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Written Answers - Social Welfare Code

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 755 No. 1

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 131.  Deputy Eric Byrne Information on Eric J. Byrne Zoom on Eric J. Byrne  asked the Minister for Social Protection in view of Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton  her new guidelines for community welfare officers in processing requests for financial supports for Catholic children celebrating their First Holy Communion and Confirmation, the assistance available to other religious faiths for example, Jewish boys and girls to celebrate their Bat Mitzvah/Bar Mitzvah or Muslims to complete the Hajj in view of the cultural and religious diversity that now exists here, if she will outline her supports for non-Catholic faiths seeking financial supports; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7514/12]

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, exceptional expenditure, which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of their weekly income. These ENP payments are a vital component of the SWA scheme and link the income support function of the scheme with the wider welfare role of the Department’s community welfare service.

There is no automatic entitlement to a payment, or no predetermined amounts under the different categories for exceptional needs payments. ENP’s 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 target those most in need of assistance.

A review of the guidelines on Exceptional Needs Payments has recently been carried out by the Department by a working group made up of former community welfare service staff. One of the recommendations emanating from this review is to address the different approaches taken, in different areas, in relation to the payment of exceptional needs payments in respect of religious ceremonies and to ensure that the SWA scheme is responding to a specific financial need and not to the occasion. In future, where the Department is satisfied that an exceptional need exists, it is recommended that a maximum payment of €110 can be made in respect of the religious ceremony. This will be the first step towards limiting these payments to cases of significant hardship only, in 2013.

 132.  Deputy Charlie McConalogue Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue  asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton  if, in view of the recommendations of the Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card 2012, it is her intention to reform the current social welfare system and make it more responsive to individual families’ needs through the strategic integration of the tax and welfare systems and if, when the Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare publishes its reports, if she will make these reports available to the public; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7515/12]

[160]Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton The Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card for 2012 assesses progress in the implementation of the Programme for Government from a non-governmental organisations’ perspective. In the context of children and the social welfare system, the report acknowledges the progress made with regard to the establishment of the Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare and suggests that the Advisory Group should map out the practical steps to reform the current social welfare system through the strategic integration of the tax and welfare systems by the end of 2012.

The Advisory Group was established in June of last year to harness expert opinion and experience in order to address a number of specific issues and to make cost-effective proposals for improving employment incentives and achieving better poverty outcomes, particularly child poverty outcomes. The Advisory Group has been asked to examine a number of issues and make recommendations on these, including child and family income supports, working age income supports, the appropriate unit of assessment in both the tax and social welfare codes, the interaction of the tax and social welfare codes, issues concerning social insurance for self-employed people and any other issues that may be referred to it.

The Group is currently prioritising the issue of child and family income supports. It should also be noted that I have recently asked the Group to examine and report on the policy objectives underpinning the Budget 2012 proposals regarding changes in eligibility criteria and rates of payment for Disability Allowance and the increase in the age threshold for payment of Domiciliary Care Allowance and to assess the overall effectiveness of these proposals in delivering on these objectives.

The Advisory Group’s method of working is based on producing modular reports on the priority areas identified in the terms of reference and decisions in relation to publication will be made when appropriate.


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