Research aims to help improve the lot of lone parent families

Dr. Michelle Millar, Senior lecturer of Science and Sociology at NUIG: “We are working on excellent policies and practices to improve the lives of people. Our role is to inform policy makers.” Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.
Dr. Michelle Millar, Senior lecturer of Science and Sociology at NUIG: “We are working on excellent policies and practices to improve the lives of people. Our role is to inform policy makers.” Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Lifestyle – Bernie Ní Fhlatharta meets Dr Michelle Millar who says social inclusion that helps people find jobs is key to solving poverty

Lone parents and their children are the biggest group at risk of poverty anywhere in Ireland.

According to the latest census figures one in eight people in Ireland live in lone parent families and one in four families with children is a one parent family.

In a more socially inclusive Ireland, it is acknowledged that these families need help to ensure they have the same opportunities as everyone else to be educated, expect to work in their chosen fields and have the same lifestyle as two-parent families.

Sadly, it is not the case. Income in a one parent family is usually greatly reduced and as the onus of care falls on the one parent, it is more than likely that going out to earn money is more difficult.

It is not surprising then, that children of these families are at greater risk of poverty.

Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar in his recent Biennial Distinguished Lecture at the Institute for Lifecourse and Society in NUI Galway, mentioned one parent families in particular and his aim to reduce child poverty in the country.

He said that one of his priorities was, in partnership with other agencies, to help one parent family have more access to education and to employment through introducing a top-up to the child benefit scheme and Family Income Supplements.

But he did stress he didn’t want a situation where families on long-term Social Welfare would be “better off” receiving State aid than working in gainful employment.

Ministers like Leo Varadkar and other policy makers are informed by people working in research and at that same event in the new ILAS building on the college’s North Campus in Dangan, one of these researchers also addressed those in attendance. Those invited were made up of academics, policy makers and NGOs from agencies like COPE and Foróige.

Professor Pat Dolan, Director of the ILAS at NUI Galway welcomed the Minister’s invitation to engage with his Department and said the research carried out at the Institute did make a difference.

One of those people making a difference is Dr Michelle Millar, a Senior lecturer of Science and Sociology and researcher at the university who with Dr Rosemary Crosse, compiled a report on how lone parent families survive in modern Ireland.

Dr Millar’s current research interest focuses on labour market activation and those parenting alone as well as social inclusion and parenting.

Recently, her research into this very subject led her to being called to a Joint Oireachtas Committee which looked at the plight of lone parents and how their lives could be improved.

“It was great to be invited to the Joint Oireachtas Committee and to be listened to, but of course we never know how our research is going to impact on future changes to policy. We carry out the research in the hope of having an impact on policy, but we don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Dr Millar, a Wexford native who came to Galway in 1998 after studying in the University of Limerick.

She spoke with authority at that recent ILAS event where she was called upon to make the closing address.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.