate in them. People are subjects not objects trapped completely in a social structure (Parker, 2003). I am therefore adopting a position that sees society as a product of social structures and simultaneously identifies social structures as the products of human behaviour. This approach draws on Anthony Giddens’ theory of structuration, which sees structure and social action as two sides of the same coin (Porter, 1998). Reminiscent of Lynch’s idea of individuals being ‘pushed’ into action Giddens believes humans often act in ways contradictory to their motivations because of the constraints structures place on them. Human thought and action is influenced by the social structures, just as structures only exist in so far as they are reproduced by individuals. We see this in clearly in the question of lone mothers- where once the social structures dominated by Church thinking expected and succeeded in having mothers stay at home, society now expects mothers to work and train, thus the structure or understanding of motherhood has been changed over time by the social actions of collective individuals. Giddens believes that structures are not inherently negative and constraining, and as such often enable individuals to act in positive ways (Porter, 1998). If individual lone parents stop the social structure (education system) from having the desired reproductive effect on them (job creation), perhaps by being educated and then returning to work within the home or studying subjects that have no clear vocational purpose, would this defiance have any effect on the overall structure? A change of the complete structure would be improbable but it does indicate the way in which social actions can undermine or alter, through collective or individual concerted effort, the social structure and given time may even change the structure itself.


5.4 Education located in the Welfare State


            When considering lone parents and educational policy in Ireland it is necessary to make brief reference to the Irish welfare state, which frames these policies. Traditionally Ireland displayed a ‘welfare-at-home’ and ‘male-breadwinner’ model of provision where women were provided for by their fathers or husbands (Leane and Kiely, 1997). As a Catholic Corporatist welfare regime a central theme of Irish social policy was the management of women’s reproductive and social rights. The leading role that the Church played in the social services of health, education and assistance for the poor, coupled with the theory of subsidiarity meant that state social services were poorly developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The dominance of Church social teaching meant that women were defined as mothers rather than as workers (McLaughlin and Rodgers, 1997). Lone mothers, as women without a male provider, proved a difficult anomaly in such a welfare regime- by virtue of their role as mothers they were to be granted certain rights but they also presented a clear threat to the dominant social and moral codes (McLaughlin and Rodgers, 1997).


5.4.1 Moving from Welfare to Education to Work


In the 1970s the Irish welfare regime, confronted with the ever rising number of lone parents through marital separations, widowhood and extra-martial births, framed a system of support which focused on lone mothers receiving welfare payments enabling them to stay at home and mind their children full-time. The idealisation of at-home motherhood (as previously framed in article 41 of Bunreacht na hEireann and restated in countless policy documents) may have been internalised by women themselves and acted as a barrier to participation in education and employment. Leane and Kiely (1997) have referred to this as ‘an ideological barrier to engagement’ (p.307). Gradually the labour market participation rates of women in Ireland began to rise (Ireland, as an example of Leibfried’s (2000) Latin Rim Welfare Regime, had a very low employment rate for women) and in the 1990’s policy towards lone mothers shifted, as they were encouraged to move from state welfare to self-sufficiency and paid employment (Conroy, 1997). In 1993 the Minister for Social Welfare announced measures to encourage lone parents into education and there followed a drawing together of policies directed at lone parents with those of the long term unemployed (McLaughlin and Rodgers, 1997). However, in the absence of suitable childcare facilities it remains difficult for all women to re-enter the labour market. For a further discussion of lone parents’ participation in employment see chapter 7.


Political commentators, particularly in the US and UK have cast lone parents as ‘scroungers’ feeding off the state. Such New Right discourse focuses on the lack of participation of such women in education and employment while remaining unconvinced of the barriers to engagement that such women face (Leane and Kiely, 1997). An example of such rhetoric appeared in the letters page of the Irish Examiner (22/02/05):


‘The birth of children to lone and teenaged mothers, often addicted to alcohol and drugs, and sometimes form different drug-fuelled fathers, is a recipe for intra-generational poverty and crime. Inevitably, any consequent poverty and crime is then blamed on society’s supposed inequalities by those legions of socialist commentators when the real blame lies in the amorality of certain socio-economic communities who defiantly refuse to castigate their teenage offspring for unsustainable and destabilising procreation’


 Placing the blame on the ‘immorality’ of certain groups in society the writer attempts to connect lone parenthood with drug addiction and crime in a highly dubious manner.


In the UK income support unconnected to labour market participation was abolished for lone parents in 1993. This New Deal requires welfare recipients to present for an interview with an employment and training advisor if they receive Income Support (Bradshaw, 1998). The EU has adopted a similar approach focusing on economic inclusion and the ‘employability’ and ‘activation’ of all citizens including lone parents. Social protection is no longer guaranteed but is dependent on citizens showing a willingness and availability for work as ‘the focus of integration changes from a structural analysis of the causes of poverty to an analysis of the individual and moral character of social exclusion’ (Serrano Pascaul, 2003; 96). New Right discourses based on ideological stances about the nature of the welfare state influence the aims of policies and provide a vehicle for the promogulation of political perceptions.


Anthony McCashin (2004) notes that employment participation among lone parents in Ireland has achieved a high level by historic standards and that lone parents themselves are generally positive about entering education and paid work, believing that such endeavours will lead to greater self confidence and personal autonomy. All of the parents studying in the St. Vincent’s Trust valued the new skills they were receiving but also continually pointed to the social outlet that education gave them, It gets me mixing with people in the same situation as me’, ‘It helps me work with other young mothers’, ‘Get further education and meeting new people’, ‘Meeting new people and I’m getting certificates for things I haven’t had already’.


McLaughlin and Rodgers (1997) recognise that the historical development of the welfare regime may inhibit the movement to an employment based model of lone parenting as a ‘rapid movement to an employment-based system would problematic in so far as it would not take account the impact that Ireland’s history and past social welfare regime has had in forming mother’s attitudes. Thus most women positively value staying at home fulltime while their children are young and working part-time and in other flexible ways when their children are older’ (p. 39). Women therefore have, at least to some extent, internalised the values of the Irish welfare regime and place great emphasis on their reproductive and mothering roles. Further developments in policy towards lone mothers must therefore take account of their own definitions of themselves and the differences that exist between lone mothers as a group.



5.5 Why is education important to lone parents?


Education is widely seen as the key weapon of attack on social exclusion and as a central aid in the promotion of equality (Lister, 2000). Lone parents themselves have also recognised that information and support in relation to education and training is often the most helpful aspect of support that they receive (see Riordan, 2002).


Education has become the mechanism through which people, particularly young people, are prepared for economic and social participation (National Youth Federation, 1998). An inability to access education by a significant proportion of lone parents therefore places them at a distinct disadvantage to the rest of the population. The current participation level of lone parents in education is extremely low. The 2002 Census recorded 1,867 lone parents as full-time students out of a total of 350,774 people over 15 who were students (One Family, 2004). The low levels of participation are often explained by the fact that there are no education programmes aimed directly at lone parents and that the schemes such as Youthreach, Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme and Back to Education Allowance, which do offer a limited number of places to lone parents, have done little to overcome barriers to education for such students.


  Data obtained in the 1997 Labour Force Survey found that 47% of lone parents had completed only primary level education, 25% had completed Junior Certificate or equivalent, 18% had completed Leaving Certificate and only 10% had achieved a third level qualification (National Economic and Social Forum, 2001; 65). It is clear that in the very recent past access to educational opportunities as a route out of the poverty was severely limited for lone parents. Educational disadvantage is constantly compounded as those with initially higher levels of education are more likely to participate in further education and training, thereby reinforcing the initial inequalities in educational outcomes (Smyth and Hannan, 2000). Tony Fahey and Helen Russell (2001) studied the findings of the 1997 Labour Force Survey and considered whether the onset of pregnancy disrupted the continuation of education or whether education was normally disrupted prior to the onset of lone parenthood. They concluded that for the majority education was completed prior to childbearing. My findings also showed that all surveyed mothers had left school (if not completed their formal education) prior to becoming pregnant. Lone mothers of all types- unmarried, widowed and separated have lower levels of educational attainment than married mothers and despite the younger age profile of unmarried mothers they do not display higher levels of educational attainment. Indeed for women aged between 20 and 24 unmarried motherhood is strongly related to low levels of education. By comparison 90% of unmarried childless women in the same age group have completed Junior Certificate level and one third have third level qualifications (Fahey and Russell, 2001; 48).


            The educational disadvantages experienced by a majority of lone parents is of itself alarming but when one considers the correlation between educational attainment and labour force participation the need to increase lone parents’ participation in education becomes ever more apparent. A low level of qualifications is the single greatest barrier to employment. Figures collected for the Youthreach 2000 in 1998 show that of those students who entered the labour market directly after school the unemployment rate for those with no qualifications was 47.5% compared with 9.6% for those with Leaving Certificate qualifications. Significantly more unqualified boys (48.1%) than girls (38.9%) enter employment. Over a fifth of these girls are classified as being ‘unavailable for work’ and may therefore include a number of lone parents. Even in the middle of the economic boom in 2000 any household where the reference person had no qualifications was 7.4 times more likely to be unemployed than a household with a reference person who had third level qualifications. Higher levels of qualifications increase the chances of gaining employment and higher earnings and reduce the risk of unemployment and the length of time seeking work. In the current welfare climate where lone parents are actively encouraged to seek work their level of education will play a vital role in their abilities to achieve an adequate standard of living.


The impact of educational achievement is markedly higher for women with school age children as those with high levels of qualifications work in better-paid jobs that enable them to pay for childcare (Sperling and Owne, 2000). A lone parent earning the average industrial wage or below will inevitably struggle to pay for the high cost childcare available in Ireland. In his 1997 study of lone parents Anthony McCashin argued that forcing lone parents into low-skilled jobs would have little benefit for either the economy or the parents themselves, ‘if lone mothers attempt to re-enter the market without improving their level of skills, it is possible that this re-entry will be temporary. The focus of policy…should be long term…[and] the overall labour market prospects of lone mothers should be improved by facilitating them to acquire the relevant skills and qualifications’ (p. viii).  All those I surveyed viewed acquisition of skills as an essential prerequisite to finding a satisfactory job. All of the third level students were focused on finding paid employment and some felt the need for postgraduate study to achieve their professional goals, ‘Further study hopefully! Otherwise work outside the home’ . Every surveyed mother in St. Vincent’s Trust indicated that paid employment was their personal goal for the future, ‘I’d like to get a good job like a secretary in an office’, ‘I hope to get a good job’, ‘It will get me a better job after it’, ‘I got further education so I can go out and get a good job’. Many of these mothers believed that the furthering of their education had made them reconsider their futures, It made me think what I want in the future’, ‘I have learned a lot about computers so I would like to get a job using computers’.


There are many structural factors that further hinder the engagement of lone parents with education. The most visible and widely debated barrier is the lack of a reasonable priced, or state subsidised childcare system. Lone parents as the main and often sole provider of care for their children need to rely on childcare facilities more heavily than two-parent families. Such structural barriers may be the reason that 37% of lone parents with third level qualifications are workless (almost as high as households in which the reference person is unemployed) (Russell et al 2004). Such a low level of employment and particularly of highly skilled employment means that one-parent families are at considerable risk of poverty. The ESRI in Monitoring Poverty Trends in Ireland (2003) have illustrated that in 2001 42.9% of one adult with children families have an income below 60% of the median income (p.20) and that lone parent households experience by far the greatest risk of deprivation, although the rate has fallen from 43% in 1994 to 24% in 2001 (p. 40).  All parents surveyed indicated that they were struggling to survive financially. One parent indicated that one of her primary bonuses of coming to St. Vincent’s Trust as well as meeting new people was the being paid a trainee allowance as the  ‘One –Parent payment is not worth much’. All those studying in St. Vincent’s believed that more money should be made available if we want to increase lone parents’ participation in education, ‘I think lone parents should be getting paid more money on our books. 19 per child is nothing’. The UCC parents faced similar difficulties viewing the support they received as inadequate to their needs, ‘I use a community crèche and pay 50 a week otherwise I would be struggling. Making up the rest of my rent is often difficult’, ‘Between crèche and mortgage payments- very little over’, ‘My costs far out way what I get’.



5.6 Participation and Lone Parents


In the Irish welfare regime at present participation is based almost solely on the ability to work despite the fact that human beings have needs that cannot ultimately be fulfilled in the market place (Gray, 2000). An employment based system of citizenship presents paid work as the obligation of the citizen and ignores the needs of those such as lone parents who may choose, or faced by a lack of supports be unable to take up employment. This hegemony of paid work rejects the child-rearing obligations of women and of lone parents (Lister, 2000). The participation of lone parents in education and employment requires the welfare state to accept and to subsidise the participation costs such as travel, childcare and loss of family time. Participation is not just about creating suitable structures for participation but also requires a debate and acknowledgement regarding the purpose and process of participation for lone parents (Lee, 1996). Is the purpose of their participation in education to develop a new workforce? Or is the purpose to develop the capabilities of citizens so that they may choose to work if they so wish?


            A number of indicators of participation outside of employment have been developed by Brian Nolan and Christopher T. Whelan (1999) which include an intention to vote, confidence in institutions such as the Church, the legal system, Dail or police service, membership of clubs or organisations and attendance at religious services. Such indicators, whether we agree with them or not, do highlight that there is considerably more to participation in society than being a member of the workforce. Highlighting participation facilitates a discussion of the independence, freedom and control that lone parents can have over their lives (McKendrick, 1998). Participation can be facilitated by supportive structures and systems but ultimately that decision to participate is an individual one and it illustrates the agency that lone parents themselves possess.


5.7 Education, the Economy and an Active Labour Market


            Inevitably perhaps in a welfare regime that encourages all citizens to provide for themselves through employment and which sees participation as framed by economic activity, education is seen as primarily functioning to train students for the workforce. The government White Paper (Charting our Education Future) 1995 draws on the National Economic and Social Council report on Education and Training Policies for Economic and Social Development and the EU’s White Paper on Growth Competition and Employment. Given this active labour market philosophical foundation it is no wonder that there are so many references to ‘adaptable personnel’ ‘successful economic performance’ and ‘the acquisition of high quality technical and vocational education’ which will adapt to ‘labour market conditions and future requirements’ (King, O’Driscoll and Holden, 2002; 10). In general there has been a movement in educational debates away from the possible ‘opportunities’ supplied by education to a New Right focus on the preferred outcome of ‘employability’. The NESF Lone Parents Forum Report (2001) recognises current educational programmes are funnelling students into employment. Implicit in the programmes is the goal of employment and there is no facilitation of other future choices. The success of programmes is judged by the numbers leaving to enter employment instead of considering the wider benefits of education for participants. While accepting Kathleen Lynch’s (1999) thesis that too much emphasis on pedagogy and emancipation can overshadow the very obvious fact that the marginalized need jobs such notions of success are clearly too narrow and inflexible. All of my respondents were positive about paid employment and it was clearly their goal to support their families. No respondent indicated a desire or intention to be a full-time stay at home mother although one parent pointed out that she found it difficult to ‘spend time away from the baby’. Without doubt often one of the main purposes of education is the procurement of future employment but this eventual outcome should not colour the total experience of education because ‘the focus on employability often leads to very closed or one sided reflections from the perspective of educators and employers’ (Morch and Stader, 2003; 215).


5.8 Irish Education Policy


Denis O’Sullivan (1989) has pointed out that there was a real lack of ideological debate surrounding education in Ireland. Theoretical and philosophical considerations were and perhaps are, anathema to the Irish politician. Referring to free secondary school education in 1966 Minister Colley stated that, ‘Negatively it is not anything ideological or political’ (cited in O’Sullivan, 1989; 242). Even the most basic tenets behind Irish educational policy, such as ‘equality of opportunity’ were left undefined and unelaborated as the decades rolled by. Perhaps as a consequence successive governments followed a ‘weaker rather than stronger model of distributive justice’ (Lynch and Lodge, 2002; 7). The issue of social class inequity was masked by the rhetoric of nationalism, community and partnership (Lynch and Lodge, 2002). O’Sullivan (1989) has cannily highlighted that paradoxically, in attempting to act free from the reins of ideology, educational planners acted ideologically, that is in the interests of the classes who benefited from the maintenance of a system rooted in inequalities. Despite continued protestations of ideological neutrality, functionalism and in particular Human Capital Theory and Active Labour Market Policy have dominated educational policy in Ireland. A functionalist reading of education sees that as people are educated and drawn into the workforce they become more and more rooted in the social and economic structure. As Tony Blair famously remarked, ‘Education is the best economic policy we have’ (cited in King, O’Driscoll and Holden, 2002; 17).


            In such a centralised political system as Ireland the state and its institutions play a pivotal role in the management of education. The state is a dynamic agent constantly negotiating the operations of unequal relations in education, mediating between students and their educational choices by specifying the institutional and economic conditions within which choices are framed and by creating and directing policies (Lynch 1999). In this centralised system the primary location to influence the structure of education is the state. The individual, rather than the structure, is charged with making changes to their actions. Lone parents have to compensate for flaws in the system through further education, while the flawed structure is allowed to continue in the same manner (Walther and McNeish, 2003). Many of the parents at St. Vincent’s Trust felt trapped to some extent in their educational position, Can’t afford to go to college’, ‘We need the baby minded, can’t afford to go to college’, ‘If you want to go and do further education you can’t afford to go and need childminders and can hardly afford that either’.


            Irish policy was for a long time based on ‘normality’, catering for the ‘normal’ Irish student (under eighteen years of age, Irish and without dependent children). The Equal Status Act 2000 reflects an ideological movement towards educational equality for the non-‘normal’ student (including lone parents). Yet despite movements towards a more equitable educational future for all which ‘should seek to promote equality of access, participation and benefit for all in accordance with their needs and abilities’ (White Paper, 1995; 7) measures are still focused to ‘avoid increasing the gap of inequality through socio-economic differences’ (White Paper, 1995; 141) rather than ending inequality completely.


5.9 Is There a Wider Vision of Education?


            Education can be used to broaden horizons, give qualifications and empower students to have a lifestyle they might otherwise have been denied. John Dewey, an influential liberal commentator on education argued that it was the job of education to encourage individuals to reach their full potential. He believed that schooling should cultivate the physical and spiritual as well as the intellectual abilities of students and that such a progressive form of education would promote a democratic society. He advanced a form of education that was tolerant and flexible to a diversity of students (Haralambos and Holburn, 1991; 234). Writers on the Irish education system, Drudy and Lynch (1993) have criticised the inflexible and outcome based nature of the Irish school system, ‘Education… should not just focus on preparing people for paid employment or what is normally labelled the ‘labour market’: it should also prepare people for undertaking other types of work in society, such as caring, without which the economy could not function’ (p.210).


Such a statement is particularly relevant when considering lone parents in education; by focusing on paid employment as the primary function of education the Irish system neglects and denigrates the work that lone parents do in rearing the next generation of Irish citizens. Lone parents involved in education have themselves found that issues of self-confidence, autonomy, meeting new people and self-development were some of the most important elements of education for them (see McCashin, 2004 and Review of State Supports Available to Young Parents, 2002). The notion that the purpose of education is the outcome and reward that the state will get (a new labour force) ignores the reality that there are benefits of education that cannot be quantitatively measured. A ‘social-investment state’ such as is developing in Ireland, seeks to avoid the waste of talent that occurs when education fails to draw out the skills of excluded groups. Education is therefore justified on the promise of future social returns (Gray, 2000). However, there will always be instances when the state cannot expect any returns- as in educating a terminally ill child who can never hope to work, or providing a disability pension to the severely disabled to enable them to have a good quality of life without participation in the labour market. There cannot and never should be a welfare state justified solely on investment principles. The Irish government in the Green Paper on Adult Education in an Era of Lifelong Learning appears to acknowledge and promote a wider purpose for education. It states that the three key elements of education are promoting the well being of citizens, contributing to social and economic cohesion and strengthening the democratic process (cited in King, O’Driscoll and Holden, 2002). Yet despite such laudable aspirations, the economic paradigm continues to dominate Irish education.


5.10 Education Schemes for Lone Parents


            There are no education programmes solely targeted at lone parents in Ireland. In general lone parents participate in schemes that aim to tackle educational disadvantage and specifically those schemes that facilitate early school leavers and the long-term unemployed. Where lone parents remain within conventional second or third level education there is an almost complete lack of policies and supports available to them. The UCC respondents felt that their needs and difficulties were not understood by academic and administrative staff and noted a ‘lack of consideration for independent young lone parents’, ‘ child unfriendly lecture timetables, childcare costs, lack of specific support at campus level’.  They saw a need for more understanding of student-parents needs’ and ‘liaison with schools and other educational facilities, better crèche facilities [and] specific support programmes for including student parents’. In general it appears that those who disengage from education for a period are more adequately supported within the system, as those lone parents that manage to seamlessly continue in education are largely left to survive by their own devices. The twenty-year-old UCC student has found the supports provided to her inadequate, ‘if I was three years older I would be entitled to supports but not now because of my age’ and believes that ‘lack of support deters school leavers staying in the education system’.


Lone parents may participate in education schemes by virtue of their age, being inhabitants in areas of designated disadvantage or because they have left the traditional school system early or unqualified however, they very rarely meet the entry requirements of such programmes solely by virtue of being lone parents. The schemes that are of most relevance to lone parents are Youthreach, Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS), the Home Tuiton Scheme, Back to Education Allowance and the 3rd level grant assistance. In general the schemes are full-time and are run to ‘school-time’ hours. Unfortunately, while offering considerable benefits for lone parents the schemes are less likely than mainstream education to yield marketable qualifications (Smyth and Hannan, 2000). I will consider the specific needs of teenage parents in education at a later stage.


            The Youthreach programme is aimed at students aged between fifteen and twenty years who have left school with less than five D’s in the Junior Certificate (some discretionary exceptions can be made to this for lone parents). The course is free and trainees receive a weekly allowance that is paid according to age, €50.80 for a fifteen year old and €124.80 for those eighteen and over. Lone parents continue to receive the One-Parent Family Payment (OFP) but Rent Supplement may be affected. Youthreach is based around two phases- the Foundation phase where trainees overcome learning difficulties, develop self-confidence and a range of skills for future learning and a Progression phase which provides more focused training, education and work placements. The training usually leads to Junior Cert., Applied Leaving Cert or a FETAC qualification. The programme places a strong emphasis on achievement and developing the self worth of participants. In 2000 an evaluation of the programme stated that further efforts should be made to meet the very particular needs of lone parents in Youthreach as the scheme was insufficiently dealing with the problems encountered by this group in returning to education (Youthreach, 2000). VTOS caters for persons over twenty-one who have been in receipt of the One-Parent Family or Unemployment Assistance for at least six months. Lone parents receive an allowance equivalent to the One-Parent payment, a lunch and travel allowance, although rent supplement may be affected. Some monies are available to subsidise child-care (Treior, 2004). In County Cork there were a hundred VTOS places available in the academic year 2002-2003 and lone parents filled 31 of these. The Home Tuition programme entitles those students unable to attend second-level education, due to illness and pregnancy, to nine hours tuition in their home for a maximum of ten weeks.


            The availability of financial assistance can enable participation in education. The Back to Education Allowance was designed as a mechanism to encourage early school leavers back to education. In providing for early-school leavers it does however ignore the needs of those who have not left education for any considerable period but who may also be encountering difficulties. In general the current schemes benefit those who have left school for more than two years while failing to address those students who stay in education continuously. The Allowance specifically targets lone parents (Depart. Social, Family and Community Affairs, 2005) but offers no support for childcare despite eligibility for the scheme being conditional on enrolling in a full-time education programme (One Family, 2004). The lack of a part-time option may explain why take-up by lone parents remains small. In December 1999 there were only 636 lone parents availing of the allowance and 567 of these were studying at Third Level institutions (McCashin, 2000). For postgraduate study the allowance is rather arcanely limited to those studying for teaching qualifications (Treoir, 2004). Lone parents continue to receive the maximum rate of the OFP and an annual allowance of €254 and retain secondary benefits including rent supplement. The age eligibilities of the financial assistance can create a ‘push’ factor for young lone parents (Riordan, 2002b)- often they may choose to leave full-time education for a period and then return to education when they can, being older, avail of extra financial support. In short the current system encourages young lone parents to leave education until they are twenty-three.


Higher Education grants are available to all third-level students who meet means-test requirements. The highest payment is €2,885 per annum. Lone parents receive no exemptions from means testing and any lone parents under twenty-three, whether living with parents or not, or over twenty-three and living with their parents are means-tested on their parents income. Many of the UCC parents had faced considerable difficulties regarding grant eligibility and the one non-recipient of the grant wanted ‘greater support from the Higher Education Authority- more understanding concerning grants’. There is however a disregard for the OFP. Lone parents receive the same grant aid as other students but if they are over twenty-three and living independently they may be eligible for a top-up grant. The age eligibilities in the scheme mean that lone parents under twenty-three years of age often face extreme financial difficulties. Young parents whether in receipt of a grant or not, and with no significant previous absence from school, cannot apply for rent supplement and other secondary benefits.


5.11 Barriers to Education for Lone Parents


            The barriers to those few education schemes that accept lone parents are manifold but can be divided into structural or institutional barriers and barriers of the self. Financial considerations often act as the primary barrier to a return to education. Lone parents at every level of the education system find it difficult to cope, this is particularly true at third level where they make the most use of hardship funds and loans and are more likely than any other group of students to drop out of courses because of cost (Millar and Ford, 1998). The institutional barriers to education are to some extent accepted by the Department of Education and the White Paper on Adult Education 2000 acknowledges the rigidity of the system which places disproportionate emphasis on provision of full-time programmes. Respondents from St. Vincent’s Trust and UCC all pointed to the difficulties raised by the ‘school-hours’ approach to education provision. The UCC parents often had difficulties attending late lectures because ‘Childcare, college lecturers and exam hours [are] very unfriendly to families’ and felt that ‘Day course should adhere to day hours and UCC crèche should remain open to allow parents to attend evening lectures’.


            The Lone Parents Forum Report No 20 (2001) highlighted the obstacles lone parents face in education and notes that these impediments are similar to those faced by the long-term unemployed, women returning to the workforce and women from low income households, but that the needs of lone parents are by far the most acute. The complexity of eligibility for schemes and the range of programs being provided by a large number of agencies means that it is difficult for lone parents to discover what they are entitled to or eligible for. The information deficit is increased by the fact that the OFP, as a pension-style payment, requires lone parents to have very little contact with Social Welfare departments (McCashin, 2000) Further institutional barriers stressed in the report are the lack of family friendly arrangements, lack of clear progression routes, the complexities of the interactions between the tax and welfare systems, the possibility of the loss of secondary benefits and a lack of childcare.


            Indeed childcare is highlighted by all agencies as one of the largest institutional barriers for all student-parents, in spite of the National Childcare Strategy and the crèche-building strategy underway through the Dept. of Justice and Law Reform. The supply of quality, affordable childcare is an important issue for government who have established the National Childcare Committee and Co-ordinator and provided €250million in the National Development Plan to develop the national childcare infrastructure. Despite this  there was a remarkable 37% reduction in the childcare budget for VTOS, Youthreach and Traveller Training in 2003 (Aontas, 2004). Those parents, primarily younger lone parents, who utilise informal means of childcare (family members or friends) are further disadvantaged because they are not entitled to childcare subsidies. One parent in UCC receives no childcare support because she has to rely on family members for childminding even though her son’s name has been on the UCC crèche waiting list for a year. She also worries that he could use better social skills gained from spending time with kids his own age’. This indicates the extra dimensions to childcare. Childcare is not just about allowing parents the opportunity to study but must also be suitable and stimulating for children. One parent in St. Vincent’s’ Trust decided to attend ‘to help the baby mix with other children’.  (A study of the available research on the educational attainment of the children of lone parents is made in section 6.7.) All of the respondents unsurprisingly highlighted the continually difficulties they faced trying to find affordable good quality childcare. Parents in UCC were angry about the level of childcare available. One parent stated that she relied on ‘family, friends, in fact it is difficult to get someone to look after my son’. The current UCC crèche caters for the children of seventeen staff members and fifteen students at mainly pre-school level. There are currently two hundred and fifty names on the waiting list for a place. The new planned enlarged UCC crèche, which will be part funded by the Department of Justice and Law Reform will accommodate the children of fifty students and thirty staff. The Students’ Union sets aside €5,000 per annum from their budget to subsidise students who do not have places in the UCC crèche. The subsidy will be means tested in the coming academic year as over-runs in previous years meant that no parent received their subsidy for a number of months. The Union hopes to maintain at least some discretionary element to the payment. It is blatantly clear that the childcare provision in UCC is unacceptable. One parent argued that The number of places is inadequate as well as the length of the waiting list. If a parent decides to settle their child into another crèche while on the waiting list and then is offered a place and refuses it they lose their subsidy. No consideration is given to the possible upset the child will suffer’. Another parent highlighted similar issues as well as showing concern at the lack of in-service training for the crèche staff. All of the respondents studying at St. Vincent’s Trust cited childcare as an acute problem they face. A lack of provision and the limited hours were identified as the main issues that need to be rectified. ‘Sort something out with childcare’, ‘Childcare could be better in this country’, ‘I think there should be more courses part-time which are worthwhile for parents, also a lot more childcare’.


            Focusing solely on the structural barriers to education would be to deny the individual agency of lone parents. Structural barriers may be further compounded by what Ruth Lister (2000) has termed ‘gendered moral rationalities’ (p.42) whereby lone parents (and particularly mothers) view their primary role as that of care givers and therefore choose staying at home with their children as their first ‘career’. Although none of the parents I surveyed identified caring as their primary function it must be recognised that I was surveying a certain group of lone parents who had made the decision and overcome innumerable barriers to continue their education and may therefore be more highly motivated than other groups of lone parents to take up paid employment. Lone parents’ subjectivities are as much a part of social reality as the education system, labour market and social structures and will have objective impacts on the process of bringing lone parents back to education (Walther and McNeish, 2003). The attitudes of their peers and families may also have a huge impact on their decisions to remain at home or to return to education. Therefore lone parents’ own individual choices about their futures may be divorced from national educational structures (Duncan and Edwards, 1997). Other barriers of the self can include low self-esteem, de-motivation, negative past experiences of education and the fear of return (Lone Parents Forum Report, 2001).




5.12 Teenage Parents and Education Policy


            Teenage lone parents make up a small but highly vulnerable group of lone parents (Magee, 1994).  Most teenage parents can be considered lone parents by our definition as generally they will be living at home with their parents rather than co-habiting with the child’s father and will therefore qualify for the OFP. The needs teenage lone parents are more acute than their older counterparts. Often they require a comprehensive level of service provision that recognises the vulnerabilities of their situation. Pregnancy has also been shown to be more disruptive of education than of employment and as such their most pressing needs are often related to school-retention (Phoenix, 1994). Often of course pregnancy will act as an impetus to gain qualifications as a means to employment in order to support their child. A number of the teenage parents at St. Vincent’s Trust who had left school early indicated their motivation to gain further education and it is probable that this new desire may have stemmed from the birth of their children, ‘I needed to do my Junior Cert.’, ‘I wanted to get further education’, ‘I decided to come… and learn new things’, ‘I wanted to learn more’.  Lone parents under twenty-three and most specifically teenage lone parents suffer from a number of policy gaps as there is no definition of a ‘teenage parent’ in social policy in Ireland. This lack of a clear definition compounded by a severe lack of data regarding teen parents means that there is a lack of consideration given to young lone parents in the formulation of policy.


Undoubtedly there are clear differences in the needs of a sixteen-year old lone parent studying for the Junior Certificate and a thirty-year old lone parent undergoing a degree programme. Most worrying of all there are no guidelines for second-level schools in how to support pregnant and parenting students. One report carried out for the Department of Health and Children in 2000 went so far as to refer to teenage parents as the ‘invisible students’. Their omission from policies means that in theory at least school authorities can discourage pregnant students from remaining in education (Riordan, 2002). Attention to ensuring teenage parents remain in school is often very weak and issues of ‘health and safety’ are often employed by school authorities to account for pregnant students’ non-attendance (Joint Committee on Family, Community and Social Affairs, 2001). Educational provision is not tailored to meet their specific needs despite the evidence that the longer these parents remain outside of education the more personally difficult it becomes for them to return (Lone Parents Forum Report, 2001) and that teenage parents consistently have the highest rates of worklessness (Russell et al, 2004).


Educational researcher Sinead Riordan (2002; 32-3) believes that this policy ambiguity stems in part ‘from society’s deep ambivalence about adolescent sexuality and preference for ‘traditional family forms’’. Policy makers appear reticent to introduce any supports for teenage parents for fear of being accused of ‘promoting’ teenage sex. There has been very little discussion of the needs of young lone parents in national welfare policies. This is perhaps because of New Right commentators’ preoccupation with the ‘immorality’ of young mothers. Often this ambivalence means that the rhetoric of supporting teenage parents to remain in education is not fulfilled. Policy debates regarding teenage lone parents have had to struggle with public perceptions that the rate of teenage pregnancy is constantly rising. The reality is that in 1973 there were 3,048 births to women under twenty, while in 1999 there were 3,165 births to the same age group (Joint Committee on Family, Community and Social Affairs, 2001; 11). The only real difference that has occurred is that whereas the births in the 1970’s were most often to young married couples, most teenage parents today are unmarried. The Joint Committee on Family Community and Social Affairs (2001; 25) highlighted the wider significances of providing for teenage parents in the education system, ‘education or training for this group is not merely based on socio-economic considerations but also on the role of learning in creating a more democratic and civilised society by promoting culture, identity and well-being and by strengthening individuals and families’.


Young lone parents also experience personal and cultural barriers to their participation in education. Some communities and families may differ on the best option for young mothers in particular to follow, some encouraging a stay-at-home model of mothering, others supporting the continuation of education. Young mothers themselves may decide to be full time carers, particularly while their children are young or may decide not to return to school because of the negative experiences they had there while pregnant. Young lone mothers may often find a high level of social stigma attached to their condition that can in turn create a perception that young mothers ‘should not be in education’ (Riordan, 2002b).


5.12.1 Case Study: Baby Think it Over Programme


            This programme originated in America and is seen as a mechanism to facilitate discussions and reflection on what it means to be a parent at a young age. It aims to give second level students a more realistic and hands-on experience of being responsible for a baby. When it is carried out in a school that is supportive of all its students the programme is a valuable life-skills learning tool. Undoubtedly it is presumed that participation in the programme will promote the delaying of pregnancy (see chapter 9 for a detailed discussion of sexual health and education).


In the pre and post simulation questionnaires I collected the students stated that twenty-four to twenty-five was they age at which they envisaged having their first child.  In the pre-simulation questionnaire thirty-five students thought it was ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to have a partner when caring for a child. In the post-simulation questionnaires the number of students indicating this view had risen to forty-one. This change of mind by a number of students may be explained by the difficulties they experienced during the simulation. The students were clear that their parents would be unhappy if they were to become pregnant when in school. The most common words they used to describe what their parents would feel were ‘disaster’, ‘afraid’, ‘stressed’ and ‘disgrace’. However, the majority of the students were also aware that their parents, despite perceived feelings of anger or disappointment, would be supportive of their daughters, ‘ashamed not pleased but would help big time’, ‘angry but happy’. When asked if the simulation had changed their opinion of parenting all respondents expressed a belief that the programme had changed their opinions in some way. These responses ranged from Knew it would be hard but still want children’, ‘It comes with the responsibility of a baby and in the end its worth it but not until I’m thirty or so’ and ‘I am too young to cope with the responsibilities; but when I’m older I want kids’ to responses such as You cannot follow your own plan your baby has to come first all the time. You only have Baby Think it Over for weekend but you have a baby FOREVER’, ‘It taught me that it is not just buying cute clothes but is about a lot more’, ‘It has learnt me its hard, very hard’ and ‘It’s too much work looking after the baby it changes because you can’t do your normal thing every day’.


The inclusion of the students’ parents is seen as a vital element of the programme. Parents completed a questionnaire after the simulation was completed. All were positive about the experience although many expressed the view that two days was too short a period and some felt that the students should have completed the programme when they were younger. All parents were aware of the purpose of the programme; ‘Not to have children at an early age and how hard it is to manage a baby’, ‘learned how hard it is to be responsible for another person’, ‘Not to have kids at a young age and having to look after the baby, waking up during the night three or four times was not a good experience for her’. The parents all appeared confident of the positive effect the programme had on their daughters. One mother summed up this positive effect both for herself and her daughter, ‘It was good to see how she coped and I feel she learned a lot and we all lost a lot of sleep. It showed me not to have any more and I wish I had a baby like that when I was young’.  


5.13 Conclusion and Recommendations


            Throughout the course of the research it has become increasingly clear that lone parents’ participation in education is currently limited by a deficit of supportive policies. Despite the intentions of government to have lone parents engaged in education there has been a lack of clear thinking about how best to support student-parents. Indeed in 2000 the Review of the One-Parent Family Payment explicitly called for an ending of the passive approach to education policies for lone parents. Those lone parents whom I surveyed were all committed to supporting themselves and their families through future paid employment. It is obvious that for many lone parents further education is seen as a step towards a more secure financial future. Policy makers must remain cognisant of the differences between different groups of lone parents; differences of age and educational attainment, and policies should be targeted directly at these different sub-groups. My research, coupled with the more comprehensive work of others such as McCashin and O’Riordan and of organisations such as TREOIR and OPEN, highlight the huge barriers that face those returning to education.  The most important of these barriers relate to a lack of adequate financial assistance and the severely limited provision of childcare in Ireland. Whether or not lone parents have access to satisfactory childcare is one of the most essential elements of any education policy. Childcare provides lone parents with the opportunity to fulfil their goals, provides a point of social contact and allows lone parents to feel more in control of their lives (Millar and Ford, 1998). It behoves policy makers and service providers to assist and facilitate such parents. In order to do this it is necessary to make some changes to current provision:











Being involved in education will always be difficult for lone parents but the introduction of the recommendations outlined above would relieve lone parents of some of the most difficult burdens they currently face in Ireland.




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Conference Report Women Learning and Era of Change; Dublin: AONTAS, 2004

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Lone Parents  in: Alcock, Pete  et al (eds.): Student’s Companion to Social Policy 2nd edt.; London: Blackwell, 1998

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The Employment Aspects of Lone Parent Families in Ireland; Dublin: Irish Youth Work Press, 1997

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The Big Picture Quality in the Lives of Lone Parents in: Ford, Rueben, Millar, Jane (eds.): Private Lives and Public Responses Lone Parenthood and Future Policy in the UK; London: Policy Studies Institute, 1998.

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Single Mothers in the Republic of Ireland: Mothers not Workers in: Duncan, Simon, Edwards, Rosalind (eds.): Single Mothers in an International Context: Mothers and Workers; London: UCL Press, 1997

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Lone Parenthood and Future Policy in: Ford, Rueben, Millar, Jane (eds.): Private Lives and Public Responses Lone Parenthood and Future Policy in the UK; London: Policy Studies Institute, 1998.

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Competence and Employability in: Asknoas, Peter, Stewart, Angus (eds.): Social Inclusion Possibilities and Tensions; Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2003

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6. Preschool Education


                                                                                                Noreen Gleeson


6.1. Introduction


This research piece aims to examine the importance of preschool education for children from one-parent families, in Ireland. This topic will be illustrated under the following headings:



Various research methods were used to elaborate on the above headings, including:


6.1.1. Reading Materials:


6.1.2. Field Work:



6.2 The Welfare State


A common definition for the ‘welfare state’ is that “…it involves state responsibility for securing some basic modicum of welfare for its citizens.” (Esping- Anderson cited in Pierson and Castles, 2000:154)  A useful means of determining a model, which best suits Ireland’s welfare state, is to examine existing models of welfare regimes, hence discovering commonalities.


The Latin-Rim typology emphasizes the role of the church, women and the agricultural economy, in the welfare state.  Langan and Ostener (1991) view the Latin- Rim model as a ‘mixed women’s family support economy’, based on their assessment of Italy.  Ireland’s welfare state shows similarities with Italy mainly in relation to gender labour market segregation. (Kiely, O’Donnell, Kennedy and Quin, 1999)  Evidently the Latin- Rim regime captures some important elements of Irish social policy particularly in terms of the role of the church and the role of women.


In the ‘liberal’ model, means tested assistance, modest universal transfers and modest social insurance plans are prominent.  Benefits are mainly available to low-income citizens, who are usually working class state dependents.  Typically, benefits are modest and the entitlement procedures in applying for these benefits are strict.  The effect of this type of regime “…is relative equality of poverty among state-welfare recipients, market- differentiated welfare among the majorities, and a class-political dualism between the two.” (Esping- Anderson, cited in Pierson end Castles, 2000: 162)  Ireland’s welfare state has characteristics of the ‘liberal’ model, mainly in relation to its welfare payments, which are predominately means tested.


In broad terms the welfare state comprises of interventions, which happen in five key areas: health, education, income maintence, personal social services and housing. (Meade and Kiely cited in Ferguson, 1996)  This research piece will specifically focus on the preschool education of children from one-parent families living in designated disadvantaged urban areas in Cork County Borough.


With the above two examples of welfare regimes in mind, the question needed to be addressed, for the purpose of this research piece is: Where does the preschool education of children fit in to Ireland’s welfare state?



6.3.1. Functionalism


Every methodology should somehow define the Welfare State. Functionalism is the chosen methodology for this piece because its perspectives on education and the family are influential in understanding society. This will be highlighted throughout the course of this research piece.  This research piece will investigate if the Welfare State in Ireland, responds functionally to the educational needs of preschool children from one-parent families.


Methodology is a perspective on social life that is derived from a particular theoretical tradition.  It supplies overall perspectives and influences the areas of research as well as the modes in which research problems are identified and tackled.

“Functionalism is a framework for building theory that envisions society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability” (Macionis and Plummer, 1998:19). This methodology is built on the premise that people’s lives are directed by a social structure i.e. relatively secure patterns of social behaviour. (Macionis and Plummer, 1998)


The main parts of society for example the family, the economy; the educational system and the political system are some of the main aspects of the social structure.  Functionalist analysis concentrates on how the structure functions.  This entails an examination of the relationship between the various parts of the structure and consequently their relationship with society.  (Haralambos and Holbarn, 1990)  Hence the function of the educational system is the effect it has on other parts of the social system, in this case the family and on the maintenance of society as a whole. 


In broad terms, the functionalist perspective of education is inclined to center on the possible contributions made by education to the continuation of the social system.  Durkheim and Parsons are influential sociologists who have illustrated the functionalist view of education. (Haralambos and Holbarn, 1990)  Their work will be referred to throughout this piece, in order to provide a continuous overall framework for the methodology, in the context of the welfare state.


6.3.2. The Function of the Education System


Functionalism views society as a system, with basic needs, that must be met so that it can continue existing.  These basic needs are referred to as the ‘functional prerequisites’ of society.  The family meets needs, which are present in society.  For example it is argued that all societies demand some mechanism to make certain that social positions are sufficiently acquired by motivated people.  Hence, under the family unit it is believed that some mechanism for the reproduction and socialization of new members of society is a functional prerequisite. (Haralambos and Holbarn, 1990)


One could consider education as a mechanism, whose function is to ensure that motivated people fill positions in society.  This in turn assists the family in meeting the needs of society.  Presumably, education must be of a high standard and quality, if it is to successfully support the family in this process.


Failure in the Irish education system can have life long consequences.  It can, for example, increase the risk of encountering unemployment or working in poorly paid jobs.  Also, it can limit a person’s ability to reach his/her potential in the area of personal development.  Subsequently, in Irish society, educational success is currently perceived as being imperative in securing better life chances. (Boldt, Devine, McDevitt and Morgan, 1998)  I believe that early year’s education is one means of increasing a child’s educational success.  According to Clearly, Nic Ghiolla Phadraig and Quin (2001:Vol.1) the long-tern benefits of education are evident in children’s positive attitudes to learning, task orientation and self-esteem.  Therefore early education is fundamental in the child’s general development.  The optimum early educational approach should consist of a child-centered approach, which is holistic and dynamic.  Unfortunately despite the importance of this educational process, there appears a lack of consistency in terms of practice and policy in Ireland. Additionally, there is no national curriculum at preschool level at present.

6.4. Historical Context


In order to understand the current policy position of early childhood education in Ireland, which is extremely varied, it is necessary to gain an overview of its evolution.


In the Republic of Ireland, six is the compulsory age for starting primary school.  However, most national schools permit children to start school from the age of four onwards. (Douglas, 1994)  The Department of Education is responsible for the provision of these infant classes.  In addition to this it is responsible for the Early Start Programme that caters for three to four year olds in forty centers around Ireland. Also with regards to the public sector some nurseries/family centers are under the provision of the Department of Health.  Private/voluntary sector provision consists of numerous preschool services for example playgroups, naionrai (Irish medium playgroups), Montessori schools, crèches, nurseries and child minders. (Hayes et al, 1997)


The following historical dates help put into context the establishment of early year’s educational provision in both the public and private sectors.  Maria Edgeworth established the first known preschool in Ireland in the early 19th century.  In September 1900 the Kindergarten system was implemented in all primary schools.  Two Mercy nuns in Waterford established the first Montessori class in 1920.  St.Bridgid’s Nursery Centre was founded in Mountjoy Square, Dublin by the Civics Institute of Ireland in 1940. In 1958, the first school in the Republic of Ireland for emotionally disturbed children was set up by Father Casey in Dublin.  In Shannon, Co. Limerick 1968, the first Irish-speaking playgroup was formed.  1969 saw the founding of the Irish Pre-school playgroups Association (IPPA). The Rutland Street project, which was the only major initiative ever made by the Irish government in preschool education was set up in Dublin in 1969.  The first community playgroup was formed in 1970 in Dublin. In 1987, the IPPA became a limited company under the Companies Act in 1983.  In 1994, the Minister of Education announced the setting up of eight preschools (Early Start Model) attached to primary schools in disadvantaged urban areas, namely Dublin, Limerick and Cork.  (Douglas, 1994)


According to the Irish Constitution 1937 the state acknowledges that “…the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.” (Government of Ireland, 1999, Article 42.1)  This central role of the family in their child’s education reflects the lack of comprehensive or universal state provision in early year’s education through out the 20th century.  Consequently child minders addressed the gap in preschool education.  The Community based not-for-profit providers listed previously for example Montessori, also helped meet this gap in pre-school education.  High/Scope is another example of such provision.  These services all include an educational component. Together with their umbrella organizations such as the IPPA, they contributed significantly to establishing and delivering pre-school services.  It is worth taking cognisance of the fact that without the work of such providers, there would have been little childcare provision for policies to address in recent years. (Corrigan, 2002)


The Irish State needs to increase its involvement in providing early year’s educational provision, in order to ensure that education contributes positively to the maintenance of society.  Educational policies, which favour preschool education, are one means of such intervention. Their function would be of benefit to the development of the Irish welfare state.


6.5. Irish Policies


Irish policy discussions and developments in preschool education have become prominent since the mid 1990’s.  Prior to this the main focus of educational policy has been directed to the formal system at first, second and third level.  Reasons for the recent advancement include: increased recognition of the value of early childhood care and education and the increased participation of women into the labour force. Three recent main policy developments are the National Childcare Strategy 1999, the White Paper 1999 and the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme, 2000-2006.


The National Childcare Strategy 1999 arose from a virtual crisis in childcare due to an increased demand and limited supply.  The main issued addressed were the importance of children’s needs and rights and the promotion of equality.  In relation to needs and rights the strategy emphasized that care and education are inseparable.  Also the ethos of all childcare services must be child centered and the methodology play based.  With regards to equality the strategy delineates that all children should have access to early childhood education and the means to participate in such. (Department of Health and Children, 1999) Doyle and Gough (1991) assert that security in childhood is a universal need, which is fundamental to human welfare. (Dukelow cited in Ferguson, 1996)  A preschool setting with a structured daily routine can provide security to children if functioning sufficiently.


The White Paper: Ready to Learn 1999 highlights policy initiatives, focusing on the education of children aged between three to six years.  This policy document acknowledges that, previously in Ireland education was considered to begin when the child went to school and ended when he/she left the formal education system.  Recently, however there is a growing appreciation of the importance and benefits of lifelong learning, commencing from the very early childhood phase.  The White Paper illustrates how studies in the UK in the early 1990’s found that children at the age of 7, who had attended pre-school, performed better than their peers in numerous subject areas.  Furthermore, high quality pre-school education can lead to lasting cognitive benefits to society as a whole by reducing costs associated with crime, unemployment and healthcare.  The policy recognizes the Irish education system:  “…must take what is best in existing provision, both nationally and internationally and incorporate it into our early childhood education system.” (Department of Education and Science, 1999: vii)


The Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme 2000-2005 is one of the most eminent developments aimed at enhancing childcare provision in Ireland.  The primary focus of this Programme is to improve access to education through the following objectives: improving the quality of childcare, adding to the number of existing facilities and places and finally implementing a coordinated approach to delivering childcare services.  Such an infrastructure is hoped to meet the needs of a diverse range of parents, notably those who are trying to balance work and family life.  The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform were allocated 436.7milllion Euro to invest into childcare provision from this programme.  Through this funding, capital grants are available to community/ non-profit organizations and private providers.  This funding can be used towards the cost of building, renovating or equipping childcare facilities.  Staffing grants are also available through the EOCP, to non-profit community organizations and private providers.  The purpose of this type of grant is to aid the cost of staff for community based services in disadvantaged areas. (Corrigan, 2002)


It has been proposed that “Ireland’s development of a welfare state is subject to a disjunction between the myth of progress from a bad past to a good present, and that this is evident in particular through the reality of encounters with the welfare state for many who bear the brunt of marginalisaton and inequality.” (Dukelow cited in Ferguson, 1996:13)  Even children can bear the ‘brunt’ of marginalisation and inequality, particularly those living in disadvantaged areas.  Theories can help expand on this reality.



6.6. The Theory of Cultural Deprivation


Theories tend to be linked to broader methodologies.  According to Giddens (1997) theories are more narrowly concentrated than methodologies.  They attempt to clarify particular sets of social conditions or occurrences.


The main theory, which will be discussed throughout this piece under the framework of functionalism, against the backdrop of the Irish welfare state, is the theory of cultural deprivation.  The theory of cultural deprivation relates strongly to educational inequalities, which children from one-parent families endure.  According to Haralambos and Holbarn (1990), the culture of poverty in different societies share similar characteristics.  Problems and circumstances of a similar nature result in similar responses.  These responses can lead to a culture, which produces the learned, shared, and social behaviour of a social group. Gans argues that poverty exists in society because it benefits the non-poor, notably the rich and powerful.  He claims that poverty persists “Because many of the functional alternatives to poverty would be quiet dysfunctional for the more affluent members of society.” (Haralambos and Holbarn, 1990:221)


Studies on poverty have illustrated that those who are dependent on state benefits for their income represent the largest groups of the poor in society.  It can be proposed that insufficient benefits from the welfare state keep people below the poverty line.  Never the less it can also be debated that one function of the welfare state is to redistribute resources from the rich to the poor through taxation and welfare payments.  As a consequence this reduces poverty, or at least helps improve the circumstances of those who are poor. (Haralambos and Holbarn, 1990)  This questions our earlier definition of the welfare state: should it not do more than merely secure ‘some basic modicum of welfare for its citizens?’


The theory of cultural deprivation states that: “…the subculture of low-income groups is deprived or deficient in certain important respects and this accounts for the low educational attainment of members of these groups.” (Haralambos and Holbarn, 1990:264)  The so-called ‘culturally deprived child’ is poverty stricken in both economic and cultural terms.  He/she is culturally deprived in various academic areas notably; linguistic, experiential, cognitive and personality deficiencies.  This theory blames the children, their family, their neighbourhood and the subculture of their working-class social group for educational failure. Equality of opportunity in educational attainment would be a liberal ideal but the theory of cultural deprivation makes this viewpoint problematic. Presumably this theory might be problematic for functionalism also, because functionalist research by Durkheim, for example claims that education provides the link between the individual and society and from this benefits the social system (Haralambos and Holbarn, 1990)


Compensatory education and positive discrimination is one means of combating the theory of cultural deprivation.  This additional educational provision assists the culturally deprived child in possessing educational achievement.  “Since, according to many educational psychologists, most of the damage was done during primary socialization when a substandard culture was internalized in an environment largely devoid of ‘richness’ and stimulation, compensatory education should concentrate on the pre-school years”. (Haralambos and Holbarn, 1990:266)  Hence the function of preschool education would have positive effects for children and consequently for society in general.  Therefore the functions of poverty would become distorted.


I would be critical of this theory where it unfairly blames children and their family, neighbourhood and social group for low educational attainment.  Subsequently the solution to diminishing this theory i.e. additional educational provision for pre-school aged children is welcoming and fundamental because it is the primary focus of this research project.


The cultural deprivation theory has been further criticized by implying that the working-class culture is less superior to the higher-class culture.  The French sociologist Bourdieu argues that working-class failure in educational achievement is the fault of the education system itself and not of the working-class. (Haralambos and Holbarn, 1990)  Similar to Bourdieu, I feel that the education system should be accountable for the low educational attainment of children from low socio-economic groups.  The functionalist paradigm needs to acknowledge that the function of the educational system does not always have positive consequences. 

6.7. Lone Parents, Poverty and Education


Poverty plays a prominent role in the lives of one-parent families in disadvantaged areas in Ireland. (Refer to Chapter 2)  The education of children from these families deserves strong attention from the welfare state and society at large.


In Ireland, there is an obvious lack of research on the post-natal lives of lone-parents and their children.  However one such study available is that by Flanagan.  This longitudinal study consists of 86 unmarried women and a control group of 52 married women.  All of these women gave birth in Dublin’s National Maternity Hospital in 1987 or 1988.  This comparatives study delineates the social implications of being born outside of marriage for Irish preschool children (Flanagan cited in Cleary, Nic Ghiolla Phadraig and Quin, Vol. 2, 2001)


In broad terms, this study reached the following conclusions.  For Irish four-year-olds the social implications of being born outside of marriage, are dominantly characterized by the type of parenting and living arrangements they endure.  Firstly, children living in two-parent families at four years of age are mainly undifferentiated from their counterparts born to married parents.  This conclusion was delineated in terms of welfare dependency, maternal employment, poverty and behavioural problems.  Any changes a child from a two-parent family experienced relating to their parent’s relationship and living arrangements were more likely to be positive than negative in effect.  Secondly, Irish four olds living in lone parent families have a significantly different life to the two previous groupings.  It was found that these children are relatively more disadvantaged in areas of parental involvement, accommodation, welfare dependency and poverty.  Notably, mothers from this category reported more behavioural difficulties in their children.  Also, before becoming parents, these mothers were already economically and socially disadvantaged.  This fact signifies that their children signify a core group in society who are embedded in a disadvantaged life style.  The social implications for one quarter of these preschool children are both on- going and long term. (Flanagan cited in Cleary et al, 2001)


The most significant finding of this study is the vulnerability of one-parent families.  From a social policy viewpoint it is imperative for intervention to occur at an early stage.  This may help these children avoid a cycle of poverty and deprivation. (Flanagan cited in Cleary et al, 2001)


It is necessary to clarify that: “Concern for children in one-parent families is not because children cannot function perfectly well with only one parent but because lone parenthood in our society is linked to a high risk of severe material disadvantage”. (Madge 1983 cited in Hayes and O’Flaherty, 1997:22)  There are numerous reasons as to why one-parent families in Ireland are a high-risk group in terms of poverty.  A report by Millar, Leeper and Davies (1992) stated that in Ireland there are an estimated 40,000 lone parent families.  Reasons linking these families to poverty include: only one quarter of these families, which are headed by women, receive an income from employment, maintenance payments from former partners’ is not a sufficient source of income for single parents and finally if lone mothers have preschool age children they are less likely to be in the workforce.  Employment is not an option for many lone parents because of the lack of affordable and accessibly early year’s education provision in Ireland. (Hayes and O’Flaherty, 1997) (Refer to Chapter 7.7.2)


Subsequently, lone parenthood has become a focus of debate regarding the effects of family factors on children’s educational achievement.


Numerous research studies have shown that children from one-parent families (in this instance where the parents never married) perform more negatively in terms of educational achievement, compared with children from two parent families.  The negative indicators, which attribute to this finding includes: incidences of lower scholastic achievement, early school leaving, higher school absence and greater emotional instability.  In considering these factors, it is necessary to acknowledge the other elements that are often associated with one- parent families.  Low income, family dysfunction and poor quality child-care arrangements are examples of such elements, which place children from lone parent families at an educational disadvantage. (Gouke and Rollins 1990 cited in Kellaghan, Sloane, Alvarez and Bloom, 1993)


In a study by Reginald Clark, he claims that parental support is far more important than the number of parents in the household in assessing educational achievement.  Although Clarke makes a worthwhile point regarding the eminence of parental support, on average children from one-parent families are less probable to live in a supportive home environment. (McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994)  In relation to low income, single mothers have about one-third as much to spend on their child’s needs, compared to two-parent families.  Also, these mothers are likely to have received poor education.  This is an additional factor linked to children’s poor educational achievement. (Hodgekinson 1991 cited in Kellaghan et al 1993)  The most apparent way that low income affects children’s educational achievement is that it lowers the quality of educational provision they can obtain. (McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994)


Changes to the family structure make it very difficult for parents to deal with the educational needs of their children.  It is important to take cognizance of the fact that families are adaptable.  Regardless of the formation of a family, it had the ability to positively influence the process of child development.  Many one-parent families successfully raise children who reach a high standard of academic achievement.  These families do however need assistance in supporting their child’s learning. (Kellaghan, Sloane, Alvarez and Bloom, 1993)


In line with Golombok (2000) there is a greater probability of children from disadvantaged families attending low- quality day care, hence reducing their potential for academic success.  Due to this reality, numerous projects have been established to assist disadvantaged families.  These projects, which concentrate on learning, aim to generally enrich children’s lives by improving their intellectual and social development. Evidently quality and disadvantage are terms, which are inextricably linked when discussing educational provision for children from one-parent families.


Quality of a high standard must be compulsory in educational settings to help alleviate educational disadvantage. (See Chapter 5.5)  Consequently, quality education as an intervention in the welfare state would assist the maintenance of the social system.  In line with Demaine (1981) theorists coming from a functionalist perspective such as Durkheim are concerned with the process of this educational influence, along with its source and function.

6.8. Quality and Disadvantage


The process of obtaining quality preschool education can be problematic for parents.


All parents require good quality affordable childcare if they want to engage in employment, study, training or get respite from looking after their children full-time.  Many parents can rely on their partner, friends, relations or neighbours to look after their children.  However for lone parents this is not usually an option.  Firstly, they do not have a partner to accommodate their childcare needs.  Secondly, in circumstances related to family breakup, many loose contacts with friends and relatives who may in the past have offered informal childcare.  Consequently lone parents face particular problems and barriers in accessing childcare (www.oneparent.ie)


There are clusters of lone parents in disadvantaged urban areas, throughout Ireland.  Like all other families, their children should have the right to access community childcare facilities that are of equal quality to those which are available privately.  All children deserve the best.  Due to the fact that they are the sole parent, single parents often have extra concerns and anxieties about leaving their children in other people’s care.  Therefore lone parents in particular require the security and reassurance of high quality childcare provision. (www.oneparent.ie)


Furthermore, entry into formal schooling is a major transition for children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.  Also early educational disadvantages are consequential in that they tend to be persistent and cumulative, affecting the child’s experiences in formal schooling.  Therefore positive early childhood experiences are vital for the child’s development. (INTO, 1995 cited in Hayes and O’Flaherty, 1999)


The benefits of high quality early years educational intervention services for young disadvantaged children are as follows: 

(Sylva and White 1993, cited in Hayes and O’Flaherty, 1997)


These guidelines coincide as a means of combating the theory of cultural deprivation and hence enabling education to function adequately, strengthening its relationship with families and society.

6.9. High/Scope Preschool Model


The High/Scope Preschool Model and the Early Start Preschool Model are prime examples of educational intervention, which support the educational well being of children from disadvantaged urban areas.


“To achieve some measure of quality, political will is essential to ensure that economic development serves all the children within a society.” (O’Flaherty, 1995: vii)


The High/Scope Pre-school Model was originally established in Michigan, U.S.A, to serve at risk children from poor neighbourhoods.  This model was initially known as the Perry Preschool Project.  Its creator, David Weikart, designed this model in response to the consistent failure of high school student’s from Michigan’s poorest areas.  These students scored continually low on intelligence tests and academic achievement tests.  Weikart deduced that these low results were not merely a reflection of the student’s innate intelligence.  Moreover, they reflected the student’s limited chances for sufficient school preparation.  Early intervention, by means of a pre-school programme was considered the most favourable option to combat this cycle of disadvantage.  Hence, the High/ Scope Preschool model was originally created to prepare preschool aged children from disadvantaged areas for future educational growth and success. (Hohmann and Weikart, 2002)


A social component, as well as an educational component, is central to the High/Scope Programme.  Early intervention services, such as High/Scope are particularly vital in disadvantaged areas where lone parenthood and marriage separations are a growing reality.  A High/Scope Preschool provides an essential role in educating and caring for the children from these families.  In addition to this, it also plays a wider role in increasing competence among families and raising consciousness in these residents of poor housing estates.  In broad terms, the High/Scope setting encourages the families it works with, to participate and take responsibility for their own lives. (O’Flaherty, 1995)


In response to these criteria the High/Scope daily routine provides a social framework, which creates a supportive community for social interactions to develop.  The principle of shared control governs the social relationships between the pre-school leaders and the children.  In other words, adults control some events and children control others.  This consistent social framework enables children to experience a psychologically safe and purposeful environment.  The High/Scope model exhibits a structured daily routine, which maintains a balance between limits and freedom for children.  The routine allows children to know what to expect throughout the session.  This helps children develop a sense of security and control.  Notably, while children have little control over their parents’ actions, the High/Scope curriculum allows them to have considerable control over their own actions. In terms of catering for the specific educational needs of children the plan/do/review approach to every part of the daily routine, is essential.  Most importantly, for children whose families may be re-structuring and reforming, the communal aspect of the daily routine along with its social framework, serves as an essential emotional anchor. (Hohmann and Weikart, 2002) 


The High/Scope model considers the family as a frame for understanding children.  It realizes that from their birth, children live within a family, which moulds their attitudes, action and beliefs.  Subsequently the child’s development is affected by the impact of family life, complexities included.  Therefore the High/Scope staff strives to both respect and understand the family of each child.  They encourage children to recognize themselves and their families as important contributors to society.  The High/Scope curriculum supports children’s families by; comprehending children’s home cultures, establishing open relationships with all adults and children involved in the early years setting, positively influencing the manner in which children see, hear, learn and understand their peers and also empowering children to exhibit confidence and to respect others. (Hohmann and Weikart, 2002)  These initiatives seek to help children to achieve the following goal:  “We also want children to know that who they will become is ultimately their responsibility- the result of the choices and decisions they will make for themselves.” (Hohmann et al, 2002:69)


I conducted the following research in a High/Scope setting, in order to assess to what degree it considers the family as a frame for understanding children.


6.9.1. Details of Preschool

Type of Setting: High/Scope, community not-for-profit based service

Number of Children: 30:  morning session- 15, evening session- 15

Number of children from a one-parent family: morning session-6, evening session-7

Duration of sessions: morning- 9.30-12.00, evening- 1.30-4.00, Monday to Friday

Year High/Scope Model was implemented: 2003

Weekly Fees: 20Euro per child unwaged, 30Euro per child waged

Location: designated urban disadvantaged area, south side Cork City


6.9.2 Research Method

6.9.3 Questionnaire

The following, is a sample of the questionnaire, results included:


This Questionnaire is for research purposes and any information given by you is anonymous. Please tick your chosen answer in each case. If there are any other comments or points you would like to add on each of the following statements please do so in the space provided.



1: This preschool is a support for families as well as a place for children.


Strongly Agree    Agree    Uncertain    Disagree    Strongly Disagree

                        12                 3             1                  0                     0




Additional Comments:


“We try to support families as much as we can but because of the lack of rooms in the setting, it is difficult to achieve privacy and therefore it can prove difficult”

“Family is very important”




2:  Family life impacts significantly on a child’s holistic development.


Strongly Agree    Agree    Uncertain    Disagree    Strongly Disagree

                        9                   5               1                0                     1


            Additional Comments:


“The family is the ground work to how the child sees the world”

“But not just family life also preschool, peers and others outside the setting”





3:  Close links with parents are considered imperative to this setting.


Strongly Agree    Agree    Uncertain    Disagree    Strongly Disagree

                        12                  3              0                 0                    1    


            Additional Comments:







4:  Knowledge of the child’s family is necessary in order to cater successfully for the child’s needs.


Strongly Agree    Agree    Uncertain    Disagree    Strongly Disagree

                        8                   5             1                   1                         1    


            Additional Comments:


“It is necessary to a certain degree but by observing the child on a daily basis and by treating the child as an individual you will meet his/her needs also.”

“Only if it is necessary to assist a child”

“Sometimes it is better for a child to be accepted without any major knowledge”


5:  Routine within the curriculum is very important, especially for children whose families may be restructuring or reforming.


Strongly Agree    Agree    Uncertain    Disagree    Strongly Disagree

                            5               9               0                0                          2


            Additional Comments:


“Children are secure with routine”

“Children need a sense of belonging and familiarity. The daily routine imposes this.”




6:  Children from a one-parent family take longer to adapt to the pre-school’s daily routine compared with children from a two-parent family.


Strongly Agree    Agree    Uncertain    Disagree    Strongly Disagree

                        0                    0            1                  10                        5  


            Additional Comments:






7:  Children from a one-parent family require more individual attention due to negative behaviour than children from a two-parent family.


Strongly Agree    Agree    Uncertain    Disagree    Strongly Disagree

                        0                   0               1                 7                         8


            Additional Comments:






8:  A single parent has extra anxieties about sending his/her child to the setting than a parent who is living with their spouse.


Strongly Agree    Agree    Uncertain    Disagree    Strongly Disagree

                        0                   2             1                  5                          8





Additional Comments:


“All parents are anxious about a setting”

“A single parent wouldn’t have extra anxieties about the setting but might lack the support a couple would have when assessing their child’s adaptation to the setting”



In summary, the results of these questionnaires showed that the majority of staff either strongly agree or agree with statements 1-5.  These statements generally analysed the significance of family life on the child’s performance in the preschool setting.  Statements 6-8 were specific to children from one-parent families.  These particular statements broadly proposed that children from one-parent families and the parents themselves require extra support.  The findings illustrate that the majority of staff either disagree or strongly disagree with these statements.  Hence there is a strong contrast between statements 1-5 (general family life) and 6-8 (specifically one-parent families) Consequently, one could conclude that staff in this particular High/Scope settings are concerned with the child as an individual, irrespective of the number of parents involved in his/her upbringing


Text Box:                                                 
In line with the functionalist paradigm, Parsons illustrated what was to become the agreed functionalist view of education.  He asserts that following primary socialization in the family, the school becomes the main focal socializing agency for the child.  It acts as a bridge between the family and society, hence preparing the child for his/her adult role.  In the family unit, the child is treated as the ‘particular child’ of his/her parent.  Contrastingly, in wider society the child is treated according to universalistic standards, which are relevant to all members of society, regardless of their kinship ties.  Hence the child must adapt from the particularistic standards of the family to the universalistic standards of society.  Parsons claims that school represents society in miniature form and hence is ideal for preparing the child for this transition. (Haralambos and Holbarn, 1990)


The following case study illustrates how transitions can be very difficult for children.  This study reviews one child’s transition from the home environment to the preschool environment in the child’s wider society.


6.9.4. Details of Preschool

Type of Preschool Model:  High/Scope Model, Community not-for-profit based service.

Number of Children: 15

Number of children from a one-parent family: 4

Duration of session: 9.30am to 12.00am, Monday to Friday

Year High/Scope Model was implemented to the setting: 2003

Weekly Fees: 20Euro per child unwaged, 30Euro per child waged

Location of Setting: designated urban disadvantaged area in the south side of Cork City.


6.9.5. Research Methods


6.9.6. Case Study


Three-year-old “Rebecca” started pre-school for the first time in September 2004.  Rebecca is from a one-parent family and lives with her mother in a council flat, adjacent to this High/Scope setting.  She is also an only child.  Previously, she had not attended any type of childcare setting.  When I visited the center in October 2004, I observed the children’s learning experiences, all of which are through play.  The first part of the daily routine is work time.  Initially the children plan which areas of the room they would like to begin their work in. The High/Scope classroom is divided into numerous i.e. the home area, the block area, the toy area and the art area.  On my visit, I noticed how “Rebecca” spent all of work time in the home area and only seldom interacted with the other children.  The home area is designed to resemble home life.  It features child-sized equipment such as a kitchen unit that incorporates a sink, cooker and presses, a couch, an ironing board, a pram, dolls, a clothes rack, toy food and cutlery.  I spoke about “Rebecca’s’” behaviour to the preschool leader.  She explained to me about “Rebecca’s” family situation.  Due to the fact that “Rebecca” and her mother live in a small flat, the majority of their days at home would have been spent in the kitchen.  Therefore “Rebecca” felt security and familiarity in the home area.  The leader felt it necessary to allow “Rebecca” to spend as much of work time as she wished in the home area because she knew “Rebecca” would begin exploring the other areas of the room in her own time.  She knew that the more “Rebecca” felt secure in her environment, the more her confidence would develop.


This approach by the leader corresponds with the fundamental basis of the High/Scpoe model.  Hohmann and Weikart (2002) elaborate this point.  They highlight how children are powerfully motivated to imitate their parents.  Therefore by knowing the child’s family circumstances, pre-school leaders can ensure that the setting contains tools and materials, which can be found in the child’s home. 


When I returned to this setting in February 2005, I noticed huge changes in “Rebecca’s” behaviour.  She socially interacted with the other children and moved around all the areas of the room at her ease.  The preschool leader updated me on her progress. The transitions within the daily routine, helped “Rebecca” deal more easily with the transition from home to the setting each morning.  I also spoke with “Rebecca’s” mother. She informed me how she kept in contact with the leader and gradually they both showed “Rebecca” the importance of interacting with others.  As “Rebecca” settled into the preschool her mother started a course, which takes place in a local secondary school near the setting.  Although the preschool finishes at 12am and the course at 1pm, the preschool remains open purposefully for children whose parents wish to attend this course.  Evidently, this setting provided a social network for both “Rebecca”, and her mother, allowing them to access and participate in educational facilities. (See Chapter 5.6)

6.10. Early Start Preschool Model


The shortage of suitable premises for pre-school services is a common concern in urban areas.  Utilizing the spare space in primary schools for the delivery of pre-school provision is one means of addressing this need.  A decrease in school enrollments due to falling fertility is the reason for this spare capacity.  This solution is highlighted in policy documents such as the White Paper on Early Childhood Education 1999.  Such an approach is considered to have various advantages.  Firstly, it enables a close relationship between preschool and primary school services. Secondly, it eases the transition between preschool and primary school for children.  Thirdly, the preschool premises would have equal quality standards as to the rest of the school.  The main disadvantage of this approach is concern over the long-term effects on placing very young children in a school environment.  This problem could be overcome by ensuring that the physical environment of the preschool is substantially different to the other classrooms on the school premises. (Corrigan C, 2002)  The Early Start Project is a prime example of this approach.


In summary, the Early Start Preschool model is a one-year preschool preventative intervention initiative for children from disadvantaged areas aged three to four years.  It is available in selected primary schools in designated disadvantaged urban areas in Ireland.  It was introduced in September 1994.  The main aim of the project is to provide an educational project for young children, which will benefit their overall development.  The project strives to increase children’s potential for achievement throughout the primary school system.  Notably the project aims to deal with social disadvantage by trying to compensate or if possible alleviate its negative affects. (Murphy, 2000)


One primary school teacher and one childcare worker run each Early Start class.  Children who participate in the project are chosen by school principals, along with other providers for example social services.  These children are identified as being at risk of not reaching their full potential.  Generally, in terms of equipment and resources, the model is sufficiently funded by the Department of Education and Science.  The areas of linguistic, cognitive, social and personal development are intrinsic to the curriculum. Parental involvement is greatly encouraged. (Murphy, 2000)


The Early Start Preschool model remains a pilot project. Hence, research on an evaluation of its success is limited.  According to the White Paper 1999 the Educational Research Centre carried out an interim evaluation on the programme.  It found little difference in its assessment of cognitive, language and motor behaviour between Early Start pupils when they reached their first year of primary school compared to their then peers who had not participated in the Early Start Project.  However, teachers’ perceptions of Early Start pupils showed more positive results.  They considered Early Start pupils in Junior Infants to be superior in terms of self-determination, concentration, creativity and their ability to adapt to classroom procedures.  Difficulties related to the project were found in terms of the role of teachers a, child care workers and parents.  Greater clarification of these roles is needed to ensure that they could be implemented adequately and in harmony. (Department of Education and Science, 1999)


As mentioned, the welfare state consists of interventions.  Interventions vary in form.  For example, the Early Start Project could be considered an educational reform.  This project aims to increase children’s holistic development.  It allows parents the opportunity to fulfill their own ambitions, while looking after their children.  Hence, it could be argued that this intervention by the Department of Education and Science is a welfare measure, which caters for the well being of citizens.  In addition to this one could claim that education as a function has a positive affect on other parts of the social system, in this case the family.  The following informal interview conducted with a childcare worker from an Early Start classroom supports this viewpoint.


6.10.1. Details of Preschool

Type of Preschool Model: Early Start Project, Department of Education and Science.

Number of Children: 30; 15 in the morning session and 15 in the evening session

Number of children from a one-parent family: 2 in the morning session and 3 in the evening session

Duration of Sessions: morning 8.50-11.20, evening 11.50-14.20, Monday to Friday

Year Project was set up: 1995

Fees: none

Location: situated in a primary school in a designated urban disadvantaged area, south side of Cork city.


6.10.2 Research Methods


6.10.3. Informal Interview


Through an informal interview with ‘Marie’, the childcare worker from the Early Start Project, the following information was obtained.


‘Marie’ described how in line with the guidelines with the Department of Education, parental involvement is strongly encouraged in this setting.  Various activities in the setting throughout the school year promote and enable parental participation.  In October 2004, a health board initiative called ‘Child’s Play’ was held in the school for five weeks.  The aim of this project was to encourage gross motor skills among children.  Parents were invited to attend and assist the children in the implementation of the course.  For Halloween, various stalls were set up in the school’s multifunctional hall.  Parents were given charge of the stalls and consequently interacted with the staff and children.  Parents were present in the class, when Santa visited at Christmas.  For the recent St.Patrick’s Day festivities, all the preschools in the area joined up and participated in the local parade.  Parents’ were active in the parade with the children.  In the coming summer months of May and June, two different parents will be invited into the classroom daily for whichever session their child partakes in.  Each parent will be in charge of a small group of children and will carry out various play activities with them.  Parents are also invited on various field trips throughout the year.  The class holds an awards ceremony at the end of each school year.  Certificated are awarded to both parents and children.  The purpose of this ceremony is to acknowledge the contributions, which parents and children make to the setting during the year.  In relation to the five single parents who have children attended the class this year, they all partake in these activities in so far as is possible.


‘Marie’ strongly agrees that close links with parents are imperative to he setting and that knowledge of the child’s family is necessary in order to cater successfully for the child’s needs.  For the past eleven years, a home-school liaison officer has worked in this primary school.  She is partly responsible for admitting children into the Early Start class.  Children from a one-parent family are given priority on the registration list for each school year.  This year, it was through the local Barnardos agency, which is funded by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, that the home-school liaison officer came into contact with the five children who are from one- parent families.  These parents had previously not made contact with the setting.  Barnardos, works with vulnerable families and one of their aims is to integrate children into society.  Hence the staff at Barnardos, contacted the home-school liaison officer, who in turn visited each of the families and encouraged the single parents to send their children to the Early Start project.


Following the enrolment of these five children from one-parent families into the Early Start class in September 2004, the home-school liaison officer continues to make regular visits to each of the homes. These five children attend the setting regularly.  If absent for over a week the home-school liaison officer visits the home.  The Staff are then informed about why the child was absent.  The home-school liaison officer works with staff and the one-parent families throughout the entire school year.  Therefore she is aware of any problems in the families.  This information is then related back to the staff in the Early Start setting.  The staff is then aware of the child’s circumstances and needs.  With these realities in mind, they work with the child by assisting his/her development.  Social inclusion is the ethos of this Early Start setting.  Therefore the staff aims strongly to integrate these children into the class.


‘Marie’ agrees that routine in the curriculum is beneficial, particularly for children whose families may be restructuring.  Through her experience, she has noted that single parents can be insecure and find it hard to discipline their child.  Also, in cases where a single parent becomes involved with a new partner, this can be difficult for the child, particularly if the new partner has children themselves.  Consequently, she finds the routine in the curriculum provides security and familiarity for these children.  Through the Department of Education and Science, the curriculum places emphasis on four developmental areas: linguistic, cognitive, social/emotional and personal development.  These developmental areas are encouraged through various activities.  For the first hour of the session activities such as beading, puzzles, imaginary play, painting, role-play and play with sensory material are carried out.  The second hour consists of activities for example; circle time, which incorporates speech exercises and story telling, musical activities and use of either outdoor or indoor school playground facilities.  After a lunch break the children then visit the school library and then the session usually finishes up with a building activity.


In relation to the five children from one-parent families who attend the Early Start class this year, ‘Marie’ found that they took longer to adapt to the pre-school’s daily routine than children from a two-parent family.  She said that these children, in particular, are usually late to class and then not collected on time.  Therefore the other children in the class are already settled into the routine, before these children arrive.  The children from the one-parent families then require individual attention to settle into the routine.  She empathized that is more difficult for a single parent to get the child to and from class punctually, because they do not have the help of a partner.  Often the two children who attend the morning session are collected by Barnardos staff and brought to another setting for the afternoon.  She explained how Barnardos do one to one work with children and that this benefits the children greatly.  This helps them feel more confident in the Early Start Preschool group.


‘Marie’ agrees that children from a one-parent family require more individual attention due to negative behaviour than children from a two-parent family, based on this year’s children who are from one-parent families.  She explained that for the first few months of the school year; the children did not want their parents to leave the class.  They used cry and shout for their parents to stay.  Once the parents did leave, however, the child would be fine.  The child was merely demanding attention from staff and parent.  ‘Marie’ said that the children’s behaviour have improved as the year went on.


‘Marie’ agrees that a single parent has extra anxieties about sending his/her child to the setting.  The reason for these anxieties, she believes, is due to the parents’ own insecurities.  Through collaboration with the home-school liaison officer and other agencies the family may be involved with, such as Barnardos, these anxieties are alleviated.


In conclusion, ‘Marie’ asserts that the Early Start Project is beneficial for children, especially those from one-parent families.  Due to the fact that the class can avail of the primary school facilities i.e. the library, multifunctional hall, outdoor playground and indoor playground, the curriculum is delivered through high quality amenities.  Also, the project receives annual funding from the Department of Education and Science i.e. a parental involvement grant of 950Euro and a classroom grant of 1500Euro.  Notably funding has not increased since the project started in 1995.  Nevertheless such funding helps ensure the continuation of parental involvement in the setting. 


‘Marie’ believes that collaboration with the school’s staff, especially the home-school liaison officer is a vital means of best catering for the needs of children from one-parent families.  She said that children from the Early Start class transfer successfully on to

Junior Infant class.  At present the Early Start class in this school consists of boys and girls.  The rest of the primary school is boys only.  However, from September 2005 onwards the school will be co-ed.  This new development has been greatly welcomed by parents who have daughters attending the Early Start project.


‘Marie’ also expressed hopes that the Early Start project would cease being a pilot scheme and become a permanent initiative under the Department of Education and Science.  Currently, there are three early start projects on the south side of Cork city and three on the north side, all of which are in designated disadvantaged urban areas.  She strongly feels that the Early Start project is a necessary intervention for pre-school aged children from disadvantaged areas, particularly those from one-parent families.




6.11. Conclusion and Recommendations


The Welfare State needs to play a greater role in developing preschool education.  In general terms, a new deal for preschool education must have a central part in relevant social policies, guided by the needs of children.


In the words of Eleanor Rathborne, a pioneering campaigner in Britain for a family allowance: “Children are not simply a private luxury; they are an asset to the community, and the community can no longer afford to leave the provision of this welfare to the accident of individual income.” (Halsey and Young cited in Halsey, Lauder, Brown and Wells, 1997:795)  Given the increasing fragility of the family structure and family income, the child benefit for children should be increased.  A higher rate of benefit for children under five is desirable. (Halsey et al, 1997)  This would assist single parents who have to go out to work, seek quality preschool provision for their children.  Such provision is needed regardless of whether single parents work; they need a break from caring for their children full time.


In the context of the Welfare State, the methodology provided i.e. functionalism showed that preschool education can have a positive effect on society. Through examining Ireland’s historical context, Irish policies and theories related to preschool education it was found that quality education must prevail in order to achieve this. The High/Scope Preschool Model and the Early Start Preschool Model are two prime examples of quality intervention services, which support children who are at risk of educational disadvantage, particularly children from one-parent families who live in designated urban disadvantaged areas.  However, such provision needs to be extended to all urban and rural areas in Ireland, in order to sufficiently accommodate both single parents and their children.





Boldt, S. Devine B. MacDevitt, D. and Morgan, M., 1998:

Educational Disadvantage and Early School Leaving; Dublin: Combat Poverty Agency, 1998.


Cleary, A., NicGhiolla Phadraig, M. and Quin, S., 2001

Understanding Children: Volume 1 State, Education and Economy; Cork: Oak Tree Press, 2001.


Corrigan. C., 2002

OECD Thematic Review of Early Childhood Education and Care Policy: Background Report, Ireland October 2002; Dublin 1: Department of Education and Science, 2002.


Demaine, J. 1981

Contemporary Theories in the Sociology of Education; London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1981.


Department of Education and Science, 1999

Ready to Learn: White Paper on Early Childhood Education; Dublin: Stationary Office, 1999.


Department of Health and Children, 2000

The National Children’s Strategy: Our Children- Their Lives; Dublin: Stationary Office, 2000.


Douglas, D., 1994:

The History of the Irish Preschool Playgroups Association; Dublin 8: The Irish Pre-School Playgroups Association, 1994.



Dukelow, F., 1996:

“The Creation of the Welfare State” cited in Ferguson, H.: Social Policy: a Course Reader; Cork: University College Cork, 1996.


Esping-Anderson, G., 2000:

“Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism” cited in Pierson C. and Castles, F.: The Welfare State: a Reader, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000.


Flanagan, N., 2001:

“Born Outside Marriage: the Social Implications for Irish Pre-School Children” cited in Cleary A., Nic Ghiolla Phadraig M. and Quin S.,: Understanding Children: Volume 2 – Changing Experiences and Family Forms; Cork: Oak Tree Press, 2001.


Giddens, A., 1997:

Sociology (3rd Edition); Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997.


Golombok, S., 2000:

Parenting: What Really Counts; London: Routledge, 2000.


Government of Ireland, 1937: Constitution of Ireland 1937; Dublin: Government of Ireland, 1937.


Halsey, A.H. and Young, M., 1997:

“The Family and Social Justice” cited in Halsey, A.H., Lauder, H., Brown P. and Wells A.S., Education: Culture, Economy and Society; New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.


Haralambos, M. and Holbarn, M., 1990:

Sociology: Themes and Perspectives (3rd Edition); London: Collins Education, 1990.



Hayes, N. and O’Flaherty, J., 1997:

A Window on Early Education in Ireland: the first National Report of the IEA Preprimary Project; Dublin: Dublin Institute of Technology, 1997.


Hohmann, M. and Weikart, D., 2002:

Educating Young Children (2nd Edition); Ypsilanti, Michigan.High/Scope Press, 2002.


Kellaghan, T., Sloane, K., Alvarez B. and Bloom, B., 1993:

The Home Environment and School Learning: Promoting Parental Involvement in the Education of Children; San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1993.


McLanahan S. and Sandefur G., 1994:

Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps; Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1994.


Maconis, J. and Plummer, K., 1998:

Sociology: A Global Introduction; New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1998.


Meade, R. and Kiely, E., 1996:

“A Critical Understanding of the Social Policy and the Welfare State” cited in Ferguson, H., Social Policy: a Course Reader; Cork: University College Cork, 1996.


Murphy, B., 2000:

Support for the Educationally and Socially Disadvantaged: an Introductory Guide to Government Funded Initiatives in Ireland; Cork: Educational Department U.C.C., 2000.


O’Donnell, A., 1999:

“Comparing Welfare States: Considering the Case of Ireland” cited in Kiely, G., O’Donnell, A., Kennedy, P. and Quin, S. Irish Social Policy in Context; Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 1999.



O’Flaherty, J., 1995:

Intervention in the Early Years: an Evaluation of the High/Scope Curriculum; London: National Children’s Bureau, 1995.







7. Lone Parents and Work


 Sharon McCormack

7.1 Introduction


7.1.1 Hypothesises

Ø     Welfare ignores the unpaid work of care, the people who provide it and the role it plays in society having more regard for paid work using it as the only means by which people can access citizenship rights and entitlements and participate in society. 

Lone parent’s choice to pursue a caring role over and above a role in the paid labour market is neglected;

Ø     There is a need for a reorientation of the welfare state from one that prioritises a work ethic to a welfare state that also prioritises a care ethic;

Ø     Liberal welfare regimes are moving more and more towards a workfare model and assumes individualism prevails and that as a result lone parents will do what makes them better off financially.  The moral dilemmas that lone parents face and how these decisions are made are ignored by the welfare state and social policies;

Ø     If a lone parent makes the decision that they will participate in the labour force social polices have not made that access easy and many lone parents have many structural obstacles to overcome. Irish government is motivated by economic success and policies devised to enhance labour market participation primarily have economic considerations to the fore and social considerations are secondary.

7.1.2 Aims

Ø     To discuss the Irish welfare state today, how that has emerged and the implications of this for lone parents;

Ø     To discuss the concept of ‘work’ and what this means in today’s welfare state and what it should mean so that participation in society is not equated with paid work;

Ø     To investigate what influences lone parents decision to engage in work outside or inside the home;

Ø     To determine what social policies in relation to work need to achieve so that all lone parents’ participation in society is guaranteed.



Ø     Examine the Irish welfare state

Ø     Assess Irish social policies

Ø     Investigate various definitions and understandings of the concept ‘work’

Ø     Interview six lone parents in Cork City in receipt of the one parent family payment (OPF)

Ø      Look at both structural and human agency factors in determining what influences lone parents decisions to work inside or outside the home


7.2 Methods

I decided to interview six lone parents all of whom were on the OFP.  Three at the time of interview were not in employment and two of these lone parents were currently attending a course to help to improve their job skills.  One lone parent was on a Community Employment (CE) Scheme, and two were in part-time employment.  Five of the participants were female and one was male.  Interviews are a powerful way of understanding others.  Jones (1985) states that “in order to understand other persons’ constructions of reality, we would do well to ask them…….. and ask them in such a way that they can tell us in their terms (rather than those imposed rigidly and a priori by ourselves) and in a depth which addresses the rich context that is the substance of their meanings” (cited in Punch 1998 pg.175 )


I chose to conduct semi-structured interviews as it allowed flexibility so that the questions could be tailored to each participant.  This was important, as each lone parent’s experiences are different.  Pole and Lampard (2002) state that within semi-structured interviews some structure is given to the content by the interviewer by identification of specific areas for discussion to be covered in all interviews but it also “provides latitude for the individuality of the interviewee to emerge” (pg.131).  It is possible to gain a deep understanding of participants values, views, meanings that is not possible to ascertain from quantitative research methods.  I also felt that this method of gathering data was useful for my research because it gave me an opportunity to clarify what was meant by a response if I was unclear and also gave me the opportunity to ask for more information on an issue that arose if it was relevant for my topic.  It allowed for topics of concern to the participants to be raised that I may not have anticipated.  The data collected and results are not meant to be statistically representative of the Irish lone parent population in receipt of the OFP.  However the data collected and conclusions reached as a result of hearing real life experiences is intended to give an insight in the lives of lone parents.


I contacted a number of organisations in Cork City that worked with lone parents and asked permission to attend a session to speak with the lone parents.  The facilitators of the groups were very helpful and arranged a suitable date with the lone parents for me to speak with them.  They also organised a separate room where I could carry out one to one interviews with those willing to participate.  On meeting the lone parents I explained what the project was about, why I was doing it, how I would carry out the interviews and what type of questions would be asked.  I also explained that their names would be kept confidential and any questions they did not wish to answer that that was acceptable.  I received permission from each participant to tape record the interviews to enable me to pay more attention to the interview process and to avoid distorting respondents’ answers and hence introducing error.  They all agreed to this.  During interviews in one

Organisation I was approached by a male lone parent.  He was interested in my research and asked if he could be a participant, as he felt that not enough male lone parent’s voices are heard. 


I prepared general questions prior to the interviews that would help guide me in the interviews.  I prepared two different guides, one for those currently in employment and one for those who were currently not in paid employment.  The interviews were recorded on tapes and then transcribed verbatim.  The data retrieved from the tapes were then analysed and common themes found which occurred within the discursive material.


7.3 Methodology

The research carried out in this chapter is informed by a theory developed by Anthony Giddens called Structuration.  This theory was developed in response to a theoretical dilemma sociologists have been struggling with since the classical sociologists devised their theories.  This dilemma was concerned with structure and action.  Durkheim’s theory was based on the premise that societies, of which we are all members of, exert social constraint over our actions thus society has primacy over the individual.  Social structure constrains our actions and behaviours.  This is evident in the following statement:

“……………the systems of signs I use to express my thoughts, the monetary system I use to pay my debts, the credit instruments I utilise in my commercial relationships, the practices I follow in my profession, etc – all function independently of the use I make of them”  (Durkheim, 1982 cited in Giddens 2001 Pg 667).


Weber on the other hand advocates social action theory, which pays more attention to the action and interaction of members of society in forming structures.  Weber acknowledged the existence of social structures but contended that they were created through the social actions of individuals. Symbolic Interactionism developed this standpoint most systematically asking what is society if it is not the composite on many individual actions?  They believe that human beings have reasons for what we do and that we live in a world permeated by cultural meanings.  The individuals according to these group of sociologists are not the “creatures but the creators of society” (Giddens, 2001 Pg. 668). 


I feel neither of these two are useful approaches to systematically assist me in examining my hypothesises.  There are limitations to both these theories but they both also make valid points.  As Giddens points out some social institutions do precede individuals and exert a control over us but they do not determine what we do and society cannot be external to all individuals, society cannot exist without individuals.  According to Giddens the way forward is to bridge the gap between structure and action approaches and recognise that we actively make and remake social structures during our everyday activities. Giddens proposes a view of human agency and social structure as a mutually interacting ‘duality’ instead of independent conflicting agents.  Human agency refers to the capacity to make a difference to outcomes, intentionally and/or unintentionally (Parker et.al.,2003).  It refers to the degree of free will that is exercised by the individual in their social action.  We express our agency according to the degree of constraint we experience from the structure.  However, the structure is also a result of agency.  Some people have less agency than others because of structural factors like poverty (Jenks, 1998).  This is the case for lone parents in some aspects if their lives as this chapter will illuminate.  However, it will be clear that they do retain some agency over what is best for their children and themselves as parents.  A central premise in Giddens theory is that human agents (those who possess agency) are purposeful, knowledgeable, reflexive and active.  Agency implies power and purpose, ability to intervene in the world and make a difference.   Human agency can be individual or collective e.g. Individual lone parents, groups/networks of lone parents, policy makers, governments, and EU institutions.  Human agency produces, reproduces or modifies social structures through their actions and in turn social structures enable or disable human actions.  Giddens uses the following terminology to illustrate his points.  Structure is the rules and resources that constitute the structural properties of social systems.  System is the patterns of interaction between actors.  Structuration refers to the conditions governing the continuity or transformation of structures and therefore the reproduction of systems.  Human agents use rules and resources, the properties of the social systems, in their everyday interactions.  Rules and resources mediate human actions and in their use they are continually reaffirmed or changed by human agents.  Awareness of social rules is the core of  ‘knowledgeability’, which characterises human agents.  Social rules are the generalisable procedures applied in reproducing social practices (Parker, 2000).


I think this methodology will inform this research as I believe that human beings are not passive and we do make choices and we don’t just simply respond to events around us.  Lone parents are not just passively responding to the welfare state that encourages all adults out to work.  They are making their own choices based on what is best for them and their children.  They are trying to solve the dilemma they face choosing between paid work and unpaid work of care in the home.  In addition social structures are causing barriers e.g. welfare state, childcare, lack of family friendly policies.  Giddens (2001) argues that as we are now living in a world of rapid change and there is an increase of social reflexivity meaning we have to constantly think about, or reflect upon the circumstances in which we live our lives.  Consequently, lone parents reflect on their lives and their children’s lives and are not passive agents in society.  However it is questionable how effective or powerful their agency actually is.  It will be evident that the action of those in power e.g. social welfare officers, government, policy makers, politicians are all influencing structures and impacting in a constraining manner on the lives of lone parents.  Lone parents also need to exert their social action to influence structures.


7.4 The Welfare State

The Welfare State in Chapter One has been described already as straddling two welfare models – Esping Anderson’s Liberal Model and Leifried’s Latin Rim model.  It has been discussed that participation in society is conditional upon participation in the labour force and therefore groups such as lone parents who may decide for what ever reasons to stay at home are excluded from society, not seen as citizens with social rights. 


7.4.1 Women and the Welfare State

Work in Esping Anderson’s classification is paid work.  According to Taylor Gooby (1991) cited in Lewis (2000) the important relationship is not just between paid work and welfare but between paid work, unpaid work and welfare.  This is important for understanding women’s position as clients in the welfare system in particular lone parents.  Feminists have criticised this model for being ‘gender-blind’ and for failing to capture how gender relations have influenced the construction and substance of welfare states and how the construction of welfare states affects gender relations. “the history of the welfare state and citizenship (and the manner in which they have been theorised) is bound up with the history of the development of employment societies and in the democratic welfare state employment is the key to citizenship” (Pateman 1989 cited in Kilkey, 2000 Pg. 186).  This does not take into account women’s roles and responsibilities as an unpaid worker in the home. Esping Anderson fails to take this into account.  His ‘individual worker’, ideal citizen becomes that of the male worker and therefore he is unable to examine the reality of women’s formal and actual citizenship status.

7.4.2 A Liberal Welfare Regime – the limits of welfare support

According to Esping Anderson’s classification the liberal welfare state regimes, which Ireland fits into, manifests the legacy of the influence of the market and the work ethic.  It is characterised by means-tested assistance, modest social insurance schemes and modest universal benefits.  Labour is commodified and social rights of the working class and the poor are limited.  “it is one where the limits of welfare equal the marginal propensity to opt for welfare instead of work.  Entitlement rules are therefore strict and often associated with stigma; benefits are typically modest” (Esping- Anderson, 1999 cited in Kilkey 2000 pg. 29).  Lone parents on the OFP have not got enough to survive as lone parent A explained to me:

“we should have more money, I can’t manage on €219 a week with 4 children.  In a couple of weeks the fuel allowance will be gone and then I will be getting less a week.  I got paid this morning and my money is nearly gone.  I could pay over €100 on shopping no problem and then the kids are looking for money”

There is a general feeling that they receive just enough to survive.  Lone parent B described how she felt that she didn’t enough have enough money to cover the basics:

I’m trying to budget all the time.  By the time food is on the table and bills are paid I don’t have enough money for clothes for my daughter.  We are just getting enough to pay our bills and food and there is nothing left aside then.  Basics are not even covered and if you want them you have to work for it – it’s their way of getting you out to work but then that isn’t made easy for us either”

Lone Parent E who is a lone father and who chose to stay at home during the first years of his child’s life stated that:

“I have been living below the poverty line since”

Joanne in Chapter 2 has found similar experiences with her research participants.  She has also documented the extent of consistent poverty and basic deprivation experienced by lone parents.  The stigma is also evident as Lone Parent C describes the feelings associated with having to queue in a certain place with everyone else:

I hate it, having to queue with everyone else and the people behind desks looking down their noses at you as if this is what we want for our lives and our children’s lives.  I feel forced into this situation.  It feels like you are not worthy if you are in this queue”


7.4.3 Male Breadwinner Model to Adult Breadwinner Model

Modern welfare regimes have all subscribed to some degree to the idea of a male-breadwinner model where women were treated as dependants of men.  The Beveridgian post second world war welfare settlement was based on the assumption of a male breadwinner/female homemaker-carer family model (Duncan & Williams 2002).  Women gained social citizenship entitlements due to their dependant status in families as wives.  The justification of this Lewis (2000) explains was the division of labour that was perceived to follow naturally from their capacity for motherhood.  This unpaid care perceived as an innate quality of women was not valued.  This work did not constitute doing something for society, as care was widely believed to be the responsibilities of families and communities. 


Paid work is now a central principle of self-sufficiency and responsibility of men and women alike. European welfare systems have been rebuilt on basis of adult worker model (Williams, 2004).  The norm now is working parenthood.  Women under this new model should rely on labour market rather than their partners or state to provide for their needs.  Reality reflects this new model.  Between 1994 and 2000 employment rates for woman have rose from 40% to 53% (Russell et. al 2004).  The increased proportion of nuclear family type households with all adults working extrapolates that there is a rise in dual earning households.  In 1994 29% of nuclear type families had dual earners, in 2000 this percentage had risen by 20% to 49%. In 1998 40% of mothers were in employment and in 2002 this number had risen to 49% (ADM, 2002).  This highlights the move from a male breadwinner model to the adult worker model. 


7.4.4 Lone Parents and the New Adult Worker Model

The new model has also meant that there are implications for lone parents.  The number of lone parents in employment is also shown to have increased.  The numbers of households headed by a lone parent that are workless have decreased.  In 1994 70% of lone parent families with children under 18 years were not in work, in 2000 this had decreased to 41% (Russell et.al. 2004).  However, the study reports that lone parents with young children continue to account for a substantial share of workless households.  Even for those lone parents in work, work poverty is a problem as is recurrent joblessness.  The study highlighted that in 2000 work poverty was concentrated among households headed by lone parents.  So it seems that either in or out of work lone parents are likely to experience poverty.


CSO figures reveal that 44% of lone parents are in employment (NESF 2001).  Table 7a shows that figures from the National Quarterly Household Survey (NQHS) demonstrate a significant increase in the number of lone parents in employment since 1998.  With the increase of lone parents over this period there is also an increase in the numbers who are economically inactive.  One possible interpretation of this is that lone parents with very young children prefer to stay at home until the child is at least school going age.



Table 7a Economic status of lone parent in second quarters of 1998 and 2004

Economic Status

In Employment


Economically Inactive












                                                                                                (NQHS 1998 and 2004)


The new adult worker model has created a lot of stresses and strains for lone parents and this was very clear from the interviews.  Lone parent A, B and D worked for a while part-time but had to give it up as it was impossible to cope with demands of work and of home:

“it was very hard cos I’d have to come home and cook meals and stuff like that, I’d be exhausted, standing on my feet all day so I had to give up.  I needed to be at home for my children and its very hard to commit to both with no help”             (lone parent A)

It became apparent during the interviews with lone parents A, B and D that any work they undertook was on the informal black economy as otherwise it was not worth it to them to work mainly due to the potential loss of the rent supplement.

“you can’t earn €60 if you receive rent allowance”                          (lone parent A)

“rent supplement is the main reason why lone parents either do not work or give up work, after the rent is paid from our wages we are worse off especially when jobs are low paid ones”                                                                                       (lone parent B)


As a result of working on the informal economy, lone parents have no security in their jobs.  Lone parent B worked mornings for almost 10 years while her children were in school she was told two weeks ago her job is no longer there.

“After 10 years imagine I have no job and there is not a thing I can do because I have absolutely no rights as I am off the books”


7.4.6 Lack of attention to the lives and needs of lone parents

The adult worker model which emphasizes participation in the workforce to ensure participation in society takes little account of the preferences of women in general but especially the needs of lone parents and the circumstances of their lives which limits opportunities.


In addition the relatively new discourse of welfare and work, as Pillinger (2000) states, assumes that moving out of welfare dependency and into work is possible for everyone throughout their whole lifecycle and desirable to them. 

“It neglects women’s unpaid caring roles or their choice to pursue a caring role over and above a role in the paid labour market” (pg.331).  It also privileges paid employment at the expense of caring unpaid work thereby creating a work ethic.


Four out of the six parents interviewed preferred to stay at home until the child reaches school-going age.  Even then the same four parents emphasised they would only work mornings so they could be there for their children when they finish school each day.

“I’m there to help with the homework, I have time to talk with them, I’m not running around getting mad with them all the time”                                      (lone parent A)


“I won’t work full time until they all finish secondary school”                    (lone parent B)


“Children need a stimulating and nurturing environment and the parent is the best person to provide this” “I think a constant carer is important in their lives, they have already lost a parent.  For me parenting comes first”                                  (lone parent B)


“For me my child come first, employment after.  When he was younger and if I was offered a really good job I wouldn’t have taken it”

“I had to fight for custody of my child, I am not going to leave him with a childminder, to me that is not what parenting is about”                                                       (lone parent E).


7.5 Work Ethic, A Key Liberal Principle

As has been demonstrated the nature of paid work and of welfare systems are changing and new ways of conceiving work and welfare are evolving.  Discourses are centered on work incentives and a policy that is focused on employability.  New strategies are being planned or are in place in most European countries that link welfare to work.  This is happening to a greater extent in the US than in the UK and in Ireland.  Evidence that Ireland is centered on the work ethic is evident in many of our policies, many of which are influenced at a European level.  The following are just examples of how the work ethic prevails and how little or no attention is paid to care and its value to society.


7.5.1 Evidence of the work ethic in Irish policy

There are a number of changes at European level that are influencing changes in the nature of work and welfare.  The EU’s agenda is encouraging women into self-sufficiency through employment.  They advocate for active labour market policies that get people off welfare and into work and the UK’s Welfare to Work Policy was said to be the “right approach to welfare reform” (European Commission 1998 cited in Pillinger 2000 pg.330).  The European Commission focus is on reducing unemployment by drawing on the labour reserve of the young unemployed in order to reduce the skills gap so that Europe can “compete in the global economy”(ibid.).  It seems as if measures are being taken with economic motives in mind which would be consistent with liberal thinking and the genuine interest does not lie with those who are unemployed, living in poverty, have little or no education.  With only economic motives to the fore the real needs and desires of people like lone parents with regard to their welfare and that of their children are going to be missed.  By adopting a work ethic we are emphasising the moral importance of paid work and indirectly stating that working families are morally more worthy than others


Ireland has signed a number of international conventions committing us to organising our economy around the principle of full employment.  In 1967 Ireland ratified the ILO Convention on Full Employment and the European Council’s Charter of Fundamental Social Rights calling for a commitment to achievement and maintenance of as high and stable level of employment as possible (Allen, 1998 Pg244).  The idea of employability of the jobless is the centerpiece of the EU jobs strategy. As far as liberal welfare states are concerned the possession of money through wage labour as a measure of citizenship is the morally preferable route than the social welfare route.  This is why paid employment is being promoted as the ideal situation to a variety of social problems (Baldock et.al.2003).


The OECD manifesto on the 17th September 2003 has called for strategies to increase employment.  Ten years ago the aim of member governments was to reduce unemployment.  This new focus will now aim to mobilise the economically inactive such as lone parents.  This emphasis reflects new concerns of European governments that there are too few young people in the labour market overall thus less people contributing through tax payments.  In order to increase employment the OECD have outlined three main policies; to make work pay for the low skilled, remove other barriers to joining the workforce, restrict flow of people on to out-of-work benefits and to encourage those receiving them to look for jobs (Economist, 2003).


A key commitment of ‘The Action Programme for the New Millennium’ is

“seeking to establish an inclusive society where everyone will have the opportunity and the incentive to participate in the workforce, to contribute to the wealth of the nation and to share in the benefits of economic growth” (cited in DSCFA, 1998 Pg. 2).  This highlights the focus policy has on economic growth and that by ensuring employability of all our people this economic growth will be sustained and continue to grow enhancing our competitiveness.  According to Partnership 2000 the most effective way of tackling social exclusion is to “increase employment and reduce unemployment (cited in ibid. pg. 34).  The Social Inclusion Strategy looks at arrangements for adapting the social welfare system in order to facilitate the transition from welfare to work thereby enabling as many people as possible into work.  The National Action Plan against Poverty and Social Exclusion 2001- 2003 (DCSFA, 2001) as part of the objective to prevent the risks of exclusion recommends ‘support for families’.   Under this heading policies which help to combine paid work and home duties are highlighted but no policies are recommended for supporting those working in the home.  This omission serves to privilege paid employment at the expense of caring unpaid work thereby creating and reinforcing a work ethic.


The European Employment Strategy has three objectives; full employment, quality and productivity at work and social cohesion and inclusion.  The Community and Voluntary pillar have criticised the Employment Action Plan 2004 for Ireland because it places more attention on the first two objectives than on social cohesion and inclusion (DETE, 2004).  By 2010 the target has been set as 70% of all working age population will be employed and 60% of all females of working age will be employed (ibid.).  These strategies completely ignore or take into account the specific needs of various groups of people in particular lone parents instead setting targets and actions that assume homogeneity among the working age population.  It is clear that the EU is influencing Ireland in this regard.  In 2003 the European Council recommended that Ireland give “immediate priority” to attracting more people to the labour force and making work a real option for all, to increasing active labour market measures for more of the unemployed and inactive population and ensure that they work and to increasing the supply and affordability of childcare facilities.


There are a number of measures and policies to assist Ireland in managing and adapting to change and mobility in the labour market.  The Employment Action Plan 2004 (DETE, 2004) highlights that facilitating a balance between job flexibility and security will continue to be a priority.  Equal opportunities, employment rights, protection of employees, access to part-time work, parental leave, maternity protection and work life balance policies are an attempt to achieve this balance.  Again these efforts are reinforcing the work ethic in Ireland.  There is no specific reference to lone parents and their specific needs in the plan apart from reference to a review of the One Parent Family Payment that was under way at the time.  The plan has as a central guideline ‘Making Work Pay’.  This policy approach focuses on encouraging labour market participation through financial and non-financial incentives.  It is quite clear that ‘work’ in this employment plan is paid work again reinforcing the work ethic.


7.5.2 Active Labour Market Policies (ALMPs)

The active labour market policies with regard to training and education outside of the labour market have been discussed in Section 5.10 and their emphasis on employability discussed.  I will focus on ALMPs with an emphasis on employment schemes.  ALMP’s enhance work skills of participants, which contribute to the overall national productivity and help to reach key policy goals.  They also operate to address skill shortages in the economy and to address market mis-matches thereby sustaining wage moderation and competitiveness (Indecon 2002).  Irelands expenditure on ALMPs has remained consistent since 1985 varying only between 1.4% and 1.5%.  Table 7b shows that Irelands expenditure on ALMPs as a percentage of GDP has always been above the EU average:

Table 7b: Ireland Expenditure on Active Labour Market Policies as a percentage of GDP in comparison with the EU average between 1985 and 2000











EU 15





(Indecon, 2002)


ALMPs can be categorised under Direct Employment Programmes, Employment Subsidies and Job Assistance.  Appendix A summarises the ALMPs and how lone parents in receipt of OFP can qualify for them.  In 1999 Ireland spent 38% of total spending on ALMPs on direct employment programmes.  The average for the EU was 15%(ibid.).  This further highlights Ireland as a state that values paid work.


7.5.3 Lone Parents and CE Schemes

I will narrow my focus now to the CE schemes, as this is where the majority of lone parents on active labour market policies are concentrated.  Lone parents account for almost 20% of participants on employment schemes compared to 4% of participants on training programmes (Deloitte & Touche 1998).  The Community Employment Scheme appears to be most popular with lone parents.  The numbers of lone parents taking part as a percentage of all participants has increased from 22.8% in 1997 to 26.8% up to June 2002 (FAS 2002 cited in Indecon 2002).  McMahon et.al (2001) found that CE schemes are most suitable to lone parents because it means an increase in income as they retain the OFP and because of the decreased risk of shortfall.  In addition secondary benefits were not affected (cited in Indecon 2002).  CE schemes are good for providing personal development and from an employment perspective is attractive as it is part-time, flexible, local, payment is secure and it has a strong social dimension.  One lone parent I interviewed was on the scheme:

“ Its flexible, part-time and a good stepping stone to other jobs” (lone parent E).

“It suits me and my child perfectly”                                               (lone parent E).

Lone parent D had completed two schemes over the last few years and she says:

“Looking back now I never made use of them, I never got a job out of them and I tended to go from course to course”

This however she attributes to not feeling secure due to the fact that she was nine years in rented accommodation waiting for a council house:

“Since I got my council house I feel my life is starting to get better, I feel I will make use of any opportunity I will get from now on, I couldn’t concentrate on anything before the house”

According to Maslows Hierarchy of needs, one needs adequate security and shelter before being able to concentrate on other needs such as employment and self-actualisation.  This highlights the need to take lone parents individual circumstances into account, they do not all have the same needs at the same time and programmes such as the CE scheme need to take this into account.  This did not come up as a factor in reviews of the scheme that were concerned about the lack of progression upon completion.  Instead of suggesting putting more resources into meeting specific needs of lone parents the opposite occurred.


The review of Community Employment Scheme by Deloitte & Touche (1998) concluded that CE schemes were not effective in enhancing a participants employment prospects and call for ongoing assistance to be provided to help secure employment.  An ESRI review in 2000 found that the CE Scheme had no positive employment effects due to a lack of strong linkages to the market.  This review recommends a policy that gradually reduces the number on the CE scheme and introduces more schemes with strong links to the labour market as this will improve labour market prospects and alleviate skill shortages in the economy (cited in Indecon, 2002).  A consideration with CE schemes is the financial cost to the exchequer as the progression into the labour market is poor.  The valuable experience CE schemes provide for people who have lost touch with the labour market is not valued.  Nor are the valuable services CE participants provide to the local disadvantaged communities recognised.  There seems to be a concern with low cost/high quantity ratio and little concern of the quality of these programmes and the long-term impact on lone parents lives and the long-term impact on labour market integration (Walsh, 1997).  I believe this again is evidence of our state as one that values only paid work.  The programmes need to look at the holistic needs of participants and look at what is needed to help lone parents enter the labour market if that is what they wish to do.  Therefore instead of withdrawing resources extra resources are required to refine the CE scheme for the specific needs of lone parents while keeping the qualities that makes it attractive. 


7.6 The Concept of ‘Work’

The term work means paid work, it is market based and excludes “much socially necessary labour” (Levitas, 2001 pg. 450).  This meaning, Levitas highlights, is central to the current system of global capitalism and is underpinned at the individual level by the economic necessity to work for money and the ideology of the virtue of paid work.  All the lone parents I interviewed highlighted virtue of work as being good for their confidence, personal and social development and helps to enhance their sense of worth.  Another reason for some was to show their children the value of work and the need to work:

“I like him to see me working, I sometimes bring him up to show him what I do, I want him to understand why we need to work and the value of it”           (lone parent E).

Four out of the six lone parents interviewed worried that their children would see welfare as a reliable income and were concerned about teaching them the values of  ‘work’.


In some way I think ‘work’ and its meaning is instilled in us.  For example prior to my interview with lone parent B during a conversation I asked her is she working.  The response was the following:

“of course I am working, I’m caring for 3 children, I do more work in a day than many other people, it’s a full time job, I am contributing to society by rearing the next generation”

This made me realise how I too understand work as being paid work and I quickly had to redefine work for myself.


Our understanding of work as paid employment outside the home in the public sphere is a result of the male-breadwinner model.  With industrialisation domestic work became invisible as real work and home became a place of consumption rather than a place of production (Giddens, 2001).  It has resulted in no value being placed on unpaid care work carried out by women in the domestic sphere.  This led to limited access and for a long time no access to paid employment and the prevalent social belief that women’s real place was in the home. According to Lewis (2000) no modern welfare state has succeeded in valuing unpaid work and this includes Ireland.


Work at home may be unpaid but it is still work.  The following definition by Giddens makes this clear:

“work is the carrying out of tasks, involving the expenditure of mental and physical effort, which have as their objective the production of goods and services catering for human needs.  An occupation is work which is done for a regular wage”

(Giddens 1997 cited in Baldock et.al. 2003 Pg. 174). 

Domestic work produces welfare for members of the household and carrying them out involves an enormous amount of time and effort.  It has been calculated that time spent in productive work in the home is equal to time spent in paid work (ibid.).  Unpaid domestic labour is significant to the economy.  Giddens informs us that it is estimated that in industrialised countries, housework accounts for between 25% and 40% of wealth created.  It supports the rest of the economy by providing free services on which many in paid work depend on (Giddens, 2001). 


7.6.1 Introducing an Ethics of Care

Many writers are opposed to the work ethic most notably the French Sociologist Andre Gorz.  He has recently argued that we must break the wage relation and move beyond the wage base society and puts forward the suggestion of a basic income that would be unconditional and adequate for a decent existence in society (Levitas 2001).  CORI in Ireland have also advocated and recommended on several occasions the introduction of a basic income and a programme that would recognise and reward work other than paid work (2004).  According to Gorz we need to abandon the work ethic:

“it has to be recognised that neither the right to an income, nor any full citizenship, nor everyone’s sense of identity and self-fulfillment can any longer be centered on and depend on occupying a job.  And society has to be changed to take account of this”

(Gorz, 1999 cited in Levitas 2001 Pg. 460). 


This would mean a shift in attitudes at a cognitive level and in the way we perceive work as being central to the individual.  It also entails a re-valuing of forms of activity e.g. caring.  It would mean prioritising a care ethic over a work ethic.  As paid work is so tied up to our economic success as a nation and to our performance on the global market this seems unlikely.  Perhaps what Fiona Williams advocates for is a more realistic aim in the short-term - that is to “balance the ethic of work with the ethic of care” (2004).  Our welfare state at present does not embrace an ethic of care or recognise its importance in people’s lives. 


7.6.2 Valuing Unpaid Work in the Home

From my research and other qualitative research carried out it is clear that what people want is an ethic of care in Irish Society.  It is about time we as a society start to value unpaid work.  This view was resounding during the focus groups carried out by Daly (2004).  People felt they were no-bodies if they looked after their children.  “Childcare and family are not seen to be as valuable as work” (member of focus group).

There was also a feeling of being forced out to work and this brought with it an overwhelming guilt because of the lack of time available for their children.  Overall they saw the problem lying in the fact that social values are changing and caring for one’s family has been devalued.  


The need for valuing work in the home was also evident from my research.  All the participants felt very strong about this:

“I think we should all value parenting as employment but unfortunately society doesn’t value that as work; we are raising the next generation, the ones that will be paying pensions for people, they will be contributing to society and we are ensuring that they won’t become a social burden”                                                         (lone parent E)


“I think more value on unpaid work in the home is needed ‘cos it’s very hard on your own.  I think every situation is different depending on age of child, your preferences and on the support you have”                                                                  (lone parent D)

Lone parent C who was considerably younger than the other parents and whose education was very important to her stated:

“We should put more value on unpaid work in the home but we should also support people to work and educate selves also”

“We should be proud of ourselves – I know they are their own children but we are forfeiting a life where we may be better off working to care for our children and we are doing it on our own”                                                                                 (lone parent A).

When asked how this could be done everyone of the parents hesitated and thought about the question for a while.  Most of them were of the opinion that a monetary value on the work done would be a start. However lone parent B and E also highlighted the need for a societal change:

“We need a societal change, a change in attitudes regarding men and their role and care should be recognised as paid work”                                                  (lone parent B)


“We need to value parenting otherwise there is no incentive to be parents or better parents”                                                                                              (lone parent E)


Lone parent E was of the opinion that a societal change may not be that hard given that we can all relate to the change that is required:

We all have or have had parents who have cared for us and can understand the dilemma, why can we not make provisions for it?”

He suggested that a campaign maybe a good way to begin the process and raise awareness of the issues and force people to think about it.  He also suggests that the attitude change needs to be initiated from “the top” (government), their policies and practices should reflect recognition of the valuable work done in the home.


While talking with a programme co-ordinator for lone parents I found that she, being a lone parent herself up until a year ago, fears that by giving care in the home a monetary value that it will be seen as welfare or dealt with administratively as welfare thereby further stigmatising lone parents.  She feels that work in the home should be seen as a job not as welfare.  She admits to struggling with coming up with an appropriate solution to this dilemma.


7.6.3 Balancing the ethic of work with and ethic of care

All of the lone parents interviewed saw themselves working part-time at some stage in their lives more typically when their children are of school going age.  They would then look for work that would coincide with the school hours.  All the parents saw value for themselves and for their children in undertaking part-time work:

“Yes it would be hard now but when my youngest is a few years older it would be a little easier, home is a full time job but a couple of hours a week would do me good, I’m sick of scrounging and scrimping, it’s not easy” (lone parent A).

“I would love part-time work now because my child is 10 life isn’t as demanding.  I think it would be good for her as well.  I would never have managed it when she was younger, I was a nervous wreck then” (lone parent D).

“I always knew there would only be a few years until he went to school where I would need to provide that constant care.  Even though I was really broke what kept me going was knowing that when he goes to school I could get some type of employment while he is at school” (lone parent D)

The ideal situation for lone parent E is to

“Value parenting as work and maybe have part-time employment for those whose want it, incentives for part-time work but it should be worth while”.  The over-riding message from all the lone parents was that everyone’s situation is different, choice is important and that age of the child has huge influence in deciding to enter the labour market or not.  The ideal for most is that both their work in the home is valued as well as being supported if they decide to engage in part-time employment.  This idea seems to be reflected in the National Women’s Council recent Campaign.


The National Women’s Council of Ireland is at present organising a ‘Brown Letter Campaign for Social Welfare Reform’.  A letter to Minister of Finance Brian Cowen states the following

“Women have contributed substantially to the creation of Ireland’s wealth by juggling paid employment with unpaid care work; yet organisational structures and the structure of the social welfare system have not changed to accommodate women.  This is not sustainable for society or desirable for women and their families”.  A copy of this letter can be found in Appendix B.  They also name lone parents as being affected by the problems in the social welfare system.  Chief among their recommendations is recognition of women’s care work and the recognition of the reality of women’s lives in the labour market.  Essentially what they are calling for is a balancing of the ethic of work with the ethic of care.

7.6.3 How do lone parents make the decision to work inside the home or outside the home?

Employment is recognised internationally and in the Irish context as a means of offering lone parents the best prospects for improving income and standards of living for themselves and their children (NESF 2001).  However, policies need to take into account how parents make moral decisions regarding employment and have due regard for this and not punish those who decide not to work by forcing them to live in poverty.  Policies of ensuring children are well educated and parents are self-sufficient workers have a logic and deserving aim of reducing poverty and of enhancing economic competitiveness.  However, this logic does not reasonate with the reality of what matters in the lives of lone parent families (Williams, 2004).  The decision to take up employment can only be made by lone parents and at a time of his/her choosing.


The element of choice is crucial especially for lone parents.  They are the sole earner and carer for their family.  Lone parents above any other families must face the huge dilemma around whether to work or stay and home, if they work - when for how long, what about childcare, the tensions are endless and straining both physically and mentally.  Research in the UK is highlighting that by developing policies that are indirectly forcing people to work will only serve to further inhibit participation in society as parents will make decisions based on what is best for their child.  Money does matter but it is not necessarily a primary concern.  As Williams (2004) highlighted it her research that among the participants of the study it was an ethic of care as much as or more than an ethic of work or self-actualisation that influenced them in their decisions.  Research carried out by McCashin (1996) with Lone Parents in Coolock in Dublin found that the primacy of children’s needs ran through many of the interviews.  It also highlighted that lone parent decisions about paid work emerged as very complex, they brought a range of considerations to bear on the decisions they made.  Financial considerations were found in the majority of cases to be secondary to the emotional security of the children.  Investigating how all mothers and lone parents make decisions regarding paid work has been carried out to a greater degree in the UK.


Duncan and Edwards (1999 cited in ibid.) in their research shows that mothers are employing a different sort of rationality to that of a ‘rational economic man’ and ‘rational legal subject’.  Lone mothers in their research saw their moral and practical responsibility to their children as their primary duty.  Decisions regarding entering the labour force were influenced in the first instance by socially negotiated understandings –  ‘gendered moral rationalities’ about the proper relationship between good motherhood and paid work.  For some the responsibility to be a good mother and their understanding of what this meant in practice was seen as incompatible with paid work.  It is the unpaid caring work that the government sees as irrelevant and that lone parents place first as a moral duty. 


It is obvious from the study that the decisions to take up paid work are influenced by different factors than those assumed by the government.  Lone parents have considerable ambition and expectation of their children, and then carry out considerable work (unpaid) in trying to achieve this.  All lone parents in the study experienced lone parenthood in terms of responsibility towards their children but their gendered moral rationalities differed in how this basic moral responsibility was carried out: ‘primarily parent’ gendered moral rationality, ‘primarily worker’ gendered moral rationality and ‘mother/worker integral’ gendered moral rationality.  These moral decisions rested on moral, emotional and practical support and pressure from others.  Facts about financial costs and benefits in taking up work were important but remained secondary to the moral and social evaluation of what is the right thing to do for their children (Barlow and Duncan, 2000). 


These interesting pieces of empirical research highlights that how people make such moral decisions becomes essential knowledge in understanding social behaviour and change. The decisions made will vary according to social groups, social places and social histories.  This has implications for social policy and lone parents. In my research this was reflected and it demonstrated the fact the welfare state does not accommodate for their needs or their children’s needs. It was obvious that the lone parents I spoke were reflexive in dealing with this dilemma of paid work, caring work or a mix of both.  They were not just influenced by structures but dealt with the dilemma as reflexive human agents.  This is evident in the quotes from the lone parents in section 7.6.3 where it is clear what influenced the decisions regarding when to take part in paid employment and whether it would be full time or part-time.  Lone parent E also makes it clear the primary motivating factors for his decision to stay at home in the early years of his child’s life and now to participate in part-time employment.

“for me my child comes first, employment after.  It would have to suit my childminding responsibilities.  This is case I think for most lone parents especially mothers”

 (lone parents E)

The single father sees himself as an exception to the rule in that he prioritises his responsibilities to his child over work and his sense of needing to work and he feels that

“There are a lot of rewards in the approach I have taken”              (lone parent E).


“Kids need a routine, their lives have been upset enough in many cases.  They need 100% attention”                                                                                           (lone parent E).


“When children are older a balance between care work and employment is the ideal, its good for everyone but I make sure it does not interfere in a bad way on my child

(lone parent E).


I think it is axiomatic from this empirical research that all lone parents are different and homogeneity cannot be assumed about what influences their decisions to work and when, for how long and the type of work.  It is clear that people make decisions according to their own values and beliefs about what is best for their families.  Their decisions as Williams (2004) found seem to be based on the mother/worker identity. Some have the economic incentive to work but is countered by stronger moral values and views about what is right for children.  I think lone parent E is a good example of this.  On the other end of the scale some lone parents need to work to have a sense of self, it complements mothering and is a good role for children.  Lone Parent F who has worked since her child was 5 months old is an example of this:

“It’s the way I was brought up, I think its good for me and my baby that I work, we are getting a mortgage soon, that’s security”

It is very clear that the work ethic does not recognise or support these different values and choices. 


7.7 Structural Barriers to accessing the labour market

The next section will look at structural barriers faced if lone parents decide to take up any form of work.  Lone mothers in particular have the same barriers to overcome as most other mothers in accessing employment i.e. minimal support from the government and from employers.  This problem is worse in the case of lone parents who are concentrated in the service industry, which in many cases can be low pay work and in the informal economy as my research has highlighted.  Loss of secondary benefits mainly the rent allowance is a significant barrier and has been cited already.  The NESF report (2001) found that many lone parents did wish to return to work but felt constrained and trapped for a variety of reasons.  I will now focus on childcare and work-life balance policies, two themes that emerged from my research.


7.7.1 Childcare

Childcare has been highlighted as a barrier to women’s employment for a number of years and it is well documented as a result of research carried out by many agencies and government departments.  The study in Dublin carried out by McCashin (1996) identified childcare as a barrier to participation in employment.  Issues of cost, quality and accessibility arose.  In 2001 NESF carried out a similar study on a larger scale and the same issues arose around childcare.  All the lone parent organisations have highlighted it as an issue and have lobbied extensively for reforms.  The following is a brief outline of the reforms that have been pursued.  However, it will be evident that the needs of lone parents are not being met and the underlying motivation for these reforms is economic success. 


Childcare Infrastructure

The Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme (EOCP) 2000-2006 is funded by the Irish Government and part financed by the European Union Structural Funds under the National Development Plan 2000-2006.  The Government has made Childcare a priority under the NDP and funding in excess of €317 million has been allocated specifically to Childcare. Subsequent to further allocations by the Government, the funding available up to 2006 is now €449 million.  The programmes primary aim is to facilitate parents to avail of training, education and employment opportunities through the provision of quality childcare supports.  A mid-term review was carried out and published in April 2003.  It covers the period 2000 up to beginning of 2003.   365 new childcare facilities had been approved funding (800 is the target for 2006), 206 facilities received funding to upgrade facilities (target for 2006 is set at 1200). In terms of actual childcare places created up to 2003 15,530 new childcare places were created (28,402 is the target for 2006) and 2,344 staff were being supported (NDP, 2003).  More recent figures show that there has been an increase of 12,700 full time childcare places and 18,500 part-time places and 2,255 grants under the EOCP have been awarded (Cowen, 2004).  County Childcare Committees have been set up to advance childcare provision and quality at a local level.  County Childcare Committees also carry out work in trying to encourage employers to examine ways in which they can provide childcare for their staff.  In 1999 the Government introduced capital tax allowances for childcare providers and employers who are involved in the provision of childcare facilities.  A benefit in kind exemption is also available when an employer is involved in providing subsidised or free childcare (Employment and Social Affairs, 2004). 

Despite such efforts to build the childcare infrastructure in Ireland, the motives are primarily economic as is very clear form the aims of the EOCP “ to “facilitate parents to avail of training, education and employment opportunities through the provision of quality childcare supports” (NDP, 2003).  In addition it is reported that costs of childcare are exuberant which prevents many lone parents from being able to use the service.  Costs are reported to be the highest in the European Union.  In some places it can cost in the region of €850 per month for a child (Fine Gael, 2004). 


Only two out of the six lone parents interviewed had ever used any form of childcare outside of family members mainly due to cost issues.  Lone parent A sent one of her children because she was told it would be good for her child:

“she was shy and this would help her come out of herself, but it was very expensive and I hear its getting worse”.

Lone parent F brings her child to a childminder that is not notified to the health board.

Many lone parents rely heavily on family in order to meet childcare needs.  Lone parent C is currently attending training 5 mornings a week and FAS contribute to childcare in addition to paying a wage:

“it is great but I am lucky I have my mother who minds him and I pay her but it wouldn’t be enough to pay a crèche, I wouldn’t like him in a crèche or a childminders at that age”

This girl left school when after her Junior Certificate and is determined to go back and do the leaving certificate.  All that is stopping her is the lack of childcare.

“next year if I do my leaving certificate I will need childcare, I think FAS might pay for childcare, it would be too much for my mother so I was thinking about a crèche for some of the week”

It is clear that this girl knows what she wants and that she has reflected upon her position.  Her role in society is independent as an agent but at the same time constrained due to the position/role she has in society imposed by structures by other agents such as government and policy makers and their decisions regarding childcare.


Lone parent C is very fortunate in that childcare is subsidised and flexible meaning that it can be in the informal sectors (mainly relatives).  Very often this is not the case and the child has to be in a notified crèche in order to be reimbursed or receive assistance towards the cost (NESF, 2001).  This again highlights the lack of recognition for care that takes places in the private sphere.  This is problematic for two main reasons, the cost of childcare and the lack of childcare.


Availability and cost are the two main issues arising with childcare.  Bradshaw et. al (1996) suggests “probably the most important factor of all is the availability of good, quality, flexible and affordable childcare.  Childcare alone is not enough, but without it, other measures will prove fruitless” (pg.59).  By comparing 20 countries Bradshaw et.al demonstrated that no country with low childcare costs have low levels of lone parent unemployment.  Some countries give priority access to lone parents who wish to access employment. 


7.7.2 Work Life Balance Policies

Kilkey (2000) after an examination of social rights around paid work suggests that in Ireland “provisions to enable lone parents to combine child rearing with paid work are a relatively neglected area of social policy” (pg.131).  The only policy measures that enable lone parents to reconcile paid work and raising children is facilitating part-time employment via the earnings disregard and wage supplement schemes.  This mearly helps them to enter the labour force, it doesn’t help them reconcile their responsibilities once in the labour force.  Apart from statutory entitlements e.g. maternity leave, parental leave, force majeure leave it is up to employers and companies to provide other policies which help parents to reconcile work and family life.  NESF found that key national lone parent organisations like TREOIR, OPEN, PARC have identified lack of family friendly policies as a barrier to participation in the labour market (2001). 


In addition such policies are developed thinking about what can be done to enable women to reconcile work and family life.  Men and the roles they play or can potentially play is virtually ignored.  This often happens implicitly. Research carried out with companies where work life balance arrangements are in place for both sexes found that employees and employers expectations and behaviours are largely traditional.  One manger said “ it enables women to look after their family”(Fisher, 2000). 


As many of the parents were currently not working or involved in part-time training they were not really aware of possible work life balance policies apart from providing affordable, quality childcare if possible near the workplace.  What was very interesting was to hear the lone father speak his experiences and views:

“I did three years in Galway in college doing construction.  There is no hope of any type of job sharing if you’re a man.  It’s just not happening definitely not in the private sector”

“when I explain my situation to potential employers or other men and the responsibility of care that I have they are not very open.  I think this is because I’m not looking for a typical male role.  They expect you to work 9-5 and then they think there is something wrong with you”

He finds this hard to deal with:

“This is demotivating when you try to challenge the conservatism and have your choices and beliefs questioned”

This Dad feels like he is being discriminated against because of society’s attitudes towards males and the assumption that they should be out working a nine to five job.  Any male who questions this role or chooses care over work is deemed as abnormal.  There is a need for policies that challenge and change the work culture and for policies that do not reinforce gender inequality in the workplace.  A workplace culture is needed that supports lone parents in their role as single parents if they choose to work.  Such policies are a prerequisite to the emergence of an ethic of care.


There was also a feeling that families have been pushed to the sidelines with the huge emphasis on employment.  Where reconciliation is an objective it seems to be put in place to increase productivity alone and thought about in terms of ensuring that peoples family life does not get in the way of them being active in the labour market. 

“they are just concerned with productivity and profit” (lone parent E). 


7.8 Conclusion

From the research we can see that structures are having a constraining effect on the lives of lone parents who wish to work outside the home.  These structures e.g. childcare, family friendly policies have all been put in place by human action.  However the question as a result of my research is whose human action puts these structures in place and why are these structures constraining instead of enabling lone parents.  The research shows that they are put in place by human action that is motivated by economic success and growth, competitiveness, a knowledgeable society.  The structures put in place, as a result, are the rules and resources that others draw upon when acting thereby reproducing them and reinforcing them.  Such rules and resources that are put in place become the norm and the expectations for all – they make up the social force by which lone parents live their lives. 


The structure and understanding of motherhood has changed over time by the social actions of collective individuals from Church thinking which expected mothers to stay at home to economy’s and governments expectations to be educated, trained and in employment.  Peoples expectations about how women should look after their children and whether they should work or not is as a result of structures that have been reproduced and reinforced for many decades by everyday actions.  It is now expected that women will do their best to reconcile paid work and care of children so that they can contribute to a successful economy and have more disposable income.  Government Officials and policies along with a huge influence from the agency and structure of the EU are producing such structures.  Policies are created by agency and can act as both an agency and as a structure.


Lone parents due to their circumstances are using their agency to make their own decisions that may be against the expectations and structures created by other agencies such as government and their policies and EU.   This is seen where lone parents make decisions whether and when to return to paid work based on their belief about what is best for their child and for them as a mother.  How far this is changing current structures is questionable as the government are doing their utmost to produce policies that ensure work pays.  It is seen from the research that those with the power have more ability to exercise and use as an influence their agency to produce and reproduce structures by which others in society live their lives.  Perhaps if lone parents had more power to use their agency, if their agency was more influential they could change the structure and generate new practices.  Perhaps a dialectical process is taking place whereby change will occur when a qualitative leap occurs as a result of quantitative changes in lone parents using employment to their advantage – when, where and type that suits them and in defining what parenting means to them.  Their agency is constrained at present by the agency of the more powerful and dominant in society creating the structures. 


The hypothesises outlined in the introduction have all been proved correct by my research.  It is evident from the research both primary and secondary that welfare ignores the unpaid work of care taking place in the home even though clearly it is invaluable to our society.  The work ethic dominates our society with no genuine consideration for a care ethic or for those providing care.  The real choice of lone parents to work inside or outside the home does not exist in this liberal state which is strongly encouraging every one out to work and by not valuing work carried out in the home.  In the interviews all lone parents brought this issue prior to my question on the topic.  I think this highlights the significance of the issue in the lives of lone parents.  Policies around encouraging lone parents out to work clearly do not take into account what influences them in their decisions whether to work or not.  The policies are centered about the work ethic therefore ignoring the moral dilemma parents face and how they are resolved.  Finally the research highlighted the barriers faced accessing the labour market and problems experienced when a part of the labour force e.g. exploited in the black economy, lack of flexible work arrangements, loss of benefits in particular rent supplement, low paid jobs and of course, high quality, accessible and affordable childcare. 


7.9 Recommendations for Social Policy

“Lone parents are neither spongers nor victims; we want to participate in society, through rewarding work in the home and outside” (Creighton, cited in OPEN, 2004 Pg. 6)

In order for this to become a reality I make the following recommendations as a result of my research:

Ø     Women’s citizenship rights should be defined in terms of paid work and unpaid care and provided for through policies.  This will ensure participation in society with no discrimination towards those who decide to stay at home;

Ø     The welfare state, work and the work ethic needs to be redefined to take into account the needs of women and the needs of lone parents;

Ø     Polices should take into account that lone parents are not a homogenous group.  They should recognise that everyone’s situation is different, that choice is important and that age of the child has huge influence in deciding when to enter the labour market;

Ø     Policies should recognise and value lone parents work in the home as well supporting them if they decide to engage in part-time or full time employment;

Ø     Supportive and flexible social policy and legislative frameworks that recognise the varying ways in which people make moral decisions are required;

Ø     Further research is required in Ireland as has been carried out in the UK to determine what influences these decisions e.g. cultural, class, ethnicity, social networks etc. and the results taken into account when putting in place policies encouraging and supporting lone parents into the labour market;

Ø     Childcare should be responsive to local need;

Ø     The provision of childcare by employers should be promoted more and encouraged;

Ø     Active labour market schemes should support childcare needs and allow this support to occur within the informal sector;

Ø     A workplace culture is needed that supports lone parents in their role as single parents if they choose to work;

Ø     The needs and desires of lone parents should inform policies.  They should be given the opportunity to alter structures so that they are enabling their successful participation in society;

Ø     Employment schemes should be devised so that the needs of lone parents are primacy and needs of the labour market a secondary consideration.  More resources should be channelled into the Community Employment Scheme and the aspects of the scheme highlighted as attractive to lone parents ensured;

Ø     All policies and practices should ensure an ethic of care is realised.  This should occur in all policies emanating from all Government Departments.  Policies should be proofed to ensure an ethic of care is recognised and valued;

Ø     National Campaigns to highlight the value of unpaid work in the home should be encouraged.

These recommendations would go some way towards fulfilling the needs and desires of lone parent families as outlined in the following statement from a lone parent.

“We want to be accepted as real families with legitimate needs and hopes, like all families, we want to improve the lives and expectations of all our children” (Creighton, cited in OPEN, 2004 Pg. 6)



Appendix A



Appendix B






Ø     Allen, Mike, 1998:

The Bitter word.  Ireland Job Famine and its Aftermath; Dublin: Poolbeg Press, 1998


Ø     Area Development Management, 2002:

Childcare Census 1998-2000; Dublin: ADM, 2004


Ø     Area Development Management:

Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme (EOCP) Overview; world-wide-web-version:http://www.adm.ie/Pages/cHILDCARE/Overview.htm, accessed 2005-05-30


Ø     Baldock, John, Manning, Nick & Vickerstaff, Sarah (Eds), 2003:

Social Policy; Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1999


Ø     Barlow, Anne, Duncan, Simon, 2000:

Supporting Families? New Labour’s Communitarianism and the ‘Rationality Mistake’: Part 1; in: Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law; UK: Routledge; 22/1, January 2000: 23ff


Ø     Bradshaw, Jonathon, 1996:

The Employment of Lone Parents : a comparison of policy in 20 countries; London: Family Policy Studies Centre, 1996.


Ø     CORI Justice Commission, 2004:

Priorities for Fairness. Changing Policies to Ensure Economic Development, Social Equity and Sustainability; Dublin: CORI Justice Commission, 2004


Ø     Cowen, Brian, 2004:

Good Progress Made Implementing the NDP; in: In Progress; world-wide-web version: http://www.ndp.ie/newndp/r/INprogressDec04.pdf, accessed 2005-05-30


Ø     Deloitte & Touche in association with Anthony Murphy, 1998:

Review of Community Employment Programme: final report; Dublin: Stationery Office, 1998


Ø     Department Enterprise Trade and Employment (DETE), 2003:

National Employment Action Plan Ireland 2003-2005; Dublin: Stationary Office, 2003


Ø     Department Enterprise Trade and Employment (DETE), 2004:

National Employment Action Plan Ireland 2004; Dublin: Stationary Office, 2004


Ø     Department Social Community and Family Affairs (DSCFA), 1998:

Social Inclusion Strategy of the Department Social Community and Family Affairs; Dublin: Stationary Office, 1998


Ø     Department Social Community and Family Affairs, 2001:

National Action Plan against Poverty and Social Exclusion (NAPincl) 2001-2003; Dublin: Stationary Office, 2001


Ø     Daly, Mary, 2004:

Families and Family Life in Ireland. Challenges for the Future; Dublin: Department Social and Family Affairs, 2004


Ø     Duncan, Simon, Williams, Fiona, 2002:

Introduction; in: Critical Social Policy Ltd.; London/California/New Delhi: Sage  Publications; 22/1, January 2002: 5ff


Ø     Employment and Social Affairs, 2004:

European Employment Observatory Review Spring 2004; world-wide-web-version: http://www.eu-employment-observatory.net/resources/review/eeo2004_en.pdf, accessed 2005-03-14


Ø     Fisher, Hugh, 2000:

Investing in People: Family-Friendly Work Arrangements in Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, Work Life Balance in the New Millennium; Dublin: The Equality Authority, 2000


Ø     Fine Gael National Press Office, 2004:

Taylor Quinn will fight for childcare in Europe; world-wide-web version: http://www.finegael.ie/fine-gael-news.cfm/year/2005/month/3/action/detail/newsid/24, accessed 2004-03-16


Ø     Giddens, Anthony, 2001:

Sociology  4th Edition; UK: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 2001


Ø     Jenks, Chris, 1998:

Core Sociological Dichotomies; London/California/New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1998


Ø     Kilkey, Majella, 2000:

Lone Mothers Between Paid Work and Care.  The policy regime in twenty countries; UK: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2000


Ø     Indecon International Economic Consultants, 2002:

Review of Active Labour Market Programmes; Commissioned by the Department Enterprise Trade and Employment, world-wide-web-version: http://www.entemp.ie/publications/labour/2004/reviewactivelabmarket.pdf, accessed 2005-03-08


Ø     Levitas, Ruth, 2001:

Against Work: a utopian incursion into social policy; in: Critical Social Policy Ltd.;

London/California/New Delhi: Sage Publications; 21/4, October 2001: 229ff


Ø     Lewis, Jane, 2000:

Gender and Welfare Regimes; in: Lewis, Jane, Gewirtz, Sharon, Clarke, John (Eds.): Rethinking Social Policy; London/California/New Delhi: Sage Publications Ltd., 2000


Ø     McCashin, Anthony, 1996:

Lone Mothers in Ireland.  A local study; Dublin: Combat Poverty Agency


Ø     National Quarterly Household Surveys 1998 – 2004: http://www.cso.ie/qnhs/documents/table_23_post_census%20.xls, accessed 2005-05-29


Ø     National Economic and Social Forum, 2001:

Lone Parents.  Forum Report No. 20; Dublin: National Economic and Social Forum, 2001


Ø     National Development Plan, 2003:

Evaluation of the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme 2000-2006; world-wide-web version: http://www.ndp.ie/newndp/r/Final%20report.pdf, accessed 2005-05-30


Ø     OPEN, 2004:

Living on the Book, Dublin: Combat Poverty Agency, 2004


Ø     Parker, John, 2000:

Structuration; Buckingham/Philadelphia: Open University Press, 2000


Ø     Parker, John, Mars, Leonard, Ransome, Paul, Stanworth, Hilary, 2003:

Social Theory A Basic Tool Kit; Houndsmill/Basingstoke/Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillian, 2003


Ø     Pillinger, Jane, 2000:

Redefining Work and Welfare in Europe: New Perspectives on Work, Welfare and Time; in: Lewis, Jane, Gewirtz, Sharon, Clarke, John (Eds.): Rethinking Social Policy; London/California/New Delhi: Sage Publications Ltd., 2000


Ø     Pole, Christopher, Lampard, Richard, 2002:

Practical Social Investigation: Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Social Research; England/New York: Prentice Hall, 2002


Ø     Punch, Keith, 1995:

Introduction to Social Research: Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches; London/California/New Delhi: Sage Publications Ltd., 1998


Ø     Russell, Layte, Maître, O’ Connell, Whelan, 2004:

Work-Poor Households: Welfare Implications of Changing Household Employment Patterns; Dublin: ESRI, 2004


Ø     Walsh, Jim, 1997:

Lone Parents, Labour Market Policy and the Community Employment Programme.  Policy Submission; Dublin: Combat Poverty Agency, 1997


Ø     Williams, Fiona, 2004:

Rethinking Families; UK: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 2004





8. Housing and Lone Parents

                                                                                    Beth McKenna


Government Housing Policy holds that every household should have available to them “quality affordable dwelling suited to their needs, in a good environment, as far as possible in tenure of choice” {Government of Ireland, 2005} This project on housing will highlight how lone Parents are limited in their abilities to access much of the housing market. Housing is a vital component, the core and centrepiece for participating in economic, social and political life. To participate equally, one must not only have access to housing, but have access to housing which may allow for their housing ‘needs’ for participating in life to be met. Inability to access housing suitable to their needs hinders their participation in society.

Hypothesis. :Government housing policy caters to those who are economically active, in employment or have sufficient resources at the expense of those who do not. The housing system because of this, reinforces inequalities and social exclusion which hinders the participation of lone parents in society.

8.2   Project Aim


To determine whether government housing policy and the way housing is provided in Irish society is meeting the needs of lone parents or furthering the inequalities and disadvantages they face.


   8.2.1  Objectives:


·       To explore current tenure trends and housing policy and provision in relation to the private housing market, that of ‘home ownership’ and private rented and whether initiatives to aid lower income groups, such as lone parents in receipt of OFP to access the private market impact on lone parents participation in the housing system and economic activity



·       To understand whether provision of social housing and procedures for obtaining housing in this sector promote/ hinder lone parents ability to be able to participate freely by exercising ‘choice’ to meet their needs in this sector.

·       To examine how quality of housing in the social housing sector impacts on the wellbeing of lone parents, their children and the community which is vital for participation in society and the emergence of social relations.


8.3 Methodology



I am taking a Marxist perspective when looking at housing in Ireland. The power of private property and capital in Irish society has prevented collective provision and notions of collective responsibility to catering for housing needs. Collective provision of housing can be seen in public provision of housing by the state or voluntary or co-ops, known as ‘social housing’.   The relations of need are inherently unsocial and are caused by a society, civil society, as Marx understands it, which is controlled by private property and capital. This civil society has ensured that a society, which is controlled in this way hinders the emergence of real social bonds being formed. It is the negation of society, not the foundation of society. Housing provision in Ireland is dominated by the private market such as property developers, estate agents etc. Housing is seen as a commodity, not as a right. Access is based on ability to pay in the private market rates. Persons act as individuals pursuing own needs in such a market, which prevents the emergence of the social relations. The sole means of access in the private market is money or strong economic activity in capital society, such as employment. Money to Marxism is the currency of self interest , therefore inherently unsocial.  In a society, which is not controlled by private property or capital, the conditions necessary for mans true essence will emerge. The relations of need develop only in a society controlled by private property. Housing needs in Ireland when looking at this project remain high and are caused by the dominance of the private market in housing in Ireland. According to Marxist perspective  if the power of the private market cease to exist, the relations of housing  ‘needs’ in relation to Lone parents will cease to exist. The provision of housing would be seen as a right, not based on ability to pay. A right to access housing suitable to meeting their needs would occur.

 8.4 Methods


For my project on housing, I chose to deal with primarily the social rented housing sector in Ireland as many lone parents in Ireland in receipt of one Family Payment are housed in this sector. However, as my understanding of housing developed , I realised that this sector, could not be discussed on its own, without discussing the two sectors in the private market, that of private rented accommodation and home ownership. The reason I have brought in both these other sectors is that the housing system works as an intricate web and the housing situation of lone parents must be understood in this broader context. The problems they face in the social housing sector is influenced by their inability of access to the private market. Chapters 3-7 of this project shows the disadvantage lone parents face in relation to the  lack of educational and employment opportunities they have along with lack of childcare facilities and adequate income. Access to the private market in housing is greatly influenced by employment and adequate income to pay private market rates. This criteria necessary to access the private market in housing further excludes lone parents in society. Length constraints on this project deeply limited my ability to explore further many areas, which I feel will give a more thorough depiction of the conditions being  faced. I chose to talk to Lone Parents in a rural area of Ireland as through my own interest as I live in a rural setting near Bantry and would like to understand the problems if any they faced. I spoke to three Lone Parents.

Lone Parent A – who lives in a small village six miles from Bantry where she grew up and where her family is. She has one child, four years of age. She lives in social rented housing which is rented from the local authority and has  lived there for three years. It is a two bed roomed house in her village.

Lone Parent B- Is from England but has lived in Bantry for the past eight years as her parents live here. She has three children .She is also living in social rented housing and has lived in a three bedroom house for the past year  close to town, approx one mile from town. She is also renting from the Local County council

Lone Parent C- Who is from Bantry has one child. She is living in the private rented sector and currently on a waiting list for social housing in the area. She has been on the waiting list for two years.

Bantry was picked as I found the community resource centre in Bantry most helpful in organising the meeting between the lone parents and myself to discuss their concerns in relation to housing. I met for two hours in the resource centre with the lone parents  which made them feel more comfortable then if I had gone to their home. It was a view shared by the Community resource centre. I decided to use a qualitative method of research was needed as I felt it would be appropriate as it allows for discussion to be more open ended. It also allows more flexibility in the discussions being held. I also  felt that while I had the perceived problems that lone parents faced in the housing system, I wanted to learn what was of greatest concern to them, therefore felt the flexibility of the qualitative approach was needed. I with their agreement, taped the interviews been held. All three girls met with me together as they knew each other and were comfortable at discussing their housing situation amongst each other. Discretion was guaranteed therefore I have not included names of the lone parents..in my project.  I tried to narrow my focus and ensured that all three lone parents specifically resided in or were waiting for social housing. While I originally was going to focus just on the social housing sector, it seemed that policy in the other tenures had great impact on them, directly and indirectly. The focus of the project developed from here that the need to explore how policy and provision in one tenure impacts the population residing in  another tenure and how often times this is overlooked by policy makers.


   8.5 What is Housing


Housing can be understood not just primarily as having a roof over ones head, but has many diverse dimensions.

The World Health Organisation holds that ‘Housing’ is based on a four layer model of housing which takes not only the internal dimensions of housing, that of the physical infrastructure, but of external dimensions of housing. {World Health Organisation, 2005}

Dimensions of Housing include




·       Housing Environment

Housing environment can have an immediate impact on the health of an individual. Poorly designed urban or rural environment where one lives can impact greatly on their wellbeing, mental or physical or both. A poor housing environment which could impact lone parents with child/ children could be seen in lack of clean air, pollution and lack of green spaces, playgrounds etc

·       Community Environment:

 A community environment and a sense of the collective are not fostered simply by having houses fitted close together. It is fostered by ensuring there are public spaces and mechanisms  available to people to develop social interactions. The quality of the environment can hinder or promote the development of a community. Lack of public spaces, parks, and services along with lack of employment or accommodation options can hinder social cohesion and break social bonds. Research has shown increased crime and social exclusion can be greatly enhanced by lack of opportunities for people participating in social, economic and political activities, and that this form of social exclusion can often have a spatial dimension. Inability to be able to participate in these areas can hinder social interactions necessary for ensuring a social life. Many communities are defined by their socio-economic characteristics of the population they encompass. This can impact on educational and employment prospects of people living there.

·       Dwelling

Housing as a dwelling can be understood in relation to Housing as the physical infrastructure of the place where one resides. The Quality of the dwelling such as heating, comfort, layout, size, indoor air pollution from building materials can greatly impact on the wellbeing of the tenants, both mental and physical and affect their capabilities in pursuing their economic and social needs. Poor quality dwellings can cause stress on individuals, which impacts on overall wellbeing and health of individual and child.

·       The ‘Home Dimension’

The Home dimension to ‘housing’ adds a psychological dimension to ‘housing’. “The perception of a safe and intimate home is a major psychosocial benefit. It represents a protected refuge from the outside world, enables the development of a sense of identity and attachment- as the individual or a part of a family , and provides a space to be oneself. Any intrusion of the external factor or stressors strongly limits this feeling of safety, intimacy and control and thereby reduces the mental and social function of the home” {World Health Organisation, 2005}



In conclusion, while I try to develop some understanding of these dimensions of ‘Housing’ in my project, it proved very challenging, as unfortunately much of government policy holds  a narrow concept of housing, that it should solely be understood as a ‘dwelling’. Therefore to ensure greater clarity when under discussion in this project should be understood as such.


8.6 Housing Policy


Housing Policy is understood as any action by the state or government to influence and effect housing conditions. This is seen as a wide - ranging definition, which allows broad actions. Such actions are taken by the state in ensuring housing conditions, such as quality of accommodation and surrounding environment, supporting infrastructure, supply of accommodation corresponds to the determined needs of society, needs, determined by the state. Such actions to influence a course of actions can come in the form of direct or indirect action such as Grants, Subsidies, Taxation and Provision


The Department of the Environment Heritage and local government is responsible for housing Policy in Ireland. It primarily has a legislative and central funding role in providing the framework to which policy action must reside. Implementation of housing policy also resides with this department. The delivery of housing services resides with the local authorities. The main objective of housing policy by the Department of the Environment
” To Enable every Household to have available to them quality affordable dwelling suited to their needs, in a good environment, and as far as possible in the Tenure of their choice” { Department of Environment, 2005}. 


The General Principal underpinning this policy approach to achieving this objective is that

A.    Those who can afford to provide for their own housing needs should be encouraged and supported by the state in doing this, and that they will access this ‘housing’ based on their ability to pay. The private market, such as property developers, estate agents will provide their ‘housing needs’. They will be supported by the state in pursuing this course of action in the form of tax relief on mortgages, 1st time buyer grants etc. The primary goal of the private market is to maximise profit and is eligible to those who have the resources to pay private market rates.

B.    That those unable to provide for their housing needs’ due to lack of resources will be provided for by the state. Social housing, is housing which provided for by the state, or state funded and provided by Voluntary or Co-operatives. Access to social housing is based on need. Eligibility  is determined by local authorities and specific criteria are required for access. Rents in this sector are calculated based on a percentile of income and percentile may vary. They tend to be much lower than those set in the private market, where maximising profit does not take priority over need.  {Government of Ireland, 2005}

In conclusion, to understand these two dimensions of ‘Housing’ provision, by public and private market it is important to understand how they relate to the Welfare State.

8.7 Historical Development


At the beginning of the 21st Century, housing in Ireland is very different to the situation which existed one hundred years ago. At present, Ireland is characterised by a high level of Home Ownership at 78% of the Total Housing Stock in 2002. This has been a gradual process throughout the 20th Century as in 1922, ownership figured at less than 10%.{ Irish council for Social Housing, 2005} Homeownership since the 1930’s was promoted on a scale to the detriment of the private rented sector and public sector. This is clearly seen in the housing policy in relation to both sectors, which lead to them having a minimum percentile of housing stock. Unlike Health and Education, state intervention in housing was not seen as a threat by the church to a persons ‘morals’, therefore little direct input occurred in this area of welfare from the church and Voluntary Organisations. Voluntary Organisations and Co-Ops have only been involved in recent years in the Social Housing Sector.

According to Fahey cited in O Sullivan “the Provision of Public Rented Housing [Social Rented Housing] owes its origins of the Land agitation in the late 19th Century which resulted in the provision of labourers cottages, which was extended to urban areas in the twentieth century”{O Sullivan,7: 2004 } Until the early 1960’s, new housing was provided in equal measures by the state and the private market. In 1975, Social Housing accounted for 35% of the Total Housing Stock.{OSullivan,2004 } The dominant trend of private market provision steadily increased since, accelerating in the 1990’s according to Nesc report on 2002due to the many social, economic factors, such as demographic changes, economic growth and changes in family formation to name but a few.{refer to group chapter on changes in family formation }. The steady decline can be highlighted even in 1975, in which social housing accounted for 35% of Stock, compared to 6% in 2002  {Nesc, 2002}


8.8 Housing and the Irish Welfare State


The introductory chapter to this overall project highlights how the Irish welfare state can be described as a Liberal welfare state. Housing unlike education which is provided freely by the state is not seen as a ‘ right.’. Housing policy aims to enable everyone to have available to them quality affordable accommodation there is no constitutional framework supporting this. Housing in Ireland is seen a commodity in which access is primarily available to those who have the adequate resources. The increase of the private market, primarily that of home ownership and to a lesser extent the private rented market and the decline of the social housing sector ensures that social housing has a residual role in the welfare state. Public provision of housing targets only the most ‘needy’ in society, where the private market provides for the ‘normal’ society. Individual responsibility for Housing and welfare is a clear theme which defines a liberal welfare state. Gosta Esping Anderson suggests the Liberal welfare State through housing seeks to sponsor market solutions. “It pursues this via the double strategy of encouraging private provision as the norm, and by limiting public responsibilities to acute market failures.”{ Esping Anderson;2002;15 }.The right of choice is based on ability to pay. Home Ownership is encouraged as a mechanism for ensuring individual responsibility and economic activity. The criteria for home ownership and much of the private rented accommodation is that of employment. Full employment is required by two-earner household to access much of home ownership market rates, with purchase prices escalating 60% since 1998, according to the Department of Environment. A strong ‘ Home Ownership’ Tenure is seen compatible with economic growth and the competitive agenda of the neo-liberal government agenda in Ireland. A liberal welfare state holds the private market is more efficient at providing welfare and should be facilitated in every way in providing welfare therefore little intervention by the state takes place. This is one reason why the state has not intervened to control private market rates either in rent or purchase markets. Home ownership helps provide the strong labour force supply, which is necessary for private market forces to operate. The reduction of social housing is that it is seen to promote collective responsibility. This is not encouraged in the Liberal Welfare State. It is a very capital intensive form of welfare, requiring strong state expenditure. This is not compatible with a state that strives to be ‘ Low Spend’ regime. ‘Low Spend’ understood as low public expenditure as percentile of GNP. This would be perceived as a deterrent on global investment, which would impact on economic growth. Investment in the private market is encouraged by high profit margins, which in recent years in Ireland has been assured by soaring private market purchase and renting rates without any control by the state. This has impacted greatly on the other tenures as we will see when looking at current Housing Trends. In conclusion, there is two ways to understand housing, that it is a commodity in which access must be  purchased with requires sufficient funds and criteria, mainly that of employment. The other discourse is that ‘Housing can be seen as a merit good, in that it is a good that is not allocated through the price system, but on the basis of need or merit”. {King ; 2003:29}If our understanding of housing followed such a discourse in policy and provision, it is my view the needs of lone parents in housing would not exist. This confirms the Marxist notion that if the power of capital and private market provision in society did not exist, our natural social essence would emerge in which the collective would be more important than individual pursuits




As we can see from the Tenure trend statistics below, Ireland can be clearly defined as having a high Ownership Tenure compared to that of social rented housing or private rented housing




{ Norris , 2002: Table 1.4}


Ireland Tenure Trends-

Local Authority Rented: can be understood as ‘ social housing sector: Holds 6.9% of the Total Housing stock. Voluntary and Co-op sector hold 1% of social rented housing, but this is not indicated on chart

Other Rented: can be understood as the private rented accommodation [private market], which hold 11% of the market, and increase of 3% in the past few years

Owner occupation:  Owner occupied can be understood as those owners living in the premises .{private market]. Home ownership can be defined as those who own their own home, but may not reside there. Owner occupation holds 78% of the total housing stock

{Norris, M/ Winston, N; 16:2002}


8.9.1 Housing  stock.

Ireland has a much greater Home Ownership Tenure than other tenures in Europe.

National Economic and social council in Housing Report 2004 defined the Irish housing system as dynamic yet unbalanced

Dynamic: It can be understood as dynamic due to its rapid housing building rate in recent years. In 2003, 69,344 Houses were built, a 19% increase on 2002 figures and a 160% increase on 1995 figures.  The ESRI have pointed out that this was 22.7 percent the completions of German house building, a country with a population of over 82 million.

{ Jesuit centre for faith and Justice; 2005.}

Unbalanced: It can be understood according to National Economic and social council  as unbalanced in relation to a number of factors; one such factor that housing policy and provision is bias in favour of homeownership at the detriment of the other two tenures. This imbalance in policy and provision impacts those of lower incomes such as lone Parents in receipt of One Family Payment especially as policy and provision is narrowly focused and has not adapted to changing needs of Irish society, especially occurring in mid 1990’s onwards. Lack of supply of housing if demand levels are high is vital to prevent a crisis. Nesc recommends that the current supply of 5,000units of social housing needs to be doubled between 2005-2012, to an additional 78,000units by 2012. { National Economic and Social Council, 2004}



8.9.2 Germany:

In Germany, greater balance is rewarded between the different tenures. While recent policy in reducing the social housing sector may not impact yet, Germany shows greater respect of the importance of providing greater availability of diverse tenures with diverse criteria of access to meet diverse housing needs of the population.


Tenure Percentage in relation to Total Housing Stock.

Owner occupation: 38%

Private Rented     : 26%

Social Rented     : 36%

{ Norris, M/ Shields, Patrick, 2005}

 8.10 Home Ownership


Home Ownership is promoted as primary goal of Irish Housing Policy in Ireland. It is promoted by the state through ensuring high supply for the sector is guaranteed by ensuring profit margins remain high through high purchase prices, thus acting as incentive for developers and Investors. It is encouraged to the individual in society by the following mechanisms by the state

·       Tax Relief on mortgage payments

·       No Stamp duty for first time buyers

·       No Residential property Tax

In the Private Market, home ownership is encouraged by private financial Institutions by large Borrowing Options

·       In Ireland, individuals can borrow up to 92% of the cost of the house, with payments over 35years based on meeting private market eligible criteria. Such criteria can ensure lone parents can have problems accessing the private market. Such criteria can include but is not limited to

1.     Adequate Deposit House funds available, approx 10% of total cost of house

2. Full or Part Employment with highlight sufficient funds to pay mortgage


The maximum borrowing in Germany by contrast stands at 60% of total cost of a house. { Avaramov, D; 1999}



8.10.1 Affordability and Affordability Initiatives


Affordability Initiatives in the Irish housing sector is only dealt with in the home ownership sector, not the private rented sector. This is unique as addressing affordability in other European countries, such as Germany addresses the rental Sector. This highlights the sacrosanct status of home ownership in Ireland. It was important to address these initiatives and lone parents attitudes towards such schemes to highlight that they are failing to help provide access to the private homeownership market for many of the marginalized in society. According to Fahey, this is a narrow concept of ‘affordability’ which is ‘focused on home purchase for owner occupiers and overlooks the private rented sector” .{Fahy;2004;79}. Cori hold that 37% of the population are unable to afford their own home due to soaring prices in the ‘home ownership market’. {Cori, 2005}. According to the Quarterly housing statistics, 3rd Quarter 2004, the average house price is 249,348 Euro.{Government of Ireland, 2005}


Affordability is defined by the Department of the Environment of a proportion of housing costs that does not exceed one third of income of a tenant.{Department of Environment, 2005}.


Initiatives to tackle affordability are the home ownership sector is met through the following means.


Tenant Purchase Schemes:

This is a purchase of Social Housing sector and began in 1930 in rural Ireland. It was introduced in Urban Areas under the 1966 Housing Act. This purchase scheme has ensured that 2/3 of the social rented stock of Local Authority was put into private market, through purchase. This greatly impacted on the supply of the social rented housing in Ireland.

For purchase under this scheme the tenant must have resided in the house for a year or least. The price of the house is based on private market rates with a 3% discount for each year of Tenancy up to 10years. A 1st time buyers grant of approx 3000euro is also available. {Irish Council for Social Housing, 2005} . The maximum loan by local authority is 129,000euro. Due to soaring private market house prices, which the house prices is based plus 3% reduction, this loan is insufficient and a steep drop in the purchase of Tenant purchase schemes has occurred in the 1990’s.


Affordable Housing scheme:

This scheme was established under the Part V Development Act in 2000. It was ensured that Property developers had to hand over 20% of their private developments for low cost affordable ‘buying’ to social tenants. However in 2002, this act was amended in which money in lieu or other lands or a combination of all three could be given instead. Since 2000- only 809 houses have been secured under this scheme for low cost purchase houses. {Reid, L; 2005}

No houses have been secured in the Cork County council area.


Shared Ownership Scheme


“To facilitate access to Home Ownership in two or more stages to those who could not afford full ownership immediately” {Department of Environment;1991:38}.Ownership is shared between owner and local authority. Purchaser must secure 40% of the value of the house, and a mortgage of 60% will be given by the local authority.  A deposit of 1.270 is required and the 3,809 new house grant is available. Amount of Loan should not exceed 25years and not more than 1/3 of the monthly net income of the Household.  In the event of the affordable dwelling being re-sold within 20 years  a ‘claw back’ provision allows for the payment of a proportion of the proceeds to the local authority in line with the original percentage of sale price. According to the Department of Environment 2003 Statistics only 1,608 houses were secured nationally in the scheme.

In conclusion, all of the schemes although offer houses at reduced prices or variable payment stages, they all require adequate deposit monies, that of 10% plus an income through employment or otherwise which shows they have the ability their mortgages. These schemes therefore require criteria for access to homeownership, criteria based on a persons capital and employment which again denies access to many lone parents due to the disadvantages they face in these areas{citied in Sharons chapter}.


When asked if the Lone Parents knew about the different schemes available such as ‘Shared Ownership scheme’ or ‘Tenant Purchase scheme’ all seemed to be aware that much of the criteria needed for such schemes was not met in their situations.

Lone Parent B, who is residing in social rented housing and is happy with her arrangements and the quality of her housing expressed interest in owing her own home but felt the criteria of high purchase prices would be inaccessible.

Lone Parent B : “ I’d love to own my own house and be accountable to no-one , but I’d have to get married and get a fancy job for that… a right cinderalla story that would be around here


Lone Parent C, who currently resides in the private rented sector but must move as it is ‘too expensive’ cannot find affordable quality rented accommodation, highlighted her frustration with the ‘affordable buying’ not ‘renting initiatives’


Lone Parent C: ‘yeh I heard about them the affordable scheme, but it’s a joke, why are the worried about the people who cannot buy when the likes of me cant get into renting.



These correspond to the facts when looking at private financial Institutions Mortgage borrowing to that of Local Authority Rented in 2002 was 559 people compared with 49,921 of borrowers in the owner-occupied sector. In 2003, ¼ of all homes purchased were holiday Homes. { Irish Council for social Housing, 2005}



8.11 The Private Rented Sector:


The Private Rented accommodation tenure has been coined ‘ The forgotten tenure’ because of the lack of focus by successive government bodies in regard policy and provision in this sector. This was caused by the fact that in the past it was seen as a transitional tenure, in which people accessed for a brief period of time. In the past, access to the other tenures was easier due to lower purchase prices in home ownership and greater availability of social rented sector. Demographic and social changes such greater divorce, separation, immigration and participation of women in the workforce impacted on increasing pressures on this tenure as with the other tenures.

8.11.1 Policy:

The ‘Forgotten sector’ as it is defined was due in relation to the lack of policy and focus it received as a viable tenure choice in the Irish Housing Market. This is unique to Ireland. Weak policy in relation to this sector ensured little regulation. The Housing Act 1992 addressed for the 1st time the regulatory aspects of this sector and required minimum rent books and registration. However it was not the Residential Tenancies Act in 2003 that greater regulation was prescribed. While the act was useful in making registration by landlords more effective, ensuring annual only rent raises and developing mechanisms for dispute by a residential tenancies Board and security of tenure. No policy was developed to control rising Rent Prices and an ‘Affordability crises ensued’.


8.11.2 Affordability crises in the Private Rented Sector.

Fahey holds that in total the Private Rented sector, 28% of tenants exceed 1/3 of their income on housing costs, 1st time buyers 6% and Social Rented Housing 1%.{Fahey;2004:86}. Rent supplement by the state is available to those who cannot meet with their rent with their own resources. It is however an income support and therefore I have not addressed it fully.  What is important to note is while it is an income support, it has become a housing support due to the length that people remain dependent. The criteria for acquiring this income support by the state has been addressed by Maria. Currently 40% of the total population in the private rented sector require assistance of this kind has risen 44% since 1999. Lone parents account for … Affordability became problematic when demand levels superseded supply and with house prices escalation and rent escalation. No policy is currently in place to control the rise in rent prices. In 1981, rent control was abolished as unconstitutional and the rent control that existed in the 1970’s was blamed on the lack of investment incentives in the sector, which led to its lack of development. 

When Lone Parent C was asked if she was on rent supplement as she was living in the private rented sector while awaiting social housing she stated she was not because her experiences of it were negative and that it was a form of stigma in the small community of Bantry.




Lone Parent C : “ Oh Yeh , I was on it before, but all the decent places to live wont accept rent supplement especially if you are a lone Parent, only the dumps”.


Affordability problems along with stigma that Lone parent can receive also seemed of great concern with lack of access to other tenures contributing to her being potentially without any form of accommodation.


Lone Parent C : “ I’m moving out of my place in two weeks cause its too expensive and I don’t have anywhere to go. I can’t afford to rent anywhere and eve if I could, kids are like dos to some people. I have gotten loads of refusals because I’m a single mum with a kid. That a double problem for some people, they can be so ignorant ! .




8.12  Housing needs



Housing needs may vary, firstly, of what one understands by ‘housing’ as discussed in 1.3, and secondly what one understands by ‘needs’.  It is difficult to calculate I realised when talking to the lone parents but I feel but imperative to understand. Housing policy is based on ensuring housing needs are met, therefore correct assertion of what is meant by ‘needs’ is needed to ensure policy is accurate in meeting those needs. In the private market if one has sufficient resources and choices, those needs can be met through ability to pay.

 “Housing needs is a developmental concern. Shelter is a fundamental human need of which the quality, location, type of shelter can greatly impact on the wellbeing of the individual, family and community and society at large in relation to health, security, the environment and cultural identity”{OSullivan:14;2000} . There are many different kinds of housing needs. The Housing needs of Lone Parents raising a child/ children by themselves may differ from those persons with a disability.



The 1988 Section 9 Housing Act stipulates that Local Authorities are responsible for collecting data on Housing needs of those in its area every 3years {Government of Ireland, 2005}. These persons once assessed and having met criteria determined by Local Authorities will be put on a waiting list for social housing. The increase in the need can be highlighted in the chart below. It also highlights that demand has increased on the social Housing sector, which with its lack of supply has created a crises in the sector.




8.12.1 Developments in Housing Need



Chart Cited from Housing Policy 1990-2002


The Chart is based on assessment of Housing need by Local Authorities every 3years. It highlights the real concern of that ‘ affordability’ is a major crises in the private Market. It demonstrates that much of this was to inflation of house and private rent prices. The number of those who demonstrate as having a ‘housing need’ based on the inability to afford market rates was 2,499 people or 14% of total in 1991 .   In 2002, 13,328 or 44% of the Total in 2002. A Total of 48,824 people had a housing need in 2002 according 2002 Stats {Norris, M/ Winston/N; 2002}

Nesc Housing Policy 2004 holds that 10,000 units are required per annum 2050 to 2012 to meet the social housing need. Threshold states The Government has budgeted to provide just 5,500 local authority houses in 2005, half of what NESC say is needed. It is time for the Government to get serious about housing poverty and embrace the targets set out by the NESC as the minimum required.” {Threshold, 2005}


8.12.2 Housing Needs and Lone Parents:


The Local Authority assessment on housing needs accounts that

·       43% of net need for local authority accommodation is Lone Parents

·       29% of net Need for local authority accommodation is Single Person

·       1 in 4 Lone parents have a housing need

·       1 in 50 two  parent families have a housing need

{Nesc, 2004}



It can be seen   that Lone Parents in Ireland have a housing need compared to that of a two parent family or other groups in society such as two –parent families. They seem to have greater challenge at meeting requirements of private housing market. These figures, show that lone parents due their educational disadvantage, employment disadvantage and poverty they face as discussed in previous chapters is cause that the criteria of the private market access is not being met.




The Social Housing sector provides for those deemed as having a ‘housing need’ by the local Authorities. “Social Housing need can therefore be defined in relation to those who do not have adequate means or resources to access suitable dwellings!”. {Government of Ireland, 2005 }. Much ambiguity remains. What is deemed ‘adequate’ or ‘suitable’ is not clearly defined. This is  problematic , both for ensuring lack of clarity both in the  criteria needed for assessing waiting list and also lack of clear understanding of what ‘suitable’ dwelling could be, especially if you understand it with a broader dimensional focus. Eg. A dwelling may not be suitable if it is far from ones social network, even though the quality of the dwelling is suitable.

The Housing needs of Lone Parents are far ranging, as they also have to meet the needs of the child/children. The Lack of supply of social housing in relation to demand seems to highlight when talking to them Lone Parents that there ‘needs are not been met’ as they are forced into accepting whatever they are given.

When asked as to what there experience was of waiting lists and whether they felt they had choices in what they were given, it seemed lengthy waiting lists encouraged them to accept what was given, regardless of what was ‘suitable.’

Lone Parent A “ I think that’s why they keep people for ages on waiting lists, like me. I was on one for four years so that the time I got mine I was delighted even though it was a kip


When asked to expand on what she meant by ‘kip’.

Lone Parent A: “ Well it wasn’t even proper social rented housing, it was emergency accomadation, had a fire was damp and had no central heating”


In Bantry and surrounding areas, there is 450 people according to the Lone Parents on the waiting lists and only 30 houses coming available. The Local County office in which they have dealing is in Clonakilty, 30 Kms away. Basic housing needs are been met in this area when looking at both a national and local level at the numbers of people on waiting lists. These long waiting lists seem to put greater pressures on Lone Parents to accept what they are given, which hinders there ability to choose.


Lone Parent C “ No around here you don’t have no choices, what are you going to do, wait two years, get a house even though its too small and them them ‘No’ and go back on the waiting list. Its not like the city, houses don’t come up much , you take what your given


Of which Lone Parent B confirmed “ yeh, if you refuse you mighnt get a 2nd chance


The needs of Lone Parent A, went beyond just accessing a suitable dwelling but she seemed to deem such needs as secondary if she could get a home


Lone Parent C “ I’d like to live in a place that has more opportunities than here, but I’m not going to be picky, I’ll go where I get a house.”

When asked what kind of opportunities she would like to have

Lone Parent C: I don’t know, just more choices of working options or something. My mother lives in Kerry, that might be nice, but no jobs probably.




Lack of accessible facilities in the Community can hinder ability to participate, such as supply of employment opportunities, crèches, public parks etc. All lone parents that I spoke to wished for more jobs in the area, and that a lack of employment opportunities did seem to create tensions in the community

Lone Parent C “ there is hardly any jobs around here, I got lucky working parttime in the crèche, all the foreigners have taken the jobs for less money”.

All the parents seemed to like living in the town of Bantry, which they believed was an attractive place to live, a safe community with good schooling. Only Lone Parent C would move if required to access housing. For both Lone Parent A and B, the family network which was in the area was crucial for them. For Lone Parent A even though self decribed accomadation was ‘a kip’. She stated

‘ I wouldn’t move, I’m a country girl, I like the quiet around here, my family is here, its all I know”.

Schooling and having access to a strong social network, such as family in a small community in a good environment seemed for the lone parents A & B essential to meeting their needs and the needs of their children.


Waiting List Procedures:


Waiting list procedures can greatly add to the frustration of Lone Parents and other groups, which is compounded by lengthy waiting periods. Lone Parent A and B waited over 2years for housing, while Lone Parent C who has been waiting for 2years is still waiting.

Nesc holds that 1/3 of Households assessed as in need of Local Authority housing have been on the Local Authority waiting lists for more than two years. {Nesc, 2004 17}.This lack of clarity of procedures is acknowledged by O Sullivan when he states “ The Number of Households recorded as requiring local Authority housing increased from 27,427 in 1996 to 48,413 in 2002 with households unable to afford their existing accommodation by far the single largest category. However considerable difficulties exist in relation to the interpretation of these data and they primarily reflect administration priorities and procedures rather than objective housing need “ [OSuulivan :334:2004 }. While County Councils are deemed to have lists of names based on numeric order in place which should be available to Lone Parents to highlight where they stand on waiting lists there  numeric order can change on the list and go both up and down. There is no timeframe given to people on waiting lists as to when they will avail of social rented housing.


For Lone Parents in Bantry, the waiting lists procedures were also compounded by distance to county council office in Clonakilty.

Lone Parent C “ I rang him [ the local councillor in clonakilty} a couple of months ago to find out whats the story, how far I was on the list and he said they don’t have a list just names.  I’d like to go down there and face him in person, but its too much hassle on the bus with the kid and he might’nt be there when you get there”


Lengthy waiting list procedures and lack of clarity in procedures also seems when talking to the Lone Parents create social tensions in society. This corresponds to Marxist notions that the relations of need are inherently unsocial and that such relations of need of  which derives from a society where the power of private property prevails is the negation of society.


Lone Parent B “ The lists around here are ridiculous, they don’t tell you anything, its who you know around here for some people. I have 3 kids and waited 3years for a house and there was some people jumping into houses before me with no kids, its supposed to be a points system……….Sometimes this creates hassle between people if they don’t think you should have got a house before them


Lone Parents were seen in recent media coverage as to be responsible for taking up social housing, as were immigrants in 2002/2003. The Government is able to pass the blame and create social Tensions by blaming long waiting lists on the perceived ‘sponger element’ of society, rather than its own inadequate policy in addressing the structural causes of the ‘Housing crises’. This ‘Blame’ policy by Government also seems to create social tensions between groups in society, that of the local and foreign population


Lone Parent C: If you see some of the people who get houses, what a joke and you can jump around the list, when the foreigners came in , I went down the list, I’m waiting years, why such the foreigners get better treatment than us, no wonder people get annoyed.




8.14 Social Housing Sector:


The Social housing sector provides space for collective provision in housing to be developed. Access to the sector is based on need but solely on ability to pay. The purpose of social housing is to provide for the unmet need of those in the private housing market, primarily due lack of resources. It is funded by the public exchequer and general taxes. The sector is in high demand, firstly due to lack of supply of only 5,000units being developed each year in contrast to the high demand of 48,824 people waiting for the sector. The demand for the sector has increased as  more and more the needs of certain groups in society are not being met by the private housing market.  This sector is unique, compared to that of the private market sector as it offers a reduced rents calculated by the local authorities based on a percentile of income of the tenant. In Cork, if the income of the tenant is 140.00euro per week, the rent is 14euro.In the case where income that exceeds this amount rent will be calculated at 20% of income .A two Euro reduction for every child will apply per week. The maximum rent is 85.00euro per week. Access is based on need assessment and points are allocated for different needs. This is determined by local authorities. The tenure is attractive, as it offers security of tenure and reduced rent to that of market prices. Those deemed as having the greatest need, go to the top of the waiting list for housing. The sector until 1991, was provided for by the state. However in 1991, under a Plan for social housing the need to diversify the provision of social housing was recognised. The Capital Loan and Subsidy scheme{1991}, which is financed by the housing finance agency, provides funding for housing associations through the local authorities to provide housing, particularly to meet the needs of low-income families”{Irish Council  for social housing;1:2005}.While in 1995, the plan for social housing’ The way ahead’ recognised that the sector, due to poor policy, planning and building practices  such as been built on the periphery of towns, cut off from local amenities, communities and employment and services was  creating social problems and increasing social exclusion felt by communities. The areas became known as ‘disadvantaged areas’. Stigma by the wider community to social housing and social housing tenants ensued. This ensured private development in the areas declines or did not develop and increased the decline in the area. In 1997, the community and Voluntary groups were brought into Partnership with the state, statutory agencies, employers, trade unions and farmers, both at national and local level. A Plan to tackle rural disadvantage was recognised in the National Development Plan 2000-2006. Greater co-ordination and involvement of local community groups, employers etc were developed in local partnership arrangements to develop services, infrastructure and increase participation of local communities in the regeneration of the communities and infrastructure. Rural disadvantage had caused mass migration out of communities throughout west cork, such as Bantry. This decreased the supply of labour in the area which furthered the decline in services. Lack of infrastructure, such as affordable housing, employment and services is key to ensuring rural disadvantage is tackled. ‘Clar’ is one such rural development program funded by the National Development Plan and European social fund to tackle disadvantage in rural areas. The Local County councils were encouraged to develop strategies to improve the quality of social housing to which they had responsibility and to encourage participation of tenants residing in housing rented by local authorities. It has been recognised through successive reports, such as Nesc 2002, and 2004 report that poor quality housing and provision can impact on the decline of an area. This highlights the multidimensional nature of housing. It has also been recognised in such reports, that tenant participation in the regeneration of housing and wide involvement by the community is key to ensuring regeneration of an area is successful.

Participation at Community Level:

When asked whether lone Parents felt they had an input to how their estate or community was run, they said no.

When asked if they ever had been invited by the County Council to discuss their views, they said no.

Lone Parent B “ sure if we have problems we discuss them among ourselves



8.15 Quality and Affordability  : Impact on Health and Wellbeing.


According to the Irish National survey on Quality in Housing 2001-2002- Local Authority Tenants and Lone parents were more likely to experience dampness, repair problems and wider neighbourhood problems than other tenures.

According to the Housing Problems and Children report 2004, lack of quality of housing impacted most on Lone Parents. Poverty faced by lone parents, as discussed by Joanne is linked to poor quality housing for lone parents.

·       Disrepair  

·       Dampness

·       Overcrowding                  

·       Affordability       

The main finding of this report is that children of Lone parents are fare more likely than children in other households types to experience almost all the problems listed above and consequently to have their wellbeing affected. {Government of Ireland, 2005}


Housing Problems and Children Report holds that

·       Overcrowding disrepair are linked to compromised health

·       Dampness associated with Asthma

·       Overcrowding linked to psychological stress, poor school achievement, motivation and associated behavioural difficulties

·       Lack of Housing Affordability can increase the likelihood of poverty, which in turn impacts directly in a child or parent  health, educational achievements and psychological stress and may contribute to drug misuse and crime

·       Poorer Neighbourhoods associated with Lower Childhood IQ and more teenage births and early school leaving. {Housing Ireland, 2004}



Lone Parent A, was the only parent I spoke to who had problems the quality of her accommodation did impact on her wellbeing


when the size of the place, its tiny and hard with a child , the kitchen is damp, but I’ve put money into it . I would love to move, but only when something comes up and that could be ages. It does stress me out sometimes don’t get me wrong




Lone Parent C held that quality is lacking because people will take the houses without complaining.

yeh I went up to some new estate[social housing estate] they built at the back of town. They build crappy homes and expect us to be overjoyed if you got one, because they think you should be lucky they’re given you anything.

When asked what she meant by ‘crappy’.

Lone Parent C “. Well there tiny houses, bunched together, front doors on top of each other, you would have no privacy at all.


Lack of supply of quality affordable dwelling in the Private Rented Sector for Lone Parent C and the potential that this may cause her to have no accommodation in two weeks impacted on her mental health


“ Not having a place secured yet is really stressing me out. I’m always trying to make ends meet, I would go back to rent supplement, but there is still nothing available around here. I cant live in a complete dump outside town. I work in town and don’t have transport.”



8.15.1 Quality of  housing and Stigma.

The Quality of Housing, understood in the broader sense can impact on social Stigma it generates from the wider society. A Voluntary Housing association, the Roscarbery Housing association highlighted that can unsustainable building practices promote social division in communities, increase pollution and health problems through high pollutant building materials and encourage social exclusion. Such unsustainable practices in housing can be seen poor layout designs of social Housing on the periphery of towns, distant from public amenities and services excluded from the community. It has been acknowledged that such practice does lead to greater social problems for individuals, the community and society at large. While none of the Lone Parents I spoke to felt that there was stigma against them or their neighbourhoods in the community, the stigma social housing generates was highlighted when the building of social housing is proposed for the area and the negative response this generates from the wider community. One such Social Housing development project that the Roscarbery  housing association took in a small town in west cork was prevented as Jose Ospina the director states “ a group of residents organised a petition to stop the project. I spoke to the landowners and the resistance was due to social tenants, they felt social Housing would bring in people that would not probably be unemployed and not a good influence to the area. They feared it would bring down property prices and generally lower the tone of the area. The council backed them up on this and refused planning permission.

In relation to the poor quality of unsustainable building in social housing, the Renease Project developed by the Roscarbery Housing associations aims to provide sustainable social housing, with there first project been developed in Bantry. The site, which must adhere to suitable sustainable building practices has finally been secured after many years. Securing Land within the central funding limits available to voluntary organisations by the state is problematic to the development of social housing by Voluntary Organisations. Residential zoning of land further increases prices of land and according to Jose Ospina, the director is hindering the development of social housing by Voluntary Organisations.


                                                Jose Ospina understands that the quality of social housing to date has been poor and how this poor quality can generate social stigma is understandable. He holds “ but stigma is understandable when we are talking about housing that is badly designed. If we are talking about better standard of housing encompassing environmental and community factors it becomes nonsense the whole thing kinda  perpeutetates the stigma that social housing tenants are 2nd class tenants and that people who live there are undesirable. We have to raise the quality of the housing in order to change the perception”

In conclusion, while only briefly discussed, this voluntary organisation shows that diversity of provision is essential to ensure innovative new ways are developed for social housing. They should be supported in every way at achieving their goal of developing ‘sustainable social housing’ and that while sustaining progress 2003-2005 acknowledges the importance of ‘sustainable’ development, it so far has been mere rhetoric on the part of the government.



8.16 Conclusion and Findings


The dominance of the private market, such as property developers etc in providing housing and the criteria of access to such housing prevents lone parents in receipt of One Family Payment access.The disadvantage they face, in relation to educational and employment opportunities compounds the disadvantage they face at accessing suitable affordable housing. Government housing policy has failed. It is not securing suitable housing to meet the needs of lone parents. Housing policy is narrowly focused and strategies to tackle the housing crisis,  such as the affordable buying initiatives is directed primarily at those who are economically active in employment. Rent supplement is not meeting the needs of lone parents, as it reinforces stigma faced and structural causes in the private rented sector such as high rental prices need to be controlled.


·       Social Housing sector supply is increased , as recommended by Nesc to 10,000units per annum between 2005-2012.Targets set out in National Development plan in relation to housing must be met

·       Greater monitoring of Local authority practices and procedures and greater accountability of funding is required

·       Rural Regeneration problems, such as Clar must take in greater consideration of housing needs of local communities as regeneration cannot be met without these needs being met.

·       The housing system is unbalanced and this must be corrected. Greater balance of both private and state provision of housing is required. Greater involvement of the state into private housing market is required to ensure it is meeting the needs of the population , and to ensure profit is controlled.

·       Greater capital funding is required to voluntary housing organisations to develop social housing, however steps to control land prices must first occur.

·       The Quality of the social housing sector must adhere to sustainable practices to prevent stigma in the wider community and promote sustainable development in the community.

·       Housing must become a  constitutional right.

·       To ensure policy and provision is monitored to ensure it is not reinforcing social inequalities or division.




9. Crisis pregnancy and sexual health

                                                                      Ciaran McGuiness

9.1 Introduction

                        The structure of families in Irish society is changing and in particular has seen dramatic changes in the last 20 years. One of the changes that has occurred is the substantial rise in the number of lone parent families and also a marked increase in the number of non-marital births has occurred. The number of births to unmarried mothers is indirectly proportionate to age, meaning that the greater proportion of non-marital births is to women under the age of 25 (O’Keefe, 2004; p4). O’Keefe states that since 1957, the 1,033 births to women under 20 years, 26 percent were outside marriage compared to 1995, where the 2,482 births to women under 20 years, 95 percent of these births were outside of marriage. A trend that has accompanied these figures of lone parenthood has been the social stigma attached to single women in Irish society who are rearing children on their own. From been ‘castigated, punished, stigmatised, ignored, labelled and controlled’ (Leane, M., Kiely, L 1997; p296) lone parents continue to be perceived in a negative way. While traditionally, pregnancy has been ‘ascribed’ to take place within a marriage in Irish society those that do not occur within this context have been the centre of much debate and social concern.

                        The subject of sexual health and sex education has also been at the centre of public discourse in Irish society in recent times. In previous generations sex and sexuality have generally not been openly discussed and have often been kept vague. However, a number of unfortunate high profile incidents have occurred – in 1993 the body of a baby boy was discovered in the Phoenix Park in Dublin; in February 1994 the body of a baby was found in a canal in Co. Kildare; in 1995 a newborn baby was discovered washed up in the tide off the coast of Kerry and in May 1997 the body of a newborn baby was discovered in Portarlington Co. Laois (see Inglis, 1998; p1). In 1992 the infamous ‘X’ case was at the centre of public debate when the Supreme Court in Dublin granted permission to a 14 year old girl to travel to Britain to have an abortion. Incident such as these prompted not only debate on crisis pregnancy but also on sexual health in relation to education. Where once there had been ridicule and scorn for the unmarried mother, there was now growing sympathy and understanding. It is difficult for people to be sexually responsible when they are not just illiterate, but ignorant of the basic facts of life (Inglis, 1998; p1).

                        Traditionally in Ireland the Roman Catholic Church has been the institution which has provided the moral teachings in relation to issues including sexuality and marriage. The role of the ‘mother’ was of primary importance as was the value of having births only within the context of marriage. Since the 1990’s however, this has changed. One major contributor of this change was the media (see Inglis, 1998; p39) which opened up a domain for open discussion for all matters related to sexuality. Recent sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church have further reduced the dominance of the Church in their teachings. The Catholic Church did however work in partnership with the state in the introduction of the Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme in schools throughout Ireland. Problems did exist with the introduction of the programme in relation to the Church’s objection to aspects of the programme and also the objection of some parents. The RSE Programme had the aim of helping school children to acquire knowledge and understanding of human relationships and sexuality, with parents been given the option of withdrawing a child from RSE classes (Wynne 1997; p24).  

                        This research paper is going to address crisis pregnancy and sexual health in order to examine the experiences of woman in a crisis pregnancy situation and her decision to enter lone motherhood. The definition of crisis pregnancy used for this research paper is the definition used by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, Dublin. They state a crisis pregnancy is ‘a pregnancy which is neither planned nor desired by the woman concerned, and which represents a personal crisis for her’. The Crisis Pregnancy Agency also understands that this definition incorporates those women for whom a planned or desire pregnancy can develop into a crisis pregnancy over time due to a change in circumstances (Crisis Pregnancy Agency 2003; p4). 


9.2 Research Aims and Objectives

                        The primary aim of this research paper is to examine a woman’s experience of crisis pregnancy and her decision making in a crisis pregnancy situation. The following are the objectives of the research:

¨     To identify the factors associated with crisis pregnancy.

¨     To examine the decision making of a woman in the event of a crisis pregnancy in relation to adoption, abortion and lone motherhood.

¨     To examine the ‘experience’ of a woman who finds herself in a crisis pregnancy situation.

¨     To identify whether sexual health education was received and whether it was received on a formal or informal basis.


9.3 Methodology and Methods of Data Collection 

                        The research method used in this paper is that of qualitative research. A phenomenological case study approach is adapted using a semi structured interview. The reason for adopting a phenomenological methodology is to examine the life experience of a woman who experienced a crisis pregnancy. Schwandt (2001; p192) states that the phenomenological approach aims ‘to identify and describe the subjective experiences of respondents. It is a matter of studying everyday experience from the point of view of the subject, and it shuns the critical evaluation of forms of life’ and that it is a complex and multifaceted philosophy that ‘defies simple characterisation because it is not a single unified philosophical standpoint’ (ibid; p191). Schwandt also states that ‘phenomenologists insist on careful description of ordinary conscious experience of everyday life – a description of ‘things’ as one experiences them’ (ibid; p191). The qualitative case study was used to capture the experience of a woman as she experienced a crisis pregnancy as it was felt that these experiences could not be gained as effectively if a quantitative approach was taken.

                        Corbetta (2003; p264) refers to the objective of the qualitative interview and that it is concerned with the objective of grasping the subjects perspective, understanding mental categories and grasping motives underlying actions. The qualitative interview can be defined as a conversation that has the following characteristics- it is elicited by the interviewer; interviewees are selected on the basis of a data gathering plan; it has a cognitive objective; it is guided by the interviewer; and it is based on a flexible, non-standardised pattern of questioning (ibid; p264). The type of interview used in this research was a semi-structured interview. This type of interview was chosen so that all relevant themes to the research were discussed thus allowing the respondent some freedom for discussion within the interview. It allows the person to ‘answer more on their own terms than the standardised interview permits’ (May 2001; p123). Corbetta (2003; p270-271) states ‘interviewers’ guidelines draw the boundaries within which the interviewer is able to decide not only to the order and wording of the questions but also which themes to investigate in greater dept’. The researcher is also ‘free to develop any themes arising during the course of the interview which he deems important for a fuller understanding of the respondent’ (ibid). The relationship between the interviewer and the respondent will ultimately affect the outcome of the data collected so it was very important to pay attention at all times to the sensitivity of the research topic For the current case study I interviewed a 22 year old woman form an inner city area in Cork City. She was residing with her parents and had one child aged 3 years. Prior to the interview full informed consent was obtained from the respondent and all topics to be discussed were clearly identified beforehand. Particular attention was paid to the sensitivity of the topic been researched. 


9.4 Policy and Unmarried Mothers