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

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 2

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The social protection system plays a very significant role in protecting vulnerable families from the problems associated with low income, including indebtedness. Deputy O'Dea referred to the issue of the rates of at risk of poverty and the incidence of poverty in this country, which is of concern to all of us. The latest data shows that in 2010 the at risk of poverty rate for people living in households with children decreased from 49.4%, when all social transfers are included. This is a reduction of nearly 31% in the rate for at risk of poverty. This reduction is twice the average of almost every European Union country. It is a tribute to successive Governments and all the parties which have been in this House that difficult as our economic circumstances are, and verified by EUROSTAT, our at risk of poverty rate is among the lowest in Europe because of the impact of social transfers introduced by a series of different Administrations over the years. This demonstrates the role played by social transfers and social welfare in protecting people from poverty.

I ask the House to reflect on two statistics as we debate these issues. The first statistic shows that 22% of households are jobless. Children who grow up in households headed by adults without a meaningful connection to the world of work, are the children most at risk of poverty. This country needs to develop a strategy which will transform the situation in jobless households so that one or all the adults are at work. The second statistic shows that 16% of the adult population of working age are in receipt of either an illness, disability or invalidity payment. Like the 22% of jobless households, the 16% of the adult population who are categorised as being unable to work, is one of the highest rates in Europe. In the case of people who are ill or who have a disability, we have a job of work to help people in those categories to get back to work. As Deputies on all sides of the House said, most people, regardless of health and other circumstances, want to be able to participate in employment at the level appropriate to their capabilities.

The best way to take people out of poverty is to have them in work. Some of the savings achieved by the implementation of the measures contained in this Bill will be redirected to provide additional spending in the key areas of job supports and child care supports. An additional €14 million will be allocated for after-school child care places targeted at primary school children. The places are aimed at low-income families in which the parents are availing of an employment opportunity. This initiative is part of the Government's overall strategy to support parents in low-income families to take up employment and to solve the problem of the extraordinarily high number of jobless households. In response to Deputy O'Dea during the debate yesterday, I said that I cannot understand how the number of jobless households in Ireland increased from under 10% to 15% at the height of the boom. No one has given an explanation for this increase.

I agree with Deputy O'Dea's point about child benefit. I suggest if he reads my contributions at the time he will see that I agreed with the then Fianna Fáil Minister for Finance. I was a strong supporter of the early childhood payment scheme. In my view, we need to rebalance the social welfare system to provide more opportunities and more services for children, in addition to direct cash payments. The Deputy put it well when he said that he would have preferred that approach although it was not always followed. Deputy Joe O'Reilly said because of his experience as a teacher he was very conscious of the effects of in-school supports for children, such as our proposals for the expansion of the provision of hot meals in schools and the extension of services for children at risk of poverty in disadvantaged areas. Deputy Adams will be familiar with the practice in the North and in the United Kingdom. Instead of a multiplicity of agencies and social workers all knocking at the same door, the service is consolidated to bring all the agencies together in partnership. Various voluntary agencies in the South have worked in this way. The approach has borne great fruit in Deputy O'Dea's own city and in different parts of Dublin, particularly in Ballymun. We want to expand that initiative to other areas in the Republic. I expect all Deputies to support it. I commend the Bill to the House.

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