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Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Tuesday, 26 November 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 1

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 490. Mr. P. McGrath Information on Paul McGrath Zoom on Paul McGrath  asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs Information on Mary Coughlan Zoom on Mary Coughlan  the rate of unemployment benefit payable to a single person on 1 July in each of the past five years. [23398/02]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan Zoom on Mary Coughlan Unemployment benefit rates are graduated according to previous earnings. They, and the corresponding graduated rates on 1 July for the past five years, were payable as follows:

Rates of Unemployment Benefit 1997 to 2002.

Single Rate Payable

Effective from 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
Average Weekly Earnings 5/6/97 28/5/98 27/5/99 27/4/00 29/3/01 27/12/02
Less than €44.44 38.47 40.12 41.90 44.19 48.76 53.40
€44.44 and less than €63.49 55.36 57.77 60.31 63.29 70.90 76.70
€63.49 and less than €88.88 67.17 70.09 73.14 77.07 85.07 93.10
€88.88 or more 85.71 89.52 93.33 98.40 108.56 118.80

 491. Mr. P. McGrath Information on Paul McGrath Zoom on Paul McGrath  asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs Information on Mary Coughlan Zoom on Mary Coughlan  the reason her Department so badly under estimated the take-up of FIS payments arising from changes in budget 2002; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23399/02]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan Zoom on Mary Coughlan Family income supplement is designed to provide cash support for employees on low earnings with families and thereby preserve the incentive to remain in employment. Following the increase of €34 in FIS income limits from January there are 11,975 people availing of the supplement, compared with 11,570 in December 2001.

The 2002 Estimates for FIS overstated actual spending on the scheme this year because the number of recipients and the average value of payments is lower than had been expected. It is difficult to estimate take-up with any precision as it is influenced by a number of factors such as [341] employment growth, earnings growth, taxation changes, the income distribution of lower earners with families and the extent to which people are aware of the scheme. The lower than expected spending in 2002 is probably the result of a combination of these factors.

It is difficult to estimate accurately the take-up of FIS. The improvements made to the scheme over the years, together with measures taken to increase awareness of it, resulted in a steady increase in the level of take-up during the 1990s – peaking at 14,686 families at the end of 1999. Since then, although income limits have been increased annually to take account of improvements in the rates of other social welfare payments, the numbers in receipt of FIS have declined somewhat, probably reflecting the fact that fewer people now require the supplement. This should be viewed as a positive trend which highlights the success of a range of Government measures which have improved net take home pay for the low paid.

 492. Mr. O'Shea Information on Brian O'Shea Zoom on Brian O'Shea  asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs Information on Mary Coughlan Zoom on Mary Coughlan  the proposals she has to substantially increase the free fuel allowance in line with present day costs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23477/02]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan Zoom on Mary Coughlan The aim of the fuel scheme is to assist householders who are on long-term social welfare or health board payments and who are unable to provide for their own heating needs. A payment of €9 per week is normally paid to eligible households. An additional €3.90 per week is paid in smokeless zones, bringing the total amount in those areas to €12.90 per week. In the case of a relatively small number of people living in smokeless zones only the €3.90 per week smokeless fuel supplement is payable.

It is not intended that the fuel allowance alone would meet a person's heating needs in full. The objective is to ensure that the combined total of the weekly primary payment and fuel allowance provides sufficient resources for people to meet their heating and other needs. To this end the emphasis over the years has been on improving the primary payment rates, such as the old age pension payment rates, rather than the fuel allowance rates. This is of more value to recipients as increases in primary payment rates are payable for the full 52 weeks of the year while increases in fuel allowances are payable for only 29 weeks of the year. It also gives recipients more flexibility in meeting their needs.

The fuel allowance schemes have been improved in recent budgets in a number of respects. The payment rate was increased from €6.35 to €9 per week, the means test was eased and the duration of payment was increased from 26 weeks to 29 weeks. Any further changes would [342] have to be considered in the context of the budget and in light of alternative proposals for delivering improvements in social welfare supports to pensioners and others.


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