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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 65-95
 Header Item Community Employment Schemes
 Header Item Carer's Allowance
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Rent Supplement Scheme
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Irish Fiscal Advisory Council
 Header Item Carer's Allowance
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Enterprise Support Services
 Header Item School Meals Programme
 Header Item Employment Rights
 Header Item School Meals Programme

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 996 No. 2
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 101 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 65-95

Community Employment Schemes

 65. Deputy James Browne Information on James Browne Zoom on James Browne asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to address the pension needs of community employment scheme supervisors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16786/20]

 66. Deputy David Cullinane Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she has met with community employment supervisors and or trade union representatives on the issue of their pension claim since her appointment as Minister; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19013/20]

 68. Deputy Catherine Connolly Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys his plans in respect of the provision of pensions for community employment supervisors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16767/20]

 80. Deputy Claire Kerrane Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to honour the 2008 Labour Court recommendation which stated that community employment supervisors should have access to a pension; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19005/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I propose to take Questions Nos. 65, 66, 68 and 80 together.

As the Deputies will be aware, Community Employment (CE) supervisors and assistant supervisors have been seeking for several years, through their union representatives, the allocation of Exchequer funding to implement a 2008 Labour Court recommendation relating to the provision of a pension scheme.  

CE sponsoring authorities are the legal employers of their CE supervisors, CE assistant supervisors and CE participants; the Department’s role continues to be that of CE funder.

The issue was examined by a Community Sector High Level Forum, chaired by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.  A number of Departments including my own Department were represented on this group, as were the unions and Pobal. 

A detailed scoping exercise was carried out with input from the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service (IGEES) on the potential costs of providing Exchequer support for the establishment of such a pension scheme for employees across the Community and Voluntary sector in Ireland.  This exercise estimated a potential cost to the State of between €188 million and €347 million per annum depending on the numbers involved.  This excluded any provision for an immediate ex-gratia lump sum payment of pension as sought, which could entail a further Exchequer cost of up to €318 million. 

Officials from my Department held a series of meetings with CE supervisor representatives to consider related proposals, mindful of the operating environment in which any potential solution will need to exist.  Related discussions were also undertaken between Department officials and their counterparts in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER). 

My Department officials will continue to work with all parties to the discussions with a view to establishing a viable solution to this issue.

  Question No. 67 answered with Question No. 37.

  Question No. 68 answered with Question No. 65.

Carer's Allowance

 69. Deputy Michael Moynihan Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to alter the eligibility criteria for payments to carers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18803/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The main income supports for carers provided by my Department are Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Benefit, Domiciliary Care Allowance and the Carer’s Support Grant.  Combined spending on all these payments to carers in 2020 is expected to exceed €1.3 billion. 

Carer's Allowance is a means tested payment made to people whose income falls below certain limits, and who are providing full-time care and attention to elderly people or to people with disabilities. 

As with all social assistance payments, the means test plays a critical role in determining whether or not an income need arises as a consequence of a particular contingency – in this case the need to provide full-time care – and ensures that resources are targeted to those with the greatest need.

At the end of June 2020, there were 87,643 people in receipt of Carer's Allowance.  The projected expenditure in 2020 is approximately €919 million. 

To be eligible for the Carer’s Support Grant, applicants must be providing full-time care and attention to someone who requires that level of care.  The Carer's Support Grant and the Domiciliary Care Allowance payment are not means tested.

 Carer's Benefit is a payment made to insured people who leave the workforce to care for a person in need of full-time care and attention.  Eligibility is based on satisfying a number of conditions, including a specified number of paid PRSI contributions.  The carer must have been employed in full-time employment for at least eight weeks, either consecutive or not, in the 26 week period immediately prior to the commencement of the Carer's Benefit claim.  

While I have no plans to alter the eligibility criteria for carer income supports at this time, I can assure the Deputy that I am very aware of the key role family carers play in society and I will continue to keep the range of supports available to carers under review.  However, any changes to scheme criteria would have implications for overall spending and would have to be considered in an overall budgetary context.

I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 70. Deputy Thomas Gould Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she will consider contacting organisations (details supplied) with the intention of re-establishing the Covid-19 hardship grant for cocooning persons over 70 years of age. [18124/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys There is a range of supports put in place to provide assistance to families and individuals during the Covid 19 pandemic.  There has been a specific recognition in these measures of the needs of older people and those who are vulnerable who were asked to cocoon.

In order to support vulnerable households during the COVID-19 emergency, my Department extended the fuel allowance season by four weeks for existing eligible customers on a once-off basis, providing these households, including low income pensioner households, with additional targeted financial supports in a timely, efficient and time bound manner.  This extension provided that the duration of 2019/2020 fuel season was longer than any other in the last 30 years.

My Department provides a range of supports for those in need of financial support.  The supplementary welfare allowance scheme offers a safety net within the overall social welfare system by providing assistance to those whose means are insufficient to meet their own needs and those of their dependents.  There are several payments within the scheme, including weekly payments, income supplements, Exceptional Needs Payments and Urgent Needs Payments.

Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, the Department may award a supplement to assist with on going or recurring costs that cannot be met from the client’s own resources and are deemed to be necessary.  This can include a heat supplement where a person has need for additional heating due to ill health or infirmity.

In addition, once-off payments can be made to help with the cost of any exceptional needs and urgent needs which a person cannot reasonably be expected to meet from their income.  Decisions on such payments are made 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.

Any person who considers they may have an entitlement under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme should contact the Department's Community Welfare Service.  My Department has established an Income Support Line - 1890 800 024 - which should be used by customers at this time to contact the Department.  Staff can advise them of how to make an application for assistance from the Department.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

  Question No. 71 answered with Question No. 33.

Rent Supplement Scheme

 72. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to make rent supplement more easily available to victims of domestic violence. [18973/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Lead responsibility for the development and provision of services to support victims of domestic violence rests with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.  The co-ordination of the services addressing the needs of these customers is managed by The Child and Family Agency, Tusla. The accommodation needs of victims of domestic violence are met through this joined-up service delivery model provided by Tusla with the close involvement of the various housing authorities nationwide.

In response to a proposal from Safe Ireland, I am introducing a relaxation of the means-test normally required to qualify for Rent Supplement for victims of domestic violence.  This will include support with deposit payments and soft furnishings alongside their rental commitments.  The relaxed means test will apply for the initial three months.  After three months, the individual’s on-going entitlement will be reviewed in line with the current means-test applicable for the scheme. 

After six months, having applied to their local housing authority for an assessment of their housing needs, the claimant will, if eligible, be able to migrate to HAP or other social housing supports supported by their local authority.

A protocol is being finalised with Tusla to enable services funded by the agency, and Tulsa directly, to provide referrals to my Department.  The initial phase is set to go live over the coming weeks.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

  Question No. 73 answered with Question No. 37.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 74. Deputy James O'Connor Information on James O'Connor Zoom on James O'Connor asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the role of her Department in the July stimulus package; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19037/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys I welcome the publication of the July Jobs Stimulus which aims to stimulate economic and business recovery.  As part of this effort, my Department and the Department of Further and Higher Education and Training will deliver a package of income and employment support and training measures designed to help people maintain a strong income support and access new job opportunities.

At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government quickly mobilised and implemented a range of income and  employment support measures, including the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and the Temporary Wage Subsidy scheme to cushion the income shock experienced by workers and their employers.  These income supports have proven to be effective in maintaining incomes and insulating people against a sudden and severe income shock.

It was announced in May that the PUP, originally intended to close on June 9th would be extended to August 10th and that a new earnings-related payment level for people who earned less than €200 per week would be introduced in June. 

As part of the July Jobs Stimulus it has  been provided that the PUP will be further extended to April 2021 and that the payment rate would be tapered over that time by introducing a new earnings-related payment rate of €250 per week and reducing the headline payment rate to €300 per week.  The payment rates will be further calibrated in February to taper back to the standard jobseeker payment of €203 per week in April 2021. 

In addition to extending the period for which the PUP will be available the Jobs Stimulus also provides for more financial resources for my Department to enhance its employment support services.  I am acutely aware that people who lose their jobs and remain unemployed for some time can become disconnected from the labour market and lose the vital social and work connections that are needed to identify and pursue work opportunities.  We have a responsibility to help them overcome these barriers and to do so we need to invest in our employment, training and education services.

Changes made to the State’s employment and training services infrastructure, implemented in response to the Financial Crisis, position Ireland to respond favourably to the economic challenges that face us today.  Nevertheless, given the unprecedented scale of job losses, I have secured an additional €112m in funding for a significant ramping up in the delivery of employment services to workers, which will include 45,500 new places on schemes and services. 

This funding will be used to:

- Expand the paid Work Placement Programme – currently known as the Youth Employment Support Scheme - to extend the duration of the scheme and to increase the number of places and make them available not just to young people but to all workers who remain unemployed.

- Increase the number of employment services resources for the Intreo service to ensure that all  unemployed jobseekers have access to a an employment advisor/case officer.

- Improve and extend the recruitment subsidy for employers who hire people from the Live Register – the subsidy will be payable when employer recruit people from PUP with special provision for the early recruitment of people aged under 30 (currently this provision is limited to people aged under 25).

- Extend the training grants scheme to increase the maximum grant payable to jobseekers to fund participation in a job-relevant short training course from €500 to €1,000.

- Extend access to the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance Scheme, the Back to Education Allowance scheme and the Back to Work Family Dividend Scheme to people on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

- Increase the number of places on State Employment Schemes such as Community Employment and Tús to act as a temporary bridge to provide occupational activity and employment experience to people during the recovery period.

These measures are intended to provide an inclusive pathway back to employment, ensuring that no one is left behind in the recovery phase.

  Question No. 75 answered with Question No. 37.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

 76. Deputy Bríd Smith Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of applicants that were receiving the €350 Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment that have had the amount reduced in recent weeks; and the total amount reduced. [19019/20]

: Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The two-tier PUP payment structure was introduced for the payment week of July 7th 2020.  As the Deputy will be aware, this was introduced in order to better align the payments with prior earnings and those in receipt of the lower rate are continuing to receive a higher rate of payment than they were earning from employment. 

  Number of recipients of a €203 pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) in each of the weeks 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th of July 2020

Date Recipients of a €203 PUP payment
7th July 2020 110,284
14th July 2020 95,789
21st July 2020 87,528
28th July 2020 78,002

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

 77. Deputy Kieran O'Donnell Information on Kieran O'Donnell Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the number of persons receiving the pandemic unemployment payment; the way in which the figure compares with the number receiving the payment at its peak; the steps that will be taken to support persons to move off the payment and return to work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18798/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Since the launch of the pandemic unemployment scheme, a total of 700,700 people have received at least one payment.  The most recent payment week (July 21st) saw 286,900people receiving the payment, which represents a fall of 52% since the peak of 602,100 payments recorded on the week of May 5th 2020.

  The July Jobs Stimulus Package contains a number of measures for the provision of supports to recipients of the payment while they look for work.  Given the unprecedented scale of job losses, I have secured an additional €112m in funding for a significant ramping up in the delivery of employment services to workers, which will include 45,500 new places on schemes and services. 

  This funding will be used to:

  - Expand the paid Work Placement Programme - currently known as the Youth Employment Support Scheme - to extend the duration of the scheme and to increase the number of places and make them available not just to young people but to all workers who remain unemployed. 

  - Increase the number of employment services staff in the Department, and also expand use of contracted services to ensure that unemployed jobseekers have access to a an employment advisor/case officer.

  - Improve and extend the recruitment subsidy for employers who hire people from the Live Register – the subsidy will be payable when employer recruit people from PUP with special provision for the early recruitment of people aged under 30 (currently this provision is limited to people aged under 25).

  - Extend the training grants scheme to increase the maximum grant payable to jobseekers to fund participation in a job-relevant short training course from €500 to €1,000.

  - Extend access to the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance Scheme and the Back to Education Allowance scheme to people on PUP.

  - Increase the number of places on State Employment Schemes such as Community Employment and Tús to act as a temporary bridge to provide occupational activity and employment experience to people during the recovery period.

These measures are intended to provide an inclusive pathway back to employment, ensuring that every effort is made to return people to work.  

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 78. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Information on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill Zoom on Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the measures included in the July stimulus package to tackle youth unemployment and support young persons to return to the workforce; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18810/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of this year, Ireland has witnessed unprecedented levels of unemployment.  Research published by my Department found that young people in particular have been hardest hit by the pandemic, and are over represented in the sectors most affected by public health restrictions (hospitality, retail and accommodation).

  Even though the situation is improving, over 45% of our young people remain unemployed and rely on some form of State income support to make ends meet; traditional jobseeker support payments, the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Support (PUP) and the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS). 

  I am focussed on giving our young people the best chance to find their footing in the labour market, including our disadvantaged youths who were unemployed prior to the pandemic and face barriers to accessing employment opportunities.  I welcome the publication of the July Jobs Stimulus Package which includes a number of measures that strengthen our efforts to provide strong income supports to young people while they look for work and access to professional employment and retraining services to compete in the labour market.

  My Department, along with the Department of Further and Higher Education  will deliver on a number of key actions to address the youth unemployment challenge, including: 

  - Extending and expanding funded job placement and work experience programmes to give young people the necessary workplace skills to compete in the labour market. This will be particularly beneficial to our young people who face barriers to accessing employment opportunities.

  - Equipping young jobseekers with the skills to compete in the labour market by ramping up transversal skills development, digital capabilities, increasing the use of fast turnaround specific skills training and providing education and training that targets growth sectors and occupations.

  - Providing employers with incentives to recruit apprentices.  This will ensure an apprentice pipeline as the labour market recovers, providing skilled, sustainable career opportunities for young people.

  - Working with and encouraging employers to hire young jobseekers from the Live Register – in particular through the use of targeted recruitment subsidies.

  - Extending access to Back to Education Schemes so that young people on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, who are not already in education, can avail of education opportunities at the start of the 2020/21 academic year.

  - Increasing the capacity of our State Employment Schemes to take on and provide occupational activity to young people who are long-term unemployed.

  Targeted funding programmes for higher education will also be available for young people to develop skills for the future world of work, including Springboard Plus and Human Capital Initiatives.  

  My Department continues to develop the next iteration of Pathways to Work for the period 2020-2025. Complementing the measures in the Stimulus Package, the strategy commits to ensuring that positive labour market outcomes are achievable for all groups in society, including young people.

These measures are just a start.  They will build on the work achieved by the temporary measures introduced in the early days of the pandemic.  An ambitious work agenda lies ahead but we will not be found lacking in our response.  

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

 79. Deputy Sean Sherlock Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment will be included as a qualifying payment for the back to education allowance. [18481/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The back to education allowance (BTEA) provides income support for jobseekers and others in receipt of certain social welfare payments that pursue courses of education at second or third level.  The main focus of the BTEA is to assist qualifying applicants to improve their educational qualifications and improve their prospects of gaining employment.

  During the course of the roadmap to recovery, we are seeing many people in receipt of the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment returning to employment.  This is expected to continue up to the commencement of the 2020/21 academic year. 

  As part of the July stimulus package, the Government has announced an extension of the BTEA supports to recipients of pandemic unemployment payment.  At the point of commencement of a new course of education a person in receipt of this payment will be required to establish an entitlement to a jobseekers payment and transfer to the BTEA.    

  A potential BTEA customer will not be adversely affected by time spent in receipt of the Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment when it comes to qualifying for the BTEA. 

I trust this clarifies the matter.  

  Question No. 80 answered with Question No. 65.

  Question No. 81 answered with Question No. 22.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 82. Deputy Alan Dillon Information on Alan  Dillon Zoom on Alan  Dillon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to increase the availability of back-to-work schemes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18808/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Covid-19 crisis continues to have a significant impact on the labour market.  The CSO estimates an unemployment rate of 22.5% in June 2020, when adjusted to include claimants of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. 

  Even though the situation is improving, 800,000 of our workers, friends and family remain unemployed and rely on some form of State income support to make ends meet; traditional jobseeker support payments, the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Support (PUP) and the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS).  

  People who lose their jobs and remain unemployed for some time can become disconnected from the labour market.  They lose the vital social and work connections that are needed to identify and pursue work opportunities, they find that their past work experience and skills can’t easily translate into new sectors of employment.  They find employers tend to favour people with recent work experience over those with an employment gap in their CV.  We have a responsibility to help them overcome these barriers and to do so we need to invest in our employment, training and education services. 

  I am focussed on giving people the best chance to refind their footing in the labour market and access new employment opportunities.  I welcome the publication of the July Jobs Stimulus Package which includes a number of measures that strengthen our efforts to provide strong income supports to jobseekers while they look for work and access to professional employment and retraining services to compete in the labour market. 

  Changes made to the State’s employment and training services infrastructure, implemented in response to the Financial Crisis, position Ireland to respond favourably to the economic challenges that face us today.  Nevertheless, given the unprecedented scale of job losses, I have secured an additional €112m in funding for a significant ramping up in the delivery of employment services to workers, which will include 45,500 new places on schemes and services. 

  This funding will be used to:

  - Expand the paid Work Placement Programme – currently known as the Youth Employment Support Scheme - to extend the duration of the scheme and to increase the number of places and make them available not just to young people but to all workers who remain unemployed.

  - Increase the number of employment services resources for the Intreo service to ensure that all  unemployed jobseekers have access to a an employment advisor/case officer.

  - Improve and extend the recruitment subsidy for employers who hire people from the Live Register – the subsidy will be payable when employers recruit people from PUP with special provision for the early recruitment of people aged under 30 (currently this provision is limited to people aged under 25).

  - Extend the training grants scheme to increase the maximum grant payable to jobseekers to fund participation in a job-relevant short training course from €500 to €1,000.

  - Extend access to the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance Scheme, the Back to Education Allowance scheme and the Back to Work Family Dividend Scheme to people on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

  - Increase the number of places on State Employment Schemes such as Community Employment and Tús to act as a temporary bridge to provide occupational activity and employment experience to people during the recovery period.

These measures are intended to provide an inclusive pathway back to employment, ensuring that no one is left behind in the recovery phase.  

  Question No. 83 answered with Question No. 59.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 84. Deputy Mairéad Farrell Information on Mairéad  Farrell Zoom on Mairéad  Farrell asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if an additional bank holiday will be introduced in 2020 as part of stimulus measures. [16650/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The legislation which provides for public holidays is the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997.  This Act provides that certain days may be prescribed as public holidays.  At present, there are nine public holidays.  Any proposal for the provision of an additional public holiday would require careful consideration and wide-ranging consultations with relevant stakeholders.  Not least we would need to consider the implications and impact of any such designation on employment and for the economy at large, in particular the extra costs it would impose on employers already dealing with the unpredictability of the Covid-19 crisis.  

As the Deputy is aware the Government announced a Job Stimulus package on the 23rd July.  That package includes over 50 individual measures addressing every significant area of economic activity in our country.  It is aimed at protecting as many businesses and jobs as possible on one hand and creating new opportunities on the other.  I believe that this comprehensive range of measures is what is needed to begin delivering the recovery from the economic impacts of this pandemic. 

I trust this clarifies the issue for the Deputy.

  Question No. 85 answered with Question No. 37.

Irish Fiscal Advisory Council

 86. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick Information on Peter Fitzpatrick Zoom on Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her views on the recent report issued by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council on the sustainability of future pension provision; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19026/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (IFAC) is an independent statutory body whose purpose is to provide its assessment of official budgetary forecasts and proposed fiscal policy objectives.  The IFAC recently published its Long-term Sustainability Report: Fiscal challenges and risks 2025-2050.  This report provides the IFAC’s assessment of the long-run sustainability of the public finances in Ireland to 2050.  One of the report’s key findings is that Government spending is projected to outpace revenue as ageing-related costs rise.  This will pose a range of fiscal challenges for future administrations in terms of balancing current service levels, future sustainability and strategic borrowing levels.

It is very welcome that life expectancy is increasing and that people in Ireland are living longer lives.  While we currently enjoy a more favourable demographic position than many of our European peers, all EU Member States, including Ireland, face many fiscal challenges in relation to long-term ageing and its associated risks.  The recent IFAC report highlighted the fact that while the share of older people in Ireland is relatively low today by European standards, the population will age relatively fast so that the dependency ratio will reach the current EU average by the mid-2030s.  

As set out in the  Programme for Government “Our Shared Future”, a Commission on Pensions will be established to examine sustainability and eligibility issues in relation to State pensions and the Social Insurance Fund.  I am sure that the recent report from IFAC will form one element of the Commission’s considerations, but obviously the Commission will be considering a wide range of studies, views and expert opinion before it reports back to Government.

The Government is acutely conscious of the need to consider the sustainability of the State’s finances.  However, this is not the only consideration when thinking of the State pension,, which is the bedrock of the pension system in Ireland.  The State Pension is extremely effective at ensuring that our pensioners do not experience poverty.  The Government is committed to ensuring that this remains the case for both current, and future, pensioners.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Carer's Allowance

 87. Deputy Pauline Tully Information on Pauline  Tully Zoom on Pauline  Tully asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she will consider basing the financial assessment for carer’s allowance on net income and not gross income in line with the assessment of earnings under carer’s benefit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19001/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Social welfare legislation provides that all income and property belonging to the claimant (and his or her spouse/partner, where applicable) is assessable for means testing purposes for social assistance schemes, such as Carer’s Allowance.  In the assessment of earnings, various disregards and tapers are in place which can allow recipients to take up employment.  Earnings assessed for means testing purposes generally are based on gross earnings, before tax but after PRSI contributions, superannuation/PRSA contributions and trade union subscriptions. 

Current disregards for Carer’s Allowance are €332.50 per week for a single person and €665 per week for a couple, making the means test for carers one of the least onerous within the social protection system.  A couple with an annual gross income of up to €37,500 (net of PRSI and other allowable deductions) can qualify for a maximum payment and a couple with an income of up to nearly €60,000 can still qualify for a reduced rate.  After the disregards are applied, the vast majority (92%) of Carer’s Allowance recipients are assessed with no means and receive the full rate of payment.

As Carer’s Benefit is a social insurance payment, entitlement is based on the claimant meeting the conditions of the scheme and having paid sufficient social insurance contributions.  One of the conditions of Carer’s Benefit scheme is that the carer can only engage in employment or self-employment outside the home which does not exceed 18.5 hours per week and the net earnings derived from that employment do not exceed €332.50 per week.  Unlike Carer's Allowance, an applicant's earnings for Carer's Benefit are not assessed to establish their means, but to ensure they are in a position to provide full-time care to the person for whom they are caring. 

If net rather than gross income was assessed for Carer's Allowance, it would mean that changes in tax rates or tax reliefs could change the claimant’s rate of Carer’s Allowance and significantly increase the complexity of the means assessment and inevitably prolong the assessment process.  It would also have significant budgetary implications and would give rise to inconsistencies in how means tests are applied across schemes.

I recognise the crucial role that carers play in Irish society and will continue to seek to improve the supports for carers.  However, any changes must be considered in an overall budgetary context.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 88. Deputy Emer Higgins Information on Emer Higgins Zoom on Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys her plans to increase the availability of activation and back-to-work schemes in order to support persons to return to work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18800/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Covid-19 crisis continues to have a significant impact on the labour market.  The CSO estimates an unemployment rate of 22.5% in June 2020, when adjusted to include claimants of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

  Even though the situation is improving, 800,000 of our workers, friends and family remain unemployed and rely on some form of State income support to make ends meet; traditional jobseeker support payments, the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Support (PUP) and the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS). 

  People who lose their jobs and remain unemployed for some time can become disconnected from the labour market.  They lose the vital social and work connections that are needed to identify and pursue work opportunities, they find that their past work experience and skills can’t easily translate into new sectors of employment.  They find employers tend to favour people with recent work experience over those with an employment gap in their CV.  We have a responsibility to help them overcome these barriers and to do so we need to invest in our employment, training and education services.

  I am focussed on giving people the best chance to refind their footing in the labour market and access new employment opportunities.  I welcome the publication of the July Jobs Stimulus Package which includes a number of measures that strengthen our efforts to provide strong income supports to jobseekers while they look for work and access to professional employment and retraining services to compete in the labour market.

  Changes made to the State’s employment and training services infrastructure, implemented in response to the Financial Crisis, position Ireland to respond favourably to the economic challenges that face us today.  Nevertheless, given the unprecedented scale of job losses, I have secured an additional €112m in funding for a significant ramping up in the delivery of employment services to workers, which will include 45,500 new places on schemes and services. 

  This funding will be used to:

  - Expand the paid Work Placement Programme - currently known as the Youth Employment Support Scheme - to extend the duration of the scheme and to increase the number of places and make them available not just to young people but to all workers who remain unemployed.

  - Increase the number of employment services resources for the Intreo service to ensure that all  unemployed jobseekers have access to a an employment advisor/case officer.

  - Improve and extend the recruitment subsidy for employers who hire people from the Live Register – the subsidy will be payable when employers recruit people from PUP with special provision for the early recruitment of people aged under 30 (currently this provision is limited to people aged under 25).

  - Extend the training grants scheme to increase the maximum grant payable to jobseekers to fund participation in a job-relevant short training course from €500 to €1,000.

  - Extend access to the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance Scheme, the Back to Education Allowance scheme and the Back to Work Family Dividend Scheme to people on PUP.

  -Increase the number of places on State Employment Schemes such as Community Employment and Tús to act as a temporary bridge to provide occupational activity and employment experience to people during the recovery period.

These measures are intended to provide an inclusive pathway back to employment, ensuring that no one is left behind in the recovery phase.  

Enterprise Support Services

 89. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan Information on Christopher O'Sullivan Zoom on Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if clarity will be provided on the status of persons over 66 years of age and the enterprise support grant (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18549/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The Enterprise Support Grant is being extended to assist eligible self-employed recipients who are exiting the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment scheme after 25th June 2020 to re-start their business.  The purpose of this grant is to assist self-employed individuals with the transition from the weekly Pandemic Unemployment Payment back to their self-employment.

  The COVID 19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment is available to people aged between 18 and 66 years, and the age range is consistent with other jobseeker and social protection income supports paid to people of working age.  People aged 66 years and over are provided for within the Social Protection income support framework through the State Pension, either the contributory State pension based on PRSI contributions or the non-contributory means tested pension. 

Funding of €12 million has been provided for this grant and my Department is developing the systems to put this grant into effect and will communicate how to apply for the grant over the coming weeks.    The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation are responsible for enterprise supports for businesses that have been impacted by the current pandemic. 

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.  

School Meals Programme

 90. Deputy Sean Sherlock Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the status of the roll-out of the school meals programme.  [18482/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,580 schools and organisations benefitting 250,000 children at a total cost of €61.6 million in 2020.

  The objective of the scheme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to a lack of good quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided to them.  The programme is an important component of policies to encourage school attendance and extra educational achievement and coincides with the school year.

  In recent years, entry to the School Meals Scheme has been confined to DEIS schools and schools identified as having levels of concentrated disadvantage, meaning that they would benefit from access to the School Meals Programme.

  My Department confirmed that funding under the school meals programme would remain available to schools to allow them to continue to provide food for the duration of school closures and throughout the summer period until the start of the new academic year 2020/2021.  Applications for extensions of funding for summer 2020 are currently being processed, as are applications for the 2020/2021 academic year for schools that opted not to continue provisions during the summer months.

  As part of Budget 2019, it was announced that my Department would commence a pilot scheme from September 2019, providing hot school meals in primary schools at a cost of €1m for 2019 and €2.5m in 2020.  The principal aim of this pilot scheme was to understand what works, and to learn how best the programme can be rolled out on a wider basis.

  The pilot involves 37 schools benefitting 6,744 students for the 2019/2020 academic year.  Officials from my department have visited all schools participating in the pilot to provide support and take feedback in relation to all aspects of the pilot.  In general, the response to the pilot from teachers, parents and pupils has been very positive.  Benefits identified include improved social skills through eating together and involvement by older pupils in distributing meals, the opportunity to try new foods, a change in eating habits from fast and unhealthy foods, and the guarantee of a hot meal during the day.

  An evaluation of the hot school meals pilot is currently being undertaken to determine if the pilot has been successful.  This evaluation is expected to be completed by the end of the summer.

  Budget 2020 provided an additional €4 million in funding to extend the hot meals for children currently receiving the cold lunch option, which will allow my Department to extend the hot meals from September 2020 to an additional 35,000 children who currently receive the cold lunch option.  A decision has been made to delay the extension of the hot meals to January 2021 due to Covid-19 restrictions.

  Any decision to extend the current provision of school meals would need to be considered in a budgetary context.

  Question No. 91 answered with Question No. 37.

  Question No. 92 answered with Question No. 22.

  Question No. 93 answered with Question No. 37.

Employment Rights

 94. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys the changes she plans to make to employment legislation to enhance the rights of workers facing mass redundancies in view of the closure of a company (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15810/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys Firstly, I would like to say that my thoughts are with all Debenhams workers who are dealing with job losses at this difficult time.  I want to assure everybody that my Department is assisting the affected workers through its Intreo service to help them in whatever way we can in terms of income supports and job-seeking over the coming weeks and months.  Indeed over the past number of weeks officials from my Department have engaged with officials from Mandate and with the Human Resource management team in Debenhams to ensure that all workers receive their due entitlements from my Department.  Furthermore, the redundancy and insolvency section of my Department has already engaged with the liquidators appointed to Debenhams and is continuing to work with them to ensure that all claims in respect of employees are dealt with expeditiously.

There are considerable provisions in employment legislation already to protects the rights of workers.  The Protection of Employment Act 1977 imposes a number of obligations on employers who are proposing collective redundancies, including an obligation under sections 9 and 10 to engage in an information and consultation process with employees’ representatives and to provide certain information relating to the proposed redundancies.  Section 11A of the Act provides that, where an employee believes the employer to be in breach of sections 9 or 10, they may pursue a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).  It is an offence under the Act for an employer to fail to comply with sections 9 or 10.

There is also an obligation under section 12 which makes it mandatory on employers proposing a collective redundancy to notify the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection of the proposed collective redundancy.

An employer is prohibited from issuing any notice of redundancy during the mandatory employee information and consultation period (required by the 1977 Act) and until 30 days have elapsed from the date on which the Minister has been notified.  For the avoidance of doubt, the 30 day mandatory information and consultation process and the aforementioned 30 day period from the date of notification to the Minister may run concurrently.

I can assure the Deputy that I and my officials will continue to monitor the relevant legislation to ensure that it remains effective in protecting employees in the event of collective redundancies.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

School Meals Programme

 95. Deputy Mark Ward Information on Mark Ward Zoom on Mark Ward asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys if she will review the schools lunch programme with a view to expanding it throughout school holidays; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17130/20]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Heather Humphreys): Information on Heather Humphreys Zoom on Heather Humphreys The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,580 schools and organisations benefitting 250,000 children.  The objective of the scheme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of good quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided to them.  The programme is an important component of policies to encourage school attendance and extra educational achievement.

Following the announcement of the closure of schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic on 12th   March 2020, schools and organisations participating in the school meals programme expressed concerns about the impact of school closures on pupils who avail of school meals, and that the unavailability of school meals impacts in particular on the most disadvantaged in our society.

  My Department confirmed that funding to schools would continue to enable schools to provide food until the end of the current school year - the end of May 2020 for post-primary schools and the end of June 2020 for primary schools, in line with the parameters of the school meals scheme, including the 2 week Easter holiday.  This funding was further extended to allow schools who choose to continue to provide food during the summer period until the start of the new academic year 2020/2021.  The extension of the school meals programme over the summer months will be provided for within the budget of €61.6 million for 2020.

  Any decision to extend the school meals programme further will need to be considered in a budgetary context.

  I trust that this clarifies the position for the deputy.


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