Priority Questions. - National Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Frances Fitzgerald


105 Ms Fitzgerald asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs his response to the NESF Report (No. 8) on the National Anti-Poverty Strategy. [20670/00]

The National Economic and Social Forum's Opinion (No. 8) contains a number of recommendations in relation to targets for the National Anti-Poverty Strategy, its extension to other areas of the public service and the further development of the poverty-proofing process, which have already been taken on board.

Since it was formed in 1997, this Government has demonstrated a commitment to the process of social inclusion and has introduced policies to help ensure that every individual has the opportunity to participate fully in society. Last Friday, 29 September, I launched the second annual report of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy Inter-Departmental Policy Committee, with the Taoiseach, which outlines the progress which has been made to date. The latest information available from the Economic and Social Research Institute from the Working Paper on the Living in Ireland Survey 1998, shows that the number of people in consistent poverty has almost halved, falling from 15% when the National Anti-Poverty Strategy was launched – based on 1994 data – to approximately 8% today – based on 1998 data. Our commitment to an inclusive society is reinforced by the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness which provides for an updating of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy, including a review of the underlying methodology, a review of existing targets and consideration of new targets, including child poverty.

The National Economic and Social Forum's opinion makes a number of recommendations in relation to the extension of the national anti-poverty strategy to local level. These will be considered in the context of the roll out of the strategy to local authorities, being jointly undertaken by my Department, the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the Combat Poverty Agency, under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. Four seminars were held earlier this year to initiate this process and the response from local authorities and other relevant bodies has been encouraging.

In relation to poverty-proofing, a review of the poverty-proofing process is currently being carried out by the National Economic and Social Council with a view to strengthening that process. Following this review, poverty proofing will be extended on a phased basis to local authorities and health boards.

As Minister with responsibility for this area, how does the Minister explain the finding in the report of the National Economic and Social Forum that the last budget was not fully poverty-proofed? How does he explain the fact that there is no clear evidence that reductions in poverty were a key guiding principle under the national development plan? Is this not an extraordinary failing that in a time of plenty the question of poverty and poverty-proofing the budget and the national development plan was not a priority of Government policy? What steps will the Minister take to ensure that this does not happen in the next budget?

I do not accept what the Deputy says.

I did not say this. The forum said it.

It was this Government that brought in poverty-proofing last year. All social welfare issues were poverty-proofed. If the Deputy wishes, she may put down a freedom of information or parliamentary request. All the issues relating to social welfare were poverty-proofed.

Does the Minister disagree with the report?

I am making a statement of fact.

This is a Priority Question and only Deputy Fitzgerald is entitled to ask supplementary questions.

All issues in relation to social welfare were fully poverty-proofed. I can guarantee that, similarly, the budget this year will be poverty-proofed.

Will the Minister take up this issue with the National Economic and Social Forum, since there are representatives from his own party on the forum? It is made up of the social partners. I quote from the report: "The budget was not fully poverty-proofed".

The Deputy may not quote at Question Time.

I am very familiar with what the report says. It says that the budget was not fully poverty-proofed. It says that nine of the 13 Departments did not provide examples of taking poverty-proofing into account at Government policy level last year in the budget. Will the Minister ensure that this will not happen again in this year's budget and that it will be properly poverty-proofed?

The report condemns the Minister.

The poverty-proofing issue is something in respect of which – I hesitate to use this expression – one cannot wave a magic wand and turn around overnight the way in which the Civil Service does its business. It has taken some time for the Civil Service apparatus to change and adopt the issue of poverty-proofing. It is being driven, and that is one of the reasons the Combat Poverty Agency brought out its view on poverty-proofing before the NESF reported. The lobby groups in this area are very happy that the Government has implemented the poverty-proofing issue. As time moves on there will be a sea change. Already a sea change has taken place.

Did the Minister not have political responsibility to see that the budget was poverty-proofed last year? It has been found that it was not poverty-proofed in the way it was framed last year.

I emphasise that all aspects of social welfare in the budget were povertyproofed. I challenge the Deputy to table a freedom of information question in that respect.

Is the Minister saying the report is wrong? Does he disagree with it?

There is no question of structural changes in social welfare. All the changes were made since I became Minister.