Houses of the Oireachtas

All parliamentary debates are now being published on our new website. The publication of debates on this website will cease in December 2018.

Go to oireachtas.ie

Social Welfare Bill 2012: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 2

First Page Previous Page Page of 90 Next Page Last Page

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan The Deputy wants carers to vouch for their allowances. Apparently he does not trust them.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall): Information on Jack Wall Zoom on Jack Wall Deputy Conlan should be allowed to finish his contribution without interruption.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan How could he be any more insulting? Are Labour Party Members listening to this?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall): Information on Jack Wall Zoom on Jack Wall Deputy Halligan had the opportunity to make his contribution without interruption. He should afford Deputy Conlan the same opportunity.

Deputy Seán Conlan: Information on Sean Conlan Zoom on Sean Conlan I had intended to finish on that point. However, I will take this opportunity to inform Deputy Halligan that I do not take lectures from a populist waffler like him who comes into the House with that type of rhetoric. I am trying to make progressive suggestions.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan The Deputy is insulting carers.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall): Information on Jack Wall Zoom on Jack Wall Deputies, please. I have called Deputy Billy Timmins.

Deputy Billy Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins Zoom on Billy Timmins Before dealing with the Bill, I refer to the commitment the Government gave to facilitate an analysis of budgetary proposals and greater transparency regarding the budgetary process, including the preparation of the Finance Bill and Social Welfare Bill. The idea was that there would be an opportunity to discuss the issues in detail - to prepare the ground, so to speak - whether in plenary session in this Chamber or at committee level. It is something that must be done in the future. Alongside that, it behoves Members on all sides of the House to come forward with proposals and meaningful analysis. Having been in the Chamber for the past 30 minutes or so, I am struck by the lack of analysis and proposals from the other side of the House. It is easy to condemn but rather more difficult to come up with positive concrete proposals.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett We have tabled amendments.

(Interruptions).

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall): Information on Jack Wall Zoom on Jack Wall Deputies, please.

Deputy Billy Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins Zoom on Billy Timmins I would appreciate if Members opposite would show a little respect. I did not interrupt them and I ask that they have the manners to be silent while I am speaking.

I welcome the decision to maintain the headline carer's allowance rate. The reduction in the respite care grant represents some 7% of the €390 million of savings contained in the budget in the area of social protection. This proportionately small fraction of the overall savings package has caused great difficulty for many and angered even those who are not directly affected by it. It seems to have sent out the message that this Government does not care about vulnerable people, which everybody on this side of the House knows is not true. It is difficult to unravel the various figures contained in a budget at this point, but perhaps the Minister will undertake an analysis of the respite care grant and whether any modification of the decision in regard to it is possible.

It is important that we protect those who are most vulnerable. The Minister is well aware of the concerns Members on all sides of this House have in regard to this issue. The welfare system in this State was established with the objective of assisting the most vulnerable members of society. Nobody could dispute that this country offers very generous welfare provisions by any standards. Relative to any other country in the world, people in this State have access to very generous benefits. One of the difficulties, however, is that in the past 15 years in particular, politicians in this House have used the social protection budget to bribe the public. Child benefit, for example, increased by some 240% in a period when the cost of living rose by 40%. Government sought to buy off the public over a long period of time and we are now paying the price for it.

There must be the possibility for a row-back on welfare provisions that may have become inflated, but there must also be a row-back on other issues such as professional fees and public sector pay. We do not have a great deal of moral authority to argue for putting the welfare budget in order when so many other areas are neglected. Nevertheless, this should not prevent us from analysing this budget on its own merits. Welfare reform is necessary and I have every confidence that the Minister can achieve it. A difficulty in this regard is that due to the low standing of politicians in the public domain and the failure of the media to assist in analysing genuine reform proposals, we have a situation where anybody who puts his or her head up and seeks to develop a proposal will be pounced on in the manner in which my colleague, Deputy Conlan, was attacked by a Member opposite. Anybody who offers an analysis or makes a well-thought-out proposal is tackled in an emotive way. While I do not doubt the bona fides of anybody in this House in terms of his or her concern to protect vulnerable people, nobody has a monopoly of concern. If I were to analyse a cross-section of the people who voted for me or any of my Fine Gael colleagues in the last election, I would not expect to find a huge difference between them and those who voted for Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett, for instance. The notion of seeking to typecast different parties or individuals into certain categories does not wash with me.

It is important to acknowledge what is positive in the proposals before us today. I particularly welcome the provision for 6,000 additional child care places, an extra 2,500 places under the JobBridge scheme and the retention of the back-to-education allowance. There are many positive aspects of this budget which, we should not forget, sets out a spending programme of more than €20 billion. I am a strong believer in workfare as opposed to welfare, which is not to say that I do not acknowledge the situation of certain vulnerable persons who will never work again due to physical disabilities or otherwise. When I talk of workfare instead of welfare, I do not have in mind somebody sweeping the roads or cutting a hedge. I am talking about the architect, for example, who cannot secure employment and would be eager to build up both expertise and self-esteem by offering his or skills to a local authority or State agency. In this context, I look forward to the report on tax and social welfare which will be published soon. It is my view that all benefits should be taxed. If that means raising the disability allowance, for instance, to account for the tax increase, then it should be done. People who pay tax have a greater investment in and buy-in to the system. I am not suggesting that people's payments should be reduced - rather, payments should, where necessary, be increased in order to allow for their taxation. I also support Deputy John O'Mahony's comments regarding the farm assist scheme.

I conclude by asking the Minister to take another look at the respite care grant. I have no doubt that she has more compassion in her little finger than some of those in this House who have sought to undermine her. I wish her well in her endeavours in the coming months.

Deputy Joe O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward this Bill and acknowledge, as Deputy Billy Timmins did, her practical compassion in a very difficult situation. That compassion is reflected throughout these proposals. We cannot address the Bill without placing it in its proper context, namely, the requirement that €3.5 billion be taken out of the economy in accordance with the requirements of the EU-IMF programme and the inescapable fact that the country this Government inherited was effectively bankrupt. Every budgetary provision must be viewed in that context. I respectfully challenge Members opposite, such as Deputy Shane Ross, who urged that certain measures be rescinded on the basis that the savings forgone can be made elsewhere. Will they clarify precisely where this money can be found? It behoves anybody in this House who offers legislative proposals to be very clear in that regard. I address this point to Deputy Ross in particular.

The major achievement of this Bill and last year's Bill is that they have maintained headline social welfare rates, in real terms and every other term. These are the fundamental payments across the entire spectrum of social protection. There is no taking from this achievement in the context in which we are operating. I congratulate the Government on that success and am proud to be associated with it. This is not to say that I am not aware, or anybody else on this side of the House is not aware, that we are in very difficult times and that many people are in a very dark place. I know that from my work, from extended family and from everybody I deal with. People are undoubtedly suffering and nobody is suggesting the contrary. However, the maintenance of headline social welfare rates is a huge contribution to the alleviation of that suffering.

The effort of the Minister to achieve job activation, to create an opportunity whereby persons on jobseeker's allowance can truly be viewed as jobseekers, is a wonderful development. I encourage her to continue on that path. In this regard, I welcome the 2,500 additional JobBridge places, 2,500 Tús places, 2,000 additional community employment scheme places and 3,000 social employment scheme places. These amount to 10,000 extra places to assist jobseekers to make the transition to work.

The additional €30 million allocation for education and child care is of great significance, including the €2 million for school meals.


Last Updated: 06/05/2020 11:57:10 First Page Previous Page Page of 90 Next Page Last Page