Individualisation exists to a certain extent within the social welfare system. In the social insurance system, those who meet the contribution conditions receive a payment in their own right; and also in the old age non-contributory pension arrangements whereby in the case of a couple, each over age 66, there is a joint means test and payment is then on an individual basis.
The report of the working group examining the treatment of married, cohabiting and one-parent families under the tax and social welfare codes, published in August 1999, considered that individualisation of the system could best be achieved through the expansion of social insurance to enable individuals to establish their own direct rights and social welfare entitlements.
Much has already been achieved in this area over the last 12 years with coverage being extended to the self-employed in 1988, part-time workers in 1991, and new civil-public servants in 1995. In addition, measures were introduced in 1994 to protect the insurance records of those who take time out from the paid workforce for caring duties.
One of the objectives of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness is to develop proposals to progress the individualisation of social welfare payments in the context of the continuation of joint assessment of means.
In this regard, a working group on the implementation of administrative individualisation within the social welfare system has recently been established and its first meeting is due to take place on 19 October. The social partners and the Departments of Finance and Social, Community and Family Affairs are represented on the working group. It will be chaired by an official of the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs.
Progress on administrative individualisation will be pursued in the light of the working group's proposals, which I look forward to receiving in due course.
Question No. 153 taken with Question No. 109.