TÁNAISTE Joan Burton was yesterday forced to defend her decision to take lone parent payments from thousands of single mothers before introducing a new system to help ease the burden of childcare costs.
Ms Burton claimed she stopped lone parent payments for children over seven years old to encourage single mothers back into the workforce and education.
However, the Labour Party leader previously said a Scandinavian model of childcare provision would be put in place to help make up for the shortfall in income.
But the model has yet to be introduced, and 9,000 single mothers lost the payment last year; this will increase to 60,000 this year.
They will be given jobseeker's or other social welfare payments that require recipients to apply for jobs or training courses to receive the money. However, their net income will be reduced.
Asked why she had not put in place a new childcare system, Ms Burton said the changes she made were helping single mothers get back to work.
"I have been working with the Department of Children and we have been transferring resources to the Department of Children to get a much better childcare system in this country at an affordable price for families and parents," she said.
"Loan parents are one of the groups most at risk of being poor."
She said a lot of single mothers were "locked out of employment" and she put in place a transition programme for them to get back to work. Ms Burton also claimed the Government considers what "average workers and ordinary families" discuss "around the dinner table" before making budget decisions.
She specifically highlighted the childcare costs of a working mother of two children.
Speaking to RTÉ Radio One, Ms Burton repeated her promise to introduce a second year of free pre-school education if Labour is voted back into Government. But she ruled out abolishing the USC, as it contributes more than €4bn to the economy.
"No one can say, and I want to be clear about this, they can abolish the USC or reduce it absolutely overnight," she said.
She said the tax could be reduced in stages as part of broader reforms to keep "Ireland working and get more people working".