I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, before section 1, to insert the following new section:
"1.—The Minister shall as soon as may be after the passing of this Act prepare and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the implications of increasing the fuel allowance and living alone allowance to take into account the increase in the cost of living since those allowances were last increased.".
While I know the Minister will not have sufficient time to deal with them, I wish to point out some anomalies concerning the Bill. A person is awarded credits while in receipt of a carer's allowance, but this does not apply to people who are self-employed prior to being awarded the carer's allowance. This is in spite of the fact that they are paying a contribution, which is important to them for pension purposes. Such people will have a break in their contributions, which will count against them when they apply for the old age pension, widow's or widower's pension, as the yearly average will be reduced. A person who leaves employment, however, can avail of credits which keep their contribution alive. This is a disincentive for people to become carers.
The same applies to a self-employed person who becomes ill. A driving instructor who was paying a self-employed contribution has been diagnosed with cancer. He has no choice but to apply for the disability allowance as the self-employed contribution does not entitle him to disability benefit. He cannot now put on a credit stamp as he was self-employed prior to getting sick so he must go on disability allowance. This man has been sick for over two years and is being denied an invalidity pension because when he became ill he did not have 48 contributions credited in the last complete tax year. He had 268 stamps which he had paid for before becoming self-employed. This would have made him eligible for the invalidity pension which is not means tested. A small pension of €10 per week would not reduce his invalidity pension as it would do for the disability allowance.
Part of the carer's allowance is calculated for receipt of the back to school clothing and footwear allowance, but the Minister should exempt it. Deputy Paul McGrath referred to the same aspect regarding family income supplements.
I realise that I am straying away from the purpose of the amendment, but I want to try to help the Minister. The granting of additional paid and unpaid maternity leave is a godsend to all working mothers. However, the 1 March 2006 introduction date has confused and annoyed many women who are due to take maternity leave in January and February. New measures announced in the budget generally take effect immediately or on 1 January. One lady told me that women who are due to take maternity leave in January or February are left thinking they came so close yet remain so far away. She used a great analogy, stating "The last two days for us have been like hearing that you had won the lotto, and then hearing you'd got it wrong".
If each time the Department set up extended leave it produced new forms, a solution could be that women who take maternity leave after 1 January could reapply for the four-week extension while on maternity leave. This would surely be manageable for the relatively small number of women who are in this situation. They should have an opportunity to extend their maternity leave in line with national best practice. The Minister's good work could be undone if women are not afforded such an opportunity. He should examine that matter and try to address it.
Another anomaly involves a full-time student who was involved in a car crash on returning to Ireland. As a result he could not return to college or work so he took a year out. During that time he was horrified to find that he could not claim any social welfare disability allowance. He had worked in Ireland since he was 12 and had always paid his PRSI and other contributions, yet he could not believe that he was not entitled to any allowances. To cap it all, approximately a month ago, he was involved in another crash. This time he fulfilled all the relevant paperwork, including medical certificates, for a disability benefit claim. He received a letter stating that he was ineligible, but why would such a person not be eligible? I will furnish the Minister's staff with this letter which created an aura of resentment.