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Social Welfare Bill 2012: Second Stage (Continued)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton]  An additional €2 million will be allocated to expand the school meals programme, which aims to provide food to children. It is exemplified by the hot breakfast clubs with which many Members are familiar. A total of €2.5 million will be allocated to a new area-based approach to child poverty initiative, which is being worked on by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, the Tánaiste and many Deputies to bring joined-up thinking to how a series of agencies interact to provide services to children and families who may be in some difficulty in a given area.

I am using €11 million of the savings from the jobseekers' measure to make a major expansion to our employment and internship programmes. An additional 2,500 places for JobBridge internships will be provided in 2013, an additional 2,500 places are being made available for the Tús scheme in 2013, the community employment scheme is to benefit from an additional 2,000 places in 2013 and a new local authority social employment scheme offering an initial 3,000 places will be introduced in 2013. These additional places on employment and internship schemes complement the child care measures to which I referred earlier.

Overall, expenditure on working age employment supports has been increased by €95 million to €1.05 billion in 2013. The Department is becoming active in helping people to get back to work and consequently it is important that we have places to offer to people who, for the most part, are desperately anxious to get back into work, especially those who have been out of the workforce for a long time. Many of these places can be used in conjunction with the very good initiatives developed by my colleagues, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, in particular Springboard and the back to education initiative.

I will now outline the main provisions of the Bill, which is in three parts and 14 sections. Part 1 contains preliminary and general provisions. Part 2 contains amendments to the Social Welfare Acts, including several amendments to the contributory pension schemes arising from the budget 2012 decision to provide for a new structure of the reduced rates of state pension (contributory) and state pension (transition).

Section 5 reduces the amount of the annual respite care grant by €325 from €1,700 to €1,375. The new rate will apply to all claimants who qualify for the annual respite care grant, which is paid as a cash sum, in June 2013 and in each subsequent year. Section 6 provides for the abolition of the weekly PRSI-free allowance of €127 with effect from 1 January 2013. Section 7 increases the rate of assessment of self-employment income from farming and fishing from 85% to 100% in the case of the farm assist, jobseeker's allowance, pre-retirement allowance and disability allowance schemes. In addition, it provides for the abolition of the annual child-related income disregards. These changes will take effect from April 2013.

Section 8 reduces the monthly rate of child benefit by €10 per child in respect of the first, second and third child. From January 2013, the monthly rate for each of the first three children will be €130 per month. Section 8 also provides for a reduction in the monthly rate of child benefit by €10 per child, to €130, in respect of the fourth and each subsequent child from January 2014. Section 10 provides for an increase in the minimum rates of the pay-related social insurance contribution paid by self-employed contributors with effect from 1 January 2013. It will go up from €253 to €500. The position is similar in respect of voluntary contributions as set out in section 11. Section 12 reduces the duration of jobseeker's benefit from 12 months to nine months in the case of people who have paid at least 260 PRSI contributions and from nine months to six months in the case of people who have paid less than 260 contributions. These changes will take effect from April 2013 and will apply to new claimants.

Section 13 sets out the recovery of over-payments. It provides for a deduction of up to 15% of a liable person's relevant personal weekly rate of social welfare payment. A person will not be entitled to compensate for any over-payment deduction from her primary social welfare payment by seeking an additional payment of supplementary welfare allowance. Increases payable in respect of a dependent adult or child or those relating to child benefit are not affected. Section 14 amends the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 by abolishing the rebate paid to employers in respect of statutory redundancy lump-sums paid to their employees. Rebates will continue to be available to employers on or after 1 January 2013 on statutory lump-sum payments made to employees who have been made redundant before 1 January 2012 at a rate of 60%, and on or after 1 January 2012 but before 1 January 2013 at a rate of 15%.

These are the main provisions. Since I became the Minister for Social Protection I have been mindful of how crucial our social welfare expenditure has been in protecting the most vulnerable and in minimising poverty during the economic crisis. The remarkable poverty reduction impact of welfare in Ireland has greatly underpinned social cohesion in contrast to other countries affected by the economic crisis in which we have seen a good deal of violence on the streets.

I am mindful of the impact on family living standards from high unemployment, falling incomes and over-indebtedness. I am focusing on people returning to work by providing an extra 10,000 child care places. Fortunately this November, 11,000 more people went back to work than in November 2011 and 7,000 more than in November 2010. Each time someone goes back to work the Exchequer gains by up to €20,000. This, along with securing the Social Insurance Fund cap, is how we protect the social welfare structure in place in Ireland while making it responsive to help people get back into a job or, to use President Obama's phrase, to become job ready. This is the purpose of the Social Welfare Bill and all the reforms we have undertaken since we came into Government.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea I propose to share time with Deputy Barry Cowen if he appears in the Chamber.

The central defence made by the Minister is that core social welfare rates will remain unchanged. Like many things, that is not completely true but it is partly true. I wish to draw the attention of the House to a phenomenon known as the poverty line. The poverty line is an internationally accepted standard. It defines the minimum income that a family in particular circumstances will need to live in conditions of decency and dignity. For a single adult living alone in the country the poverty line is €208 per week, precisely €20 per week more than the rate of jobseeker's allowance or jobseeker's benefit, to which he would be entitled. In the case of two adults, the joint income falls €32 per week below the poverty line. To say that we have kept rates intact and that we have not driven people further into poverty is something of a hollow boast.

Since the downturn in the economy in 2008 there have been eight austerity budgets in total. The ESRI, Social Justice Ireland and several other organisations, which have no political axe to grind and no affiliation to any party on this or the other side of the House but simply tell it as they see it, have stated unequivocally that last year's budget, the first introduced by this Government, was the first to be regressive in its scope.

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