I propose to take Questions No. 135 and 140 together.
As outlined in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, there are complex issues involved in developing a benchmark for adequacy of adult and child social welfare payments, including the implications of adopting a specific approach to the ongoing uprating or indexation of payments.
It is envisaged that the appointment of an independent chairperson of the working group being established under the terms of the programme to examine these issues will be finalised shortly. Once that process is complete, the social partners and relevant Departments will be invited to formally nominate their representatives to the group.
The working group will have a mandate to examine the range of issues associated with benchmarking and indexation, including their long-term economic, budgetary, PRSI contribution, distributive and incentive implications, in light of trends in economic, demographic and labour market patterns. It is envisaged that the working group will also take account of work being carried out to review the underlying methodology of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy.
It will be a matter for the independent chairperson and the members of the group to establish the most effective means of satisfying the mandate set out in the programme.
More generally, I am very conscious of the impact of increased inflation on people dependent on social welfare payments. It is important to recall in this context that, since this Government came into office, social welfare payments have been substantially increased in real terms. For instance, social welfare pensioners aged 66 years and over have received total increases amounting to £18 in their personal rates of payment, representing an overall increase of between 23% and 27%. This compares with less than 11% inflation over the same period.
The last budget provided for a £7 a week increase for this group, representing an increase of between 7.9% and 8.9%, a rate of increase which remains well ahead of inflation.