Priority Questions

Departmental Agencies Reports

Willie O'Dea


49. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if all members of the Citizens Information Board,CIS unanimously signed off on the cost-benefit analysis report on the restructuring of MABS and the CIS; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46918/17]

Willie Penrose


53. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she has been furnished with a copy of the cost-benefit analysis prepared for the Citizens Information Board by a company (details supplied); if her attention has been drawn to the fact that there are concerns relating to same being expressed by the board, which has resulted in the board not endorsing same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46922/17]

My question is self-explanatory. Did the Citizens Information Board unanimously sign off on the cost-benefit analysis of the restructuring of the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS, and the Citizens Information service, CIS?

I apologise for being late to the House. I am not usually caught on the hop, but I was today.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 49 and 53 together.

The Citizens Information Board, CIB, is a statutory body established by the Oireachtas. In addition to its own statutory responsibilities on information and advocacy, it has statutory responsibility for the countrywide networks of Citizens Information Services, CIS, and Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS.

In February this year the board of CIB decided to change its governance from 93 individual service delivery companies to an eight region model, each with its own CIS and MABS regional company.

Also in February, the Citizens Information Board appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection regarding its planned restructuring of CIS and MABS. The committee recommended a cost-benefit analysis on the new regional board model be carried out. Following a procurement exercise, the Citizens Information Board commissioned independent economic consultants to provide that analysis. Its report was submitted to the committee on 21 September. I was also provided with the report and am pleased to note its findings indicate strong support for the implementation of the board's decision in February.

I understand the report was circulated to the board of CIB for information in advance of its last meeting on 20 September. It is also my understanding that the minutes of that meeting have not yet been approved by the board and so have not yet been published.

The report was prepared in response to the CIB's undertaking to the committee on social protection that it would have a cost-benefit analysis carried out on the final governance arrangement model. The was written by economic consultants. Its purpose was to analyse the matter and deliver findings and recommendations. It is an analytical report and as such does not require approval or sign-off by the board of CIB.

I am not aware that the board of CIB has concerns about the report. If any individual member of the board has any objection to its findings, that is a matter for the board of CIB.

I thank the Minister for her response. My recollection is that when we discussed this matter with the Minister at the committee, she confirmed that the board had signed off on the report. I am open to correction, but the information available to me is that when the final report was produced, the consultants had not engaged with anyone other than the executive of the board. It is also my information that the board refused to approve the analysis by the consultants and requested that that should be made clear when the report was being circulated. That was not done. Will the Minister comment on that?

I accept that when I raised the matter at the committee, the Minister had been informed that the board had signed-off on the report. It is a serious issue if members of the board other than the executive are not happy with the report and asked that their dissent be recorded when the report was circulated. At a minimum it warrants consideration by the committee and the CIB. The Minister will be aware that, so far, the CIB has refused to come before the committee to discuss the matter.

I will allow the Minister to respond and then Deputy O'Dea before Deputy Willie Penrose, so that the Deputy may catch his breath.

If I told Deputy O'Dea at the committee on social protection that the board had signed off on the report, I jumped the gun since the board's minutes will not be signed off until its next meeting. It was not with a view to misleading the Deputy. I have no doubt that the minutes will be adopted at the next meeting, although I do not wish to pre-empt that.

There is a clear issue in so far as I recognise the independent statutory nature of this body. It is not my business or place to question how the board does its business over and above the budget that is given to the board through my Department annually. What it sought to do last year was improve its governance and that is what it has done. The cost-benefit analysis in the report that both the Deputy and I have read says to the fullest extent that these moves will improve governance. If nothing else, that should instil confidence in us as elected Members that this body will be run to the highest standards. If people on the board disagree, they must make that known at the board meeting where it will be discussed. It is not my place or that of the Deputy to tell the board how to conduct its business either at the board or in rearranging the governance of a body that must be held to the highest standards.

I do not know what else I can say except that I recognise that it is a statutory body that is established by the will of this House, and it is only to this House that it is responsible. The CIB is trying to improve its governance, rather than the opposite, and that is to be welcomed.

I did not realise that Priority Questions could be grouped and I was at a meeting of the committee on agriculture earlier.

Section 2 of the report discusses the rationale for the study. It states that the Citizens Information Board had been requested by the Department of Social Protection and the Comptroller and Auditor General to undertake this work. Did the Minister or any officials from her Department issue a directive to CIB, because that would be totally at variance with what she said? The Minister said she was unable to intervene, as the CIB was an independent body, yet according to section 2 she or, rather, her officials were involved. We are not surprised by this. According to page 6 of the report, the consultants have not undertaken a sufficient study of CIB and its activities from which to draw definitive conclusions on the efficiency of its network. Was that not the very essence of their task? I suggest that they could not do it because they never spoke to a single stakeholder on the ground. They spoke to all the top boys from whom the idea originated. This is nothing more than the application of we-know-best, top-down policy and telling people to sit down like little boys and do what they are told.

It is clear that substantial additional funding will be required to implement the proposed restructuring. That is clearly at variance with the excuse used for setting up the new structure in the first place. The set-up costs will be about €2 million and will grow. There will be ongoing costs, which have been totally underestimated.

Will the Minister ask the board where it will find all the savings? Virtually none of the board members claims even a penny of expenses. Did the consultants misunderstand when they said that an additional €14.97 million wold be achieved in additional output as a result of the restructuring over eight years? There is a laugh on page 25 of the report where it says the release of 770 volunteers would free them up to volunteer elsewhere in the economy resulting in the additional value to the economy of €4.9 million. On the contrary, their expertise will be lost to MABS and the whole thing will implode.

The Minister says that she does not have power but if I were her, I would call in the head honchos who are acting like little dictators in trying to implement a policy that does not have the support of one Member of the Oireachtas and very few people to whom it provides a service.

I will vary the supplementaries to be fair to everyone.

The Minister says it is not our business to interfere with how the board does its business but I disagree. It is very much our business. We are talking about two organisations which have done and continue to do great work for a section of the public. If that organisation is to be undermined or interfered with or if its capacity to help the type of people it helps is to be undermined or reduced, it is our job to protect what it is doing on behalf of so many hundreds of thousands of people.

The Minister mentioned the cost-benefit analysis. It was conducted purely as a result of the Joint Committee on Social Protection having demanded it unanimously, including members of the Minister's party. We were presented with a scenario where widespread change was going ahead without even a cost-benefit analysis, so we looked for one and as a result it was produced. I have read it, as have the other Members here, and I find it seriously flawed.

When we discussed this last in the House, the Minister said she was precluded by the advice of the Attorney General from interfering in any way despite what the report says.

The report itself states quite clearly that the Minister interfered. If that legislation were to be changed, would she be of the same opinion? Would she feel disposed to intervene if she could and if the barrier of the advice of the Attorney General was removed?

I want to put it clearly on the record of this House that the roles and services of MABS and the Citizens Information Board, CIB, in all of the towns and villages the length and breadth of this country are not going to be diminished. They are going to be exactly as state of the art as they have always been. The changes in governance will have no impact on the services of the CIB and MABS, which the men and women of our country rely on, which they have relied on for years and which they will continue to rely on. Let us be clear about that first of all.

Nobody agrees with that apart from paid consultants.

The CIB did not seek to prepare a full cost-benefit analysis because it was on the basis of the benefits of the changes, as outlined in the Pathfinder report, that they were made. That report went as far back as 2014. That was together with the estimated costs which had been compiled on the various options which were put before it. Let us put this on the record. The cost-benefit analysis has now been completed. It indicates a socioeconomic benefit-to-cost ratio of 6.6:1. This bears out the view that the restructuring is not only necessary, but vital and cost-effective. The net public expenditure is estimated to be €4.1 million compared to net benefits of €18.9 million over an eight-year period. Although cost is not the driver, it is clearly going to save money. I also have to put on the record of the House that the cost-benefit analysis which was sought by the joint committee and delivered by the CIB and MABS, and which has been published on the CIB website, includes all the set-up costs, professional fees and the cost of the recruitment and salaries of the 16 regional operators who are to be appointed. The analysis very clearly suggests that this change of governance will enhance the role of the CIB and MABS in our community and will do nothing else.

JobPath Programme

John Brady


50. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she has read Sinn Féin’s report on JobPath as issued to her; her views on the report's findings; the actions she will take as a result of the report's findings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46920/17]

Before the recess, Sinn Féin launched a report into JobPath and sent it to the Minister. I have a copy here. Has the Minister received it? Has she looked through it? What are her thoughts on the report and, more importantly, what actions will she take in light of its content?

Yes, I did receive the Deputy's report. He is referring to a 22-page dossier of anecdotes. He has a copy of it, as do I. If he would like to refer to specifics within it I would welcome that, because this is something like the fifth time I have asked him for specifics. If I have specifics I can do something about them. Anecdotes are only sweeping statements which serve no purpose but to diminish a programme which has provided a huge and valuable service to 125,000 people in the last 18 months. There is no analysis in the report. There is no attempt at constructive critique. There is no structured or coherent set of recommendations arising from what the Deputy feels is happening on the ground. There are no suggestions as to how we should best engage with people who are long-term unemployed.

I have repeatedly explained to the Deputy that the only aim of my Department and its officials is to provide the best level of service to those people who need support for periods of their lives, whether they are periods of job seeking or caring or whatever. If the Deputy has specific reasons to believe there is a problem he should bring them to us. We will raise them specifically with the providers of JobPath and we will uncover whatever it is that the Deputy believes is going on. The problem I have is that every time I go to see these providers, or engage with them on behalf of my constituents - the Deputy will be aware I was in his constituency yesterday and visited the providers there - I see a level of excellence and a commitment and ambition to help people who are long-term unemployed, to develop relationships, to remove any anxiety or confidence barriers which they might have and which might prevent them from joining the workforce. I see a committed relationship which builds up over weekly and bi-weekly contacts with these people which support them in returning to the workplace.

A couple of weeks ago when I was before the House I said that it is the most successful programme which has ever been run by this Department in attempting to provide employment services for people. The reason it is so successful is that it is people-centred. The relationships which people who are out of work build with the employment advisers are crucial to rebuilding their confidence and helping them get back into employment. That relationship is so crucial that it continues even when somebody gets a job. The service provider in that JobPath office continues to call the person on a weekly and monthly basis for 12 months afterwards. That is commitment to the people. That is ensuring that we provide a valuable service.

I encourage the Minister to speak to the people who are on these schemes, rather than speaking to the private companies which are rolling them out, Turas Nua and Seetec. I note the Minister was in Wicklow speaking to one of those companies. That is exactly what I did in this report. I went out and gave those people a safe space to tell their stories, without the fear of having their payments stopped or curtailed. I was totally inundated. Thousands of people came forward and gave their experiences. It is not anecdotal evidence. What emerged was story after story of similar situations in which people felt they were threatened, held to ransom and worried sick that their payments would be curtailed. The Minister threw down a challenge to me that last time I questioned her on this matter. She said that if there was any evidence that Turas Nua or Seetec were engaging with short-term unemployed people, that would be a breach of its contract. The evidence is there. I have solid evidence that people are not being referred. In some cases people are being penalised by Intreo offices and are being sent over to JobPath providers as some form of a penalty. There are many cases where short-term unemployed people have been sent to Turas Nua and Seetec. The evidence is there. The Minister cannot deny it.

I do not want to labour the point, but I hope it is clear at this stage that the 22-page report which the Deputy sent me does not have a single fact in it. It does not send me anywhere. It does not say that I need to go to the office in Ballycumber because there was a particular instance there with a Mrs. Murphy. If the Deputy did not want to name names he could have privately given me the examples of, I believe he said, the thousands of people who shared reports with him. I am sorry to say that I do not believe that he has any evidence because if he had he would have already given it to me. Listen to the language the Deputy has just used. He has said that people are being "penalised" in being sent to a service which is there to help them get work. What is wrong with the Deputy? This is probably one of the most efficient and effective tools which we have ever had to help people get work. Some 124,000 people have been through the doors of Turas Nua and Seetec in the last 18 months. To challenge the Deputy, I did not go to meet the staff in Turas Nua yesterday, I actually went to meet the clients. I sat down with a number of clients and some of them had genuine observations to make to me, which will make the service better, but not one of them had a criticism: not one.

In making personal attacks on me, the Minister is attacking the hundreds and thousands of people who took part in this report.

They are not individual one-off cases. There is a pattern in Turas Nua and Seetec right across the board and right across the State. These two companies are operating totally outside of their contracts. The Minister has not addressed that point, which is the core point. This JobPath scheme was set up to engage long-term unemployed people and it has deviated from that completely. There are people engaged who are short-term unemployed for weeks and, in some cases, days. I will certainly give the Minister the evidence. In attacking me, she is attacking the people who are being threatened, bullied and intimidated by the threat of having their payments stopped.

It is not just participants. Former personal advisers have also been in touch with me. They have questioned the whole concept. They have said that the main objective when someone comes through the doors is not to let him or her outside until he or she has signed the contract. The service providers' main goal is to get these people to sign the contract because that is when the payments start flowing to them. There are serious issues here. The Minister said that if there was evidence that the providers are working outside their contracts she would act. Rather than calling me a liar in the Chamber, in light of the evidence which I have amassed over the last three months, I challenge the Minister to deal with the issues. They are not one-offs. They are not individual cases. They are systemic right across the board in Turas Nua and Seetec.

I certainly would not call anybody in this Chamber a liar. I will put it on record again that if the Deputy has evidence I ask him please to bring it to me. I have been the Minister for nearly five months and we have been having this conversation for all that time. Without such evidence, all I have is the evidence of the 124,000 people who have been helped and aided and the 126 people in the office in the Deputy's home town of Bray who have received new work in the last month because of their interactions with Turas Nua. These people are committed to helping find jobs and employment for people who are long-term unemployed.

In case the Deputy or anyone listening does not know, that means a period of over 12 months. It does not apply to people who have been unemployed for a number of weeks or months-----

So there are no cases-----

It is over 12 months. The Deputy keeps saying to everybody, inside and outside the Houses, that people are being grabbed off the street having lost their jobs only weeks previously. He should give me the evidence. If he gives me the evidence, I will be able to consider credibly what he keeps talking about. He has not provided the evidence to date, however.

Deputy Doherty is the Minister. Has she spoken to them?

I am not the one making the allegations; the Deputy is.

State Pension (Contributory) Eligibility

Willie O'Dea


51. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when the report she has asked her Department to prepare on the post-2012 contributory pension band rates is expected to be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46919/17]

This question relates to the recent motion, passed unanimously by the House, on changing the pension contribution rules introduced in 2012. The Minister will recall that in her counter-motion, she made certain commitments, namely, that she would examine the problem, ask her Department to study it and get back to her, and then report to the Cabinet. Has that process started? If so, at what stage is it?

The Deputy is aware that it is my intention to bring forward the total contributions model for the calculation of pensions from 2020 onwards. We will be having a public consultation on that in the next couple of weeks or months, I hope. I have a document ready on the issue. I will be giving it to the Deputy and the other social welfare spokespersons in the House.

Arising from the anomaly that was created — it was not created in 2012 but exacerbated in that year — I committed to having my officials carefully examine the approaches we could take to address it. The process is actually very nearly completed. I had a meeting with my officials yesterday. I had hoped to bring the matter to the Cabinet today but I did not want to bring something that was only three-quarters baked. I have no doubt I will have it finalised in the next couple of days. It should genuinely prove my bona fides regarding my statement that we will fix this. I do not mean "we" as in Regina Doherty, Fine Gael or this Government. Collectively in this House, we will fix this anomaly, and I hope we will do so sooner rather than later.

The reason for the delay, from yesterday and over the next couple of days, is that some of the suggestions will create other anomalies. When we address one issue, we could find another needs to be addressed. Perhaps another, perhaps two steps removed, will bite us so I want to make sure that whatever decision we make to look after those who were disenfranchised over recent years will not result in a recurrence of the issue at another spot.

I am happy with the Minister's reply. I am glad she has moved so quickly to meet her commitment and that the study has been done. I am glad she is almost in a position to make a report to the Cabinet. Can she confirm to me again, for the record, that it is her intention to do something about this issue in the short term and that we will not be waiting until next year's budget?

No, I cannot because it very much depends on how much doing so costs. The Deputy knows exactly what the social welfare budget is this year. He knows exactly where it is all pencilled in. There is not a resource somewhere that is not assigned to somebody. Addressing this and the options we choose will involve new money. The Deputy will have heard the Taoiseach state earlier that there is not in the overall budget new money sitting around. Whatever decision is made is one that will have to be made collectively by this House. We will have to find the money between all of us. I would like to believe we could do as the Deputy desires but I do not want to make a commitment in that regard right now until I know exactly how much it will cost.

I am glad the Minister has not closed her mind to the possibility of doing something in advance of the next budget.

The Minister referred to the total contributions system the Government is preparing to introduce. Is she aware of a report by KPMG, produced at the instance of the Department, that a total contributions system would mean even fewer people, women in particular, would get at least 80% of their pension by comparison with now? I was fascinated to see the reference to the report because my understanding was that the total contributions scheme has not been devised yet. Whether the information is accurate will depend on the nature of the scheme. Has somebody asked KPMG to examine a particular type of scheme? I read the report but is it a reality? Perhaps the Minister could explain what it means and states.

Given that the Deputy has read the report, he will realise it is based on an examination of the next 30 years, asking what state the social contribution fund would be in if we did absolutely nothing and what options we could choose and what they would cost if we were to have it on a sustainable basis. I have said a number of times, and the Deputy is well aware, that when we move to any new model, there will be winners and losers. If one introduces a new total contributions model, there will have to be a grace period of a number of years to ensure people can pick from the new system or old system. If one does not have enough contributions to earn a pension at the full rate, one is well aware of it long before reaching retirement stage. The total contributions method is an absolutely fair way to reward people who have paid into a fund in that they can take money out of that fund on the basis of how much they paid in.

To answer the Deputy’s question on outliers, a decision has not been made. The outliers will relate to where the bands will start and finish and where the contributions for homemaker schemes will start and finish. None of those issues has been teased out. That is what the public consultation would be about.

How did KPMG come to its conclusion?

These are actuarial geniuses and I am sure they have their methods and their models.

One-Parent Family Payment Eligibility

John Brady


52. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the reason lone parents are being forced to seek child maintenance from an ex-partner in order to retain their one-parent family payment; her plans to remove this rule; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46921/17]

One of the conditions for receiving a one-parent family payment obliges lone parents to seek child maintenance from the other parent themselves. Why is that the case?

The current conditions for the making of the one-parent family payment include the requirement that the lone parent must at least make an effort to seek maintenance from the other parent in order to retain the payment. This is because parents have responsibilities. This always has been a condition of the one-parent family payment. It is not new. It is not some new measure that has been brought in. It was laid down in the social welfare regulations as far back as 2007. The "efforts to seek maintenance" condition is regarded as being satisfied once appropriate efforts are made by the lone parent to seek maintenance from the other parent, even if this does not result in getting any maintenance payment from the other parent. These efforts can include, but are obviously not limited to, evidence of a consensual agreement, participation in structured mediation and court proceedings. The condition is also considered satisfied in situations where there is domestic abuse or sexual violence, which unfortunately occur.

The Department has been reviewing aspects of the maintenance arrangements relevant to lone parents, including the "efforts to seek maintenance" condition. Since April, however, work on a statutory review of the one-parent family payment has taken priority. It is something we all needed and wanted. The review is now complete and the report has been laid before the Houses. Given that the same team is involved, we are now going back to continue the work on the conditions with regard to the payment. The requirement is not new; it has been always in place. It is simply a case of honouring the rights and responsibilities that go with being a parent. We all know that it takes two to tango, and people have to live up to their responsibilities.

I acknowledge it is not a new condition but that does not mean it is a fair one. It is an unnecessary condition for the receipt of the one-parent family payment. Why should the lone parent have to make contact or try to make contact with an ex-partner to seek child maintenance in order to receive a payment to which she or he should be entitled in the first place? Lone parents are raising their children on their own. That should be the only condition for the receipt of the payment. Lone parents, many of whom have been in touch with me, are being put in precarious and very dangerous circumstances trying to chase down ex-partners to try to get them to agree to making maintenance payments. The Minister touched on this. In some cases, there is horrific abuse, both physical and mental, which is putting lone parents in a very dangerous position. There are numerous examples around the world of models in which lone parents do not have to chase down the payment themselves. There are examples that this State should be considering.

There is absolutely nobody that would be ever required by my Department to put himself or herself in a dangerous position to acquire proof. That is why I clearly told the Deputy that a satisfying condition is somebody telling us he or she has been subject to domestic or sexual violence.

Nobody is being asked to put themselves in any dangerous position. What we are here to do is to protect people and to mind them at the period in their lives when they do not have the means and the will to do it themselves. It is a condition because the solidarity behind the money we receive from taxpayers who pay into the Social Insurance Fund is to help people at times in their lives when they cannot otherwise help themselves. Why would we not make it a condition that when there is a second parent, he or she is responsible for his or her children? Why does Deputy Brady think it is okay to have a taxpayer fund somebody's responsibility just because we have not gone after him or her to make sure he or she knows his or her rights and responsibilities?

I do not agree with Deputy Brady. It takes two people to make a baby and both of them have rights and responsibilities towards the child. The State kicks in to bear those responsibilities during periods when people cannot look after themselves to the extent they would like, but that does not let off the hook the parent who is missing in action. I totally disagree with Deputy Brady that we should take it out of the conditions that we would pursue people to ensure they bear their rights and responsibilities.

I think the Minister is missing the point here.

I am not saying the ex-partner should get away scot-free. On the contrary, what I am arguing for is the payment to be made to the lone parent and for the State to chase down the maintenance.

Why would the State do it?

Unfortunately, the situation for many lone parents is that the maintenance payment is being treated as household income. That is contrary to what it should be. It is a payment for the child; it is not household income. Unfortunately, what we see is that the payment is means-tested for family income support and other payments, whether it is paid or not. That is the reality. It is putting many lone parents in financially worse-off situations. There is a serious problem here. Why are lone parents being forced into messy, dangerous situations? There are many such cases. I must contradict the Minister. There is one case of which the Minister's predecessor was aware, as I brought it directly to his attention, where a lone parent was forced to go abroad to try to identify where the ex-partner was living and to try to get a payment put in place. Even if there is a court order, it does not mean the payment will be made. There is a serious problem at issue. Lone parents are being unfairly penalised and there need to be changes. I urge the Minister to examine the issue, which is unfair, unsafe and financially damaging to many lone parents.

The State entirely recognises that when a maintenance payment is made, the vast majority of the payment is for the children and that is not included in the household means test. Deputy Brady is well aware of that.

Does Deputy Brady seriously think it is the State's responsibility to chase down maintenance? That just beggars belief. Nobody will be put in a dangerous position. The condition will be satisfied immediately if anybody is subject to either domestic threats of violence or of a sexual nature. No payment is deducted on the basis of a court award or a mutual agreement. The only time payments are deducted is when there are actual means coming into a house arising from a payment. Deputy Brady can shake his head but if he has evidence to the contrary, he should please bring it to me and I will chase it up. In the absence of evidence, then it is just hearsay from Deputy Brady's perspective and I have factual evidence that we do not do that. I will say it again. I sound like a broken record but that is only when I am talking to Deputy Brady. If he has evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the people in my Department, he should bring it to me.

Does the Minister speak to organisations such as SPARK representing lone parents?

Deputy Brady's time has expired. This is not a conversation.

What bears fruit in our Department is facts. I say sincerely to Deputy Brady that he should bring it to my attention if he has evidence of anybody being mistreated. We have 7,000 staff members and the vast majority of the people whom I have met to date are committed and wonderful people who want to serve people in public service. They go out of their way to make sure they get looked after because the people we are dealing with are vulnerable. They are at times of their lives where they need to be helped and minded. We are not some group of people who are just going out of our way to make it difficult for people. The whole purpose of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is to protect and to make sure that the welfare of people is upheld and that we do it with dignity and respect. For the last time, hopefully, today, if Deputy Brady has evidence he should bring it to me and I will investigate it.

Question No. 53 answered with Question No. 49.