I understand the Minister completed her reply to the debate on amendment No. 2 to section 1.
Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2012: Committee Stage (Resumed)
What amendment are we discussing?
I understand we have completed the debate on amendment No. 2 in the name of the Minister to section 1.
Amendments Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, are out of order.
Section 1(4) deals with the date of the coming into operation of section 3 with regard to voluntary contributions. Is a change proposed to this commencement date? An extensive amendment on this issue will be proposed which will include a date for when it will come into effect rather than a commencement date.
I have tabled an amendment to make clear it is being phased in. This is with regard to voluntary contributions in section 3.
It will be phased in over a period of three years parallel to changes already made. It will affect a very small number of people, and if I remember from yesterday 68% of these are men. It mainly involves people living overseas and other specialist categories including Dáil Deputies.
I am asking for clarification with regard to amendment No. 1. Will it mean the deletion of the original section 1(4)?
Amendment No. 1 was in the name of Deputy Ó Snodaigh.
It is amendment No. 2.
With regard to section 1 of the Bill have we deleted section 1(4) through the Minister's amendment? Is the original section 1(4) still there? That is all I am asking.
It would appear from the amendment that-----
I think it is.
Section 3 is being phased in.
So the original subsection is gone. That is okay. I just wanted clarification on it.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 4, before section 3, to insert the following new section:
3.—(1) Section 24 of the Principal Act is amended—
(a) in subsection (1) by substituting “520 contribution weeks” for “260 contribution weeks”, and
(b) by inserting the following subsections after subsection (1):
"(1A) In the case of a person who becomes a voluntary contributor paying contributions under this Chapter before 6 April 2013, subsection (1) shall be read as if ‘260 contribution weeks' were substituted for ‘520 contribution weeks'.
(1B) In the case of a person who becomes a voluntary contributor paying contributions under this Chapter on or after 6 April 2013 but before 6 April 2014, subsection (1) shall be read as if ‘364 contribution weeks' were substituted for ‘520 contribution weeks'.
(1C) In the case of a person who becomes a voluntary contributor paying contributions under this Chapter on or after 6 April 2014 but before 6 April 2015, subsection (1) shall be read as if ‘468 contribution weeks' were substituted for ‘520 contribution weeks'.".
(2) This section comes into operation on 6 April 2013.".
This relates to a small number of people and the purpose of the amendment is to phase in the changes in the number of contributions over a number of years.
I will not delay the House on this issue. This is an interesting change. There may be people who do not have the required number of contributions and the Minister is, through this change, allowing them to purchase extra contributions to bring them up to the required number. She is in effect allowing them to make a voluntary contribution. I do not believe there would be a huge level of take-up of this provision. The information I have is that there was a lengthy lead-in period in respect of this change and that, therefore, a huge number of people will not be affected. As I understand it, the period involved is some 15 years.
That is an example of how to phase in changes to pensions and so on. It ensures people are well aware of the changes before they come into effect. It is a pity this type of lead in period was not in place in respect of changes last year to the State pension transition or the accelerated change in terms of the pension age from 66 to 68 years. As the Minister has clarified the matter for me, I withdraw my opposition to the section.
As I understand it this provision relates to people who have an entitlement but wish to increase it. Also, will this affect women who had to leave the workforce for a period?
No. It hardly relates to women at all. The percentages involved are, approximately 68% men and 32% women. There has been a widespread misconception that this will affect women more than men. However, that is not so. This relates to a person who has left paid employment but wishes to continue to make voluntary contributions. A number of those people would be abroad. Only a limited number of people, approximately 1,000, are involved. This might also relate to Members of this House who make contributions but who do not in some cases get entitlement as a consequence.
So it will not affect anyone currently in receipt of a pension.
Okay. Thank you.
Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 have been ruled out of order. I understand section 4 is being opposed by Deputies Catherine Murphy, Sean Fleming, Richard Boyd Barrett and Aengus Ó Snodaigh.
This issue was widely spoken about on Second Stage. In the absence of a child care provision and, given it would be illegal to leave a seven year old on his or her own, this section should be deleted and the matter dealt with when such child care provision has been put in place. Members have been contacted by many people about this issue, including by some of the organisations representing lone parents. There is much concern about the inclusion of this section and the uncertainty it provides for the individuals concerned.
One could be questioned by the HSE for leaving a ten year old on his or her own, never mind a seven year old. I do not understand how the Minister can include this provision in the Bill with a view to not enforcing it until such time as child care arrangements are in place in the absence of a Government guarantee, rather than, with due respect to the Minister, her personal guarantee that this is how this is to be pursued. I believe it would be safer to delete this section from the Bill.
I concur with Deputy Murphy. We were told that this legislation was a year in the making between departmental officials and Attorney General's Office. As I mentioned earlier, it was only published on 3 April. We were told last week by the Minister during the Second Stage debate that it was her wish that this would not be proceeded with until she obtained a bankable commitment on the child care issue during negotiations on next year's budget.
It is not intended that this provision will come into effect in the immediate future and there is not, therefore, any reason for it to be contained in this Bill. If the Minister wishes to introduce such a provision she can do so at a later date. It is not necessary for it to be included in this Bill. There is much confusion in regard to whether the Minister is for or against it, although she appears to be in favour of it today.
Children start primary school at approximately five years of age. This provision is in effect telling parents that they should be returning to work when their child reaches first class. Who is to take care of that seven year old when he-she comes home from school? According to this provision, there will be no one parent family payment in that household. Is this a job activation measure to encourage one-parent families back into the workplace, the general principle of which we commend, but when children are much older. The relevant age in this regard, as provided for in existing legislation, is 14 years when children are well established in second level education. To introduce such a provision in respect of children who are only in first class at primary school level is to neglect children. I am shocked we are passing legislation which, if implemented, could lead to child neglect. Who is to take care of the seven year old child when he or she comes home from school, which could be at 1 p.m? The lone parent could be a father or mother, who may not be able to put in place alternative arrangements. I do not agree with this. If the Minister is determined to introduce this provision I ask that she consider introducing it next year as there is no need whatever to do so now.
The Minister, when discussing this issue as part of the overall discussions on the forthcoming budget, should discuss it on the merits of the case. She should not be, as she has done, signalling in this House that she intends to pass legislation but not implement it unless the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, gives her what she wants next December. That is no way to pass legislation. It is also no way to treat lone parents or their children, who are so young they do not understand this. I suspect many lone parents do not understand it either. I ask that in the interests of fairness the Minister not go down this road. I am seeking the deletion of this section.
I, too, believe that this section should be deleted. If the Minister does not accede to its deletion, I will oppose the Bill despite that some of the measures contained in it are good and some of the amendments are progressive in terms of addressing some of the anomalies within our code. I took the time to try to be helpful to the Minister, who told us last week in this House - none of us expected it - that she would only proceed with the measures to reduce the upper age limit to seven years in the event of her obtaining a credible and bankable commitment from the Government on the delivery of such a system of child care by the time of this year's budget.
I do not think any of us expected the Minister to make the announcement that she came in here last week to make. She said:
I am undertaking tonight that I will only proceed with the measures to reduce the upper age limit to seven years in the event that I get a credible and bankable commitment [from the Government] on the delivery of such a system of child care by the time of this year's budget. If this is not forthcoming, the measure will not proceed. I will engage with my colleagues, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the Minister for Education and Skills, to establish a co-ordinated, cross-departmental approach to ensure the required level of services are in place to support lone parents as their youngest child reaches the relevant age thresholds.
That was a major announcement. The problem is that it has not been followed up with an amendment to the Bill before the House which would prevent this measure from proceeding in the event of the targets she mentioned not being achieved. I appreciate she did not set those targets out in full in the House last week when she said, "I entirely agree that seven is too young for anyone to seriously contemplate any of these things without there being a system of safe, affordable and accessible child care in place, similar to what is found in the Scandinavian countries to whose systems of social protection we aspire". I do not think anyone will argue with her contention that such a model should be in place in this country. It should have been put in place and rolled out when this country had much more money than it does now. Even at a time when we are not as flúirseach with the few bob as we were, we should be investing in our future and creating jobs in this field. As a society and as an economy, we will benefit if we ensure children are catered for fully in school. If their parents are lucky enough to be in work or in education, they should be catered for after school as well.
I tabled two or three amendments relating to this matter to try to provide for some means by which the House could have an oversight role in this regard. I proposed that the provision the Minister has included in section 4 should not proceed without it being the subject of a determination by the Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education. I suggested that the matter should, at the very least, be the subject of a report to be submitted to the House. My preference is for the joint committee to be the determining factor as that would be more democratic and would ensure we could monitor the progress being made with the delivery and roll-out of the approach about which the Minister said she will speak to two of her colleagues. I regret that my amendments were ruled out of order. I do not mean it as a slight on the Ceann Comhairle when I say that decision was somewhat bizarre. I accept that the rules are set in a certain manner. I was told my amendments would be more suited to a reasoned objection to the Second Reading of the Bill, as they are in conflict with the principle of the Bill as read a Second Time. That decision was slightly bizarre because the specific proposal in my amendment would have given effect to what the Minister said on Second Stage.
This section of the Bill gives effect to a cut that was flagged by the Minister and her colleagues when the budget was announced last December. People had hoped the Minister would have backed down in the intervening period by agreeing to reconsider the matter. I will repeat a question that was asked some years ago about the second or third child. What the hell are lone parents guilty of doing? Why should they have to suffer the penalties the Minister is imposing on them? I refer not only to this measure but also to the attacks on other entitlements lone parents were able to access in recent times. Those supports gave them an opportunity to play as full a role as possible in society. The cumulative direct effect on lone parents of a range of decisions made in budget 2012, when taken with this additional change, will make it very difficult for such people to go back to work or access the training or education they require in order to be fully available for work. I refer, for example, to the rent supplement change, the reduction in the number of weeks for which fuel allowance is payable, the child benefit cuts, the decreases in the back to school clothing and footwear allowances, the reduction in the earnings disregard element of one-parent family payment and the decision to stop paying the qualified child increase to lone parents on community employment schemes. Indeed, these people will be affected by the changes to community employment in general, such as the cut in the training and materials grant. If a recipient of one-parent family payment is on a community employment scheme, he or she will no longer receive the reduced payment. All of those cutbacks, including the one we are discussing under section 4, constitute a combined attack. Of all the groups that depend on social welfare in our society, lone parents have been most affected by the Government's targeting of social welfare recipients in budget 2012. The Minister is responsible for those changes.
The specific details of this proposal have not been worked out properly. The vast majority of parents will not abandon their children by leaving them home alone. However, what alternative will they have after this measure is introduced? When we discussed the single working age payment, the Minister said she would proceed with one of the proposals in that regard, which involves the transfer to the single working age payment of all lone parents who are in receipt of one-parent family payment. How can a parent benefit from labour market activation in the absence of support or access to services - if they could afford them - which would cater for their children's after-school needs and requirements during the summer holidays? Those of us who have children of schoolgoing age understand how difficult it is to juggle our own work when the school holidays start. I am at an advantage because I have a partner. The two of us are able to juggle our own work and ensure arrangements are made during the holidays and on half days etc. In this case, we are talking about children between the ages of seven and 14. Most children aged 14 can mind themselves for an hour or two - I would not recommend it on an ongoing basis - but that is definitely not the case with seven year olds. This substantial change is being introduced without provision being made for additional supports, which the Minister has accepted are required.
As a society, we have not addressed the fact that our schools lie empty after the end of the school day. Although that element of the necessary infrastructure is in place, none of the proposed changes I have seen would ensure that enough qualified child care workers will be paid to provide services that are not merely a continuation of the school day. The homework clubs in our communities are struggling to survive. The Minister and the Government are saying they will put such supports in place, but when one looks at the existing supports one sees that many of them are struggling to survive as they are at the moment. The support services in question that are delivering child care might be best placed to examine the Minister's proposals.
From the start of this debate, I have asked the Minister to withdraw section 4 and put it on hold for one to three years until after-school clubs and other provisions that will ensure children are fully catered for can be rolled out fully. I refer not only to one-parent families but also to those who are forced to give up work because their children cannot gain access to after-school clubs, especially those on low incomes who cannot afford the huge cost of child care.
I will leave it at that because other Deputies wish to contribute. I will have further points to raise.
I will try to deal with three areas of the Bill on foot of the arguments made by the Minister. Nobody would attempt to say lone parents do not want to work because they do. If the Minister were introducing her measure when jobs were plentiful, there might be some basis to her argument that it would be easy to get back into the workplace. However, we are in a recession. The legislation could mean that lone parents will be put onto jobseeker's benefit, on which basis they must be available for work. If they do not take up work, their jobseeker's benefit could be cut. If they are very concerned about their child and want to take up work, they will be punished. Cutting the one-parent family payment when a child reaches seven is the equivalent of introducing the wrong measure at the wrong time in the wrong place.
Everyone was stunned by the reduction from 14 to seven years. At meetings I have had with groups such as Open, Treoir, the National Women's Council, Barnardos and SPARK, and the women who have been actively involved in campaigning, I noted all were stunned that the change was proposed without any real negotiation. On foot of considerable pressure building up recently, the Minister said in the Chamber last week that seven is too young. Ages from eight to 14 are also too young. Deputy Ó Snodaigh stated that even the ages from 14 to 18 are very precarious for teenagers. The Minister would be obviously aware of this. Support is required at this time. It makes a difference having two people in the home; when there is but one person in the home, it is practically impossible to juggle every task.
Reference was made to the putting in place of Scandinavian-type child facilities, not just for children of lone parents but also for those of the population in general. We desperately need a proper child care system and facilities. Even for parents who are working, child care is not affordable. There are people who cannot gain access to it, and it is based on a private, for-profit model rather than a general community employment-related, affordable model. We are starting from very low base.
I asked the Minister today to outline the conditions that would result in sufficient child care support. All I heard in response was that the two relevant Departments would discuss the matter. The measure should be in place in six months according to the budget and the system the Minister envisages is to be rolled out within 18 months. We do not even know what is proposed. This is unbelievable.
Many organisations that have their finger on the pulse, including SPARK, whose representatives experience what I refer to every day of the week, say what is proposed is just not possible. They are stating seven is too young and want us to oppose the change. It is not just Members in the Dáil who are saying section 4 of the Bill should be opposed - Ms Francis Byrne of OPEN is also saying so. I am thrilled with OPEN's "7 is TOO YOUNG" campaign. Posters are on billboards around the city and country. Ms Byrne states:
[W]e do not believe that changes to the One Parent Family Payment should be cemented in legislation before affordable and accessible care is in place. The Minister has made it clear that there is no extra funding available for investment in restructuring childcare services in the short or medium term. We simply do not believe that radical reform of childcare services can happen in the next 18 months when the changes set out in the Social Welfare Bill would become a reality for lone parents, particularly in light of the current fiscal climate.
Ms Norah Gibbons of Barnardos states:
We absolutely support the development of such comprehensive services here [as announced by the Minister], in fact they are the kind of services all of us have called for for many years. However, we would ask the Minister to provide evidence of any country that has made the kind of transition in childcare services we are talking about in just 18 months against a backdrop of cutbacks [...].
Ms Orla O'Connor of the National Women's Council of Ireland states:
It is incomprehensible that changes that will increase child poverty should be set in stone before comprehensive reform of childcare services is underway. In the absence of a framework for restructuring the delivery of childcare and after school care services in Ireland, Section 4 of the Social Welfare Bill must be removed.
Treoir, an established organisation with which I am sure the Minister has had contact, urges us to vote against section 4 of the Bill on the grounds that it would, if enacted, mean lone parents with a child over seven would be ineligible for the one-parent family payment from 2014. The organisation claims that in the absence of vital support services, child care, training and flexible working hours, the legislation will have a disastrous effect on many one-parent families and will just not work.
These organisations have the required knowledge and background. They state we should vote against section 4 on the basis that the Minister cannot outline the kind of Scandinavian child care facility she mentioned. To cut the relevant age to seven without having a framework for proper child care facilities does not wash and will not wash with people. It certainly has not washed with the people who have been affected.
In an earlier debate, I referred to the Swedish system. In Sweden, preschool care is available to children from age one until they begin the preschool class at the age of six. There is a legally costed limit. The system is affordable to all parents and the municipal government is responsible for providing preschool care, normally within three to four months after parents have submitted their requests. Preschools can be publicly or privately run. In most cases, this allows parents to return to full-time work as soon as their parental leave is finished. Children in Sweden begin preschool at different ages and attend for different amounts of time per week. The system is open all year round. There is a preschool transition year at age 6. The municipality is required to offer places in preschool classes to children from the autumn of the year in which they turn six. A preschool class covers at least 525 hours per year and is provided free of charge, and it includes meals. This system of preschool, school and after-school provision was built up over many years of radical change. What the Minister proposes is just not feasible and she should be honest about it. She should not try to imply a Scandinavian system will be in place.
Many parents made the point to us that it is not just a question of preschool, school or after-school care as it is also a question of getting one's children to school at 8.45 a.m. and collecting them at 2.30 p.m. One may not have anybody else to do so. Deputy Ó Snodaigh stated a family with two parents can juggle collection duties. It is a question of jobs.
I will oppose the Bill if section 4 remains therein. Even at this point, the Minister should consider leaving the relevant age at 14, rather than seven, pending the changes she seems confident will be implemented in the next year and a half. When they are implemented, we can consider the relevant issues.
I, too, ask the Minister to delete this section. I see it as an example of what I described last night as the dismantling of social welfare benefits. These benefits have been won by generations of workers and their unions and this is an example of that targeting. This particular group - single parents - have been targeted not only in this Bill, but in the various proposals outlined in budget 2012.
If one talks to anybody involved in the area of child care and poverty and to organisations, such as Barnardos, one will find that a significant portion of the families which are in most danger of being in poverty or of falling into poverty are single parent families. The figures on relative poverty and consistent poverty show that the one parent family comprises a very high percentage of those figures. What is proposed here and what was introduced in budget 2012 will further increase pressures on families such as these and will further drive them into poverty.
Budget 2012 changed the means test not only for one year, but for a significant number of years. This year, one can earn €130 which is disregarded. That is down from €146 last year. In 2013, one will only be able to earn €110, in 2014, €90, in 2015, €75 and in 2016, €60. It will be a significant cut in income to single parent families over those years. Other items in that budget included significant cuts to community employment schemes which have been referred to already. They will effectively drive single parents out of community employment schemes which is what we do not want to happen. We want to ensure single parents, in so far as they can, become involved in the community and in work, if at all possible.
Everybody involved in this area has been shocked by the reduction in the age from 14 to seven. Whether we agree with the age of 14 is another matter but reducing it to seven is simply unacceptable. I have not come across any organisation or individual involved in this area who believes this is appropriate. Many people believe seven is simply too young and that it is dangerous. As other speakers said, for a child of seven to be left alone for any period of time would be regarded as neglect by the child services section of the HSE. The Minister said last week it would not be implemented unless a proper system of child care was in place. Even if we accept the Minister's bona fides in that regard, she may not be the Minister next week, next year or in 2014. Obviously, it may not be possible to stand by any verbal commitment she might give here in the future.
Nobody believes a proper system of affordable and accessible child care can be put in place by 2014. I know from my experience of being involved in the provision of community child care facilities in my constituency that the funding difficulties over the past number of years have not helped the provision of child care. In the current circumstances, I find it very difficult to accept that a proper system of affordable child care will be available and not only for after school. What about Christmas, Easter and summer holidays? It is not just a question of putting after school clubs in place. What is required is a fully fledged child care system which is available throughout the year and not just for particular times of the day, whether children are at school or otherwise. The age of seven is certainly too young. Nobody accepts that the level of child care necessary can be put in place in the time scale involved.
There are other issues such as training and flexible working hours. The issue of dropping children to school and collecting them has been raised. Single parents tend to work every day for a number of hours rather than for a full day. If they claim jobseeker's allowance, they will find that even one hour's work per day will rule them out for jobseeker's allowance for that day. Many single parents work from 9.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. or 1.30 p.m. In the new situation, they will find that will rule them out for jobseeker's allowance for the rest of the day. There is a significant reduction in income for single parents in that scenario.
This section should be deleted. It is ill thought out and it targets one of the most vulnerable sections in our society which, as I already said, comprises a large percentage of the statistics on poverty in this country.
Many of the points have been made but like other Deputies, I believe the Minister should delete this section. When one looks at the combination of measures in the budget which were directed at lone parents, one would have to conclude that, in a quite malicious way, lone parents were attacked with the deliberate intention of driving them out of the workforce or that these measures were based on complete and utter ignorance of the nature of lone parents and people in receipt of lone parents' payments.
From the point of view of a Government which is cutting everywhere, I can see an austerity rationale behind both explanations. One is that we will drive lone parents out of work because we want to free up certain types of employment to get people off the live register and the various other schemes we are cooking up to ensure the figures for long-term unemployment are kept down. That is one possibility. It would not surprise me. For example, community employment, CE, schemes became good projects and communities made them their own. When they were first introduced, however, there was justified suspicion that they were meant to massage the long-term unemployment figures.
If these measures were not introduced to drive lone parents out of the workplace, they were introduced through ignorance of the real character of lone parents. I suspect this may have been the case. To justify the lowering of the age threshold, the Minister and its other defenders state that the current system has not managed to lift lone parents out of poverty and that a disproportionate number of them live in or are affected by poverty. The implication is that, given the fact that lone parents are not working, they need to be incentivised to work. The key point is that 60% of them are working and they do not need to be incentivised by reducing their payments.
The Government was guilty of having the same stereotypes of lone parents that had persisted for a long time, that is, people are sort of welfare queens sucking off the social welfare system and they must be driven off their dependency on social welfare and forced to work. The Bill's provisions will have the opposite effect. The campaigning of the lone parent organisations established in recent months and of groups such as SPARK, One Family and Treoir, which have shoved the reality of the experience and character of lone parents in the Government's face, forced the Government to acknowledge last week that it got this matter wrong and that implementing the cuts contained in this Bill without having the necessary child care system in place would be detrimental and drive lone parents out of work. We need a Scandinavian model of child care if the Bill is not to drive lone parents out of work.
Having made this acknowledgement, the logical next step is to delete this section. One cannot make this cut on the basis of promises of pie in the sky. Virtually everyone in Irish society, including myself, would love to see a Scandinavian model of child care being in place by the end of this year. I differ from some of those who claim it would not be possible, in that I believe it would be possible were there a real will and determination to make it happen. However, significant resources would be required. This defies credibility, given the fact that this idea is coming from a Government that is slashing, burning and cutting left, right and centre and is committed to considerable further budget cuts in the next two years under the EU-IMF austerity programme. If we pass the fiscal treaty, we will be required to make even more severe budget cuts in subsequent years. From where will the Government get the money and resources to put in place a Scandinavian child care model? The Minister and I would like to see such a model. Ireland did not put it in place when the Celtic tiger was in full swing, yet the Minister is telling the House that she will have it in place within six months at a time when austerity butchery is cutting everything. The Minister does not honestly believe it will be done.
I hope a trick is not being played on people and that this is not a case of the Government agreeing to do something and acknowledging the problem under pressure, yet implementing the cuts as planned in the hope that people will have forgotten by December its promise about putting in place a Scandinavian child care model. We will not forget. Since the Government entered into office, that we are committed to having such a model by December is the one good development of which I have heard. It will be brilliant and neither I nor parents can wait. However, there is no justification for making this cut without that model being in place, as doing so will immediately drive people out of work.
If a person's relationship breaks down next week and he or she has a 12 year old child, he or she will not be entitled to receive lone parent's allowance. The Minister acknowledged this last week. If that person has or is considering getting a part-time job, he or she will become disadvantaged and will be encouraged to return to full dependency on social welfare, given the lack of adequate, affordable or even free - it should be free, since it is free in Sweden - child care. Other people will be affected as the various phases of these cuts kick in during the coming year as envisaged in Bill.
Given the logic of the Minister's comments in the Dáil last week, section 4 should be deleted and should only be re-inserted after the enthusiastically awaited Scandinavian model of child care is in place in December. Goodness me, we might even support her implementation of some of these measures at that point, but there is no justification or logic for implementing them prior to that time. On their own, they can have no other effect but to drive lone parents out of the workforce and into full dependency on social welfare.
I thank Deputies for their extremely interesting contributions. Deputies Joan Collins and Boyd Barrett correctly praised the Scandinavian model. Deputy Joan Collins referred to municipal government. To remind Deputy Boyd Barrett and others, municipal government in Scandinavia is based on a certain provision of municipal taxation. For the last year Deputies Boyd Barrett and Joan Collins, along with other Deputies, have mounted a vigorous campaign against any kind of Scandinavian style taxation, where everybody would contribute a moderate and fair amount of tax. Deputy Boyd Barrett and others like him appear to be opposed to people paying tax. Mythical people will pay tax but that is a kind of fairy story.
I am delighted that he is so taken with Scandinavia. Deputy Joan Collins referred to Scandinavia's municipal structures, which rely on contributions to local taxation. They should examine reform in a holistic way. Scandinavia is characterised by a strong social welfare system based on fair municipal and income taxes. The Deputies opposite have spent most of their time opposing the principle of municipal taxation.
Not flat taxes.
I have seen Deputy Boyd Barrett on the plinth and in demonstrations. He is basically opposed to any kind of taxation. His colleague in my constituency of Dublin West has spent the past 20 years opposing every form of municipal taxation, even in respect of people who have large houses and several vehicles in the driveway. I am glad to hear that certain countries provide social infrastructures which the Deputy admires because I did not think his political philosophy allowed him to cite anything positive. Good services rely on people contributing on a fair basis through a range of taxes.
Yes, fair basis.
In Germany, Italy, Sweden and Norway there is a work obligation when the youngest child reaches the age of three. In Finland the work obligation starts when the youngest child reaches the age of four. In the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand the age is five, in Canada it is six and in Northern Ireland, just across the Border, it is seven. Many of us in this House would admire elements of the social protection systems in place in these countries.
I have not heard an explanation from the Deputies opposite for their stance. I heard references to slash and burn but we are spending more than €20 billion on social protection. People who work contribute the taxes and PRSI that allow this money to be spent. Approximately 40% of all government expenditure is on social protection.
That is because of high unemployment rates.
I am trying to respond seriously to the Deputies' praise for Scandinavia. We are spending a huge amount of money on social protection. I have defended that expenditure because in a time of recession it is an important stimulus along the lines of Keynesian economics. I realise that Deputy Boyd Barrett is not a follower of Keynesian economics. He probably rejects it out of hand because he follows Trotskyite economics. The people of this country are willing to contribute €20 billion in taxes and PRSI to provide a good system that protects them when they become unemployed or retire and when their children are young. This expenditure is considerable by international standards. I hope the Deputy recognises the contributions our taxpayers and workers make to maintain this system.
Why is Ireland an outlier in creating opportunities for those who are parenting on their own to become financially independent? The Deputies opposite say they share that goal. Even though we are spending more than €1 billion directly on lone parent supports it is not having the desired outcome in terms of helping lone parents and their children to exit poverty. Despite spending all this money we continue to have a higher proportion of children in poverty than most other countries. I ask the Deputies for positive suggestions on how we can continue to commit €20 billion in social welfare while achieving better outcomes.
Throughout my life in politics I have worked with lone parents and I have been involved in community development in a detailed way. I have several friends with grown children who parented alone over a long period of time and who now believe they should have been able to go to school or training when they younger in order to achieve better employment over the long term.
I am sure the Deputies opposite know heroic parents who raised their children on their own. They did outstanding work in bringing up their children and parents in two-parent families did the same. I do not like the way many of the speakers in this debate put lone parents and, more importantly, their children into a separate category. I never heard the term that Deputy Boyd Barrett used in regard to lone parents and I will not repeat it because it is derogatory. It may be a southside Dublin term but I have never heard it on the northside or the westside. He should withdraw it.
What did I say?
I am not repeating it because I do not believe it should be repeated. He can read the Official Report to see what I mean. I have never heard it before. It may be a south Dublin DART expression but it is not an expression I have heard used on the north side.
In 2011, people with children under the age of 18 were eligible for lone parent payments. This will continue to apply in 2012 and 2013 when the age limit will move to 16 in 2014 and seven in 2015 and 2016 for those who have been parenting alone. That is for the age of the youngest child of a lone parent and because obviously a lone parent might have a number of children.
For people who became lone parent customers between April 2011 and May 2012, the child age limit of 14 applies for 2011 and 2012. It then moves to 12 in 2013; ten in 2014; and seven in 2015 and 2016. For people who become lone parent customers after 3 May 2012, the child age limit is 12 in 2012; ten in 2013; and seven in 2014. I appreciate that many Deputies may not have had time to read the regulations, but that is what they are.
In last year's legislation I made special provision for lone parents who are in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance or are recently bereaved. For people on domiciliary care allowance, the one-parent family payment remains in place while the domiciliary care allowance is payable for the child currently up to the age of 16, at which point the child currently can claim for disability allowance. I would prefer if the disability payment went to the parent until the child reaches majority at 18. For those who are recently bereaved the one-parent family payment will be payable for two years from the date of death of the spouse, partner or cohabitant, or until the youngest child reaches the age of 18. These are arrangements put in place last year. I have been talking about this since I became Minister because I believe - I welcome that a number of Deputies supported the idea - we should move towards helping lone parents become financially independent on a phased basis over a period of time. I appreciate that not everybody might have read the detail.
To encourage participation in education and employment, existing one-parent family payment recipients, who leave the one-parent family scheme during the phasing out period up to January 2015 in order to participate in the back to education allowance scheme or whose earnings exceed the qualifying earnings limit for the scheme, are allowed to apply for the one-parent family payment based on the age conditions within the saver period.
This is not a revenue-saving measure but a structural change to assist people to become financially independent rather than remain passively dependent on social welfare over a long period of time. Tomorrow I will launch another study completed by the ESRI and having got a copy about two weeks ago, I have had the opportunity to read it in great detail. Eminent researchers in Ireland - the kinds of people the Deputy was quoting earlier - state that the outcomes do not reflect the honest hopes and expectations that lone parents have for themselves or their children. It is incumbent on us to support that.
The average numbers of weekly recipients affected are estimated as follows: 170 people in 2012; 765 people in 2013; 2,210 people in 2014; 4,510 people in 2015; and 11,000 people in a full year.
That is under the existing scheme.
I ask the Deputy to let me finish. He may or may not know that there are 92,000 recipients of one-parent family payment. Over a long period of time this will affect a small number of people in order to improve the outcomes. I do not doubt his good wishes for lone parents, but if we are to have an honest discussion we need to recognise that all the research has shown that the outcomes in Ireland are not as good as they ought to be for the kind of money being spent.
Why has Sinn Féin not had any difficulty with the age limit of seven that applies 80 or 90 miles north of here? The various payments for children and social welfare recipients generally are far smaller there than they are in the South. I know a number of Deputy Ó Snodaigh's colleagues in the North and I know they are extremely concerned for the welfare of children and parents.
We need to consider parents and children. There are many people in relationships where both parents are either on social welfare or in very low-paid work. When they are in low-paid work they are contributing. To return to what I said earlier, we need to get away from saying that we have parents and we have children, and then we have lone parents and the children of lone parents. There is a need to say we have parents and children, and we want to set a structure that allows parents to give their children the best life possible - whether that is one parent, parenting on his or her own, or whether it is two parents either in a marriage or cohabiting. The personal relationships that people have should not be the business of the State. We should be here to build a civilised system that supports parents and supports children. In this debate we need to be thinking about the future and we need to think about the outcomes for children. From some of the language used here children appear to be put in a particular category that does not recognise that intelligence, ability and ambition are evenly distributed throughout the population. It is not necessarily dependent on the particular relationship status of a child's parent. We should not set those kinds of limits in the kind of language used in the debate.
I would like the Deputies to outline why they are so fearful about changes for good outcomes being introduced very slowly given that 92,000 people are parenting on their own and over a period from now to 2016 a maximum of 11,000 people will be affected. This year, based on what is happening in many of the countries I have referenced, we have created the Pathways to Work with the emphasis on providing for people who are out of work regardless of their relationship status opportunities to go back to education or training, start their own business and ultimately to become financially independent. The Pathways to Work, which I launched some months ago and which is being rolled out this year, will take a case-management approach,
That will be the case from this year on. By the time the changes come into force, the changes in the Department will be largely up and running. I know that in case management in the other countries to which I referred, one of the things that must be taken into account is the particular family circumstances of an individual. That is the purpose of case management. Some of the Deputies have perhaps forgotten that the Department of Social Protection is changing. From being simply a social welfare Department that checks and pays out entitlements and benefits to a total of €20 billion - which is a lot of money - it is becoming a Department that is fully integrated, so that when somebody comes in to collect a benefit, regardless of his or her relationship status, he or she will be in an integrated system. He or she will be encouraged to seek work, education or training, and of course his or her family circumstances will be taken into account, as is the case in other countries I mentioned. I have been working with my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, in this regard. The Government set up the Department of Children and Youth Affairs as a full Department for the first time ever in the history of the State. That is a progressive development because, regardless of our political differences, we are all in favour of doing the best for our children and ensuring they have good outcomes. The establishment of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the appointment of my colleague, Deputy Fitzgerald, as Minister allows for a focus that was not possible previously, as some Deputies have said. It is a big job, but Irish people can do most things, and I think we can do this. We can change the landscape and make progress. I recommend the changes to the Deputies.
I have been listening to the Minister for a while now, and there is one thing I must say: she almost got away with it. A major sleight of hand has taken place in the Dáil this evening with regard to a provision that 99.9% of the population do not understand. Last week in her Second Stage speech, the Minister highlighted the fact that she believed the age of seven was unsuitable as a cut-off point for one-parent family payments. I and most others involved in the debate have been concentrating on this issue. The Minister said she did not want to change the system of one-parent family payments for seven year olds unless she gets a bankable solution in the budget next year. All the debate, to my knowledge, has been on that subject. However, what is really happening here is the introduction of draconian emergency legislation which will have legal effect on Thursday of next week. This has been overlooked by most people; the Minister just about put it on the record herself when she was speaking. It is important that people are conscious of what is being discussed under this section, because most people have not dealt with the harsh reality of what is to happen. What the Minister is saying is that from next Thursday, 3 May, anybody applying for a one-parent family payment in respect of a child of 12 years or over will not receive it, and in seven months' time, on 1 January, a person applying for a one-parent family payment in respect of a child over 10 years of age will not receive it. The seven-year cut-off then kicks in on 2 January 2014, which is another year down the road. However, I want to concentrate on what is to happen next week and the following week. I ask the Minister to address this issue.
I will give a scenario that will bring this into sharp focus. There are people out there who are happily married, cohabiting or in civil partnerships and raising children of 12 or 13 years of age. In those families, if one parent dies next Thursday or any day after that, the surviving parent will not be entitled to one-parent family payment in respect of a 12 year old child. Up to now, he or she would still receive the payment if the child was 13, but we are passing a Bill to change this. Actually, we are not passing it; the Minister is passing it and we will vote against it. Legislation that is being guillotined in this Chamber today and tomorrow provides that if a parent dies after next Thursday and the youngest child is over 12 years of age, the surviving parent will not receive one-parent family payment. That is my understanding of what is contained in the Bill. The Minister made it clear in her statement, based on her briefing notes, that the relevant age will be 12 years. The relevant amendment refers to a child who is over 12 years in respect of any claim for one-parent family payment relating to any day during the period beginning 3 May 2012 and ending at the end of 2013. This new provision kicks in next week.
The Minister pulled a con-job with the numbers today; I will come to that in a moment. She said that those who have been in receipt of this category of payment up to now are receiving payment for children up to 18 years of age, and that this cut-off point will gradually reduce to seven years of age by 2015. Those who are in receipt of payments only for the last 12 months will be cut on 1 January next year in respect of any child over 12. The year after that, payments will be cut in respect of any child over ten, and the following year they will be cut in respect of any child over seven. However, new applicants - that is, applicants after 3 May, which is next week - whose youngest child is over 12 will not receive this payment, and from 1 January next year this will apply to children over ten years. Up to now, all the public focus has been on the cut-off point of seven years which will apply from 2014. I even asked the Minister whether it was necessary to pass this section now, since the provision is not coming into force until 2014, and asked her to take it out of the Bill.
We received the 23 pages of amendments to the Bill for the first time this morning. I thank the officials in the Bills Office for getting them out to us; it is not their fault this is rushed legislation. It is similar to emergency legislation. I do not think the public realise that the new provisions are kicking in next Thursday, 3 May.
The Minister said this provision was not really intended to save money; it was a measure to allow lone parents to become financially independent. She is going to cut their payments to make them financially independent. Where is the logic in this? If one is in receipt of a payment for a long period, one is dependent on the State, yet the Minister intends make these people financially independent by cutting their payments. If she extended that logic to people on long-term jobseeker's allowance, she would try to increase their financial independence by abolishing their payments. Everybody wants to be financially independent, but there will always be a certain number of people for whom this is not possible for one reason or another. I reject this logic.
The Minister engaged in some sleight of hand with the figures before she left the Chamber. It is only half the equation; what she said was true, but not the whole truth. That is important. She said that only 155 people would be affected this year, 765 next year, 2,000 the following year and 2,400 the year after that, and that by 2015 or 2016 only about 11,000 out of 92,000 currently in receipt of payments would be affected. That is nonsense because it considers only one aspect of the impact of these changes. One does not need to be a genius to work this out - in fact, a child of seven would be able to work it out. If there are 92,000 people in receipt of this payment in respect of children who are over 14 years of age, and the cut-off point is changing to seven years of age over the next couple of years, one is halving the number of people who will be eligible for the scheme. Payments to 46,000 families will be affected by these changes within a few months, when we hit the seven-year cut-off. The Minister gave figures today for those who are currently either in the system or entering it and those who will be affected by the annual reduction in the coming three or four years. They are only half-true. The real truth about this change is that from next Wednesday the Minister will prevent new people who would have been entitled to be on the scheme from entering it. That is where the real cut will be, for those who had an expectation, whose children are more than 12 years of age. If, God forbid, the parents were to split up or if one of them died next Wednesday, there is an expectation today that as lone parents they would be able to get the one-parent family allowance. That will not be the case after next Thursday. Over a very short period, if the age group is halved, the number of people in receipt of this payment will also be halved and 46,000 people will be affected by the change in the coming years as new people are no longer entered into the system. They will leave at one end because they are getting older but the Minister will also stop very many people aged more than 12 years from getting into the system. Her figures are correct but they are only part of the picture and it is important that it be corrected.
I want the Minister to explain to us why she is proceeding with this change. The main debate before lunch was about commencement dates. Here we are considering a commencement date from next Thursday. One of the items the Minister has put into the record is the chart in the briefing note we received. The concentration has been on the people who are already in the system where the figures will take some years to work down. For those who are entering the system after 3 May, things will operate at a much lower level in respect of children aged over 12 years. From 1 January next a lone parent whose youngest child is more than ten years of age will not be eligible for this payment. We are moving from one situation today to another next Tuesday. If a lone parent makes a new claim that claim will be allowed only if the youngest child in a house is under 14 years of age. In one step that is being cut and from next Thursday the parent will get the payment only if the child is aged under 12. In seven months time that age limit will be cut to ten years. In a period of seven months, therefore, we are cutting out all new applicants for the one-parent family payment where the youngest child in the house is aged between ten and 14 years. That is a massive chunk of people to cut from any system. We spoke about transition and moving on when the children were aged seven, but we are cutting all these children out.
We can consider some of the changes that happened in previous budgets. Those aged under 18 qualified until 2011. In 2013 the limit will be cut to those aged under 17 and in 2014 only under-16s will get the allowance. In 2015 it will be confined to children aged under seven. There is a transition period of four years to bring the age from 18 to seven years but we are to have a transition period of seven months to bring in a cut, changing a limit where the youngest child is 14 to one where the youngest child is ten years of age. That will apply from the beginning of next January.
For that reason, in addition to the subsequent debate we can have on the Scandinavian child care measure and whether it can be introduced, the debate here is about the draconian emergency measures that are being guillotined through the Chambers of the Dáil and the Seanad this week in order that they can come into legal effect next Thursday. It is an outright disgrace. A Minister of the Labour Party should be ashamed of herself.
I accept that many Members generally support such an issue, such as the Minister of State opposite, Deputy Shane McEntee. They probably believe this needs to be done and people should not be getting all these payments. I do not believe that is the view of the majority of people who voted for the Labour Party. Its members will rue the day they made these changes.
If we had the money we would not be doing this.
I will not repeat the points already made about the cuts facing us next week being brought into immediate effect. I will refer to some points the Minister raised. We are discussing child care facilities for couples who are married, cohabiting, lone parents and their children - it is all encompassing. As a society we must admit we have not delivered for anybody on child care. Child care is run privately for profit. It is not progressive in any way or for anybody but particularly not for the lone parents who are facing the cut-off point of seven years in two years time. There is nothing in place for them.
I mentioned Scandinavian child care and after-school care facilities because the Minister raised that issue last week. I did not raise it. When I spoke it was not in admiration. I stated the obvious and the facts because I went looking for and found the information on that model. I asked if that was the model on which the Minister will base hers. She did not answer the question which seems to be the order of the day in this Chamber for Ministers. Is that the type of child care facility the Minister will introduce? She stated last week it was what she wanted and she would not introduce this legislation unless the measure is agreed by budget day and introduced within 18 months. Again, there was no clear answer in any shape or form.
It is sleight of hand by the Minister to turn on the Opposition and claim that if we were in power we would not be in favour of taxation. We are for taxation. It should be noted it is the other side of the House which is not bringing in progressive taxation. Rather it is ensuring there will not be more tax on income only stealth taxes. The Government is telling the wealthy in this country it will let them off the hook for the next few years and will not go after them. In the meantime it will bring in stealth taxes of several thousand euro that will hit people, most of all lone parents. It is couch money for the very wealthy in this country and again they are not being hit with income tax. It is outrageous for the Minister to try to pose the issue in that way.
I will leave it at that. I only wanted to make those few points about the assertion that we supported this model. I hope the Minister will take this on board as she returns. She probably did not hear the points I made, which is unfortunate. I realise she probably had to leave the Chamber. It was important to make those points.
Earlier, the Minister remarked this was not a cost-cutting measure. If it is not, will she tell that to the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, who is sitting next to her? His contribution was, "If we had the money we would not be doing this".
If one looks at what is being proposed, the vast majority of people have not come out against what the Minister is doing. There is a big if, however, that she recognised last week. We say, "Yes," to it as long as the Minister has the activation measures and supports in place, not only for lone parents but for low-paid families and those dependent on social welfare, offering the after-school clubs, the summer holiday schemes that allow those families who are lucky enough to be in part-time or full-time employment to continue. In this case, the Minister is changing something concerning which her own party was very critical of the Fianna Fáil Government when it introduced a change from 18 years to 14 years. I will return to some of the comments in regard to that.
These are the very people the Minister should encourage, women in the main, but also some men, who are parenting alone and who are in work. She does not have the figures although figures were bandied about. The Department estimates that 46% of lone parents who are in receipt of the one-parent allowance are engaged in some form of paid employment.
The figure could be as high as 60%. When I asked the Department about the people receiving the payment and the number of hours they work every week, the answer I received was: "Information concerning the working patterns of recipients of One-Parent Family Payment is not collated by my Department." It is understandable but the logic in this case is that lone parents are the ones balancing work and family hours. By virtue of this measure, the Minister gives them a Hobson's choice of leaving their children home alone or leaving their jobs to care for their children. There is no other choice. The Scandinavian model the Minister mentioned is not in place and is unlikely to be in place by December. I would love to believe it could be and perhaps a timetable for its delivery could be in place by December. The problem is that what the Minister and the Tánaiste, who I will try to cite accurately in case someone says I am misquoting him, said was that the changes would be coupled with the roll-out of the Scandinavian model. If they are to be coupled, the two should be tied in legislation. We know about laudable policy statements but unless they are specifically laid out in legislation, similar to what I proposed in the amendments ruled out of order, I do not believe it and I do not trust it will be delivered in the near future or in the long term.
The Minister referred to the situation in the North. I never stood here and said that what happened in the Six Counties is ideal. It is not ideal, due to British occupation and because this State has never been a persuader for the transfer of fiscal powers. Even during the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement, the Government did not weigh in behind the Sinn Féin demand to transfer all powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is easy to throw that accusation at Sinn Féin.
The Minister also said that Sinn Féin is working on the ground. It is good that Labour Party Ministers and members are taking such an interest in the Six Counties. For many years, they ignored it. We are working to ensure our demands in this Chamber will be also rolled out when we have fiscal powers and control of the financial purse so that the Irish people, North and South, can determine the type of society to build. Hopefully the new-found interest of the Labour Party and of the Government generally in the Six Counties will lead to the Government supporting the Sinn Féin demand for the full transfer of fiscal powers next time Ministers meet their counterparts in Westminster. In this way, taxes can be levied and the full responsibility for what is raised and spent will lie with Irish people. We can then move towards harmonising everything on this island and towards uniting Ireland in full.
I pay tribute to groups such as SPARK, OPEN, One Family, Barnardo's, St. Vincent de Paul, the National Women's Council of Ireland and Treoir that managed to pull together the measures intended here. These groups fully understand the consequences of the Minister's proposal. The Minister referred to value for money, how these changes are improving outcomes and suggested the outcomes are not as good as the money spent. I am not afraid of change or of advocating change but the Minister should be careful that she protects the most vulnerable when she is making changes. I am not talking only about lone parents but also young people who will suffer the consequences. Young people are our future. We should be also concerned about their parents and their ability to access work. If we restrict the ability of people to return to education or to avail of part-time work, it will be difficult. The reason the major spend on lone parents is not having the desired effect of helping lone parents to exit poverty is that the other supports required, such as education, child care and activation measures, are not in place. Some of them, such as the transition to work payment for lone parents, have been taken away by the Minister in budget 2012. I am concerned the arguments are not fully representing the case of lone parents.
I will remind the Minister of her party's position a few weeks' ago at the Labour Party conference. The conference noted "the negative impact that budget 2011 [it should be 2012] had on lone parents and in particular recognises that the cuts in CE schemes impacted significantly on lone parents". Reference was made to developing a system of mutual obligation similar to that of the Nordic countries, where parents are obliged to look for work - which is the single working age payment - and in return "governments are obliged to provide employment and childcare support". We are not able to deliver that and I cannot see the Minister delivering that at the same time and on the same scale as she introduces these measures. Will the Minister live up to the obligation of her party to provide child care and employment supports by January of next year? She will not.
The document also refers to devising a focused and targeted scheme providing high-quality affordable child care for lone parent families. This does not exist and these aspects represent two major challenges for the Minister from her party. When Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív was Minister in the Fianna Fáil-led Government and made the change from 18 years of age, or 22 years in exceptional circumstances relating to education, to 14 years of age, Deputy Róisín Shortall, the spokesperson at the time, reminded the House of the following:
Lowering the qualifying age was meant to go hand-in-hand with better child care and training services, the introduction of a parental allowance to replace the one-parent family payment and the ending of the ban on cohabitation. Where are these reforms? There is no sign of them in this Bill.
Nor is there any sign of them in this Bill. Using the yardstick provided by the Minister's colleague, this Bill is an absolute failure.
Deputy Shortall also referred to the reduction from 18 years to 14 years, which did not have the dangerous consequences this change will have. She stated:
The likelihood is that all that will happen is that an extra 12,000 lone parents will transfer to jobseeker payments over the next six years. This will inflate the live register figures by another 12,000 as people on one-parent family payments are not counted at the current time. It is hard to know what the point of all that will be.
This was one of the concerns in the single working age payment report to which I have referred on a number of occasions. If we convert all of the social welfare recipients to jobseeker's benefit, all we do is inflate the numbers on the live register, without putting in place additional supports.
I am aware of the pathways to work and NEAP programmes and I have welcomed these positive changes. However, the pathways programme is not set up yet and some of the changes are likely not to be fully implemented for a number of years. If the Minister continues to undermine community employment, the activation measures may be said not to exist, because part of activation is to try to ensure people who take part in the likes of CE come out the other end with enhanced qualifications and job prospects. It beggars belief that there may not be money available to spend on that training.
I will refer to what Deputy Shortall said previously and I encourage the Minister to look back at what some other Deputies said in their contributions on Committee Stage of the Bill presented by the previous Government and at how vehemently opposed to the change her party was at the time. Fianna Fáil did not promise this as anything other than a cost-saving measure, but at the time Deputy Shortall stated:
The problem is that the Bill is not about activation. It is about cut-backs and the optics of doing something about long-term welfare recipients. How can one call it activation when in the first instance there are so few jobs of any description available? That is the big issue; the jobs are not there.
The jobs are still not there and all we need do is look at the figures to know this. The rate of unemployment compared to job vacancies in Germany is 6:1 while here it is 50:1.
I do not buy the Minister's arguments with regard to this change. Time is running out to make amendments because she has set a timetable for this to start next week. The only logical outcome of what she said last week is a withdrawal of this section, until such time as the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs or the Minister for Education comes in with a separate Bill that will provide for after school care or enhanced supports for children after school and during holiday periods. If this were in place, we could say yes to that trade-off. We could say that if we do this, we will get this other benefit. The roll-out of that type of child care would not be a benefit just to lone parents but would benefit many low paid workers and society in general.
I said earlier I would cite the Tánaiste correctly. He stated: " I repeat that there is a change - it is being done gradually - to the payment of lone parent allowance. It will be coupled with the provision of child care." Coupled means linked and the term implies a physical link, but there is no physical link between what Deputy Burton proposes and child care. There are no legislative links between her proposal and care. The ideal exists, but it is tied into the Minister's Bill and that is the main flaw with regard to her proposal in this regard. I do not know whether the Minister saw the article on cuts affecting lone parents in areas like Donegal. The Donegal child care manager, when speaking about the Minister's plans to have in place affordable child care - similar to that in Scandinavian countries - when cuts are made, said it may come as a shock to know how far Ireland must go to achieve the same standard. That is not a shock to all of us as we know how disastrous child care provision is in Ireland, especially with regard to after school care for children in primary school and younger secondary school students. The Donegal manager said that the Donegal county child care census revealed that there were 570 after school places in Donegal. She said that child care costs in Ireland were among the highest in Europe and that families spend an average of 29% of total income on child care costs. She pointed out that the Swedish system instituted a maximum fee in 2002 which means that no more than 3% of the parents' income goes on child care. There is a huge difference between Sweden and here, but I do not know whether the Minister has talked to the Minister for Finance about her plans to roll out the Scandinavian model.
The figures are stark, but hopefully the Minister will take them on board and will consider, between today and tomorrow, introducing a Report Stage amendment which will have the effect of a sunset clause and indicate that we know this change will collapse unless the Houses of the Oireachtas, through the committee system or some other vehicle will ensure sight and agreement of the roll-out of proper child care facilities to address the change being made by the Minister.
I regard the contribution made by the Minister earlier as a smokescreen for what is a serious assault on the incomes of lone parents. It is clear that the package introduced in budget 2012 plus these proposals are a serious assault on the incomes of lone parents. She said she wants lone parents to become financially independent and removed from the poverty trap. It is absurd and ridiculous to suggest that by reducing the incomes of lone parents - which is what will happen under these proposals - they will become more financially independent and will be less likely to be poor. This is ridiculous. The Minister is also dishonest in her statement relating to taxation.
We oppose what the Government is doing with regard to taxation. It is specifically targeting middle and low income families through stealth taxes and ensuring these families pay in excess of their fair share while the super rich get off scot free. The CSO released two pertinent pieces of information recently that indicated the income and wealth of 90% of the population of this country had been reduced in the past number of years, but that the income and wealth of the top 10% had increased in the past number of years. In November of last year, a CSO report showed that the wealthiest 5% of people in this country had increased their assets by €46.5 billion in 2009 and 2010. Those people do not pay one ha'penny in wealth tax or in assets taxes. Low and middle income families are bearing the brunt of taxation from this Government to ensure that people who are super-wealthy do not pay their fair share. Ordinary people are carrying these people on their backs and they are doing it because this Government is imposing the taxes on them while allowing people to get off scot free.
The Minister was being very disingenuous in her responses to the points raised by some of us on this side of the House. I was scratching my head trying to work out what was this terrible phrase that had been used with the very dishonest implication on the Minister's part that somehow I was using this terrible term and I could not quite figure out what it was. What I was referring to was a term that was very frequently used to stigmatise lone parents and I was pointing out that lone parents were stigmatised-----
I never heard the term before. It may be used in Killiney but I have never heard it on the north side of Dublin and I object to it. I think the Deputy should withdraw it and apologise to the lone parents. He should not bring it in here as a reference.
The Minister might as well dream here as in bed if she thinks I will apologise to her. She must be joking. She should apologise-----
You brought this in here.
That was a term-----
The Deputy is now issuing challenges that are outside the normal parliamentary remit.
No. She asked me to apologise and I said she might as well dream here as in bed as ask me to apologise. I will not be apologising.
Do not bother with dreaming in bed, just continue on with the debate.
What the Minister should do, instead of throwing up smokescreens - by the way that term was a term used in America to stigmatise social welfare recipients-----
And not in Killiney?
No, in America and well the Minister knows it.
No, I have never heard it before and I object to it.
Okay, big deal, you have not heard it.
On a point of information, I object to that term and I strongly recommend to the Deputy that he withdraw a term which is derogatory of lone parents and not introduce it into the language in this country. If he has learned it in America that is fine but in my view, he should not introduce it into the language. It is derogatory of lone parents.
Why is she being allowed make political points?
Deputy Boyd Barrett, we are dealing with Committee Stage. Please deal with the subject matter.
I am dealing with the subject matter. Why did the Acting Chairman not pull her up for speaking out of turn?
The Deputy can deal with the subject matter in two ways; he can be objective or he can be subjective and he is quite entitled to do both but he should please remember that the proper conduct of the debate is important. We are dealing with a serious issue. Please continue.
Is the Acting Chairman addressing me or the Minister?
I am speaking to you as well.
Why are you looking at me instead of looking at the Minister?
Sorry, the purpose of the exercise-----
She was interrupting me when I was making my contribution.
Unless you want to concede your position, please continue.
No, I do not. I was wondering why you allowed the Minister to interrupt me.
Please continue to address the issues, the subject matter of the debate.
I will not be apologising to you or to this House but I would-----
Just a moment, before you go any further, please do not begin your contribution with an implied threat that you will not apologise to this House. You may have to apologise to the House, in respect of something you may say at some stage in the future. I would advise you, as one who has been here for more than a couple of years, to think about that when you speak in the future.
What is going on here?
I am beginning to wonder what is going on here.
Please proceed to address the issue-----
I will address the Chair in my own way.
I am sorry, Deputy, you do not have to bring in other matters. Please continue with the subject matter of the debate.
I think the Minister should apologise for launching this vindictive, socially regressive attack on lone parents, which is coupled with the vindictive and socially regressive attacks on lone parents launched in the last budget and which will do nothing but punish a section of our society that is already suffering disproportionately from poverty but which is struggling. It is a section of our society that is struggling to participate as fully as possible. All of the points made by the Minister precisely indicated that the stigma to which I referred when I used the unusable term which was applied to lone parents, is still alive and well within the Government.
The Minister says we need lone parents to become financially independent and we must encourage them to participate fully in society. Lone parents are already doing that and that is the point we are making to the Minister and that is the point that SPARK and other groups associated with or made up of lone parents have been making since her budget announcements. Lone parents are working and they want to work and they do not want the Minister to put in place measures that will drive them out of work. The measures she has introduced, by lowering the thresholds on the income disregards, by getting rid of the concurrent payments and now, through the course of this Bill, reducing entitlement to one-parent payments once children reach the age of seven years or ten or 12, as will be the case, starting next week, will drive lone parents out of work.
I have been receiving furious texts from the SPARK group since this debate commenced. They ask me to respond to the Minister's attempt to suggest that those of us on this side of the House were trying to create a special category of lone parents and that the Minister, on the other hand, was very concerned, that every parent should be regarded the same rather than making a special category of lone parents. She was trying to deflect in some way the blame and responsibility onto those of us who are being critical of this Bill. The furious texts say that clearly the Minister does not understand that lone parents have very specific difficulties and problems resulting from the fact that they are lone parents. To say that is not in any way to cast aspersions on lone parents or to create divisions between lone parents and families based on couples but simply to state the fact that there are more options for juggling responsibilities between a couple. It is a different situation for a parent on his or her own because one will not have those options. The juggling options are not there. Unless a lone parent has supports, he or she cannot go out to work or access education, training or whatever. The reason lone parents and their supporting organisations are up in arms and have stated categorically that this section of the Bill should be withdrawn is because they know it will drive lone parents out of work. That is the reality of the situation.
As has been said by other speakers, the Minister acknowledged this fact last week by saying that these cuts should not go ahead until the Scandinavian model of child care was in place. It is not in place but for some people the impact of this Bill will start next week and that is the point. A new applicant for one-parent family payments with a child who is 12 years or older who applies next week, will not qualify for the payments. As of next January, this will apply to those lone parents with children aged ten years and as of the following year, new applicants will not qualify once they have children over the age of seven years. That is the fact. The cuts start now because of this Bill. Frankly, even sunset clauses do not resolve the problem. The Minister must withdraw this Bill until there are adequate supports and the Scandinavian model of child care which we all so earnestly wish to see, is in place and they we can talk about the possibility of reducing these supports that at some level, inadequate as they are, have helped 60% of lone parents to get into the workforce where they want to be. We should not be thinking about removing the supports that helped them to get into the workforce, rather, what extra supports we could provide to get the other 40% into work. No such supports are provided for in this Bill, however.
How can we pay for the Scandinavian model while the Government side of the House is against the necessary taxes? I have never heard of anything so preposterous. We are sick and tired of saying we want to see higher income taxes - which are progressive because they are based on ability to pay - to finance our public services. We have clearly stated this. In addition, we are in favour of higher taxes on the 5% in this country who own 40% of the wealth. It is not hypothetical wealth, it is real and we believe it should be taxed.
The Minister is part of a Government that keeps repeating a meaningless mantra, which states: "You can't impose higher taxes on wealth because it is a tax on jobs." Every time Ministers say that, I scratch my head and wonder what they are talking about. What does that mean? I still have not figured it out, but maybe the Minister could explain it.
We are positively in favour of the Scandinavian model and would not have a problem with a section of income tax revenue being earmarked to finance our local authorities. We would welcome that, but the Government is not in favour of progressive taxation on income and wealth. That is why we do not have the money to fund Scandinavian-style public services. It is a Government of regressive stealth charges.
An opinion poll in the newspapers this week compared the Government's policy to ours. It asked members of the public if they were in favour of stealth taxes - including household and water charges, which the Minister favours - or whether they were in favour higher taxes on income based on ability to pay. The poll results showed that more than 60% were in favour of our policy. Once upon a time, Labour used to believe in that policy but has now betrayed it. Or perhaps the party does not have the courage to argue for it because tax is a hot potato.
The Irish public are intelligent and they can be persuaded and convinced of the necessity for higher taxes on income and wealth if they are fair, progressive and will finance quality public services. That is what we are in favour of but it is dishonest of the Minister to suggest otherwise.
Water and household charges are regressive stealth taxes that disproportionately hit the least well off. We have an unfair tax regime that has always protected the rich and those on higher incomes, while disproportionately hitting those at the bottom. It is also the reason our public services are in bits. The Government should levy taxes on wealth and higher incomes that could finance quality public services. Until that happens, the Minister should remove this austerity cut directed at lone parents who suffer disproportionately from poverty, as she has acknowledged. They will be driven out of work if these measures go through.
The Minister does not have an easy job but before she came into power I do not think she would have put her name to much of this stuff. She is a member of the Labour Party that would have objected to most of this before it achieved power. We are in a country that has one of the highest levels of inequality in the developed world, but this Bill does not tackle the inequalities that exist in our society. That is a serious mark against the Government. The Minister's primary objective in government should be to tackle such inequalities, which have grown and grown. They will grow further as a result of the last budget, which lacks fairness.
I know the situation is not an easy one and that there is not an unlimited supply of money, but there was another way of doing it. I agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett's point that direct taxation in the form of income tax is a fairer method than indirect taxes. Ireland now has one of the highest indirect tax regimes in Europe.
I realise that the Labour Party is in a coalition Government and is involved with a very right-wing party. Sadly, however, the Labour Party has been brought along and I can see more Fine Gael measures than Labour ones. When I was elected I said I thought Labour should not go into coalition. If the party had stayed in opposition, I thought it would be the largest party in the country after the next election. It will not be now, however.
The Minister talked about outcomes and none of us would disagree that the optimum is to get an outcome where lone parents do not head the table of groups that are more prone to poverty. The route out of that is obviously through work. I am surprised, however, that the Minister is challenging all of us about the need for child care. She was the one who made that point last week to the astonishment of most of us, because it was flagged. The difficulty is the absence of certainty, although this measure will kick in for some next week, as Deputy Fleming said. It may be a small number of people, but it will still kick in when the Bill is enacted.
It is surprising how quickly the climate has changed for people who would have been making this argument on the other side of the House. Very often, one may be looked on as some sort of a head case if one makes the case for child care for a person going out to work who may have a seven year old at home. It will not concern seven year olds next week, but some element of it will kick in then.
If somebody signs on because they do not qualify for the lone parent's payment, and they have nobody to mind their child, they can then be refused the job seeker's payment on the basis that they are not available for work because there is an impediment for them to work. How will that be handled in practice? Should they not tell the truth?
The Minister referred to the Nordic model and municipal systems there, but their tax structure is very different. There is a high level of centralised services, as well as high local taxation and a lower level of national taxation in those particular countries. We are looking at a local government system here that has passed its sell-by date for optimum use.
If one was speaking about local taxation in the context of a very radically reformed local government system where child care, leisure services and the types of services available for example in Nordic countries applied one may well get a different response to local taxation but this is not what we are discussing which is why the Government is seeing resistance. I would be surprised if the Minister did not agree with this to some extent.
If this policy is about getting good outcomes the Government must work with people who require the services. I do not think it can be imposed without the introduction of a proper child care system. I do not think the Minister could make the argument she did last week and then persist with this section of the Bill. As I stated last week we do not have a crystal ball. It appears the Minister has made this commitment but I have not heard it made by the rest of the Government. I do not know whether the Minister made it on behalf of the Government or whether it is something about which the Minister feels particularly strongly and for which she will argue. I do not know whether the Minister for Finance will be amenable to her approach seeking funding for a child care system. In the absence of this the Minister could very easily find herself in a different portfolio by the end of this year. If she did not have the social protection portfolio and was the only member of Government advocating this where would the commitment stand?
I thank the Deputies for their wide ranging and thoughtful contributions. I appreciate Deputy Boyd Barrett was just using language and I accept he did not mean to cast any aspiration on lone parents. All of us share a huge admiration for the achievements of parents including those parenting on their own. Those of us who are parents know just how tough, messy and difficult it is whether one is in a couple or on one's own. Most of us have a shared experience. I have spent much time in the United States and I know many people in radical politics there but I never heard the term. It sounds more like a Tea Party term. I do not know who the Deputy's friends are in the United States or from where he gets his language but he should not bring it here.
The Minister is being disingenuous.
It is derogatory. I suggest the Deputy should-----
I was talking about the stigma that is applied as well the Minister knows.
I understand his concern for lone parents is very strong and is a personal commitment. I am just saying not to use language like this. This is my suggestion. It sounds more like the Tea Party in the United States.
I was not using it.
I had never heard it.
I will repeat the schedule. For those in the system prior to April 2011 the relevant age for 2011 and 2012 is under 18; for 2013 it is under 17; for 2014 it is under 16; and for 2015 and 2016 it is under seven. For lone parents who entered the system between April 2011 and May 2012 the relevant age for 2011 and 2012 is under 14; for 2013 it is under 12; for 2014 it is under 10; and for 2015 and 2016 it is under seven. For people who come into the system in future-----
From next Thursday onwards.
-----the relevant age for 2012 is under 12; for 2013 it is under 10; and for 2014 it is under seven.
The calculations for 2012 are that out of 92,000 lone parents the new system will affect 170 people. I want to be very clear to people who are in the lone parents system that this will take several years to apply. By rather careless references one might imply that everybody is affected by this but they are not. A tiny proportion of the 92,000 people claiming the one parent family payment will be affected. Deputy Fleming commented on the number of parents affected. It is incorrect to state half of one parent family payment claimants would be affected by this measure. This would imply that all claimants would continue to claim until the youngest child is 18 years of age. I want to stress the following point which perhaps will put to rest the concerns of Deputy Boyd Barrett. Many people claim the one parent family payment for a short period and return to work. The overall figure of 92,000 claimants encompasses all claimants with short-term and long-term situations.
I have been involved in this for a very long time. When I was previously in the Department I designed much of the structure that developed into our current system. What is critical for lone parents is to provide access to education, training and work. Believe it or not, when I was involved in this in the early 1990s a young woman who became pregnant without her partner's ongoing support often had to give up secondary school. She could not even complete school. People may have seen the young woman who went missing the other day. At 16 years of age she had two children. Personally I have always been involved in this area and I have known many people affected by this in various ways. This is why I acknowledge and care very deeply about this issue. We must consider where as a country we can make the next gain and development. Deputy Catherine Murphy will remember those days when young women in school who had a child without the support of a partner often had to leave and could not return. Younger people now would not even know this situation existed.
We must ask how we can move forward. Deputies can be as critical as they like but people from various political backgrounds have various insights. I am so pleased the Government has assigned a full Ministry for children and I am sure Deputies see this as progressive. We have Ministries for Education and Skills, for Children and for Social Protection. We are capable of doing a great deal in this country.
Hear, hear. It is a shame you do not.
The school I went to did not traditionally even provide leaving certificate education; I was one of the first people there to do the leaving certificate. If one does not have a political philosophy of developing towards the next step and the next stage one will always stay where one is. We may find this difficult to do and we may falter on the way and not do all that the Deputies reference. I understand and absolutely accept the commitment of the Deputies to the issue. In Germany, Italy, Sweden and Norway the relevant age is three years, which is essentially a prolonged maternity leave. The focus is on parents being parents and children being children and supporting them regardless. Reference was made to what was said by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, in regard to cohabitation. We need to reach a stage where we are not as a State primarily interested in people's relationship status. We should be interested in parents and children. I am particularly conscious that couples, be they living together or married, also have requirements. They work and pay taxes and child care services are for them also. We must take a holistic view of this. That is what I meant when I said that I hope we move to a situation whereby we do not have lone parents in one situation and everyone else in another. I do not believe that is good.
Looking to the future, we want a society which encourages both parents, regardless of whether the relationship has been rocky and so on - we all know relationships are complicated and complex - to be involved and engaged with their children. I support the comments made by my colleague, Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, on this issue. The current situation is not perfect. We are trying to change it and make it better. I accept Members opposite have many criticisms of it but I encourage them to consider why, for instance, the relevant age in Finland is four years, in the Netherlands, Austria and New Zealand, countries with good social support systems, it is five years and in Canada, which also has in place good support systems, it is six years. Also, North of the Border, where Sinn Féin is in government, the relevant age is seven years. Do they know something that we do not? I have not heard Sinn Féin's colleagues in the North complain about the relevant age there.
They have good supports in place.
Contrary to Deputy Ó Snodaigh's impression, Sinn Féin members are not the only people who travel up to the North. Deputies on all sides of the House would have relations, friends, family and so on there.
I do not deny that.
Sinn Féin does not have a monopoly on the North.
I never suggested that.
The Deputy's party members in the North, despite being only 90 miles from here, do not have a problem with the relevant age there. We are spending €1 billion in this area. There will be no savings as a result of this measure. It is not a savings measure.
There are savings in it.
We are trying to open up wider and better horizons for people who are parenting on their own and for their children. This will in time to come be seen as a positive step. The Labour Party improved second level education and increased access to third level education, both of which transformed Irish society in different decades.
There are 92,000 people in this country parenting on their own. This is not a savings measure. We are trying to move to a new structure of support that encourages lone parents to be financially independent and enables and empowers them and in so doing improves the outlook for their children. All researchers indicate that the outcomes for what we spend are not good enough. That is all I am saying. We all respect all parents and all children. Every Deputy in this House is committed to the welfare of all parents and all children.
I am pleased the Minister has returned to the House as I would like clarification from her on one or two points. With due respect to the Minister, the longer we debate this issue the more ridiculous the Minister is becoming on it. I will explain why.
When speaking earlier on this issue, I used the Minister's figure of 92,000 in respect of the number of lone parents in this State. The Minister also stated that of that 92,000 only 150 to 160 will be affected this year, 700 to 800 next year and up to 2,000 the year after that. Those figures are correct to a point. However, they do not represent the full picture. Logic indicates that if between now and 2015 the age up to which a lone parent can receive the one parent family payment is to be reduced from 14 to seven years of age - it is payable up to 18 years in respect of some children - then the number of people receiving it will be halved.
The Minister misunderstood what I said earlier on this issue. I am not saying that half of current claimants will be affected by this measure, rather I am making clear that in the future fewer people will be entitled to the one family payment and, only until their child or children reach seven years of age, as compared with the current situation whereby people can claim for children up to 14 years of age and upwards. In due course, people will only receive this payment for half the number of years for which current recipients receive it. This means that the number of future recipients will be approximately half the number of current recipients. If 92,000 are currently in receipt of this payment for children up to 14 years of age - in some cases up to 18 years of age - and the age limit is halved to seven years of age in a couple of years time then the number of recipients on an annual basis will be halved. I am not saying 50% of current recipients will be affected rather I am saying that the number of recipients will halve in time because new recipients will not be entitled to the payment for as long as current recipients.
The Minister has let the cat out of the bag. As I stated, as we continue to debate this issue we are getting to the truth. The Minister said for the second time this evening that this scheme costs €1 billion. If in four or five years time fewer people will be entitled to this payment then the scheme will only cost €500 million.
Yes. If in due course lone parents cannot claim for children over seven years of age, which is half the 14 years in respect of which current recipients get the payment, the net effect will be that in future there will be fewer people in receipt of the payment. The Minister will probably respond saying that some parents will have two or three children and will remain eligible for the payment for some time. I do not understand why the Minister does not get it that there will be a reduced number of people claiming this payment when the age up to which lone parents are entitled to it is reduced to seven years. She might argue about the percentages but in a few years time this scheme will only cover half the number of children currently covered, which ultimately will mean the scheme will only cost half of what it is costing now, resulting in a €500 million saving.
The Minister stated in response to a question today in regard to the disability allowance that the percentage of people being refused the disability allowance has increased enormously from 52% a year and a half ago to 58% last year and more than 60% in the first quarter of this year. This is how the Minister is making her social welfare cuts. She is cutting the people on disability out of the system. She is refusing them access. She is actually doing the same with people on domiciliary care allowance. Now she will do the same with the one-parent family payment.
The Minister said she is not doing this for financial reasons. That might not be her upfront reason. There is a major downstream financial benefit from what she is doing. She said a while ago that this measure allows "lone parents to be financially independent". She believes she can make long-term social welfare recipients financially independent by eliminating their payments. She was not present in the Chamber when I made the point that using the logic of her approach, every long-term recipient of jobseeker's allowance could be made financially independent if their payments were abolished. She seems to think that if a person's payment is abolished, he or she will become financially independent. Most people are financially independent. Approximately 85% of the adults in this country are financially independent. A certain percentage of the people will always have to fall back on the State. It is the job of those of us who receive income to pay our taxes and facilitate the percentage of people who depend on us. I do not follow the logic that their dependence can be eliminated by eliminating their payments.
The main point I want to come back to is that the Minister almost got away with it during the last week, when she added a big distraction to the debate about the seven year olds who will be affected in 2014. The issue is that she is guillotining the emergency legislation that is being debated by this House today and tomorrow. The legislation will come into effect next Thursday. I want the Minister to explain the situation. Somebody out there might make a claim for one-parent family payment today because the family has spilt up, the parents have split up or one of the parents has died. The surviving parent can make a claim for one-parent family payment today if his or her youngest child is 12 or 13 years of age. The emergency legislation being introduced by the Minister will come into effect next Thursday, 3 May 2012. Some people will be eliminated after that date. If a husband, a wife or a partner dies next Thursday or Friday or thereafter, the surviving parent who goes in to claim one-parent family payment because his or her youngest child is 12 or 13 years of age will not get it. Such a person would get it today or next Monday or Tuesday, but he or she will not get it after next Thursday.
I read out the conditions for what I brought in last year. They will get it. Maybe the Deputy was not here when I read them out.
I brought in that legislation last year.
We are talking about new claims.
On a point of information, in case the Deputy is making parents worried, when we brought in the legislation last year we made special arrangements for deaths in families. The Deputy might not have been here when I read out those arrangements.
That is for existing claimants. I am talking about people who are not in the system.
The arrangements apply when there is a death in a family.
The situation could arise in a circumstance other than death. The parents could break up. Somebody could lose his or her job for some reason. If a person remains in his or her job until next Thursday, the same situation applies as in the example I gave.
He or she would be entitled to a jobseeker's payment.
If somebody who is in employment loses that employment next week, he or she might submit a claim for lone parent payment after next week. Somebody who is a new claimant after next Thursday will not be eligible.
On a point of information, if the person was in a job, he or she will be able to avail of benefit.
No. I spoke about what would happen if they were in employment.
It would be very rare for such a person to go onto the lone parent payment.
We cannot have this interaction across the floor.
I have to let the Minister know that if you are in employment and you are paid a reasonable salary or wage, you will not receive a social welfare payment as it is means tested.
If you have made contributions, you can receive benefit.
I remind Deputies to speak through the Chair.
It depends on the number of-----
The person you are describing-----
I ask the Minister to allow the Deputy to conclude.
I am talking-----
You are wrong.
Perhaps such people have stamps and PRSI contributions that qualify them for benefit. That would exempt them from the provisions of this legislation for nine months or so. What about those who do not have sufficient contributions, however? Somebody who is in a job today on a reasonable salary will not be drawing any payment in respect of this category. If such a person loses his or her job next week, he or she might not have sufficient PRSI contributions to make him or her eligible for benefit. There are people in that category. Not everybody has been working permanently for several years. Not everybody has been in a position to ensure they have made the required contributions in the years concerned. If such a person loses his or her job after next Thursday, he or she might have to rely on a means-tested payment. If that person has a child aged 12 or 13, he or she will lose this payment even though he or she would have received it up to now. Such people will not be eligible for it in the future.
They will be eligible.
If that is the case, what does the date provided for in this legislation mean? I am contradicting what the Minister has said because it is made clear in section 4 of the Bill that "this section comes into operation on 3 May 2012". That is next Thursday. Is the Minister telling me that section 4 will mean nothing when it comes into operation? If it will mean nothing next Thursday, surely it can be deleted from the Bill now. What it means is that new applicants whose youngest child is over 12 years of age will be affected from next Thursday.
They will go into jobseeker's system or elsewhere in the social welfare system.
They will go onto one-parent family payment.
They will simply go onto a different payment.
They will go onto one-parent family payment.
The Minister will be able to respond to the Deputy when she is winding up the debate on this section.
It is very clear. The Minister will say that some of those who will be affected by this might have an entitlement to benefit. That might be the case. Others might not have such an entitlement, however. This section will come into effect on 3 May next. According to the briefing note, from which the Minister has read on two occasions:
From this date, [3 May 2012] new customers will be subject to the new age qualification criteria (of the youngest child) - i.e. the OFP will not be payable where the youngest child is age 12 or over in 2012 [on 3 May], age 10 or over in January 2013 [which is only seven months away] and age 7 or over in January 2014.
That is coming into effect next Thursday. The Minister should not try to face us down by saying nothing will happen next Thursday. If nothing is happening next Thursday, what does the document she has read from on two occasions today mean? What is the purpose of the provision in section 4 of the Bill that "this section comes into operation on 3 May 2012"? This will come into operation next Thursday. The Minister should not try to slide out of what she is doing here today by telling us it will not. It will come into operation on that date. It is as simple as that. The Minister might find a few particular clauses that will help a few people, such as transitional measures, previous items of legislation or an entitlement based on PRSI contributions. Claimants will be affected by this from next Thursday. Even more of them will be affected by it from 1 January next, which is seven months away. It is inevitable that as the relevant age for everybody under this scheme is reduced to seven over a few years, the number of people claiming will have to decrease by almost half, if not by more than half. The Minister has suggested that no cost saving will arise from that, but I suggest that the cost will decrease by half, from €1 billion to €500 million. This cost saving measure on the part of the Government is an attack on the people that the Minister has been professing to be most concerned about over the last two days.
The Minister's logic is strange. I agree with Deputy Fleming that the reason for this provision is starting to emerge. How will a change in the benefit somebody is getting make that person "financially independent", given that the person in question will end up on another benefit? I could understand it if that financial independence were to be delivered by allowing such people to avail of a range of job and training opportunities that are not already being availed of by lone parents, rather than merely moving them from one payment to another. I do not understand the logic behind the Minister's statement that bringing an end to the making of a payment to the lone parent of a seven year old will make that parent "financially independent". I hope the Minister can enlighten me. Nothing I have heard in the debate so far has enlightened me in this respect.