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Budget Statement 2013 (Continued)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin] In this context, we concluded that reducing the primary weekly rates of social welfare payments would have a detrimental impact on domestic consumption and should not happen. Accordingly, I can confirm that we are, once again, not reducing any primary weekly rate of social welfare payment.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin What about child benefit? What about the respite grant?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin This means that all pensioners and all those under 66, such as people with disabilities and jobseekers, will have their weekly primary payments fully maintained.

Deputy Tom Hayes: Information on Tom Hayes Zoom on Tom Hayes Opposition Deputies did not predict that.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin In addition, there will be no change to either the rate or duration of weekly fuel allowances where payable.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Nevertheless, the pressures on our social welfare budget are considerable. It is, by far, the biggest component of current expenditure. For example, pensions will cost around €200 million more in 2013 than in 2012 and unemployment, while stabilised, has not reduced to the extent we envisaged last year. Even with the increase I announced to the social protection budget, measures must be taken to reduce costs.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath Here it comes.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin We will reduce the duration of jobseeker’s benefit by three months. This will save €33 million in 2013 and €82 million in a full year. The household benefits package comprises electricity allowance, telephone allowance and free television licence schemes. Given the universal element of the household benefits package, we have decided to reduce the supports available to the telephone allowance scheme, to achieve savings of €61 million next year.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Shame.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin We have also decided to introduce changes to the electricity allowance to achieve savings of €20 million next year.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams Shame.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Please allow the Minister to speak.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Deputies should know similar changes last year did not have an impact on any recipient. We got better deals from providers.

  We will reduce the child benefit rate by €10 per month. This measure will save €136 million next year. We are conscious of the impact it will have on many households. Therefore, we are providing for additional supports that are specifically targeted at low-income households. These include €14 million in funding to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to increase the number of child care places available to low income workers and €2.5 million additional supports to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to further enhance targeted early-childhood and education supports for children in a number of very disadvantaged areas. Full details of the specific social welfare measures are set out in the expenditure report. My colleagues, the Ministers for Social Protection and Children and Youth Affairs, will expand on these measures later today.

Health

I am allocating €13.6 billion to the Department of Health next year.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The Minister is leaving the bad news to the ladies.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin As indicated, this includes an additional allocation of €150 million over what was previously indicated. The demand for health services continues to grow due to demographic pressures and we must make certain these services continue to meet the health needs of our population. For example, by the end of year, it is expected that expenditure on the primary care reimbursement service will account for 20% of total HSE expenditure. This growth is being driven by the cost of drugs, payments to professional service providers and the growth in the numbers of medical cardholders. We will take measures to contain these costs, while at the same time ensuring that medical needs are met.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Cuts to home help.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin These measures will yield savings of €323 million next year. To contain the growth in the cost of medical cards under the primary care reimbursement service, we are increasing the prescription charge for medical card holders. This charge is being increased from 50 cent to €1.50 per item and the monthly cap for a family is being increased by €10 to €19.50. The increased co-payment for drugs will help make funding more sustainable. The drug payment scheme threshold is being increased from €132 to €144 per month and will save an additional €10 million. Professional fees for health service providers, such as GPs and community pharmacists, will be reduced to save €70 million.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Will that include the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin People over 70 years, with an income of €600-€700 per week for a single person and €1,200-€1,400 per week for a couple, will have their medical card replaced with a GP-only card.

Deputy John Lyons: Information on John Lyons Zoom on John Lyons Hear, hear.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher What did the parties in government say about this two years ago? Can they give us a lend of their placards?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin The increased demand on overall services is being met through reform of health structures, changing the way services are delivered and securing efficiencies and pay savings. The discussions on savings through an extension of the Croke Park agreement will be critical to meeting the funding needs of the services next year and beyond. Other measures, including efficiency and improved income collection, will yield savings of €150 million. My colleague, the Minister for Health, will announce details of the health funding and savings measures later this afternoon.

Education

The Department of Education and Skills estimates that next year will see over 20,000 additional pupils in primary and secondary schools, with a further 3,300 at third level. Gross education current expenditure will total just over €8.5 billion next year. Education and training will continue to be a priority of this Government and this is evidenced by the level of investment in this area at a time of such severe resource constraints. In particular, we will prioritise and protect, as far as practicable, the programmes that deliver the best results and meet the requirements of children, parents, the disadvantaged, the unemployed and the labour force. However, we cannot exclude the education sector from making the savings we have to make. Difficult choices have been made in areas like health and social protection. While bearing in mind demographic pressures in the coming years, we have had to take decisions to meet the budgetary parameters in education. We focused the savings measures on those areas where expenditure can be reduced without a significant impact on core education services.

  We will increase the staffing schedule for fee paying schools next year by two points. We are reducing the allocation to VECs by €13 million in 2013. The VECs will be able to deliver the same level of service by managing from within both their Exchequer allocation next year and their resources.

  The sick leave referral arrangements for teachers and special needs assistants, SNAs, will be made similar to those operating in the Civil Service. Changes will be made in respect of the income supports paid to new entrants to further education and training programmes.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett What changes?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin The student contribution in higher education will be increased by €250 in each of the years 2013, 2014 and 2015. This is necessary to help maintain higher education services at a time when the Exchequer is severely constrained.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin What about Trinity College Dublin?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin We are reducing the allocation to higher education institutions by €25 million. Using their existing own resources-----

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Where will they get them?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin -----as well as very considerable Exchequer allocations, the higher education sector, Deputy McGrath, will be able to maintain services in 2013. Further details of the education measures are set out in the expenditure report and will be announced in detail by the Minister for Education and Skills.

Other Departments

In addition to jobs, social protection, health and education, important measures are being taken in other areas. Savings from agriculture, including from changes to the disease eradication, suckler cow, REPS and early retirement schemes, will yield €89 million.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath What does that have to do with public service reform?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Within the justice sector, reductions in Garda overtime and-----

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath What overtime?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin -----various other payroll and efficiency measures will yield over €60 million.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Will Deputy Mattie McGrath please stay quiet? The public would prefer to hear the Minister rather than listening to Deputy McGrath shouting all the time.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Following agreement between the housing bodies and NAMA, I expect the flow of properties from NAMA for social housing to increase significantly next year and an additional €10 million will be allocated to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to ensure we make real progress in delivering these units to those on social housing lists who need them. A range of other expenditure measures are set out in the expenditure report.

Political Expenses Reform

The payments the Members of these Houses receive are constantly under scrutiny and rightly so. While the revised system of expenses introduced by the last Government was an improvement on what went before, the system remains unsatisfactory. The recent Committee of Public Accounts report has raised a number of issues regarding who should determine Oireachtas expenses. As the PAC report acknowledges, previous efforts at the independent setting of remuneration did not resolve all issues. To that end, I have written to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, as the body responsible for these Houses, seeking its views on a cross-party, all-Member basis.

  Nonetheless, there are a number of issues that require to be addressed immediately.


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