Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.
243 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the proposals, if any, he has to provide for the payment of carer's allowance to carers who are qualified for other social welfare benefits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4858/00]
The primary objective of the social welfare system is to provide income support and, as a general rule, only one social welfare payment is payable to an individual. The purpose of the carer's allowance is to provide a means-tested income support payment to those who are caring full-time and who are on low incomes.
The review of the carer's allowance, which was published in October 1998, examined the issue of paying the carer's allowance in conjunction with another social welfare payment. The review noted that the allowance is an income support payment and not a payment for caring. As indicated, the practice of paying only one allowance is a feature, with very few exceptions, of all social welfare payments and is designed to ensure that limited resources are not used to make two income support payments to any one individual. The review concluded that this practice should continue. A person qualifying for two social welfare payments will always receive the higher payment to which he or she is entitled.
However, the review proposed the introduction of a non-means tested ‘continual care' payment to recognise carers providing the highest levels of care and to promote care in the community. It envisaged that this payment would be made, irrespective of income or social welfare entitle ment, to carers caring for those who are in the highest category of dependency.
In order to differentiate between the levels of care and care needs, the review considered that a needs assessment encompassing both the needs of the care recipient and the carer should be introduced, and that the ‘continual care' payment could be introduced following the introduction of such an assessment. It was considered that a needs assessment would separate care needs from income support needs and could be used by all State organisations which provide reliefs or grants to those in need of care. A working group, chaired by Deputy Moffatt, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children and comprising membership from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs and the health boards has been set up to examine the feasibility of introducing such a needs assessment approach.
One of the key priorities identified in the Government's review of An Action Programme for the Millennium is to establish a pilot system of needs assessment for carers and people needing care to be operated by the health boards. This area is the responsibility of my colleague the Minister for Health and Children.
The introduction of a continual care payment will be examined further following the outcome of this pilot.
244 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a person (details supplied) in County Wexford, who shares custody of her child on a week on week off basis with her former partner, has been informed that she does not qualify for a one parent family payment due to the fact that she does not have sole custody or care of her child; the reason unemployment assistance is being denied due to the fact the she is not available for work every second week and her only income is temporary supplementary welfare allowance; his views on whether it is equitable that benefits available to single parents are denied to her; if he will remedy this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4974/00]
The purpose of one-parent family payment is to provide income support on a means-tested basis to any separated or unmarried parent rearing a child without the adequate support of a partner. The scheme regulations specify that an applicant parent must have at least one qualified child residing with him or her and have the main care and charge of that child. Equal joint custody situations, such as those of the person concerned, are not covered under this scheme.
The accommodation of equal shared custody arrangements within the social welfare system is a difficult and complex issue. Any solution proposed must strike a reasonable balance between acknowledging the value of ongoing contact and care between all parents and their children, while maintaining the integrity of existing social welfare schemes and avoiding excessive scheme costs.
Recognising that joint custody arrangements are becoming increasingly common, particularly with the growing emphasis on mediated settlements between separating couples, a departmental working group was established to examine all of the issues relating to joint custody and the social welfare system, and to consider the possible options with regard to accommodating such arrangements within the system. The findings of this group are now being examined as part of a general review of the one-parent family payment which is being undertaken under the Department's expenditure review programme. This review is currently in progress and it is intended to have it completed in the coming months.
The person concerned signed for unemployment assistance for one day only on 12 April 1999. Her one-parent family payment ceased on 20 April last following the granting of joint equal custody for her child. She has been in receipt of supplementary welfare allowance and rent allowance since then. If she feels that she satisfies the conditions as to availability for work and is genuinely seeking work, it is open to her to apply for unemployment assistance at the nearest local office of this Department.