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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] If we do not see the other side of this programme and recover our financial sustainability, the people who will suffer most will be those dependent on the social welfare system.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh has given as an example a widow with three children, one of whom has special needs. She sent the Deputy an e-mail. A widow who is a carer would receive a weekly widow's pension and half-rate carer's allowance. These benefits, with some others, amount to over €18,000 per year. If the individual has two children in addition to the child who requires care, as the Deputy suggested, this will result in payment of a further €60 per week. Of course, a monthly child benefit payment will also be received. If the Deputy gives me the details of the case in question, we can check the position for him. With regard to respite care, the recipient will be receiving €1,375 next year for the child who requires care.

The Irish carer's package is unique by comparison with packages in the rest of Europe. Very few other European countries have a carer's package like ours, but there is a weakness in the provision of services. Deputy Johnathan O'Brien will know this, given the position of his father. If we are to have a discussion on this issue, which I welcome, we should examine holistically how we can have good value services available to those who provide care. This is one of the most important points for a carer. As Deputy Catherine Murphy said, various therapies for children with special needs, particularly therapies associated with speech, language and movement, probably represent the most important services a child can access, in addition to mainstream education.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall On a point of order, there are 12 amendments remaining. Members are very keen to talk about other aspects of this legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett There is no restriction on anybody.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall In fairness, there are 18 minutes remaining and others would like to have an input.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I ask the Minister to reply.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I listened to the Deputy and every other Member who spoke and took notes on the individual cases and issues raised.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall There are many issues to be dealt with.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton That is because I take very seriously the points made by the Deputies, including Deputy Róisín Shortall.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Lift the guillotine.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I ask the Minister to proceed.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I lost an hour and a half yesterday morning that could have been used to discuss the Bill because of the carry-on that had nothing to do with social welfare. This morning I lost another hour and a half. Deputies have raised very important points. It is part of parliamentary practice that there not be a one-sided discussion and that if a Deputy raises a point, the Minister is obliged to consider and reply to it. If the Deputy would prefer me to sit down and say nothing, he should realise it is not the way I operate.

I want to see a significant improvement to the package of services the country provides for carers-----

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Why does the Minister not answer the question we asked about alternatives?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I did not interrupt the Deputy.

  With regard to Deputy Willie O'Dea's comments, I realise and as he knows there are higher levels of disability in parts of his constituency, Limerick city, than in any other area of the country. The option Fianna Fáil chose on two occasions was to cut weekly payments for the carer and the adult who is cared for, both by €8.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea Will the Minister reverse the cut?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton In a carer's household-----

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Reverse it.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The reduction in respect of an adult caring for another adult was over €32.50 per week.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea We are asking questions on behalf of the people at the gate.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton We have a very tight, difficult budgetary position which requires us to effect change in regard to carers that preserves the weekly payment. Fianna Fáil disagreed because, on several occasions, it cut core weekly payments across the board.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea We increased tax on the rich also, unlike the current Government.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton In respect of the kinds of cases about which we are talking, there was a cumulative reduction of €32 per week. Carers still feel very strongly about this, just as pensioners feel strongly about Fianna Fáil's cancellation of the Christmas bonus.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea Is that the Minister's answer? Is she reversing the cut? She is filibustering.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Another important point on carers was raised, including by Deputy Denis Naughten. The income disregard and means test for carer's allowance to which the Deputy referred-----

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Tick, tock.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton -----are actually the most generous in the social welfare system. A couple under 66 years with two children and earning a joint annual income of up to €35,400 can qualify for the maximum rate of carer's allowance. Such a couple earning up to €60,000 per year can still qualify for the minimum rate of carer's allowance. The Deputy did not mention that carers who work fewer than 15 hours a week have no means test in regard to the respite care grant. That is why the grant is the only payment made to some people. It is because their income is above the level required for the general means test. I refer to the disregards for carers. For the most part, the individuals in question have a significant income. Nonetheless, the State, in recognition of the care work they do, pays a respite care grant to over 6,000 people in respect of whom there is no means test. That, again, is a very positive feature of the system. The payment next year, at €1,375, will still be significantly higher than that in 2006, at the height of the boom.

Bearing in mind total social welfare expenditure, several Members mentioned fraud. We have launched very significant anti-fraud campaigns in the Department. Some Deputies had a problem with this last night. Through the budget, I am making arrangements to recover overpayments-----

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Respite care.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy The Minister is filibustering.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Tick, tock.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton ------and payments as a result of fraud and abuse. They were recoverable, as the Deputy knows, at a rate of only €2 a week.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea That has nothing to do with the section.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Up to €350 million in overpayments are due to my Department. Deputy Patrick Nulty should note this is relevant because, if we can recover the bulk of those payments, it will take the pressure-----

Deputy Patrick Nulty: Information on Patrick Nulty Zoom on Patrick Nulty Is it relevant to cut respite care payments?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Some Members were unhappy last night with the idea that we would recover, at a rate of more than €2 a week, payments obtained in a fraudulent way.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Will the Minister reinstate the respite care grant?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton If the Deputy has a problem with this, he should note it is one of the reforms introduced in the Bill that is extremely important. It will actually provide us with more resources.


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