Other Questions

Jobseeker's Benefit

Bríd Smith

Question:

35. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will change the way in which jobseeker's benefit is calculated for those in casual or part time work or on temporary reduced hours, whereby it is not based on days worked but on income, so that no person is living below the poverty line; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39683/17]

Will the Minister consider changing the way in which jobseeker's benefit is paid to casual and part-time workers and temporary workers on reduced hours? At present, it is calculated before it is paid based on the number of days worked rather than on the level of income people receive. Any supplementary income they receive from the State is based on the days they work rather than the income they receive. As I will argue with the Minister later, I am increasingly coming across many people who are below the poverty line and who cannot receive support income because of the way in which the payment is calculated.

The jobseeker's benefit and jobseeker’s allowance schemes provide income support for people who have lost work and are unable to find alternative full-time employment. The 2017 Estimates for the Department provide for expenditure this year on the jobseekers’ schemes of €2.5 billion.

Both schemes provide significant support to individuals so that they can work up to three days a week and still retain access to a reduced jobseeker’s payment. At the end of July 2017, approximately 54,000 people were in the category described by the Deputy as casually employed or in part-time employment. The current days-based system can provide significant income supports to jobseekers who are casually employed. For instance, an individual can earn a little over €19,760 per year and still retain jobseeker's allowance payment for the two days not worked, while the equivalent threshold for an individual with a qualified adult is almost €34,000 if they are both working. There is a significant difference.

The Department does not collect data on the number of hours a jobseeker works, as this information is not necessary to make a decision on the application for the payment. The cost associated with moving the jobseeker's benefit scheme to an hours-based system cannot therefore be ascertained.

It is recognised that a changing labour market has resulted in a move away from more traditional work patterns. However, any changes to the current criteria, such as moving to an hours-based system, could result in significant numbers of additional individuals becoming eligible for a jobseeker’s payment with the substantial corresponding costs for the Exchequer.

In addition, if there were a change from a days-based to an hours-based system, existing casual jobseekers could lose out if their current hours worked over three days exceeded the new hours threshold, creating a disincentive to work longer.

There are other schemes to support families with low incomes such as family income supplement and the back to work family dividend. The part-time job incentive scheme can provide assistance to long-term unemployed who can only find part-time employment for less than 24 hours per week. I hear what the Deputy is saying, but doing what she would like us to do would have enormous financial ramifications and IT ramifications with regard to providing a platform to work in the system.

If I have heard the Minister correctly, she has answered the wrong question because I am not asking for the system to be changed based on the hours worked but rather on the income received for the time worked. I will give the Minister an example. At present, people employed, for example for three days, receive supplementary income for the two days they do not work. If someone works 15 hours over five days, with three hours a day, and receives €130 from his or her employer, that person will receive the part-time job incentive scheme payment for up to one year. What happens to that person after the year? Recently, I had the case of a cleaner at a famous shop in Ballyfermot, who all of a sudden was told the supplementary payment of €120 a week she received from the Department of Social Protection would be stopped because the year was up. This very distressed woman came to me, and I went to the Intreo office, where the payment was extended for two months. That time is up this month, and the woman will be living on the poverty line or will have to give up her job because her boss is not willing to pack all of those hours into two or three days as that does not suit him. Increasingly it does not suit employers to facilitate workers, and workers are being forced into precarious hours, whereby the advantage is to the employer and the disadvantage is to the worker.

Deputies cannot exceed the time.

I do not have the details of the specific case the Deputy is speaking about. People need cleaners on a five day a week basis and that work will not be squeezed into two days. From the perspective of an employer I totally get this. There is an anomaly and the Deputy has highlighted it. Will the Deputy send me the details of the lady in question and it will give me grounds to look further afield to see whether it affects other people? The purpose of these payments is to ensure people in low paid work get an income supplement. The last thing we want to do is to give people an income supplement and then cut them off a year later and put them back where they were a year previously. If the Deputy gives me the details I will take care of it.

I will do so but I would like my question to be answered in terms of the income received rather than the level of hours worked. That is the change we need to make, that we look at the income people receive from their jobs and we do not supplement them based on the days or hours that they work, because increasingly Ireland is becoming a low-paid economy. We earn lower wages than most of the other developed European Union countries. A total of 38% of part-time workers earn low pay. Increasingly in this country we see people fall into a poverty trap. They are not able to receive a living wage. They might be on the minimum wage but they are certainly not able to receive a minimum wage, even combined with payments from the Department. Now we find there are anomalies whereby they are not able to receive these payments. It does not suit the employer to rearrange the employee's hours to suit the Minister or the person in receipt of poverty earnings. This must be looked at and must be changed.

I am not sure where the term "poverty earnings" comes from. People go to work and they earn wages for the work they do.

The minimum wage is poverty.

From a jobseeker's perspective, with regard to either jobseeker's benefit or jobseeker's allowance, the answer is we are not willing to change the current system. The reason we do not have to do so is we have other schemes that support families on low incomes, such as family income supplement and the back to work family dividend, which are all based on thresholds of income earnings.

A single person is not entitled to family income supplement.

I go back to the individual that prompted the Deputy-----

They are all based on income thresholds. If the Deputy knows of an individual customer who would like to come to me, I will have a look at it individually. That is no problem.

I probably have 10,000 of them.

Employment Rights

Willie Penrose

Question:

36. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to review the employment legislation that has been transferred to her remit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39643/17]

On 1 September, the Department was renamed the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The Minister is now the lead on employment rights policy and legislation, including 11 primary Acts governing employment rights and related policy issues. There are a number of issues, including if and when contracts and combatting bogus self-employment. What are the Minister's plans to progress legislation on these important issues?

I thank the Deputy for the question, and I am very glad he raised it because it is an important part of the Department now, as the very large mammoth that is the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. Employment affairs, employee rights, employee engagement, the participation of unions and representation rights will all be very much to the fore of what we will do in the coming months.

The details of the employment legislation that transferred to my Department following the Government decision earlier this year are set out in the Labour Affairs and Labour Law (Transfer of Departmental Administration and Ministerial Functions) Order 2017, SI 361 of 2017. The transfer of functions involved 11 pieces of primary legislation in the area of labour affairs and labour law that were previously the responsibility of the old Department.

My priority, on which we have already made a little progress in the past week - I have met members of unions and made some fine inroads on what they are looking for in their representations - is to publish the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which is being drafted. The Deputy is aware that the Bill is in response to a commitment in the programme for Government to tackle the problems caused by the increased casualisation of work and, in particular, to strengthen the regulation pertaining to precarious employment. The proposals contained in the Bill are the result of extensive consultations. They include public consultation by the former Department, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, following the University of Limerick study of zero-hour and low-hour contracts, in addition to detailed dialogue with ICTU and IBEC for several months. The Bill aims to address a number of issues that have been identified where current employment rights legislation can and must be strengthened to the benefit of employees, particularly low paid and more vulnerable employees, without imposing unnecessarily onerous burdens on employers and businesses. Officials of my Department are working closely with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. I met the Attorney General last week to raise certain queries arising from the heads of the Bill to determine whether I could enhance them. I am giving a commitment that I will have the Bill published before Christmas. If I were to be really ambitious, I would hope to bring it to the House before Christmas, but it is definitely among my top three priorities.

The first defeat of the Government was on the Labour Party motion that called for a legislative package to combat, in particular, if-and-when contracts and bogus self-employment and that sought their regulation. I am glad that the Minister is progressing this legislation. My colleague, Senator Gerald Nash, initiated the University of Limerick study of this matter. With regard to zero-hours contracts, I put the Minister on notice. There is no one better at manipulating legislation that those to whom I refer. I want to send a message to the bureaucrats. The measure will put people within bands to reflect the reality of their working hours. Some might be guaranteed 15 or 20 hours and might be getting 30 hours. The Minister will be introducing in the legislation a number of bands between 20 and 30 hours. Many workers and I do not want to see people being placed at the lower end. Cleverly, people are allocated only 20 hours, the lower end of a band between 20 and 30 hours. I put the Minister on notice that there will be holy war if there is sleight of hand to leave people on 20 rather than 30 hours. Those who desire a loan to help the children with their education or to do anything else get nothing if they are bedded down at the minimum figure. If there is to be a spectrum, let us put them at the top rather than the lower end. With regard to employers, there could be a flanker. I have no doubt that there is somebody who is already fighting for inclusion at the lower end. I am signalling that we want people to be put at the upper end when the bands become available.

In fairness, given the way the heads of the Bill were drafted and the design of the bands, it is fairly obvious that the conclusion to which the Deputy has jumped probably reflects the practice, but that is not in the spirit of what we are trying to achieve. Without telling the Deputy what I am hoping to do, I hear him loud and clear. I do not want circumstances in which new legislation we will introduce would allow an employer to put somebody who has been getting 25 hours for the past 18 months on a new 20-hour contract. My intention is to make sure that will not happen.

I will not waste time. If that were to be an absolute guarantee, it would be of consolation to so many. In this House we are all motivated by the very best ideas and aspirations but very often when we pass legislation, something happens and we are left outside trying to explain something that reflects badly on us. From the Minister's experience in business - fair play to her - she has seen the hole in the bucket and is mending it before it become a big hole.

I thank the Deputy. He knows from where I am coming.

Pension Provisions

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

37. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will consider in budget 2018 extending the homemaker's scheme to ensure women who took time off work to raise their families will not be at a loss; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39629/17]

When will we receive the report on how we will deal with discrimination against homemakers who brought up their kids in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and who, because the homemaker's credit does not extend back to those years, are being discriminated against in their pension entitlements? I refer also to the issue of the averaging of pensions after former Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton's changes to the bands in 2012. We were promised a report by the former Minister and now Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar. Where is that report? When will the changes happen?

I do not like to admit that I am ignorant, but I do not have a clue what report the Deputy is talking about and I am not aware of any being drafted. Therefore, I will be honest with the Deputy and tell him the current position. No more than in the Deputy's own office, this issue comes across my desk in my office in County Meath quite regularly. It has been raised by women in the past two years and will obviously accelerate in the coming years. The women in question, on reaching pension age, are being told when they seek their pension that they are not entitled to what they expected to receive and they are seriously aggrieved about it. When we consider the overall sum of €20 billion that comes out of the Department every year, we note that €7.5 billion goes towards pensions. It is a sizeable amount. An extra €200 million was added to the pot this year just because of the number of people who turned 66 years this year. The rate of payment, as the Deputy and all of us know, is based on a yearly average, a condition that was introduced in 2012.

I will not read what is contained in my written response because the Deputy already knows what it states. To do what the Deputy and I would wish to do would cost hundreds of millions of euro. Given that we were having a spat earlier about who would get an extra fiver or €2 per week, we are all aware that the money is not available to fix the anomaly in question. All I can do – I propose to do it later this year – is proceed to public consultation on moving the entire system to a total contribution system. I am told that we will be able to have the public consultation process in a number of months. A maximum period of 12 weeks should be sufficient to engage in public consultation with the industry, unions and affected individuals. More importantly, it is question of starting the development of an IT system that will allow me to move everybody's pension payment to a total contributions pension payment. The discussions we will have will involve some winners and some losers. That will be politically difficult because nobody ever wants to see anybody losing. We need to have a conversation collectively about how we will pay pensions, on what they will be based and how they will be calculated. As we all know, the pot of money from which they come is in surplus, but it will not be for the next number of years. It is a question of from where the funding will come. Much and all as I would love to tell the Deputy that I am going to fix the problem, we just do not have the money to do so now. I have to fix the whole pot as opposed to fixing the problem in question.

On the question of where the additional money can be obtained, I accept that additional money is needed, but I will tell the Minister where it can be found. The employers' PRSI contribution in this country is so far below the norm elsewhere in Europe that it is shocking. In fact, the big gap in tax revenue by comparison with most of our European counterparts is precisely the shortfall in employers' PRSI contributions. It is precisely the source from which one would want revenue to pay for pensions and to end what the Minister has accepted is completely unacceptable discrimination, mostly against female pensioners. The position on the commitment made by the former Minister for Social Protection and now Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, who said he understood the issues involved, promised that we would move towards lifetime contributions and said that he would deal with the inequities resulting from the averaging system and that there would be a report within six months, is slightly alarming. Now we hear that there is no report, that something will happen and that there will be a public consultation process but that the Government does not really have the money. That is really not good enough.

Let me be very clear. First, there is a difference between employers' PRSI contributions in Ireland and those made in other continental European countries. The difference is that what those countries give for the insurance payments is vastly different from what we give in benefits in this country. I am absolutely sure that if in this country there were to be an increase in PRSI payments, or if employers were asked to increase PRSI contributions, one would want to get a hell of a lot back, as opposed to paying for something for which they are already paying.

As I said, I do not know what report the former Minister was talking about.

A large amount of work has been done in the Department around the anomalies in the scheme. A new scheme which will involve total contributions over the average life span of everybody's working life is the model towards which we are moving. I cannot do that unilaterally and certainly cannot do it unilaterally politically. More importantly, the millions of people in this country whose lives will be affected need to be consulted and told what our plans are, and we need to get their input as to how we get there. That is what is going to happen over the next couple of weeks.

I repeat that in parliamentary questions last year and again this year we confirmed that if we created a new band for employers' PRSI for people who are employed on incomes over €100,000, it would result in hundreds of millions in additional revenue. That would be fair and would help to generate money.

Another big area is tax relief for wealthy pensioners. Hundreds of millions of euro are spent on pension reliefs for very wealthy people. I do not mind such measures for ordinary people who are putting away a few quid for their pensions, but very wealthy pensioners - multimillionaires and so on – are putting money away and receiving significant tax reliefs for gold-plated pensions. The Minister could collect some extra money by closing off some of the reliefs for the wealthiest in Irish society. That would give us the sort of money we need to end discrimination and have a fair pension system for all pensioners.

First of all, I refer to the first comment the Deputy made. When people pay into a social insurance fund they expect to get something back. The Deputy is in the business of expecting everybody over a certain threshold to give absolutely everything away so that they can pay for everything else, which is not fair. One puts something in and get something out. That is what a social insurance fund is for.

My job and that of whichever Government happens to be in office is to be responsible for ensuring that the system is fair and money is available to make sure that people have enough money to live on in their older years. That is in new system towards which we are going to move and what the public consultation we will launch later this year will involve. We are moving to a total contributions model which will solve the anomalies which I acknowledge currently exist.

Question No. 38 replied to with Written Answers.

Social Welfare Code

Bríd Smith

Question:

39. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will disregard means testing of family income supplement with rent assessments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39685/17]

I refer to the means testing of family income supplement, FIS, for rent assessment. I ask the Minister to disregard the means test. When a person is due for a rent assessment FIS is taken into account. Given the current climate, where rents are very high, it negates the purpose of having family income support when it is taken into account for the payment of any support. I ask the Minister to negate that and make a statement on the matter.

We are all aware that rent supplement plays a vital role in housing just over 38,600 families and individuals at a cost of €253 million in 2017. Rent supplement is a statutory means-tested scheme, paid at differentiated rates of payment according to an applicant’s means and accommodation requirements. It is normally calculated to ensure that a person, after the payment of rent, has enough income at the rate of supplementary welfare allowance, SWA, appropriate to his or her family circumstances, less a weekly minimum contribution. This ensures that the payments are targeted at those most in need of assistance.

The standard weekly minimum contribution which recipients are required to pay from their own resources is €30 for a single person and €40 for a couple. Many recipients pay more than this amount as they are required, subject to their income disregards, to contribute any additional assessable means over and above their appropriate SWA rate towards their accommodation costs. Income from employment and family income supplement in excess of the standard SWA weekly rates of payment attract an additional income disregard and are assessed as follows: the first €75 of such additional income together with 25% of any additional income above €75 is disregarded for means assessment purposes.

Any changes to the rent supplement scheme can only be considered in a budgetary context and within the scope of the overall resources available, not just to my Department but to the Government. The Deputy will be aware that the strategic policy direction of my Department is to return rent supplement to its original purpose, that is, a short-term income support while we roll out the HAP scheme which has been very effective and successful to date.

I take issue with the Minister's last sentence. HAP has not been very effective. Every Deputy in the House knows that and during today's debate on housing we will point that out clearly to the Government. The Government is not listening.

The point is that one arm of the State gives a payment to people who are in receipt of low income, namely, FIS. Another arm of the State then assesses them for rent supplement, but in so doing takes FIS into account. As I said, this negates the impact of providing the support to some of the poorest people living and working in this country.

We are robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is not the only situation in which this happens. I refer to the Department's disability payments. People engaged in rehabilitative work have been told that they can work up to 20 hours a week, but Dublin City Council or other local authorities take the 20 hours into account when calculating rent. Again, it is robbing Peter to pay Paul. If we were able to calculate it, we would find the administrative costs far outweigh the cost of allowing people to hold onto their supplementary payments.

First of all, it is not robbing Peter to pay Paul. FIS supplements the income of tens of thousands of families who are working in casual employment or are in receipt of very low incomes. All income has to be taken into account in rent supplement cases. The fact that a payment has come from a different arm of the State does not mean it is disregarded. It is given from one arm of the State in order to supplement a family's income. From a HAP or rent supplement perspective, in assessing that payment it forms part of a family's income and cannot be disregarded.

I take issue with the Deputy in regard to HAP. I admit it has had a slow start, even in my own county. As of 11 September, 12,700 new HAP tenancies have been set up during 2017. There has been a sizeable reduction in the number of families involved and the amount of money we are spending on rent supplement. Ideally, we would like to reduce rent supplement so that families are in longer term lets or their own homes.

Ideally the Government would like to not have to pay HAP and supplement landlords. People should have a home as they are entitled to under the social welfare system. That is a debate for Private Members' business.

Deputy Boyd Barrett corrected me. The Minister is actually paying Peter to rob Peter. It is an ideological intervention to tell families they will be paid a family income support on the one hand while on the other taking it back because it is being calculated as part of assessments for rent allowance. Whether we are robbing Peter to pay Paul or Paul to pay Peter, factually I am correct. Those who are driven into poverty in this country are those who are being penalised the most by the system.

I would like the Minister to comment on the situation whereby rehabilitative payments which are allowed under disability payment schemes are taken into account in the payment of rent to local authorities.

In the time I have, I will tell the Deputy that is not true. When someone applies for rent supplement his or her income is taken into consideration. There is an income disregard, but all of his or her income, regardless of whether he or she is working in a full-time or part-time job and in receipt of FIS, is taken into account. The reason family income support is so effective is that it gives an income supplement to people who are on low incomes. From a rent supplement perspective, we are not going to treat people differently, whether they have a full-time job and cannot manage to look for rent supplements without supports or whether they are in receipt of FIS as well as a low-paid job when seeking rent supplement. That is the current situation and we have no plans to change it.

Social Welfare Benefits Reviews

Bernard Durkan

Question:

40. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the extent to which she monitors the number of applications for disability allowance, invalidity pension, carer's allowance or other similar payments with a view to ensuring the elimination of hardship; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39648/17]

The purpose of this question is to identify areas in which the Minister might be able to intervene and streamline the procedures in cases where decisions are taken to reduce, curtail or cease payments of one kind or another which subsequently go to an appeal which could take up to six months.

I do not want to flog a dead horse. We are all aware the primary purpose of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection system is to provide income supports to individuals and families when their circumstances, through loss of income or hardship, require it.

My Department provides a broad range of income support payments for such circumstances including illness or disability and to support the valuable service provided by care givers.

These payments account for a significant proportion of the Department's budget with expenditure on illness, disability and carers' payments amounting to just under €4 billion this year, which is nearly one fifth of the Department's overall spend. In this way, income support payments such as disability allowance, invalidity pension and carer's allowance are designed to play an important role in addressing social exclusion and minimising the possibility of hardship for recipients. The application and decision procedures reflect this overall objective.

Evidence from national income surveys such as the CSO's Survey on Income and Living Conditions, SILC, shows that social transfers do play a very significant role in reducing poverty and hardship by cutting the risk of poverty for people with disabilities in half. These results demonstrate effective social protection spending and Ireland continues to be among the best performing EU countries in reducing poverty and inequality through social transfers.

Nonetheless, I can assure the Deputy that a reduction in measured poverty rates for people with a disability is a key priority of the Government. We will continue to keep the range of supports under review as well as implement the comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities. I think the Deputy will be aware that we launched the Ability programme on Monday, a new structure is being rolled out in all of our EmployAbility services and the Make Work Pay strategy is implemented. We need to ensure better outcomes and incomes for people with disabilities with regard to employment and State support services.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Could particular attention be drawn to the appeals sector and the length of time it takes to reach a decision? While in most cases, a payment is in place while the decision is pending, it does not happen in all cases and there are situations where people suffer a great deal of hardship and mental pressure during that period. I wish to ascertain the extent to which the waiting time for appeals can be shortened.

I have only become aware from the past couple of months that the targets we set down in the Department for all of the services regarding the payments we facilitate are fairly ambitious. An appeal should take no longer than 12 weeks although clearly that is not always the reality. I am not apportioning blame to either the Department or to people but there is a sense, which I have experienced, that some people are holding back information for when the Department says "No" so that we can pull something out to give them something else. If people give all the information at the outset then hopefully they will never get to an appeal because if they are entitled to something, they should get it. If they give all of the information required for a successful outcome, they will get a successful outcome. I can say genuinely that some people expect to be refused so they hold something back for the appeal and when the appeal comes, they give the Department further information. If I can do nothing else, it is to reiterate to people applying for any social welfare payment that it is their money and that they are entitled to it. If they have made contributions, they will get the benefit and if they have not, they will get an allowance that will be mean-tested but it is taxpayers' money and it is a social contract that is designed to ensure that people are uplifted at a time when they need it most - be it through a disability or the loss of a job. People should give all of the information at the start of the application and it will be much easier.

I fully agree with the Minister's response generally but what I am trying to point is that there are specific instances where the general rule does not seem to apply and that may be for a variety of reasons. I do not mind what they are, I am merely interested in how they can be dealt with and whether it might be possible to carry out an internal review within the system to identify the cause or causes and thereby eliminate the potential for hardship, which in some cases, can have tragic consequences for families.

I take the Deputy's point on board. I do not need to conduct a review because we carry out one on a monthly basis. Every month, at a management meeting, we ask what the turnaround times for payments and appeals are. There are difficulties. The Deputy is probably aware that domiciliary care allowance applications have increased quite dramatically over the past couple of months so, therefore, the 12-week target is not being met but we have redrafted new staff, are training them, have put them in the Longford office and are hoping to bring it back from 16 weeks at the moment to 12. Where peaks and troughs exist, we look at them. There is constant monitoring regarding the appeals office but the turnaround time would be much faster if people were more willing to give all of the information in the first instance.

I take on board what the Deputy is saying and we will certainly look at it. If there are individual cases of hardship, as described by the Deputy, and I know we could all come up with them, they need to be brought to the attention of either the local Intreo office or higher up to the local principal officer to make sure people are looked after from a community welfare perspective.

Jobseeker's Payments

John Brady

Question:

41. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to end reduced jobseeker's payments for those between 18 and 25 years of age and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39586/17]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

46. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will consider in budget 2018 restoring both reduced rates of jobseeker's payments for those under 25 years of age in order that they are equal to those over 25 years of age and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39630/17]

The Government has continued the age discrimination for jobseekers introduced by Fianna Fáil. This has had and continues to have damaging consequences for young jobseekers. Are there any plans in the forthcoming budget to address the discrimination the Government presides over regarding young jobseekers?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 41 and 46 together.

Lower weekly rates for younger jobseeker's allowance recipients were first introduced in 2009 and extended in subsequent budgets. These measures were introduced to protect young people from welfare dependency. In many cases, they have had a very positive outcome because our youth unemployment figures have gone from here to here, which is very positive. I do not think it is just because the payments have been reduced but I do think it has been a factor. In short, the answer right now is "No". The simple reason for that is because if young people under the age of 25 do anything else other than receive jobseeker's benefit or allowance, they will get the full payment of €198 so if young people at home want to be carers or take part in a community employment scheme, back to education or training with their local ETBs, they have a variety of ways of increasing that payment from either €100 or €147, whatever the age happens to be, right up to €198. As of today, there are no plans to change that.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Should a young jobseeker on a reduced jobseeker’s allowance payment participate on an education or training programme they will receive a higher weekly payment of €193 which is the maximum personal rate for jobseeker's allowance.

The CSO's August 2017 monthly unemployment report showed that the seasonally adjusted youth unemployment rate - persons aged 15-24 years - was 12.7%. While this remains a high figure, it is notable that it represents a decrease of 4.5 percentage points from 17.2% in August 2016.

I am committed to ensuring my Department continues to identify effective measures to incentivise and support young people in finding and securing sustainable jobs. The best way to do this is through engagement processes and by incentivising them to avail of educational and training opportunities thereby enhancing their employment prospects.

The National University of Ireland Maynooth is examining the effectiveness of the reduced rates in encouraging young jobseekers to avail of education, training, employment programmes and opportunities. Initial results of the research were published as a working paper and these are being considered by the Department.

The 2017 Estimates for the Department provide for expenditure this year on jobseeker’s allowance of €2.16 billion. The full-year cost of increasing the age-related reduced jobseeker's rate to the maximum jobseeker's rate of €193 per week is estimated to be just over €109 million in 2018. This estimate is subject to change over the coming months in the context of emerging trends and associated revision of the estimated numbers of recipients for 2018.

From March 2017, rates of jobseeker’s payments were increased for claimants of all ages as a result of measures introduced in budget 2017.

I have a very serious question for the Minister. Could she live on €100 or €102.70 - the €2.70 increase that was given to people under the age of 24 and a marginal increase if they were 25? I know I would unable to do so and I dare say she would be unable to do so but the Government expects people of that age to live on that amount. One of the consequences of this discrimination, which was introduced by Fianna Fáil and presided over by Fine Gael and Labour, is youth homelessness, which is a growing problem. According to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, in July, 826 people between the ages of 18 and 24 were homeless. A total of 789 young people were homeless in January 2017. There has been a 78% increase in youth homelessness over the past three years. Those figures are provided by Focus Ireland. It is a serious problem. Does the Minister agree with the organisations that see the direct link between the discriminatory cuts introduced by Fianna Fáil and presided over by the Government and the youth homelessness crisis in this State?

In response to the Deputy's question as to whether I could survive on €102 per week, the answer is "No". I am a 46-year-old woman with four children and a husband. If you gave €102 per week to my 18-year-old son at the moment, he would be absolutely delighted. Let me address the fact that the Deputy believes that this is discriminatory. It is not discriminatory. There are some EU member states that do not even allow young people under a certain age to access social welfare payments at all. All the Deputy has to do is go up to Northern Ireland where his party should be in power and where the payment is something like £60. It is £65 in the rest of the UK. Is it discriminatory in the UK? No, it is not. It is not discriminatory.

The Minister has responsibility.

I absolutely have responsibility. What I am telling the Deputy is that there are no plans to change the payment as it stands but that if anybody between the ages of 18 and 25 wants to do anything else under social welfare schemes, such as be a carer, go back to school or undertake further training, they can afford to take the €198 per week if they want to change their practices.

It is absolutely discriminatory. What happens, for example, if somebody gets a job and then loses the job, but the job that he or she had and the earnings that he or she got from that were what enabled them to put a roof over his or her head, then that person loses the job through no fault of his or her own and then is back to the half-rate of a jobseeker's payment? That person is then homeless if he or she cannot go home, or possibly is left in overcrowded conditions. Yesterday, we were at a very good seminar organised by the Ceann Comhairle about mental health issues. One of the big focuses of that was the absolute crisis in youth mental health. Does the Minister think there might be any connection between youth homelessness, the serious problem in youth mental health, and the low incomes that young people who are not 18, living at home with their mums, but who are 18, 19, 20 or 21 who cannot do that, or the young people who are leaving the country?

It is categorically not discriminatory. If it was, somebody would have already taken and tested a case against it, and that has not happened. It has not because there is a choice for young people under 25 years of age so that if they need €198 to live on, they will move to one of the other schemes that is available to them to move to at any time during it. There are additional lower rates of payments for the people the Deputy has just described that it does not apply to. Anybody who had a job who loses it does not go back down to the payment of €102. People who are under 26 who have a qualified child stay on the higher rate of income. People who transfer to jobseeker's allowance immediately after exhausting their entitlements from jobseeker's benefit stay on the higher payment. People who make claims for jobseeker's allowance where the claim is linked to a jobseeker's allowance claim within the previous 12 months stay on the higher rate. The Deputy should know his facts before he comes in and makes sweeping statements that are completely untrue.

Only if their benefit contributions are sufficient.

The reason that there is a lower payment here is to try to be ambitious for our younger people. It is to try not to box them off into what the Deputy would wish to box them into. It is to try to encourage them to do something other than staying at home and collecting a payment of €102 a week. Let them become a carer. Let them go back to school and undertake further education. Let them do community employment or some of the social inclusion schemes. They are all on offer with €198 payment. The biggest ambition that this Government and State should have for our younger people is work and full-time employment.

I call Deputy Penrose to ask Question No. 42.

May we ask supplementary questions?

We are supposed to be allowed to ask supplementaries.

Short supplementaries.

The Minister talks about facts and figures. I have presented her with figures. They are not my figures but those of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. In July of this year, 826 young people were homeless. I am sure they have aspirations. They do not want to be homeless. They do not want to be unemployed. They want to be out there. The reality is that the measures the Minister's Government is presiding over are impacting detrimentally on them. It is compounding the difficulties that they are experiencing. The Minister's own predecessor, Deputy Leo Varadkar, acknowledged that and made some minor changes in the budget last year because of the representations from Focus Ireland and other organisations. The reality is that no analysis was done. No research was carried out by Fianna Fáil when these measures were introduced. Will the Minister outline any research that has been done of the potential impact that these discriminatory measures are going to have? No, because there was no research.

Deputy, please. I call Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett.

Will the Minister look at this in this year's budget, to end the discrimination, to end the homeless crisis for our young unemployed people and homeless people in this State?

The subtext of the Minister's response is that young people just want to sit around collecting money.

Please do not put words in my mouth.

That is the subtext.

The Minister will have an opportunity to respond.

That is the implication of what the Minister is saying. The reason young people have taken up employment is not because the Minister cut their benefits, but because young people want to go out and work. They want meaningful, properly paid work, which is very difficult to find, and work that will enable them to pay to put a roof over their heads is even more difficult to find for many young people. Slashing their payments when they are not able to find employment that will allow them to do that and putting them on this discriminatory rate as against when one reaches an arbitrary point of 25 years of age, before which one is expected to live on virtually half the money, is discrimination. There is no other way for it. For the Minister to imagine that is helping young people is preposterous.

I never ever said it was helping. Let me be very clear. There is nothing shy about me and I am well able to speak for myself. I would very much appreciate if the Deputy did not put words in my mouth or pertain to tell people that he knows what I am thinking or saying. I am very well able to say it myself.

The Minister more or less said it.

The purpose of this lower payment is to encourage younger people to provide themselves with opportunities such as back to education, to provide community employment schemes or any of the activation measures that are available to support, assist and help younger people into employment and into the workforce. Let me point out something to the Deputy. It is working. One of the largest drops in unemployment has been in our younger people, and particularly in our younger graduates over the last number of years. The Deputy's ambition for younger people might be entirely different from mine, but my ambition for younger people who still remain on the live register is to help to work hard and to do everything that we can to support them into full-time, meaningful, well-paid employment. That is what we are going to focus on.

Social Insurance

Willie Penrose

Question:

42. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the steps she is taking to tackle bogus self-employment; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the amount collected under the national training fund levy on employers is nearly 9% below profile; if this is also impacting on employer PRSI returns; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39646/17]

My colleague, former Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, set up a working group on bogus self-employment in July 2015, that is, over two years ago. It has not yet reported. Will the Minister indicate when this report will be forthcoming and will she outline what action will be taken? This aspect of bogus self-employment is a scourge, and there is only one set of losers.

I have taken a big interest in this in the last couple of months. I was of the view that the Deputy has just described but I was very much surprised by the results that I got back. I will outline an excerpt and then I will discuss it with the Deputy.

In 2000, a national training fund levy of 0.7% was introduced by the then Fianna Fáil Government and it was incorporated into the employer's social insurance contribution in classes A and H, with no charges for anybody else. Social insurance receipts up to the end of August 2017 were €6.6 billion. This was almost €178 million or just under 3% ahead of profile. The anecdotal story that we are told that there are millions of euro not being paid by employers because they are manipulating or controlling of certain types of employees does not add up to the figures that come in. Then I have to delve deeper and say that we genuinely know that people are employed in very casualised environments. The construction industry is probably the most obvious to us, but other industries are doing the same.

I have taken some time to look at how we can address those issues. It is much more complex than I expected. I expected to be able to introduce an employers' levy for people who are not self-employed, because the easy way is to increase the employee's PRSI from a self-employed perspective, and that is the last thing that I am going to do. While I am adamant that I am going to improve and expand all of the social insurance benefits that have been available to people on other classes to self-employed people, and actually improve the social insurance benefits to everybody else, I am certainly not going to increase the employee's PRSI contribution. I am looking at how I can best address the issue of probably a relatively small number of people or businesses in that space that are taking advantage of people and to provide some sort of levy or penalty to address the ongoing issue.

At the same time, and if the Leas-Cheann Comhairle can give me a little latitude, there are thousands of people who have never heard of Scope and do not have a clue that there is a body.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

This includes an amount of €282 million for the national training fund. This was €7.8 million ahead of profile, also 2.7%. Bogus self-employment is where employees and employers wilfully evade income tax and social insurance liabilities.

Social welfare inspectors carry out visits to a wide range of businesses, as part of their ongoing compliance operations. Inspections are occasionally undertaken jointly with other State agencies such as the Revenue Commissioners and the Workplace Relations Commission. Where evidence of non-compliance is detected, this will be pursued.

Officials will also investigate details of specific cases supplied to my Department’s Scope section. This section deals with employers, employees and the self-employed, who may apply to have an employment or self-employment status investigated and the correct class of pay-related social insurance, PRSI, determined.

Where the misclassification of workers as self-employed is detected, the correct insurability status of the person concerned is determined and social insurance arrears are collected. Under the Social Welfare Consolidation Act, there are specific offences in regard to employment contributions, their remittance and the maintenance of prescribed wages and employment records. On conviction, fines and or imprisonment can ultimately be imposed.

Any worker who has concerns about their employment and PRSI status should contact my Department and the matter will be investigated.

My Department has concerns that some types of employment structures may be being used to reduce the amount of PRSI and tax being paid, with a subsequent loss to the Exchequer and the Social Insurance Fund. An interdepartmental working group, comprising officials from my Department, the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners has been examining the issue and I expect to receive a report shortly.

I will give the Minister latitude. The balance of her response will be in the Official Report.

I am concerned that people are being forced to present as self-employed to get work. It is an issue in the construction industry. We are not all living in cloud cuckoo-land, because it is. The returns to the national training levy - the 0.7% levy was correctly applied - is now 9% or €21 million less than profile. Why is it less than profile when employment is increasing and there has been a mass of returns? Is it because there is a large increase in self-employment in many businesses? The Minister is right that we do not want to impose levies on people, etc., but there is some reason for that.

There is much disguised employment. There are innovative people in disguised employment. There are people setting up as companies with one employee in employment.

Then there is an individual who is dependent on and under the control of the employer and who is forced into accepting self-employed conditions and being classified as in self-employment. As I have spent my life being self-employed, I know it is a different system.

I agree with Deputy Penrose. Both of us are on the same wavelength, except in one regard. We are not behind profile. We are €278 million ahead of profile. That is why it does not make any sense to me. My gut is telling me that there are people out there who are in vulnerable positions who do not know that we are here to help. I will make sure that they know while at the same time improving the employee rights, improving the employee benefits through the social contribution fund, and extending it to all self-employed to ensure that they are looked after as well as someone who is in employment.

The big part of this that is a puzzle to me - I am far from finished looking at it - is how I get to the employers to ensure that those who are manipulating the system get to pay into the Social Insurance Fund the same way as everybody does. That is a little more complex than I originally thought when I took over a few months ago.

The Minister will be aware that employers, trade unions, professional bodies and individuals made some 23 submissions to that working group. When will the working group report? Will the report be available to us soon, or what is the position, because that might be a help?

I am all in favour of self-employment - people starting up their own businesses have provided 300,000 jobs in the economy and they are very important - but I do not want some unscrupulous employers pulling a stroke, then disappearing and people who have been classified as self-employed not having any contribution record when the whole shebang collapses under them and being left high and dry. Of course, then such self-employed are subject to all sorts of investigations and everything else. The buck stops with them as opposed to the unscrupulous employer who has pulled a stroke on them. I want to protect the rights of those people who should be classified as employees but are classified as self-employed.

I will make two points to Deputy Penrose. The report will be ready for publication shortly. I had one concern. Some 23 submissions were received but only four came from self-employed people. It is a bit of a misnomer when one has public consultation on self-employment that 19 of the 23 submissions are from employers. I was a bit miffed by that. I am considering seeking submissions again, specifically to target self-employed persons. The report might otherwise be complete. I could issue an interim report, but I think we will wait for the complete picture.

I thank the Minister.

With the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's indulgence, I would say that anybody who finds himself or herself in the position Deputy Penrose described can retrospectively go back to Scope and get his or her social insurance contributions reinstated. That is the merit of Scope.

Public Services Card

John Curran

Question:

43. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to extend the requirement for the public services card; her views on whether other Departments and agencies should be able to insist on using this card for identification purposes; her further views on whether the public services card is effectively becoming a national identity card; her views on whether, if the Government wants a national identity card, it should introduce such a system through primary legislation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39140/17]

There are four minutes left. If Deputy Curran forfeits his 30-second introduction, the Minister can answer and I will allow the Deputy one supplementary.

The purpose of the public services card, PSC, is to enable individuals to gain access to public services more efficiently and less duplication of having to give the same information to a variety of different public bodies, while at the same time preserving their privacy to the maximum extent possible.

The purpose of SAFE 2 registration, as underpinned by legislation, is to verify the person's identity to a substantial level of assurance. Once identity is verified, a public services card can be issued. My Department makes it clear to our customers that they need to complete the SAFE 2 registration to access, or continue to access, payments and entitlements. This is not an unreasonable condition given the value of payments made to customers and the overwhelming majority of customers have no difficulty in completing the process. As of yesterday, we were at 2.87 million.

As I explained to Deputy Curran's colleague earlier in regard to a similar question, my Department and I have no plans to introduce any changes to the PSC other than those proposed in the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017 which will be before the House this evening.

To completely dispel the view of some people, the PSC is not a national ID card as it does not bear any of the characteristics of one. It is not necessary for a person to carry it or have it on him or her. One can stick it in a drawer at home. If a person does not need to use it again, that is entirely up to him or her. It cannot be demanded by the Garda. In fact, if gardaí asked for it today, they would be committing an offence under the Act we passed here in 2013.

Furthermore, it cannot be requested by any body or person not named specifically as a body in Schedule 5 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, as amended. It can only be used by those specified in the legislation in the context of conducting a public transaction with the person concerned. Therefore, the legislation narrows its application considerably and proves that the intent of the card is, as it always was, just to access public services.

As the Minister will be aware, there was quite a lot of controversy over the card. I understand the intent, but the concern in terms of the greater mandatory use of the card and the data that is collected is who else may view it, where it would go and where it might be used. It is all very well to say go home and put it into the drawer and that one might never have to use it again, but it is worth noting what other Departments have to say about it. What is the data to be used for? The Department of Finance when talking about the Revenue Commissioners states that it is in line with Government policy to develop a single authentication mechanism for customers to access public services. It goes on to talk about the PPS and MyGovID. In terms of the Department of Education and Skills, it talks about MyGovID using the same data from the 2018-19 academic year and it being mandatory at that stage. The driver and vehicle online portals speak of using the same data. The Passport Office also speaks of using the same data. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs references it in relation to accessing the affordable child care scheme. The National Transport Authority even states that it is supportive of a move to mandatory electronic validation of the PSC for free travel.

The point I am getting at is the Minister is saying one thing and she is doing a certain amount but other Departments and agencies are in discussions with her Department. I am not opposed to it but there is merit in looking at where this goes. There should be a proper debate on the card rather than individual Departments trying to have individual agreements.

What is the purpose of this public services card outside of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection? As the Minister can see from what I pointed out, quite a number of Departments and agencies have an interest in it.

The Deputy is absolutely right, but it is not a change. I repeat that the public services card is to do nothing other than access public services. The reason the Deputy gets authenticated the first and only time is that if he goes through the SAFE process and he proves he is John Curran, he will never have to do it again. The Deputy will have proven with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection that he is John Curran. When the Deputy goes to get a driver licence or if he makes a SUSI application, he will have proven he is John Curran. Rather than duplicate the whole effort of giving them his ID dataset again, the Deputy will have already proven who he is once and all he has to do is tell these people that he has been SAFE 2 passed and they will have access to all the Deputy's data and they will know the Deputy is the one and only John Curran.

There is no change to the remit of the card other than what we all agreed here in 2011. The people who can share the dataset are listed in Schedule 5. They are SUSI, the Passport Office staff, the driver licence staff and the health identifier staff. It is all listed there. There are 50 bodies, in which there are 102 sub-sections, but it is only to access public services. The Deputy will never be asked to whip out his PSC from his back pocket and prove he is John Curran.

With regard to national identity cards, for what it is worth, I would be totally opposed to them.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.