Other Questions

Social Welfare Benefits

Mattie McGrath

Question:

54. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the supports she is putting in place to support self-employed persons if, for example, a business fails or closes due to unexpected sickness or ill health. [43366/17]

I draw the attention of the Minister to the plight of the self-employed. We know how important they are in this country, especially in the recovery, in keeping employment going and keeping the coffers filled through the payment of taxes. Could the Minister outline what the Government is doing to support those very people when they get into difficulty, when they fall ill or get an injury? We made a lot of play of that in the talks prior to the agreement of a programme for Government but I do not see much happening and I ask the Minister to outline what is happening to support those people who are the movers and shakers, as far as I am concerned, especially employers who employ between one and ten people.

I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for raising this question. The question comes within the remit of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, but I will respond in his absence. It is a pity the Deputy cannot see anything happening because we are committed to enhancing the position of self-employed people through the provision of services based on the PRSI benefits that are available from what I hope will be a supportive tax regime going forward.

Since March 2017, class S contributions have enabled 300,000 self-employed people to access the treatment benefit scheme which then included a free eye test, a free dental examination and a contribution to the cost of hearing aids. I hope the Deputy is aware from all of our radio advertisements and our Facebook pages that we have been adding additional benefits to the scheme which would reintroduce the dental scale and polish and some extensive periodontal treatment for teeth and either a free pair of glasses arising from payments made into the social insurance scheme or a subsidy towards a more expensive pair of glasses. What is more significant is that the self-employed contributions will also cover invalidity benefits from the end of December 2017 and for the first time that will give self-employed people access to the safety net of the State's income supports if they become permanently incapable of work, which was never the case previously.

Self-employed workers may also access social welfare supports by establishing eligibility to assistance-based payments such as jobseeker's allowance and disability allowance, which was never the case previously. A person may quality for a means-tested jobseeker's allowance if their business ceases or they are on a low income as a result of the downturn in demand for their services, which we very much saw happening in recent years. Many people could not afford the services of self-employed people and as a result their income was drastically reduced.

I hope that is not all and that we will be able to do more. Depending again on how well the economy recovers I would like to see all the benefits that are enjoyed by employees to be extended to the self-employed. Deputy McGrath is aware the Taoiseach wanted to do that previously when he was in this Ministry.

There is a totally unlevel playing field. The recession brought that home to so many. The Minister mentioned people who were not able to continue to get work but many of them did work and could not get paid for it and their businesses folded as a result. Such people were great generators of employment and they had good employees. They were the only people who were left with nothing and they had Revenue and others hounding them and charging them interest and penalties. We must be fair if we want entrepreneurs to get going. I am talking about ordinary people who are in jobs and who could go into self-employment. People who come out of college who are highly educated and want to go into business need to be supported. They need to know they have a safety net so they can put food on the table for themselves and their families. The amount of sickness, trauma and stress-related illnesses were the result of people not being able to get a penny. The measures outlined by the Minister are very welcome. We fought hard for such measures in the programme for Government as optical benefit and dental benefit. Getting an extra pair of glasses does not really bother people. What is important is to be able to provide food for the family and for the Government to provide some recognition of the effort they have made and the taxes and PRSI they have paid for their employees. They had a relationship with their employees and often looked after them even after they had to let them go, as should be the case. Employers and employees become very close. Employers need more supports when businesses fail or they close down through the mercilessness of banks or other people not paying them.

Deputy McGrath has described a number of reasons that people either lost their own job or small businesses closed in recent years. Thankfully, that situation is being rectified and we have a significant increase in the number of companies that are being registered currently with the Companies Registration Office, CRO. That bodes well going forward. Again, we need to make sure that the safety net of the State is available to those people who are gutsy enough to take their own initiative to either provide a job for themselves or others should, God forbid, any other economic crisis hit us in the future.

We have introduced a number of benefits. The invalidity benefit will be particularly welcomed by that sector. However, until we have jobseeker's benefit, carer's benefit and all the services that are available to an employed person based on contributions made available on an equal basis in the self-employment realm we will not be happy. We have to keep going until we get there.

They say, tús maith, leath na h-oibre. However, we need to recognise and give more recognition to the people who have set up their own business, whether they are farmers, shopkeepers, undertakers, plasterer or plumbers. They are entitled to get some security. I honestly believe they would not mind paying a little extra in PRSI for some kind of insurance policy, because they have families, wives, dependants, partners and children to look after. Perhaps they have a good deal of debt incurred in loans for equipment or whatever else.

These are the real generators. I am not talking about the large multinationals, although they are important too. I am talking about our homegrown indigenous people, who have the skill-sets, gumption, wherewithal and vision, as the Minister has said.

Many of these people have been knocked back and get heavy treatment from Revenue, the banks and everyone else when they are unable to manage. It is not that they do not want to; they have done work and materials have been supplied but they cannot get paid for it. This has led to some awful situations.

The Minister referred to social welfare and other issues, including jobseeker's benefit and so on. It is difficult when everything goes "bang". I have met those affected - we have all met them. Some do not have enough food to feed the family.

I come from a self-employed background, and I have experienced some of the difficulties Deputy McGrath has described. I do not even need to meet anyone else to know about it. I have walked the walk and I know exactly what Deputy McGrath is talking about. Given the contribution that the self-employed already make to the Social Insurance Fund and society by providing their services or other jobs for other people as well as their own gumption, I am reluctant to charge them any more.

I am not asking the Minister to charge them.

I know what Deputy McGrath is saying. A report was issued – we probably all read it – that referred to an acceptance that these people might take up to 5.5%, but I do not believe we should ask them to pay any more. We should extend from the Social Insurance Fund the benefits that everyone else enjoys.

I hope Deputy McGrath will work with me on this. I believe that some employers are using the system and manufacturing a situation whereby they do not pay the 10% plus of employers' PRSI benefits. That is the cohort of people we need to go after. That will put us in a situation where we can extend the benefits that Deputy McGrath, I and all the other Deputies want to extend to self-employed people.

Unemployment Levels

Maurice Quinlivan

Question:

55. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to explain the reason the summer economic statement projects the unemployment rate to remain unchanged at 5.5% from 2019 to 2021; and if she has satisfied herself that having over 120,000 persons remain jobless over this period is a good Government ambition. [43033/17]

My question relates to the projected unemployment rate as outlined in the summer economic statement. Page 13 of the statement refers to unemployment rates being expected to fall to 5.5% by 2019 - something I welcome - and remaining at this level over the remainder of the forecast horizon, which is until at least 2021. Using the unemployment figures provided, that would equate to circa 120,000 defined as unemployed each year. Are these figures correct? Will the figures be revisited to ensure that more people are helped to get a job and get back into the workforce?

The projections for 2020-21 in the summer economic statement are not targets but forecasts. They emerge from the overall economic analysis. Any forecasts over the horizon are, by their nature, tentative and depend on the environment. In particular, the impact of Brexit has to be factored into those figures.

It is commonly accepted in a normal labour market that, as people move between jobs and new people are attracted into the labour market, full employment is probably the equivalent to an unemployment rate anywhere between 4% and 5%. This means in Ireland a large number of people will be on the live register at any given time. In a full employment situation, the experience of unemployment will be relatively short for most people. However, on average there is still churn of 100,000 people at any given time during a year, even at full employment. Such people may be between jobs for a number of weeks or months.

One thing has become obvious to me in recent months as I have travelled the country and visited organisations providing training or employment, including the likes of Tús, CE schemes or rural social scheme participants. A large number of people in Ireland are distant and removed from being able to get a job by next Monday. This is not a stereotypical view, which would be wrong. It is not as simple as saying that a given person is a baker but the job available is that of a shopkeeper and the person is not trained correctly. Some people genuinely have real difficulties and disadvantages that will not be fixed by being sent on an Excel training course. We need to recognise this and tailor some of our supports towards those who have real difficulties in accessing the workforce. We need to recognise this and stop referring to these people as long-term unemployed. We should work specifically with people who have extra disadvantage to help them to access the workforce on a concerted basis.

I thank the Minister for her response. Previously, I raised the same issue with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, at the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. He seemed rather surprised by the fact that I had pointed out to him that the figure would stay the same over a number of years.

I appreciate there is a certain point which traditionally constitutes full employment. I agree with the Minister's point in that regard. However, I am concerned that many of the people affected are construction workers who are unable to re-enter the industry when they come back on stream. Others affected may be young people who graduated from school or college at precisely the wrong economic time. Such people are trapped in what we call long-term unemployment. This is reflected in the higher rate of youth unemployment and the fact that over half of those unemployed are categorised as long-term unemployed. These are the people to whom I was adverting. My concern is that they will be left behind if the projections indicate the same rate for four of five years. It is important to find new ways to get these people back into the workforce. Does the Minister have any specific initiatives aimed at the two particular groups – those in the youth unemployment and long-term unemployment categories?

I think I misunderstood Deputy Quinlivan. I am sorry if we were at cross purposes. That is not to say what I just said is not true, because it is true. Others specifically affected are those over 50 years of age. They do not all fall into the category of construction workers. I was at a jobs fair in Croke Park two weeks ago and I met a gorgeous man from Tallaght. He is an eminently qualified architect, but he cannot get work. He has done all the retraining required. He is a classic example of someone who is long-term unemployed and on the register but he is ready for work. It is simply that the right work is not available for him today.

Two schemes are going to start in the new year. One is specifically for those under 25 years of age and the other is specifically for those over 50 years of age. I am hoping to work with business and industry to incentivise them to take on people from the live register who are in the over-50s category and keep them for 12 months and then to keep them thereafter. The idea is to recognise the skills, talent, confidence and life experience they have.

It is equally important to recognise the stubborn number of under 25s affected. It is not an issue for our graduates anymore, thankfully, because of the economy and the recovery. However, others in the under-25s category have never worked or trained. We are going to launch a scheme, probably at the end of quarter 1 or quarter 2 next year, aimed specifically at working on a voluntary basis with people under 25 years of age who want to be challenged and who have ambition. The idea is to provide them with life skills and lifelong learning to get into work or some sort of employment opportunities.

I am interested in finding out more details of the two schemes mentioned by the Minister to target the over 55s and the under 25s.

My constituency is Limerick City. While there has been a recovery there without a doubt and a good number of job announcements in the past year or two, we still have a major problem. A total of 18 of the unemployment black-spots are in the city, which is the highest concentration throughout the country by a mile. I am keen to know the target. I raised this with the Minister responsible previously, but the portfolio has transferred to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. This is my first opportunity to raise it with Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. I am keen to know how the Minister will reduce the number of black spots of unemployment, especially in Limerick, which has eight of the top ten. Will the Minister outline what steps are being taken to ensure we will not be in the same situation?

I would rather have this conversation with Deputy Quinlivan in more detail. We are planning an analysis of the over 50s and the under 25s on the live register in order that we can specifically go out to industry in areas with large numbers in those categories. I do not believe it is as simple as believing that everyone who is over 50 lives in Limerick. Anyway, these two schemes will be rolled out nationally. Where there are larger cohorts of under 25s or over 50s I will go to particular industries in that area.

There are particular black spots. The Deputy referred to Limerick, but there are a number of others, including in Waterford and County Offaly. We will propose the establishment of task forces. I would like to have a conversation with the joint committee to arrive at a broader view on what does and does not work before we invest resources in these black spots. I understand I will appear before the joint committee in the next couple of weeks.

Question No. 56 replied to with Writtens Answers.

Pension Provisions

Brian Stanley

Question:

57. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to bring forward measures to address the anomaly whereby persons here dependent on a British state pension are disqualified from receiving the household benefits package, fuel allowance and living alone allowance. [46526/17]

Brian Stanley

Question:

62. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to review the position of returning emigrants who are in receipt of a British pension only and who are not entitled to the household benefits package, fuel allowance or living alone allowance. [46525/17]

The issue I raise relates to people who emigrated, perhaps during times of recession, and experience difficulties on their return owing to the difference between the rates of pension paid in Britain and Ireland. I refer specifically to the position on what I will describe as ancillary payments, including the household benefits package, fuel allowance and living alone allowance. These payments provide important supports for persons who are solely dependent on a pension from the United Kingdom and do not have an occupational pension.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 57 and 62 together.

It is important to note that people in receipt of a British state pension are eligible to receive both the household benefits package and fuel allowance on the same basis as Irish State pension recipients. It appears from the Deputy's questions that he believes that is not the case. Persons in receipt of a British state pension definitely are eligible for these benefits as there is no difference in the treatment of Irish and British state pensions.

For the household benefits package, pensioners aged 70 years or over who are legally resident in Ireland are entitled to avail of the scheme without being in receipt of any state pension payment, British or otherwise. They receive the package because they have reached the magic age of 70 years. While the package is not means-tested, because it a household benefit, only one person per household is eligible.

For pensioners aged between 66 and 70 years, the same household conditions apply and the recipient must be in receipt of an equivalent social security pension from a country covered by European Union regulations or with which Ireland has a bilateral social security agreement. In addition, the household benefits package is means-tested for persons aged between 66 and 70 years. This may be the reason for the apparent anomaly referred to by the Deputy. In that regard, a person in receipt of a British social security pension is eligible for the scheme once he or she has satisfied the household conditions and means test.

The fuel allowance scheme is open to persons in receipt of a British state pension. Like all other recipients of the fuel allowance, the claimant must satisfy a means test, as well as all other qualifying conditions.

Persons in receipt of the British state pension are not entitled to receive the living alone increase. The living alone allowance is paid as an increase in the weekly rate of payment to pensioners and people with disabilities in receipt of qualifying payments who live alone. Clearly, persons in receipt of a British state pension do not receive an Irish State pension. There are no circumstances where the living alone increase is paid to persons not in receipt of a qualifying payment from the Department. This applies equally to individuals in receipt of an occupational or private pension but not a State pension.

If my reply does not clarify the position for the Deputy, perhaps he might contact the individuals who raised this matter with him to ascertain whether the issue arose as a result of a means test. This could explain his concern in that regard. If he is aware of persons in receipt of a British state pension who have been refused the household benefits package, I ask him to provide me with the details of the relevant cases and I will ensure the persons receive their entitlements.

I thank the Minister for providing clarity on an issue about which there are questions. According to the eligibility criteria, persons may qualify for ancillary benefits and the Minister has clarified that this means that persons in receipt of British state pensions will qualify on the same basis as persons in receipt of an Irish State pension. She has also pointed out that people aged over 70 years are not means-tested. In its alternative budget submissions Sinn Féin has sought to have the living alone allowance increased and it was increased by a small amount last year. At €9 per week, the payment is not a large sum, but it is important on a Monday or a Tuesday when money may be running out. I ask the Minister to revisit the decision not to pay the allowance to persons in receipt of British state pensions. I am referring to people who worked hard in construction, the health sector and so forth and paid hundreds of thousands of pounds in taxation. Their pensions from the British state flow into the economy here, although it works both ways.

I wish to raise another issue. Will I have another opportunity to contribute?

I have not yet introduced the Social Welfare Bill and while nothing is final, the measure the Deputy seeks is not included in the Bill, nor was it provided for in the budget. I do not know how many people are affected and would like to see the relevant figures. I agree with the Deputy, however, regarding the valuable contribution made by emigrants to Britain who built roads, tramways and railways before returning to Ireland on their retirement. I cannot do anything about this issue at present, but I will see what I can do when I have the figures.

I would welcome a decision to keep the matter under review. In addition to the people in question working hard, money is flowing into the economy on the back of taxes they paid over a long period. The Minister will be aware that, depending on the value of sterling, the differential between the Irish and British state pensions fluctuates. Questions sometimes arise about how the gap in value between the two pensions should be bridged. Depending on the contributions a person made in Britain, his or her pension from the British state may amount to £130 or £140. Currency fluctuations mean that the value of the pension expressed in euro will change. Thankfully, the Irish State pension is higher than the British state pension, which means that bridging the gap in value is an issue. Do people have a statutory entitlement in that regard?

In the context of Brexit, I read the criteria regarding the bilateral social security agreement with other member states. Is the Department discussing this issue with its counterpart in Britain in the context of Brexit?

Everyone has access to the non-contributory pension. If there is a difference between the value of the pension a person is receiving from the United Kingdom and the value of the non-contributory pension, he or she may apply for a payment to cover the difference.

Should he or she apply for a supplementary welfare allowance?

Anyone who does not have sufficient means can apply for a non-contributory pension and he or she will be eligible to receive a weekly non-contributory pension payment. If a pension from the British state does not reach the same value as the non-contributory State pension, the recipient can apply for a non-contributory State pension and while he or she will clearly not receive the full rate of payment, the payment may amount to the difference between the full rate and the value of the pension from the British state.

While I do not know what the position is on changes in value arising from currency fluctuations, I suspect that people would not be recompensed for such fluctuations as it would also mean recouping money when currency fluctuations benefited the recipient. The Department would have its hand slapped if it sought to do so. However, if the Deputy knows of persons who are in the position he and I described, they should be able to apply for an additional payment.

To respond on the other issue raised by the Deputy, we are not in a position to hold official negotiations because Ireland is part of the group of 27 member states negotiating Brexit. However, I had a number of meetings and conversations with my British counterparts. There is agreement and respect for Irish people living in the United Kingdom and British people living here. The reciprocal arrangements agreed long before Ireland or Britain joined the European Union are important to both nations and both countries wish to ensure they are enshrined in whatever is the outcome of the negotiations. We have not had official conversations.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I am flagging the Brexit issue because it is one of many problems and challenges we will face across every Department and aspect of commerce, business and public administration. People are concerned about this issue and some are asking what will happen to those who depend on a British state pension.

With regard to the fluctuation in the value of the British state pension, I understand from the Minister's statement that the recipient of a British state pension payment equating to €150 may apply for a non-contributory pension payment of €80 to bridge the gap between the value of the Irish and British state pensions. Is that the case or must he or she apply for a supplementary welfare payment of €80 per week?

I will check the position in that regard and revert to the Deputy. Given that people without means who apply for a non-contributory pension will be granted the pension, if a person is receiving a pension payment from the British state that is less than the value of the non-contributory pension, he or she should be able to apply for a payment to bridge the gap in value. This does not mean that he or she must apply for a supplementary welfare payment. If the payment from the British state is consistent, he or she should receive a consistent payment here. I will check the position as I wish to be 100% certain before reverting to the Deputy later today.

State Pension (Contributory)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

58. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to re-examine the situation where women who were in the workforce and left in earlier years for family duties are not in a position to receive the full State contributory pension when they reach retirement age; and her further plans to address this situation. [46645/17]

Bernard Durkan

Question:

84. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the progress that has been made in addressing the issue where women are deprived of a contributory pension having retired from the workplace while raising their families or owing to the marriage ban; if their cases can be re-examined with a view to crediting them with sufficient contributions to enable them to qualify for a State or retirement pension; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46341/17]

I heard the Minister speak about this issue already with my colleague, Deputy Willie O'Dea, but I ask her to outline her plans to re-examine how people, women in particular, are affected by the anomaly within the State pensions system.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 58 and 84 together, Deputy Niamh Smyth's and Deputy Bernard J. Durkan's questions, although he is not here.

If I go off script just for one second, I will be murdered.

We are all aware - I know that it looks like I am blue in the face - but perhaps 99% of the people of the country have still not heard us say we are moving to a new model, to which I hope we will move in 2020. We will undertake a public consultation process, from the end of this month or the beginning of December, when everybody's view and input will be vital because, as Deputy Niamh Smyth's colleague will be aware, there will be winners and losers in the new model. Every Member of the House will have to help sell the new model, as otherwise it will not work. That is where we are going.

I often wonder why - I can say this to Deputy Niamh Smyth because she knows that I am not being smart - this issue only seems to affect women, but they are the only ones about whom we seem to have been concerned for the past couple of weeks. I am referring to women who stayed at home to mind their children. I know that they did, but 38% of those affected are poor fellows who either stayed at home to mind their children or went to college or to England to work and they are equally as affected by the anomaly.

What my officials and I needed to do in the past couple of weeks was to look at the 36,000 people who were affected by the anomaly and where they were affected, if the Deputy knows what I mean. Did some of the women in question work for only one year before they went home? Did some of the gentlemen go to England in the 1970s or the 1980s? I needed to know exactly what the circumstances were in order that whatever decision was made to rectify the anomaly would not fix 10,000 cases and leave 26,000 unfixed. If we can do something today, it has to be to fix the cases of all those concerned and, while fixing them, not to create another problem for those currently receiving 85% of a pension payment for reasons other than band changes. If we were to introduce a disregard, for argument's sake, we would have to have a valid argument as to why the Minister could introduce a disregard for one group and not another.

When we make the full report available, it will be clear whether we can do anything in the short term, what it is and how much it will cost. If we cannot, perhaps we might look at the budgetary process as we move forward towards total contributions to see whether we could do something. I can assure Deputy Niamh Smyth - she has had women coming to her constituency clinics no more than I have have for the past few years - that we will fix this. I would like to think we would fix it sooner rather than later, but I am adamant that we will fix it.

I welcome the Minister's response. I note how she states the issue also affects men. Of course, the irony is that, no more than in the case of the Minister, 100% of the complaints I have received in my clinic have been from women and we can all appreciate their frustration. They reach that point in their life where they think they will receive the full State pension and then realise, essentially because they had worked for a couple of years and then took care of and reared their children at home and did a valuable job within the home, they will not be so entitled. That is devastating both for them and, I add, their husbands, some of whom come to a clinic to support them. I appreciate what the Minister is saying, but it is important that in any review or assessment there not be another cohort who will slip through the net or who will be penalised in the way the women in question have been.

I have taken on board, too, the Minister's comments on a public consultation process. That is important and will give some comfort to the women who have been affected by this anomaly. I am delighted to hear - women in the constituency of Cavan-Monaghan will certainly be delighted to hear this - that the issue is being addressed. As my colleague reiterated, it would be good to see it being addressed before the next budget and as soon as the Minister can possibly do so. That would be appreciated.

The Deputy makes an interesting point. I never copped it before. I have never had a man come into the office at home to complain about this anomaly.

Maybe that is why we are talking about it. I was not being smart when I was talked about it being a women's issue. We are proud people. I am not there yet, but my mother is. Other people's mothers were in the situation where they got a surprise, as the Deputy said; when they had reached the end of their working life, they found that they would receive less than they had expected in their pension. That is why we need to fix it. It is as simple as that. It is not any less or more of an issue for the men who went to work, perhaps, in England, in the 1980s or any other period. People do not leave Ireland to travel the world unless they are young and ambitious. Most of the time when people leave the country, they do it because they have to. This anomaly that affects men and women needs to be addressed. I hope to be able to bring the report to the House in the next week or so.

Question No. 59 replied to with Written Answers.

Legislative Programme

Willie O'Dea

Question:

60. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when the heads of the Bill regarding protection for persons on insecure low-hour contracts will be published; when the Bill will be introduced on Second Stage in Dáil Éireann; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46855/17]

It is the Government's stated intention to introduce the legislation referred to in the question before the Christmas break. I merely want to know if it is on target.

In May we approved the drafting of the Bill. We were responding to the commitment in the programme for Government to tackle the problem, but I am also well aware and acknowledge that there are Private Members' Bills to address the issue. The proposed legislation will deal with an area where current employment rights legislation needs to be strengthened without putting an unnecessarily onerous burden on the businesses that employ the people in question. The Bill is being drafted and I hope to be able to publish it in December. If there is not the usual rush here in the last couple of weeks in December, I might be lucky to have it started before Christmas. I say this while acknowledging we also have the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017 and will have the new Social Welfare Bill that will go to the Cabinet next. It is a "maybe", unless I hog the House with Deputies Willie O'Dea and John Brady for the next couple of weeks. If the Bill is not brought forward before Christmas, we will bring it forward straight after it.

As the Minister will be aware, my party supports such a measure which we had inserted into and enshrined in the confidence and supply agreement which is now 18 months old. We support it because of the increased casualisation of labour and the resulting insecurity. Naturally, we are concerned to progress it as quickly as possible. I, therefore, ask the Minister to make every effort possible to have it brought to the House, at least on Second Stage, before Christmas. However, I realise the constraints. I realise we must also deal with the Social Welfare Bill and take Committee Stage of the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017. However, I ask the Minister to do her very best to ensure the measure will be brought to the House before Christmas. There is just one question I want to ask the Minister about it. On the Oireachtas committee's report which outlines the difficulties with the Bill, the first recommendation was that the CSO engage with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, the Low Pay Commission and various employer and employee groups to develop statistical measures to better inform the debate on low pay. Has that process been started?

It has not and I will have to find out why. I do not know if there is a reason it has not commenced but it should. I will get instructions thereafter. I give the Deputy a commitment - I say this with tongue in cheek. I am responsible for the Social Welfare Bill and the one that has reached Committee Stage. The Deputy is aware that we are awaiting the amendments which, please God, I will have next week. I am also responsible for the total contributions public consultation process, the accident and emergency departments public consultation process and the report about which we have just spoken on the anomaly for pensioners who have been maligned by the changes made in 2012. I am well aware of the jobs I have to do and the responsibilities I have. I am privileged to have them and relish them. I would love to get this done before Christmas. If I can have the Bill drafted - that is the big part - I know that I will receive the co-operation of Members to either accept the Bill or make it better. Deputy Willie O'Dea has my commitment that if I can have the Bill brought here before Christmas, with his commitment, we will get the debate started.

I am aware of the Minister's enormous workload and know that she is well up for it. We have every confidence in her to bring the Bill before the House this side of Christmas. When does she envisage the Social Welfare Bill being published?

I hope to bring it to the Cabinet on Tuesday. If I do, it will be published immediately. The only reason for the delay is the other report. I did not want to publish a Bill and to then have to come back and say to the Deputy I had found a way. The Bill is practically ready. It will definitely be brought to the Cabinet on Tuesday next.

Citizens Information Services

Willie O'Dea

Question:

61. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her views on the Citizens Information Board's refusal to appear before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection to discuss the reorganisation of the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS, and the Citizen Information Service, CIS, and the cost of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46859/17]

The question is self-explanatory. I am seeking the Minister's views on the refusal by the Citizens Information Board, CIB, to attend a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection to discuss the reorganisation of the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS##, and the Citizen's Information Service, CIS.

The decision to restructure MABS was made by the board of the CIB. I think the CIB declined the invitation because the Chairperson and chief executive officer had already met the committee at a meeting in February where they felt the matter was comprehensively discussed. They set out their position clearly, including the rationale for the decision and the details of the lengthy consultation process that took place before the board made its final decision. Deputy O'Dea may have a different opinion on all of that but he is aware that the CIB's executive, on foot of a request from the joint Oireachtas committee, agreed to commission a cost-benefit analysis. It has done that and submitted it to the committee at the end of September.

The implementation of the new governance arrangements is expected to take up to two years to complete. Obviously we will have the few bob of the net cost to the Exchequer that will present itself over the next number of years. I think I am correct in saying that since the declining of the first invitation, after the cost-benefit analysis was submitted, the joint Oireachtas committee has issued another request for the CIB to come before it. I am not 100% sure on that as I am only recalling a conversation I had with somebody. I think that request is under consideration. I will check that and come back to the Deputy on it.

The consultant's report is very important. I have read it and I am sure all of my committee colleagues have read it too. There are a number of questions arising from it and I believe that the CIB should be prepared to come before the committee and engage on them, in fairness. There is a massive reorganisation going on. What the Minister says is true in that the Joint Oireachtas Committee met the board of the CIB last February but that was at the start of the process. We had a preliminary discussion then. It is an ongoing process, as the Minister has said, and it is only fair and proper that the Oireachtas committee would have an input into that and would at least have the opportunity to discuss how the reorganisation is proceeding, as it goes on. From that point of view, it would be appropriate that the board of the CIB would come in and discuss those matters with the committee.

I know I said previously that I was not good at sticking my nose in but I will ask the CIB to very positively consider the joint Oireachtas committee's request to come before it and to do so sooner rather than later. That is the best I can do for the Deputy.

Question No. 63 replied to with Written Answers.

Question No. 62 answered with Question No. 57.

State Pensions

John Brady

Question:

64. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the actions she is taking to address the ongoing discrimination against over 35,000 older persons in the calculation of their State pension payments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46704/17]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

78. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when the budget 2012 changes to pension contribution bands will revert to four bands as per pre-2012; when repayments will be made to those persons adversely affected by these changes since September 2012 and to date in 2017 in view of the recent passing of a Fianna Fáil motion on correcting pension inequities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46542/17]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

79. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to ensure pension equality by removing the band changes made to the way in which pensions are calculated and reducing the number of contributions needed to qualify for the State pension from 520 to 260; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46798/17]

As the Minister may be aware, last December Sinn Féin brought forward a motion to address pension inequality for more than 35,000 older people, 68% of whom are women. What specific actions have been taken since then to address the inequality in the pension system?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 64, 78 and 79 together as they all relate to the same issue. I can give the Deputy the very long version or I can just give him the short version that I have already given. The Deputy is able to see the long version, which tells him exactly what we have done, and where we are moving to in terms of the total contributions model and details the public consultation to which I have already referred in response to earlier questions.

In terms of action by my Department in the past couple of weeks, we are collecting the data of the tens of thousands of people who have had their situation exacerbated by the changes that were made in 2012. The reason for the length of time it is taking to collect that data is that all of our records prior to 1994 are paper records. They are not on the computer system which means we could not just do a data search. We had to go through all of the manual records. I wanted to ensure that when I sit down to figure out how we are going to fix this, the information in the report in front of me would be 100% accurate and I would know exactly who the 36,000 people are, what their circumstances are and what I need to do to fix matters. If we make a change, I want to know how many of the 36,000 it would affect and how many it would leave behind, so that we can make an informed choice. What I will not do is fix things for 20,000 people and leave 16,000 behind or fix things for 30,000 and leave 6,000 behind. We need to make sure that whatever changes we make address the anomaly in its entirety. It is also really important that we do not introduce a fix that causes an issue in some other area. I cannot be 100% sure about that when we sit down to deliberate unless I have all of the information so that is what is currently being compiled. We had a meeting yesterday evening and that process is very close to being finished. I would expect to be able to have a conversation with my officials before the end of the week and get that full report. I will bring that to Cabinet next week so that we can make decisions about what we can do.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I am not going to rehash everything that has been said about the approximately 36,000 older people directly affected but the changes that were introduced in 2012 were not brought in blindly in terms of the impact they would have, particularly on women. That information was available then, although there was no debate in here on it. The debate on the issue was guillotined in this Chamber and the changes were brought in with full knowledge of the negative consequences of same.

These people have suffered long enough. It is now time to end the inequality within the pension system. I welcome the review that is ongoing and I understand why it is a lengthy process in terms of compiling the data. In the next few weeks we will be dealing with the social welfare Bill. Before the recess a motion was passed which received support from all parties except for those in government. What action will be taken following that motion? The social welfare Bill will be debated in the House in the coming weeks. The Minister will have all of the data by then and will have an ideal opportunity to address the serious discrimination that exists in the pension system.

The Deputy is probably correct in saying that when the changes were introduced in 2012 their impact was probably known. I would go further than that. The authors of the pensions report from 2010 knew what the impact would be on particular women. It was an issue that was known on paper but which probably did not manifest itself fully until the women started to come to the office of Deputy Niamh Smyth, to my office and that of Deputy John Brady.

I cannot be as ambitious as Deputy Brady because in order to fix this in the social welfare Bill next week, we collectively need to find tens of millions of euro. There was no spare change in Sinn Féin's alternative budget or in anyone else's budget in this House to allow us to include it in this year's social welfare Bill. I cannot give a commitment that we will fix this next week or the week after until I know the scale of the problem. However, I can give a commitment that, whatever the scale of the problem, we will fix it. If I cannot do it in this year's budget - and to be very honest, I cannot see how I can - then we will be talking about it in the parameters of next year's budget. We are going to fix it but I will make it the responsibility of everybody in this House to help to fix it and not to use it as an issue. We have already had the debate about whose fault it is, why we cannot fix it now and so on. We need to speak clearly, respectfully and honestly to the people at home who are listening about the fact that this is not a case of just finding a few bob. A sizeable amount of money needs to be found to fix this anomaly and I am not sure that such an amount is just sitting around with no earmark on it. That said, I am going to fix it and will need the help of everybody in this House to make sure it remains a priority. I look forward to hearing Deputy Brady's response to the review next week and to hearing how he thinks we can fix this.

I am not sure if the Minister actually read Sinn Féin's pre-budget submission. While we did not have any loose change at the end of it, we did put forward specific measures to address this serious problem which affects more than 35,000 older people. Our submission proposed reversing the changes that were introduced in 2012. That is a specific measure that could be implemented straight away, rather than kicking this issue down the road further, in terms of carrying out public consultation and so forth. A public consultation process is of no consolation to those affected. What they want is the pension payments to which they would have been entitled prior to these changes being implemented in 2012.

The Social Welfare Bill gives an ideal opportunity to address this discrimination. I put it to Fianna Fáil, which brought forward a nearly identical motion to the Sinn Féin one that was brought forward in December, that now is the opportunity to put its money where its mouth is. It is not good enough bringing forward these motions. If this is not addressed in the Bill by the Minister, I will be putting forward amendments. I hope Fianna Fáil will support those amendments to bring about the end of this discrimination, rather than kicking it further and further down the road and increasing the number of older people affected, which is currently 35,000.

First, the Deputy must have misunderstood me earlier. There will be no public consultation on this anomaly. We know what we need to do to fix it and we will do it. The public consultation is in regard to probably the most progressive changes we will be making as a State to our total pension contribution system, which will see sweeping changes in 2020. There is absolutely not a chance in hell that one would make the changes we are proposing to make without a public consultation.

Second, the Deputy might go back to check his party's budget proposal. Sinn Féin did not fix it; it decided to fix it over the next three years. The Deputy should not talk about kicking a can down the road when his party decided in its budget proposal that it would introduce a bit of the payment this year, a bit next year and a bit the year after. That is kicking it down the road.

Let me very clear. I am not playing politics on this issue. This is an anomaly that is affecting 36,000 Irish citizens, many of whom have come to our offices because they feel disrespected and feel their dignity has been taken from them. We are going to fix it and we are going to fix it as soon as I possibly can fix it. That is the only guarantee I can give the Deputy until I have the full report in front of me.

Working Family Payment

Willie O'Dea

Question:

65. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the reason she no longer plans on introducing a new working family payment, as committed to in the programme for Government; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46857/17]

The Department’s approach, my approach and that of my predecessor to the working family payment is guided by two principles: first, that we have to ensure that work pays and that it is worthwhile for people to go out to work, and, second, that it should have a positive impact on reducing child poverty in the country, which is still far too high. This is of particular importance to me. To advance the commitment contained in the programme for Government, the Department established the working group and an interdepartmental group comprising relevant Departments. We carried out an extensive analysis of the existing range of supports, which demonstrated to us that many in-work supports are effective and work well in assisting families and individuals make the transition from unemployment into employment. These findings were confirmed to us by the ESRI.

It is not for me as simple as changing the name from FIS to working family payment. I am proposing to put FIS under the umbrella of working family payments because we are not done in this regard. There are certainly more enhancements that we will plan and which I will endeavour to bring forward in the future to make sure that people who are either in lower paid jobs or are currently dependent on the social welfare system have the necessary supports under the working family payments scheme, which we will be adding to in the future. This will ensure they understand, appreciate and accept it is far more valuable for them to work than it is to be entirely dependent on the State. Therefore, it is not just a change of the name, although it might have looked like that in the budget. New measures will be introduced under that scheme in the future.

I am not absolutely clear as to what the Minister is saying. Is she saying she is going to allow FIS to remain in place and supplement it with the working family payment, or that she is going to have a working family payment which includes the measures which we know as FIS currently? Does she accept that her party's general election manifesto pointed out that FIS can be very inflexible and is designed in such a way that it sometimes does not achieve its objectives? Is the change to the working family payment going to take out those inflexibilities which are a barrier to people taking up work in some cases although, admittedly, this was unintentional?

The Deputy is right that it was unintentional. He is also right in what he heard. FIS is going to stay but it may be that it is modified to take out some of the inflexibilities that currently exist. What I am intent on doing is making sure the payments that will be under the umbrella of the working family payments ensure that people who are transitioning from unemployment into employment, and from under-employment into full employment, receive State supports so they realise the value of work and that work pays. Given the introductions we made in the social welfare budget this year, such as the introduction of extra money for the qualified child payment and the back to work family dividend extension, and the increase of €10 in the threshold for FIS, it is clear certain changes did get made in this year's budget, although it has not yet been passed. These will increase the flexibility of FIS but will also allow us to expand what will be a suite of working family payments to ensure that people, when they leave unemployment or under-employment for full employment, know the value of the work and their worth in society.

State Pensions

Niamh Smyth

Question:

66. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to reinstate the State transition pension; her further plans to prevent persons forced to retire at 65 years of age having to apply for jobseeker's payment for one year until they reach the State pensionable age of 66; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46590/17]

The Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2011 provided that the State pension age will be increased gradually over time. This began in 2014 with the abolition of the State pension (transition), which was available to people aged 65 who satisfied qualifying conditions. This measure standardised the State pension age for all of us to 66 years and this will increase to 67 in 2021 and to 68 in 2028. I will allow the rest of the official reply be taken as read in the Dáil record.

No changes are planned in the immediate future - no changes in this year's budget and no changes in next year's budget. The reason for that is twofold. First, I want to ensure that anybody who wants to work over the ages of 50 or 55 is enabled to do so. More importantly, for those people who are not working and who are on the rural social schemes, CE schemes or Tús that they are acknowledged and valued for the contribution they are making. No man or woman should be on the live register between the ages of 65 and 66, or 67 and 68, going forward, who does not want to be.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

In most cases, it is hoped that workers will continue to work up to the new State pension age. Where this is not possible, there are specific measures which apply to someone claiming jobseeker’s benefit from a date after their 65th birthday. Where qualified, these recipients may continue to be eligible for that payment until reaching pension age.

We are well aware that people are living for much longer. Life expectancy at birth has increased significantly over the years and is now at 78.4 years for men and 82.8 years for women. This is very positive. As a result of this demographic change, the number of State pension recipients is increasing year on year. This has significant implications for the future costs of State pension provision, which are currently increasing by close to €1 billion every five years. The purpose of changes to the State pension age is to make the pension system more sustainable in the context of increasing life expectancy. This sustainability is vital if the current workers, who fund State pension payments through their PRSI, are to receive a pension themselves when they reach retirement age.

The Deputies should note that there is no legally mandated retirement age in the State and the age at which employees retire is a matter for the contract of employment between them and their employers. While such a contract may have been entered into with a retirement date of 65, in the context of the previous State pension arrangements there is no legal impediment to the employer and employee agreeing to increase the duration of employment for one or more years, if both parties wish to do so.

I appreciate what the Minister is saying. My experience is that more people are being asked to retire at 65 who do not want to, who feel they have a lot more to give and who are quite willing and anxious to keep working. There are many fit, able, capable and young 65 year olds out there who are quite anxious to keep working and who find it rather humiliating to have to retire and then go on jobseeker's payments when they have so much left to give. As the Minister said, it is important the contribution of people working on Tús and CE schemes is valued. Going forward, it is important people are not put into that demoralising situation where they are asked to retire when they do not feel that is where they should be at and, more importantly, that their contribution is recognised.

I agree with the Deputy. Others have suggested that I bring in legislation that removes the legal obligation for people to retire at 65, but there is none. We could bring in that legislation, and I think there is a Private Members' Bill on the books already.

It is waiting on a signature.

It would not make any difference. The reason for that is because nobody can be made to retire at 65 today, unless it says so in their contract. That legislation, if one was to bring it forward, would not change those contracts. What we need to do is change society's view so somebody at 65 does not have to be retired if they do not want to be. I met wonderful people yesterday. Sixty is the new 40, and we will all be there before we know it - some of us are there now. We are living longer and we are vibrant and healthy. In this State we are living on average until we are 84 or 86. We should be encouraging workers. I believe the way to do that is to lead by example. If we can do that in the public sector, we might see the trickle effect. What we need to do is change societal norms. Just because a person gets to 65-----

People already do it in the private sector.

The Deputy is right. From our own perspective, we have lost a huge and valuable cohort of people in certain sectors of the public sector because we made them retire at 60. It is mad.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.