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 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2012 (Continued)
 Header Item Social Welfare Bill 2012: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 3

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  12 o’clock

Social Welfare Bill 2012: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages

  Debate resumed on amendment No. 3:

In page 3, subsection (4), line 17, to delete “Section 13” and substitute “Sections 13, 15, 16 and 17".
(Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton).

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy The point I was making last night was that while this provision may appear to be technical, it provides the Minister with permission to commence changes to the lone parents regime, including the withdrawal of the lone parent payment when the youngest child reaches a particular age. We were given an assurance last year that this provision would not come into effect until such time as child care arrangements had been put in place.

Where a lone parent payment is withdrawn, a parent will have to sign on and make a declaration that he or she is available for full-time employment. The parent will then be asked to take up a place on a Tús or back to education scheme and so on. The difficulty that arises, not for parents but for children, is that in the absence of adequate child care places children will be left to care for themselves. One would expect that where a parent leaves a child on his or her own all day social services would, possibly, take that child into care. Yet, an arm of this State will later this year commence an order which encourages this.

I do not disagree with the policy change in terms of providing people with a way back to work. However, I do not believe it is possible to do this without first ensuring there are guaranteed child care places for the children of parents forced to return to work, where those children are below an age at which they can reasonably care for themselves. If the Minister can give that commitment, then it is appropriate to enforce this arrangement. If not, she will be putting parents in impossible situations. Not alone will they lose their lone parent payments but they may lose entitlement to rent assistance. This could become a major issue during the next year.

The Minister referred to the ten new offices throughout the country. While I understand these are part of a pilot scheme, ten new offices will not cut it in terms of the number of child care places required. There are almost 450,000 people unemployed. There are not jobs and places on schemes for all of the people at whom this change is aimed. I urge the Minister to postpone this commencement order until after the pilot scheme is up and running, following which a more comprehensive scheme in respect of the provision of child care places for the children of lone parents who are going to be asked to seek full time employment can be put in place.

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I would like to put on the record of the House that much of the discussion by the Opposition around the lone parent and carers issues is confusing people. I will explain to Members what a single parent with a special needs child receives from the Department by way of income support, which with a special needs child such parent would, of course, need. A single parent of a special needs child is entitled to €188 per week plus €30 for the child. In addition, he or she receives a half rate carer's allowance. As such, a parent with one child, who is a special needs child, would receive a weekly social welfare payment of €319.80. This is important in the context of the policy debate we are having. The €319.80 payment is made up of a one-parent family payment of €188, a child payment of €29.80 per week and a half rate carer's allowance of €102 per week or €309.50 per month.

As I have stated previously, I have protected primary weekly payments. When in government, Fianna Fáil cut the lone parent payment by more than €16 per week. I want to put what is being discussed here in context. A single parent with one child, who is a special needs child, receives-----

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy On a point of order-----

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton -----€319.80 per week. In addition, from next year the parent will also receive €130 per month in child benefit.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy On a point of order-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan The Minister without interruption please.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Deputy Catherine Murphy raised the issue of concern for lone parents. A lone parent who is a carer - I know the Deputy is aware of this - is not, as suggested by her, required to seek employment because he or she is, by virtue of being a carer, deemed to be working. In addition to the €319.80 per week payment plus €130 per month by way of child benefit, a lone parent is entitled to the household benefits package and a travel pass. The household benefits package includes a €3 per week television allowance, an estimated €2 per week free travel allowance; a €10 electricity allowance and a telephone allowance of between €5 and €6 per week. In addition, a lone parent who is a carer is entitled to a respite care grant of €1,375 per annum. In international terms - I know the Deputy is aware of this - our lone parent and carer payments are among the highest in Europe.

The lone parents with whom I have spoken say that what they would like is more certainty around the availability of respite places and other services for the child for whom they are caring. I want to make it clear that what many of the carers with whom I have spoken want, in terms of reform of the system, is more certainty in relation to respite care places. The package of payments for a carer in receipt exclusively of the carer's allowance is worth €13,350 per annum.


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