Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benchmarking.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

135 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs when a chairperson to the working group on benchmarking and indexation will be appointed; and the criteria and basic guidelines that will be placed before the working group as it begins its work. [20460/00]

Proinsias De Rossa

Question:

140 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for Social Community and Family Affairs if he has reconsidered his views on benchmarking of social welfare payments; and the benchmark he intends to use for old age pensions in 2001 in view of the fact that pensions have been devastated by inflation in 2000. [20452/00]

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.

I recognise, of course, that the higher than expected inflation has had the effect of reducing the value of this year's budget increases in social welfare payments. At the time of the budget it was estimated that inflation would be much lower, in the region of 3%, and the Government provided for social welfare increases well in excess of this. I can assure the House that the Government will take full account of the recent increased level of inflation in determining the appropriate level of social welfare increases for 2001.
Question No. 136 with Question No. 114.