Written Answers. - Social Insurance.
133 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will give an update in relation to his plans for the social insurance fund and his responsibilities with regard to the social welfare reserve fund. [20501/00]
The Social Insurance Fund plays a key role in the provision of social protection. Social insurance contributions are paid into the fund which, in turn, finances a broad range of contributory payments. One of my priorities since I became Minister has been to enhance the level of payments made from the fund, particularly for pensioners, and to reform and develop the system generally in the light of changing social and economic circumstances.
In this regard, I have introduced a new and innovative benefit – carer's benefit. The new benefit will come into operation later this month and will enable those workers who take time out to care for ill or incapacitated people to receive a payment. I will also be bringing forward proposals, in the months ahead, to advance the relevant commitments relating to the social insurance system contained in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. This will include the bringing forward of legislation, after appropriate consultation, to provide for the establishment of a Social Insurance Fund board.
The Social Insurance Fund has had an annual surplus each year since 1997. The financial position of the fund is thus secure in the short-term. However, significant funding challenges lie ahead as a result of the projected ageing of the population and the consequent increase in the number of social welfare pensioners.
In this regard, a Bill providing for the establishment of the National Pensions Reserve Fund was published last June and will be debated in this House shortly. The proposed new fund will part pre-fund both social welfare and public service pension costs from 2025 to 2055. I strongly support the establishment of the new long-term fund and my Department was represented on the technical working group which examined the issues relating to the introduction of the legislation.
The National Pensions Reserve Fund Commissioners will be responsible for the control, management and investment of the fund. The Bill provides that the commissioners will consult with the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs in relation to assessments of the projected Exchequer outlays on social welfare pensions. The Bill also provides that the Minister for Finance will consult the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs in relation to the rules which will apply under which payments will be made from the fund.
The Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs will also be consulted regarding the possible extension of payments to and from the fund after the years provided for in the Bill. I am committed to securing the financing of social welfare payments both in the short and long-term. The current healthy financial status of the Social Insurance Fund will facilitate the ongoing development of the social insurance system in the short-term as well as helping to cope with increased pension costs before the reserve fund is available for drawdown. The setting up of the new reserve fund is a prudent and far-sighted Government response to the challenges facing this and future generations.
Question No. 134 with Question No. 109.