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Social Welfare Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 858 No. 2

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  11 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy] The most recent Indecon report commissioned by the Donegal county child care committee highlighted that the cost of child care was preventing people from returning to work and forcing families out of work. The Government has done nothing to tackle the problem. In the almost four years it has been in power we have only had one debate on the affordability of child care, a debate which was facilitated in Private Members' time and which I initiated.

Some may ask what this issue has to do with social welfare, but it has everything to do with it. I acknowledge a step was taken in the budget in terms of the family dividend. If a person returns to work, he or she is allowed to keep €29.80 a week, which goes some way to help. What about those who are in work and in receipt of a low wage and who will be forced out of employment because of the cost of child care? Are we telling them to give up work for a while and claim benefits in order that they can receive €29.80 a week for 12 months and 50% of it thereafter?

I welcome the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, to the Chamber. When she announced changes to the eligibility criteria for receipt of the lone parent's payment two years ago and reduced the age up to which people could claim, she said she would not bring in the changes until we had a Scandinavian model of child care in Ireland. We certainly have no Scandinavian model of child care today. However, there have been reductions in the lone parent's payment, a commitment on which the Minister reneged. Last year she introduced, as part of the budget, 6,000 places for the after school child care programme, for which €14 million was allocated. At the end of June this year, only 154 of the 6,000 places had been taken up. I would appreciate it if the Minister listened because I am identifying a problem in a scheme she announced last year.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I am listening.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy There has been an uptake of less than 3% of a scheme that was meant to tackle the issue of affordable child care. Where was the balance of the money invested? It was not invested in tackling the issue of the affordability of child care.

The former Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, now Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, announced at the launch of the Indecon report last year that she would review the community child care support scheme, operated in conjunction with the Department of Social Protection. Persons in receipt of social welfare can avail of the scheme, but some 12 months on there has been no review and no extension of the scheme and no increased supports for those on low incomes and in receipt of family income supplement or lone parents. Earlier this week the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, in reply to a parliamentary question, announced what he would not do in tackling the crippling cost of child care. He said he would not consider tax allowances which he ruled them out for a number of reasons. He said tax credits favoured the wealthy. That is rubbish. They could be constructed in a way which favoured the wealthy, but as the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, knows from her profession, tax credits can be constructed in a manner which favours the less well-off. Tax credits could be available only to people who use registered child care providers. If they are registered, they are regulated by the Department and if a proper system of inspection is in place, there should be no issue with quality. While it is not exclusively the responsibility of the Minister, her Department has a significant role to play in tackling the crippling cost of child care, which is a major issue. We all read a recent letter published in the national media from a mother living in the south of Ireland who outlined the stark challenges and choices she and her husband faced as a family every day because of the cost of child care, about which the Government has chosen to do nothing.

I refer to the issue of homelessness. Last weekend we read in a national newspaper that 700 children were living in emergency accommodation. Yesterday, in a reply to my party leader, the Taoiseach said there was a protocol in place that was working. He talked about new social welfare housing schemes which would come on stream in 2020 and the 1,800 voids in the Dublin City Council area, which is disgraceful. There should be no voids anywhere. Who were the lead parties on Dublin City Council in recent years who allowed this to happen? It should not be allowed to happen, but it does not take away from the point that there are 700 children living in bed and breakfast and hostel accommodation. My party leader quoted one young child who said he or she could not paint a picture of his or her house because he or she did not have a house or a home.

I do not mean to be political, but the Minister has to take an element of responsibility for this issue because she introduced changes to the rent allowance scheme which are having a direct effect on those looking for accommodation in the private rented market. It is in place to help people because we do not have a sufficient supply of social housing. Something needs to be done to address this issue. It should not be addressed by way of a protocol or using the 1,800 voids in Dublin. They are welcome but will take time to be brought on stream. The construction of new houses and the extra resources allocated are welcome, but it will take time for them to be available. Is the Minister prepared to consider increasing rent allowance to take account of the current increase in private rental costs to support families who have no homes and the 700 children living in hostel and bed and breakfast accommodation?

The purpose of the mortgage-to-rent scheme was to deal with people who were at risk of losing their homes. I do not know what the figures are and would appreciate it if the Department would revert to me on the matter. My evidence, based on dealings with constituents at my clinic, is that many families who would like to avail of the scheme are being put through unbelievable bureaucracy and ultimately turned down. I would welcome the figures for the uptake of the scheme.

I refer to the social dividend from NAMA housing. It was constructed in such a way that housing would become available to support the less well-off in society, but it is not happening. The former Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, who was in charge of the shambles that was Irish Water, an issue we will debate later today, promised in 2012 that 2,000 houses would be transferred under NAMA.

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