Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Seán Haughey


720 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the reason claimants of unemployment assistance and unemployment benefit are only entitled to 12 days holidays unlike workers who are entitled to 15 days holidays; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19191/00]

Current arrangements allow recipients of unemployment benefit and unemployment assistance to take up to two weeks, that is, 12 days, holidays in each calendar year without interrupting their claim. Claimants are required to notify their social welfare local office at least two weeks in advance of going on holidays and receive their payments when they return.

In addition, unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance may continue to be paid to people who are outside the State while representing Ireland in an amateur capacity at an international sporting event.

In view of the points made by the Deputy I am asking my Department to examine the question of the duration of the holiday period of recipients of unemployment payments and to let me have proposals in this regard.

Bernard Allen


721 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the reason the increases in child allowances announced in budget 2000 have not been paid. [19201/00]

The Government has made a commitment in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness to substantially increase the payment of child benefit over the period of the programme, with a priority focus towards £100 per month for third and subsequent children.

In line with this commitment, the basic child benefit monthly rates were increased to £42.50 in respect of each of the first two children and £56 for the third and subsequent children.

These increases came into effect from September, as announced in the budget. However, if the Deputy is aware of any case where the increase was not paid, if he contacts me with the details I will investigate it.

These substantial increases represent a full-year investment of almost £106 million, bringing total investment in the child benefit scheme up to some £575 million annually.

Michael D. Higgins


722 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the outcome to the Government commitment to £100 per week for pensioners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19250/00]

As the Deputy is aware, on taking office, the Government set ambitious goals in order to secure the future of our older people, one of which was a commitment to bring the old age contributory pension up to £100 per week over the lifetime of the Government, that is, by the year 2002).

In last year's review of the programme, the Government committed to the early achievement of the £100 commitment and, furthermore, extended it to all social welfare old age pensions by 2002. Significant progress has already been made in this regard. In the three budgets since taking office, the Government has moved towards achieving the £100 target rate. The personal rate of old age contributory pension has been increased by £18 to £96 per week, while the rate for a married couple has been increased by £27.20 to £160.40 per week. The equivalent rates for old age non-contributory pension have been increased by £18 to £85 per week and by £29.70 to £137.20 per week, respectively.

Jim O'Keeffe


723 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the reason for the delay in paying unemployment assistance to a person (details supplied) in County Cork despite her many efforts to obtain work without success and ample evidence in this regard in view of the fact that the main reason for her difficulty in obtaining employment is the delay on the part of the authorities in completing her Irish nursing registration; and if he will take immediate steps to pay all arrears of unemployment assistance, particularly in view of the fact that the prospects of obtaining work are now very much improved since the application for nursing registration was recently granted. [19259/00]

The person concerned who commenced claiming unemployment assistance in March 1998 was requested in May this year to provide evidence of her availability for and her efforts to find employment. She responded on 19 May 2000 stating that she was awaiting her nursing registration in Ireland. She also submitted some letters from employers as evidence of her efforts to secure employment, all of which were dated subsequent to 9 May 2000.

On the basis of the evidence supplied, the deciding officer considered that the person concerned had not produced sufficient evidence to show that she has was genuinely seeking work. Payment of unemployment assistance was disallowed, accordingly, with effect from 26 July 2000.
She appealed this decision to the social welfare appeals office and her case has been considered by an appeals officer who is of the opinion that an oral hearing is necessary. This will be arranged as soon as possible. The person concerned is in receipt of supplementary welfare allowance at the rate of £76.00 per week, pending the outcome of her appeal.
Under social welfare legislation decisions in relation to claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

Ivan Yates


724 Mr. Yates asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will review the respective rates of pro rata contributory old age pension for former self-employed persons who have progressively more contributions between five and ten years, for example, by awarding a 10% higher payment to those nearer the full ten year PRSI contributory requirement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19260/00]

One of the commitments made prior to the 1997 general election was to address the issue of people who narrowly failed to qualify for a pension. The group referred to by the Deputy was marginally excluded from entitlement to an old age contributory pension as they were aged 56 or over when compulsory social insurance was extended to the self-employed in April 1988. These people could not, therefore, satisfy the governing qualifying condition of having entered insurance at least ten years before pension age.

In delivering our commitment, I examined various options in arriving at a formula that would address the specific problem faced by this group of pensioners. Of these I considered that a flat-rate payment of a special old age contributory pension was the most equitable and practical way of addressing the situation, taking account of all the circumstances. It represents very good value for money for all the people concerned.

Since April 1999 a special old age contributory pension has been available to those self-employed persons who were aged 56 or over in April 1988 and who have, at least, five years contributions paid since then. Payment is at a flat-rate of 50% of the standard maximum rate with equivalent increases for adult and child dependants, where applicable.

It is important to stress that this special arrangement represents a positive and reasonable response to the situation in which this group of people found themselves.