Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2012: Committee Stage (Resumed)

SECTION 4
Question again proposed: "That section 4 stand part of the Bill."

Deputy Ó Snodaigh was in possession. Have you completed your contribution?

I have completed my contribution.

Does the Minister wish to reply?

No. I believe I have contributed sufficiently.

Question put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 83; Níl, 46.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Collins, Áine.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O’Donnell, Kieran.
  • O’Donovan, Patrick.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Mahony, John.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McConalogue, Charlie
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Brien, Jonathan.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
Question declared carried.
SECTION 5

Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are consequential on amendment No. 11, therefore, amendments Nos. 9 to 11, inclusive, will be taken together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 5, line 8, to delete "section 178A(7)" and substitute "section 178C".

The Bill provides for the age limit of the youngest child for receipt of one parent family payment to be reduced to age 12 in 2012, age ten in 2013 and age seven in 2014 for new lone parent claimants. It is standard practice when introducing such changes to put in place transitional arrangements for existing claimants for a period. This ensures that existing claimants are given notice of the change and are not abruptly affected. At the same time, from an administrative efficiency point of view, it is not feasible to have different claimants on the same scheme being treated in a different manner for an indefinite period. The reduction in the age limit is being applied to new and existing claimants on a phased basis and will not affect existing claimants until 2013. Existing claimants will not be impacted by the age seven limit until 2015.

Section 5 provides for this in respect of existing customers. I will set out how these new arrangements will apply. They will depend on whether the person's one-parent family payment claim was made prior to 27 April 2011, between 27 April 2011 and May 2012, or after May 2012. If the claim commenced before 27 April 2011, payment will continue until the age of 18 in 2012, until the age of 17 in 2013, until the age of 16 in 2014 and until the age of seven in 2015. If the claim commenced between 27 April 2011 and May 2012, payment will continue until the age of 14 in 2012, until the age of 12 in 2013, until the age of ten in 2014 and until the age of seven in 2015. If the claim commences after May 2012, payment will continue until the age of 12 in 2012, until the age of ten in 2013 and until the age of seven in 2014. If the person has an entitlement to one-parent family payment based on the age of the youngest child in his or her family, the increased payment in respect of a qualified child will continue for the older children in the family until they reach the age of 18, or 22 if they are in full-time education.

Special provisions have been put in place for people who are in receipt of domiciliary care allowance. In such cases, one-parent family payment will continue to be paid while the domiciliary care allowance is payable for the child in question. At present, the allowance is payable until the child reaches the age of 16, at which point he or she can claim disability allowance in his or her own right. Special provisions have also been put in place for the recently bereaved. In such cases, the one-parent family payment will be payable for two years from the date of the death of the spouse, partner or cohabitant, or until the youngest child reaches 18 years of age.

I listened with interest to what the Minister had to say in her final remarks on these amendments. She was probably referring to an issue I raised earlier. I note that some subsequent amendments deal with what we said about what happens in the event of the death of a parent. I am trying to get my head around this. As I understand it, under the arrangement the Minister has put in place, if a parent dies and the child is within two years of the relevant age at the relevant date, the family can continue to receive this payment. I might have suggested earlier that this will kick in next week. I think the Minister said it will not kick in next week for 12 and 13 year olds. I think I am right in saying it will definitely kick in on 1 January 2013, however. The mother or father of a child who is 13 would have been affected by this change next week if this arrangement had not been made. The Minister has made provision for children who are within two years of the relevant age at the relevant date. This exemption will ensure such people are not caught next week.

I am interested in what will happen on 2 January 2013, which is just seven months away, by which time the relevant age will be ten. On that date, 13 year old children will no longer be within two years of the relevant age on the relevant date. I think I am right when I say that next year, a person who is 13 this year will not be within two years of the relevant age, which will be ten from 1 January next. Therefore, the provision the Minister is including in the Bill will not affect such a family. Am I right when I say my understanding is that a person whose marriage has ended and who needs to make a new claim, having been in full-time employment up to now, but who is not entitled to jobseeker's benefit or any other benefit payment, will be affected by this problem from 2 January 2013 if he or she has a child aged 13? The Minister will appreciate that we are on our feet without being able to access advisers or legal interpretation. She mentioned that her Department has spent a year on this matter. I want to get my head around three or four sections in this major amendment, which runs to over three pages. Am I right in what I have said? I think the Minister understands my question about next January. Is my understanding correct?

Generally speaking, many people in such circumstances would be survivors. I refer to widows and surviving cohabitants, etc., under the rules. At the moment, some 82% of one-parent family payment recipients are Irish. Some 18% of payments are made to non-nationals. In the circumstances, perhaps they might be more affected by this. Many Irish people would be widows, widowers, surviving cohabitants or surviving participants in civil partnerships.

Is the Minister saying that such a person would be in receipt of a survivor's pension?

Yes, if they have contributions.

I thought that people in that category - those who are traditionally referred to as widows - were moved onto the one-parent family payment. I am not sure of the title, but I thought they were on-----

I will try to get more detailed statistics for the Deputy.

I expect that the official with the Minister followed the point I made about what will happen from next January.

I accept the point the Deputy is making about next January.

I am saying that the statistics we have suggest that the number of people who will be affected by that will be relatively small. I have mentioned that it is worth bearing in mind in this context that approximately 82% of lone parents are Irish nationals, but 18% or 19% of them are not.

People in the latter group might be more likely not to have contributions for survivor status under our regulations relating to widows etc. That is particularly true if they moved to this country when their children were already quite old. It would depend on the circumstances. A significant number of lone parents in our system are not Irish - they came to Ireland from other countries.

Can the Minister give us details of the new claimants who will be affected by the new regime that will come into effect next Thursday, 3 May 2012? Can she describe a typical new claimant who will be caught by this change? It is obvious that next week's changes will have an impact. Who are we talking about? Who are the people who will be affected? Can the Minister give me an example?

It will affect people who come into a lone parent situation after that date and all of whose children are above the relevant age. The average duration of a one-parent family payment is 6.1 years. Of those receiving the payment, 10% of them have been doing so for one year or less, 13% have been doing so for between one and two years, 28% have been doing so for between two and five years, 12% have been doing so for between five and seven years and 37% have been doing do for seven years or more. The number of people who have been in receipt of this payment for a long period of time is very high. Therefore, most of them will not be affected by these changes until later in the transition period.

People who are entirely new to the system will be affected next week. I remind the Deputy, in response to his query, that a significant cohort of the 92,000 lone parents in this country do not come from Ireland. As I have said, approximately 18% of payments are made to non-Irish nationals. British nationals are the single largest group within the non-national category. As the Deputy knows, some of those people migrated into the UK from elsewhere before moving to Ireland. I would not like to say what the insurance status of those who migrate the Ireland after next week might be. When people come to Ireland, in some cases they can step relatively quickly into our lone parent system. However, they might not have built up the kind of entitlements I have mentioned.

The Minister mentioned 92,000 a few times and the phrase "become financially independent". Does she know how many one-parent family units are not in receipt of any payment because they would not pass the means test? I know many people with reasonably paid jobs-----

Does the Minister have any idea how many are in the category to which I refer? She should state the number in case somebody believes from the debate over the past three days that every lone parent is getting a payment.

I know there would not be many in the category.

The CSO statistics do not capture what the Deputy is seeking. I contend, conservatively, that the figure runs to tens of thousands. As the Deputy says, many young parents are in good employment and do not claim any allowances at all. The Deputy is absolutely correct in that regard.

I do not know how the CSO statistics are compiled. The Deputy may look at some of the statistics on women in employment and our own unemployment statistics. There are over 80,000 people doing part-time work, some of whom, but not all, are probably lone parents. I could not say whether they are collecting any payment. I do not have the exact statistics.

When I was involved in the Department's current development, the critical point raised was that there are really positive outcomes for those who become lone parents at a really young age if they stay connected to education and training and continue therein almost as soon as maternity leave is over. Such people's outcomes, in terms of financial independence, are really strong. They are probably just the same as those of everybody else if they stay on at school and go to college.

The back-to-education allowance is available. There are many supports. Under certain courses, the VECs have child care. There are just under 3,000 child care places within the VEC and FETAC structures. There are many provisions that strongly encourage lone parents to continue with education. Statistics show the average period for which people avail of the lone-parent's allowance is 6.1 years. Some end up availing of the allowance for a very long period. These are the people we would like to connect to education and training as early as possible. In practice, education and training may qualify them most to get a job.

The Minister referred to young people in education. What age must a person be to qualify for the payment? A young girl of 14 or 15 may have a child. Most allowances, other than the disability payment, which is available at the age of 16, are payable at 18. What happens the 14 and 15 year olds?

There is actually no minimum age. I have no knowledge of the relationship status. Since our system was introduced, it has always been very supportive. In the early 1990s, a person who received a lone-parent's allowance had to stay at home and do nothing, even if a parent or older sister was available to help with child care. The first move was to encourage very young lone parents to stay connected to education. As the Deputy probably knows, schools are really supportive of this all over the country. I am delighted to say families are enormously supportive. Education is the key to leaving the scheme and being financially independent. Ireland has been quite successful in that respect. Education is the key. If one leaves it early, it is often quite difficult to resume later. Getting back into education can involve a difficult process. There are not many very young lone parents and there is no lower age limit. I am thankful that the numbers are not as high in the very young age group as they used to be. I do not have the statistics to hand.

I was interested in the exchange and the figures. Much of these were dealt with when discussing the last amendment. The amendment before us logically follows the acceptance of the previous section but it also reinforces the point we were making.

The intention of the Minister is to reduce a child's age of eligibility for the one-parent family payment from 14 to seven. Given her comments, we would have liked to have seen a transitional timetable for the delivery of the additional supports, particularly after-school supports, that have been mentioned.

This amendment follows on from the last section. I am still none the wiser as to what occurred in the past year that merited the proposed change. A year and a half ago or two years ago, we debated a Government Bill to reduce an age of eligibility from 18 to 14. I am none the wiser as to why, two years later, we must lower the age to seven, given that there are no cost implications. Why move at the speed suggested? There is usually a more gradual reduction when introducing such a substantial change.

If one's claim started before 27 April 2011, the eligibility age will reduce by one year at a time until 2014, in which year it will drop from 16 to seven. If one's claim started between 27 April 2011 and 3 May 2012, the eligibility age will reduce each year in the period 2012 to 2015 from 14 to 12 to ten to seven. This seems quite gradual.

I mentioned earlier that the change allowed for in respect of the voluntary contribution amendments was gradual, or over 15 years. It is coming into effect as of now. This is usually the type of approach taken. The drop for existing applicants is substantial, as if the Minister wanted the whole process to be finished by 2015.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
The Dáil adjourned at 10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m on Thursday, 26 April 2012.