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

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton]  Section 4 makes a further amendment to abolish a provision which is no longer required. Special pension arrangements were introduced in 1988 to cater for people who had been affected by the operation of the earning limit for insurability purposes that applied in the case of non-manual workers before 1974. In those days, a distinction was made between manual workers and people who worked in offices. Manual workers paid a stamp, but middle management and other office workers who had access to company pension schemes did not. Before the pre-1974 arrangement was changed, certain people who had gaps in their social insurance records relating to periods when they were not covered by social insurance found it difficult to meet the existing reduced yearly average requirements for the purposes of the contributory State pension. In those circumstances, special lower rate pensions were introduced to cater for these groups. The range of reduced rate pensions generally available to claimants of the contributory State pension has been improved since 1988. As a result, there is no longer any difference between the reduced rate payable under these special arrangements and the reduced rate of the contributory State pension generally. As a consequence, section 4 of the Bill proposes to abolish these provisions in the case of those who reach pension age on or after 1 January 2013. Existing beneficiaries of these special pension arrangements will not be affected by this measure.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I must put the question.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Say nothing.

  Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 5

  Question proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan This section is opposed by Deputies Joan Collins, Patrick Nulty, Willie O'Dea, Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Catherine Murphy. Is it agreed to?

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh No.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea It is not agreed.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I thought the Deputies were not going to speak at all.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh We were waiting for the Chair to give us an opportunity to do so.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I was waiting for somebody to stand.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh This is the most odious section of this short Bill which will have far-reaching consequences. It proposes a reduction from €1,700 to €1,375 in the annual respite care grant. I had intended to make a longer contribution on this matter, but I am aware that many Deputies want to speak on it. I have received many e-mails on this issue. I hope that by reading from an e-mail I have received from a carer which has been signed "a very tired woman", I can capture everything I had intended to say:

I am the mother of 3 children, 2 of whom have special needs. My children need 24/7 care, 365 days, that is every single day since they were born, there are no holidays away with them or from them, I am all they have as their father died last year. This cut in the respite grant plus the children's allowance having a 10 euro cut per child plus the cut in the household [benefits] package plus the increase of medical prescriptions has left me in tears, literally tears. As a one income family, I can't work as my daughter has so many therapies and hospital appointments, there is no job in the land who would employ me if I was to go to Galway Monday for hospital appointments and Dublin for treatments Thursday and the other side of Mayo for dental treatments another day, let alone the rare but needed speech therapy that was hard fought for. I barely am able to pay for the car that takes us to all these places by the Domiciliary Care Allowance and the tax/insurance is paid by the Respite Grant, the petrol is almost covered by the children's allowance but not now. It's a struggle to shop every week, to keep oil in the tank, coal on the fire, and God forbid, a letter comes home from the school looking for money for something or one of them need new shoes or rips a trousers or the car breaks down, my nightmares revolve around that, when I can sleep of course [and] as I said, my special needs child is 24/7 and sleep is a luxury at times. The money I get weekly/monthly/annually is earned, every single cent. 325 euro is small change to most in this government, it's a meal for the buddies and the 20 euro a month I am losing on children's allowance is the equivalent of ONE bottle of wine with that meal. Small change to those who can change our lives while they have never known financial insecurity or what it is to ceiling stare in fright and fear thinking and worrying about how am I going to last another 3 days with no money in my purse or bank. This government has us hard against a wall though, they know we can't protest in the thousands that we are because we can't bring the people we care for out of their homes into the streets in a lot of cases. They know we will never abandon our people like the government has.

That is part of a longer e-mail.

  I urge the Minister to examine her conscience and the Government to examine its collective conscience. They need to reverse this cut. They should delete this section of the Bill. The e-mail from which I have read captures all of the despair and distress it is causing. The consequences of this cut will be felt on the collective conscience of the Government. I have mentioned that I have received e-mails from many distressed parents and carers who have contemplated the worst. I urge the Government to give them some hope by deleting this section. We have set out some of the alternative ways of gathering the small few million euro involved. If the Government does not act, it will have electoral consequences for the Deputies on the other side of the House and the poor carers in our society who are struggling day in, day out. The Minister referred to them as unsung heroes, but I suggest that was an insult to them. One looks up to one's heroes. One praises and supports them in their times of need. By introducing this measure, the Minister is not supporting them.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins This is one of the main areas people believe should be protected. The Minister has made the point that this grant was approximately €700 or €900 in 2004 and suggested she is not really eating into it. This measure will have huge repercussions for every single person who is caring for someone and also for the person who needs such care. The Government should reverse this cut because it did not form part of the remit it was given when it was elected to office. It is not good enough. The amount involved is just €26.15 million. Our next amendment outlines how this and all other cuts can be reversed by taxing wealth and incomes of more than €100,000. Deputies have an opportunity to act in line with the words they spoke when they made their promises a number of months ago.

Those who look after people who need to be supported every day, week and month of the year are the unsung heroes of our society. There is a great deal of anger and the protest was smaller today. People are saying if the Government implements this cut, they will bring those for whom they are caring into accident and emergency departments and leave them there in order that the State will have to look after them. They do not believe they are being given enough support to care for those who need care. They have also said word is getting out, in the context of The Gathering next year, that one should not come to Ireland if one needs care, etc. I ask the Minister to delete this section of the Bill and support the people in question. She should not claim that the sum of €325 is insignificant in the context of all other benefits and supports they receive.


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