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 Header Item Ceisteanna - Questions
 Header Item Priority Questions
 Header Item Exceptional Needs Payments

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 800 No. 4

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Ceisteanna - Questions

Priority Questions

Exceptional Needs Payments

 1. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton the total amount of savings that she expects to achieve from the abolition of exceptional needs payments for religious ceremonies; the number who received such payments in 2010, 2011, 2012 and to date in 2013; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19152/13]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton Under the supplementary welfare allowance, SWA, scheme, the Department may make a single exceptional needs payment, ENP, to help meet essential, once-off and unforeseen expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of their weekly income. The Department provides money for clothing for adults and children in exceptional circumstances. The Government has provided €47.6 million for the exceptional needs payment scheme in 2013. The special payments are payable at the discretion of the officers administering the scheme taking into account the requirements of the legislation and all the relevant circumstances of the case in order to ensure that the payments are targeted at those most in need of assistance.

  A review of the guidelines on exceptional needs payments was carried out for the Department by a working group made up of community welfare service staff. One of the recommendations from the review was to address the different approaches taken, in different areas, in relation to the payment of exceptional needs payment in respect of religious ceremonies, mainly communions and confirmations, and to ensure that the SWA scheme is responding to financial need rather than to meet expected and foreseeable costs associated with such occasions. In 2011, only 25 payments for religious ceremonies issued in the north west of the country with more than 5,600 payments having issued in the eastern region, including Dublin. Average payments also differed for this period and ranged from between €189 in the north east to over €300 in the east of the country.

  The working group recommended that payment of the allowance specifically in respect of religious ceremonies should cease. This recommendation has been implemented by the Department and it is expected that this measure will achieve annual savings of €1.5 million.

  This recommendation does not affect the discretion available to officers administering the scheme in issuing an exceptional needs payment to assist an individual or household in a particular hardship situation which may arise. In 2013 to date, the Department has assisted some 600 families with costs towards children's clothing under the exceptional needs payment scheme at a cost of approximately €60,000.

  The number of payments and amounts paid in respect of religious ceremonies in the years 2010 to 2012 is provided in the following table.

Year Number of Payments Amount
2010 12,660 €3.25m
2011 13,970 €3.42m
2012 12,460 €1.50m

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea The relevant figure given by the Minister is €1.5 million. This is the amount the Government will save by depriving 14,000 families, many of whom are living in destitution, others on the verge of destitution, of this particular payment, out of a total budget of €56,472 million. I put it to the Minister that it is disingenuous to say people can have access to the exceptional needs payment in view of the fact that the Government slashed the it last year by €6 million in the budget. The Minister mentioned a figure of €46 million but failed to mention that the amount was €52 million the previous year. The reduction took place at a time when the newspapers carried reports of community welfare officers referring their clients to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and other charities. While the Minister has made various references to lavish payments and dresses costing €300, etc., will she agree that the cap introduced last year of just over €100 per family does not allow for this type of lavish expenditure? Will the Minister review the exceptional needs payment budget with a view to increasing it or has she any intention of restoring the payment?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton When the former staff of the HSE, the community welfare officers, came into the Department of Social Protection about a year and a half ago, they made many comments on how they could spend scarce money to the best advantage of people in need, both individuals and families. They came up with this proposal and pointed out that in the north west - Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim - such payments were almost unknown. Payments were made in exceptional cases where there was an unforeseen need in the family whereas in the east, particularly in the Dublin area, the average payment per child had increased to €300. They recommended that we review the payment and ultimately phase it out so as to provide for unforeseen needs. In respect of a number of events, people are aware of them in advance. We are spending almost €50 million on exceptional needs this year. The Deputy can sniff at €50 million and throw his hands up at it but the fact is that the party of which the Deputy is a member left this country in a state of such economic difficulty-----

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea The Minister is giving a history lesson. She did not say much about that during the election campaign when she promised the sun, moon and stars.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Minister to conclude, please.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton -----that we had to find savings because we were relying on others.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea Among the poorest of the poor.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton No.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea Is that Labour Party policy?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The fact is we have maintained spending on social welfare at €20.3 billion. We have done that in the face of the enormous difficulties in which the Fianna Fáil Party left the country.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea The community welfare officers advised the Minister how to spend scarce money. She was not too worried about scarce money while on this side of the House when she could find money for everything under sun. It is a mean cut and it should be reversed.

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