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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 20 Feb 2018

Vol. 965 No. 7

Priority Questions

Income Inequality

Willie O'Dea


36. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her views on a recent ESRI report (details supplied) and in particular the high rate of deprivation being experienced by lone-parent households and persons with a disability; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8465/18]

John Brady


39. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the actions she plans to take as a result of the findings of a recent ESRI report detailing high levels of persistent deprivation for persons of a working age with a disability; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8578/18]

I raise this question in view of a recent ESRI study of 11 European countries which found a significant gap in the rate of persistent deprivation experienced by lone parents and adults with a disability, as opposed to the rate suffered by other adults. The gap in regard to lone parents is 26% in Ireland, which is the worst of the 11 countries and compares with an average of 5% to 20% elsewhere. The gap in regard to adults with disability is 14% here compared to 5% to 11% elsewhere.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 36 and 39 together.

The research report, Poverty Dynamics of Social Risk Groups in the EU, produced by the ESRI and funded by my Department, analyses the significance of different systems of welfare regimes and their effectiveness in protecting vulnerable groups in 11 EU countries, including Ireland, over the ten-year period from 2004 to 2014. It showed that, across the 11 countries, lone parents and their families and working-age adults with a disability and their families are more at risk of material deprivation and income poverty than other groups.

The most recent data from the CSO Survey on Income and Living Conditions, SILC, for 2016 show that the consistent poverty rate for lone-parent households is 24.6%, slightly down from 26.2% in 2015. There was also a fall in the basic deprivation rate for lone-parent households to 50.1% in 2016, down from 57.9% in 2015. The figures for working age people with a disability are more mixed. The basic deprivation rate fell to 46.7% in 2016, from 53.2% in 2015. The consistent poverty rate, however, increased from 22.4% in 2015 to 26.3%, which is obviously disappointing. Given the economic recovery has not only continued but, thankfully, accelerated since 2014, with unemployment down from 11.3% in 2014 to 6.2% at present, I expect and hope the SILC data for 2017 will show further reductions in poverty for all sectors of society.

It is undeniable that lone-parent households and those of working people with a disability continue to experience deprivation and consistent poverty rates which are higher than those of the general population and I categorically state that we need to sustain our efforts to support those most in need. My Department, as well as providing income supports to people with disabilities, offers a range of employment support programmes, including the wage subsidy scheme and the EmployAbility service, as well as the partial capacity benefit scheme. The Intreo service is also available to provide employment support services for people with disabilities who wish to engage with the service on a voluntary basis. This year expenditure on these programmes will amount to some €50 million. Last September the Ability programme, supported by the European Social Fund, was launched. This is a new pre-activation programme which recognises the critical importance of engaging with young people with disabilities at a time when their disability threatens to keep them out of the workforce.

It is accepted that the best way to tackle poverty among lone parents is through employment. The recently published Indecon report echoed this view and found that the changes made to the one-parent family payment scheme over the last number of years increased employment and reduced welfare dependency. It also found that the changes increased the probability of employment and higher employment income for lone parents. The report concluded that assisting lone parents to enhance their skills also needs to be seen as a key objective as low paid employment will not on its own ensure a reduction in the risk of poverty. That is why we have a mantra within the Department that when we assist and encourage people through activation, we help them find a job, find a better job and find a career and the support systems do not just stop when they get their first job.

My Department’s social impact assessments of the budgets introduced since 2015 reflect the Government’s continued commitment to introducing improvements for lone parents in particular. These assessments show a cumulative increase of €36.75 in the average weekly household income of employed lone parents and €33.60 for unemployed lone parents. This will be further improved when the budget 2018 measures, that is, increases in the income disregard, the primary rate and the qualified child rate, come into effect next month. The effect of these measures will see a lone parent on the one-parent family payment or jobseeker’s transitional payment who is working 15 hours a week on the national minimum wage being better off by nearly €1,000 per year.

I will come back to the issue of lone parents. The Minister mentioned various measures which are in place for adults with a disability. Those measures have been in place for some time and they were certainly in place in 2015, when consistent poverty among adults with a disability rose from 14% to 22%. As the Minister indicated in her reply, it has increased again in 2015 and 2016 to 26% or 27%. Obviously, the measures in place are not working and the gap is growing. I scrutinised the budget speech and there was no reference at all to disability and the poverty gap. Has the Government specific proposals and, while a number of Departments are involved, is the Minister considering any specific initiatives within her own Department to help stop this gap from widening further?

While I am loath to contradict the Deputy, I have no choice on this occasion. Of the two programmes I am specifically referring to, one was only launched in 2017 and the pilot programme for the second was only completed a number of weeks ago, having run for 12 months during 2017. Neither of those programmes are reflected in the data we have shown. One is the Ability programme, which is leveraging European funding with regard to providing timely supports for people with disabilities, particularly young people, at a time when they are most removed from the labour market. At the moment there is an open competition for regional and local NGOs and agencies to work with us and we have had a very high uptake on that. I look forward to rolling out the Ability programme this year.

With regard to the second programme, which the Deputy might not be aware of, only last week I launched a report on this with the Mental Health Commission. This follows a pilot project between the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the HSE, Mental Health Reform and an organisation called Genio, along with the EmployAbility services around Ireland.

We introduced recruitment-employment representatives into mental health teams in four different regions. Where there are people who have difficulties, particularly on the mental health spectrum, that are barriers to accessing the marketplace, we engaged locally with the HSE mental health teams as well as the EmployAbility services and the representatives to whom I refer in order to assist such individuals obtain employment. We had an exceptional response and 33% of the applicants were able to get work. I hope that the pilot comprehensive employment strategies we have in respect of people with disabilities will be extended to other regions this year and that the Ability programme will take off.

In 2015, 132,000 people with disabilities across the State were living in consistent poverty. The ESRI report shows clearly that in the context of 11 of our European counterparts, the gap was far greater in Ireland, approximately 10%, than elsewhere. It is clear that not enough is being done. The schemes that have been in place are not working.

The Minister referred to the new Ability programme. It is welcome. The closing date for applications has only just passed and the Minister might give us some further information on how it is working. In reality, only €10 million is being allocated to that scheme over three years. It is anticipated that only 1,000 young people will disabilities will benefit from it. That will not tackle the serious problem we have here where one in three people with disabilities are unemployed and only 17% of people with disabilities are actually employed. There are serious problems. The Ability programme is good but, at €10 million over three years, it is tokenistic and will not cut it. What is the Minister doing to address the serious concerns that arise on foot of the ESRI report?

The Deputy is incorrect. The data in the report refers to the period 2004 to 2014. The Deputy cannot say that my programmes are not working when they bear no relation to the data referred to in the ESRI report. Let us be clear about that.

I thank the Deputy for his tokenistic compliment. The Ability programme is a pilot project. I am not sure how Sinn Féin does things but we do not spend taxpayers' money rolling out something nationally until we know that it works. That is why the EmployAbility services, with Genio, the HSE and Mental Health Reform, will, budgets permitting, will roll the programme out this year. On foot of the fact that we took a punt in respect of four different areas and ensured that it was resourced and well-funded, the pilot project has been successful. We did that before using taxpayers' money to roll the programme out nationwide.

There are many good schemes in operation including WALK PEER, which I mentioned to the Minister's predecessor several times. Year after year, the organisation that runs the scheme has to fight to retain its funding. Thankfully, its funding is in place for this year. WALK PEER is a programme that works. The Minister should replicate it.

I referred to figures from 2015 which show that 132,000 people with disabilities in this State live in consistent poverty. The Minister will excuse me for saying that the scheme of which she spoke is tokenistic but it targets only 1,000 people with disabilities over a three-year period. For the others living with disabilities who are willing, ready and able to get back into the workforce, it is tokenistic. They need assistance from the State, not further means to disable them. That is what this seems to be. I welcome the Ability programme but it needs to be rolled out. There is a need for more funding and to target it better in order to ensure that people with disabilities can get back into the workforce if they wish.

To correct the record, the 132,000 people who are registered as having disabilities this year do not live in consistent poverty. According to the ESRI report, the poverty rate increased from 22.4% to 26.3% but, thankfully, it is far from 100%. In order to assist people with disabilities, the Department manages a range of income supports. The two to which I referred earlier are pilot projects but others are well established, including the wage subsidy scheme, the EmployAbility services, the reasonable accommodation fund, the partial capacity benefit stream and the Intreo services that are available to anybody who has either a physical or an intellectual disability and who wants to work. We are here to assist.

I call Deputy O'Dea for a final supplementary question.

When I referred to the certain measures in place to try to close the gap, I meant those that are in place. I acknowledge the two new pilot schemes but they are not, in my view, nearly radical enough to change the trend. It rose from 15% up to 22% in 2015. In 2016, there was another increase to 26% or 27% at a time when the economy was growing rapidly.

The Minister can correct me if I am wrong, but she was recently quoted as having said that her ambition is to unwind the cuts inflicted on lone parents. Will she elaborate on this? Is she saying that she will reverse the changes made in 2012?

Yes, I would like to do that. My intentions and what I can do depend on the budgets allocated to me for next year. It is something that I think would be worthwhile. It was one of the recommendations made in the Joint Committee on Social Protection's report on lone parents. It is only fair that we give back the full disregard and I will try to increase the qualified child increases as much as I can. There is a cost associated with a child over 12 years as opposed to a lesser cost for those under 12. That is my ambition. I will fight for money from the Department of Finance this year but it will depend on all the money allocated and the various other considerations we must meet, including all the working family payments and dealing with the pensions anomaly. The latter will cost in excess of €80 million this year and every year hereafter. There are also the other normal budgetary constraints and fuel poverty. Lone parent payments are very much at the top of my list of priorities in light of the fact that the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection was unanimous in its assertion that this should be the case.

Child Maintenance Payments

John Brady


37. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to proposals (details supplied) regarding the establishment of a child maintenance service; her views on such a service; if her attention has been further drawn to the positive impact this would have on lone parents and their children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8577/18]

Earlier, we touched on the ESRI report. The Minister will be well aware of the difficulties faced by lone parents and the deprivation rates among them. Last month, I published a Sinn Féin proposal to establish a statutory child maintenance service. The setting up of such a service was one of the main recommendations from the joint committee, which produced a comprehensive study on lone parents. Will the Minister consider doing this in order to lift lone parents out of consistent poverty?

I can confirm that I have received the proposals in question regarding the establishment of a child maintenance service.

The establishment of a service to assist lone parents to seek child maintenance payments would be a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, because the Family Law Acts, which place a legal obligation on parents to maintain their children, are under the remit of his Department.

In cases where the family unit has broken down, obligations regarding child maintenance continue to apply and relevant maintenance payments can be arranged either directly between the parents themselves or through supports such as the family mediation service, the Legal Aid Board and the courts. The arrangement of maintenance is, therefore, a matter between both parents, regardless of whether either is in receipt of a social welfare payment.

My Department is reviewing this complex issue of maintenance as it relates to my Department and I expect to have a paper shortly. I agreed with the Chairman of the joint committee that I would send the paper to him on its competition. When I have completed my consideration of the issues, the best way forward can be decided in consultation with the Minister for Justice and Equality.

I am aware that the responsibility lies with the Minister's colleague but it is an issue which Deputy Doherty, as Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, must have a concern when she reads the information on the deprivation levels among lone parents in the ESRI report. We are aware of both the evidence and the studies that have been carried out.

The Millar and Crosse report, the Indecon report and the Survey on Income and Living Conditions, SILC, report for 2016 show clearly that consistent poverty levels are substantially higher in lone parent families. We know for a fact that child maintenance plays a critical role in helping to lift lone parent families out of consistent poverty.

In November, when I put the question about the establishment of a child maintenance service to the Minister, she asked, "Does Deputy Brady seriously think it is the State's responsibility to chase down maintenance?" The simple answer to that is "yes". There is a responsibility on the State to chase down maintenance to help lift lone parent families out of poverty and the establishment of a statutory child maintenance service would allow that to happen. I again ask the Minister for her view as to whether it is something that would be beneficial to lone parents and whether it is something that she, as Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, would consider.

I reiterate that the State helps parents with supports such as the Family Mediation Service, the Legal Aid Board and free legal aid in co-operation with the courts where people present themselves looking to obtain maintenance.

Regardless of whether I have a view, I have already explained that it is not within my remit to change the current family law. It comes under the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality. Therefore, if there is a maintenance agency ever to be established in this country, it will be done by the Department of Justice and Equality.

I have committed to reflect on those maintenance arrangements. When I have completed those considerations and deliberations, I will have a conversation with the Minister for Justice and Equality to see how we can move forward on this issue.

What is the scope of the review the Minister has initiated within her Department? What are the terms of reference? Will the Minister be looking at maintenance payments and the difficulties that lone parents encounter, for example, having to go through the District Court? I have spoken to many lone parents who have had to go to the courts up to 14 times and still have not received any maintenance payments. With the establishment of a child maintenance service, the non-custodial parent would be forced to pay the child maintenance directly to the lone parent and there would be no need to go through the courts system, freeing up substantial court time. If it was to be viewed from a financial perspective solely, it would save a considerable amount, for example, for the Department of Justice and Equality, in court time but, more importantly, in not having to put lone parents through that horrendous ordeal of having to go through the courts.

Many lone parents to whom I have spoken feel intimidated. They feel threatened. They feel the courts are not a place where they can go. Removing it from that setting would be beneficial. It would ensure that the non-custodial parent would pay what he is supposed to pay.

Putting a child maintenance service on a statutory footing is not abnormal in other countries.

The Minister to respond. The Deputy has exceeded his time.

It is something on which we have been criticised by the UN for not having in place. It is something that many organisations would like to see.

I will not say I agree with Deputy Brady because there are parts of what he stated I agree with and parts that I do not. I am trying to be clear to the Deputy in stating that it does not fall under the remit of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

On what Deputy Brady proposes, the family law legislation takes away the control of the courts and there is an obligation under the law for every parent to be responsible to his or her child. We do not need to pass another law or to establish another agency for parents to have a legal obligation to their child; they have it today.

However, I recognise that lone parents' hearts are broken going back and forth. The courts have it within their remit to put a charge against somebody's wages. It is slightly different when it comes to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection because the payments that are made from the Department are based on a certain standard of living and to start taking money from those who are only taking money in from the Department might cause difficulties. However, the laws are already there. I acknowledge and appreciate how frustrating they are and how revolving doors are working with people, but it is not within my gift to establish a maintenance agency. It does not come under the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

Tax and Social Welfare Codes

Willie O'Dea


38. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to deal with the issue of bogus self-employment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8466/18]

Willie Penrose


40. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the changes she plans to implement following the publication of the report into tax and social insurance implications of intermediary employment structures and self-employment arrangements; her further plans to conduct a study to determine the number of persons who are in these arrangements due to the reliance on data based on a self-described determination in the CSO Quarterly National Household Survey in which persons may not realise they are, in fact, self-employed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8464/18]

The Minister understands the concept of bogus self-employment. I have been approached by groups of people on many occasions - one as late as last week - who are working as employees in the normal way who were suddenly told by their employers that from the following week they would be self-employed. That has certain devastating consequences, obviously, for the employees themselves and also for the Exchequer. I am trying to ascertain what is the Government's policy on this. Is the Government aware of the extent of the problem and what proposals, if any, does it have to deal with it?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 38 and 40 together.

Bogus self-employment arises where an employer wrongly treats a worker as an independent contractor in order to avoid tax and social insurance contributions. There are already robust arrangements in place for dealing with complaints of bogus self-employment. Social welfare inspectors inspect a wide range of businesses, as part of their ongoing compliance operations. Inspections are also undertaken jointly with other agencies, including the Revenue Commissioners and Workplace Relations Commission. Where evidence of non-compliance is detected, this will be pursued.

Officials also investigate specific cases referred to my Department's scope section. This section determines employment status and the correct class of pay-related social insurance, PRSI. Where misclassification of workers as self-employed is detected, the correct status and class is determined and social insurance arrears are collected as required under the law. Under the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, there are specific offences in relation to employment contributions. On conviction, fines and-or imprisonment can ultimately be imposed.

Any worker who has concerns about his or her employment and-or PRSI status should contact my Department and the matter will be investigated. This can only happen with the co-operation of the worker.

Data from the recent CSO Quarterly National Household Survey record 312,000 individuals as self-employed in 2017, or 15% of total employment. This is consistent with the average levels of self-employment within the EU. There is no evidence of a significant change in the level of self-employment over the past 16 years, since we started collecting the data.

The classification of a worker for PRSI purposes can be complicated by the use of intermediary employment structures referred to by Deputy O'Dea. Revenue estimates that there are some 15,000 people employed using structures such as personal service companies and managed service companies. I consider these figures to be reliable and have no plans for additional studies of the numbers involved.

My Department has concerns that such mechanisms may be used to reduce the amount of PRSI and tax being paid, with a subsequent loss to the Exchequer and the Social Insurance Fund. A report on the issue, prepared by officials from my Department, the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners and informed by a public consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, was published at the end of January following Cabinet approval.

The report finds that the available data does not indicate that self-employment is accounting for any significant increased share of the labour force and accordingly the perception of the level of disguised employment may be overstated. While the report indicates that intermediary arrangements can be abused to the detriment of workers and can distort the transparent and efficient operation of the labour market, it also notes that contract for service arrangements can provide flexibility - I take on board comments made previously that such flexibility exists usually is at the higher end of the scale - in many instances, for both businesses and workers where they are free to choose. It is not always the case that such flexibility exists.

The recommendations, of which there were three, are being examined in the context of the overall Social Insurance Fund. This report and the Actuarial Review of the Social Insurance Fund provide a timely and evidence-led opportunity to undertake a full review of our social insurance system and, as I hope to do later this year, to consult with stakeholders.

The Minister states that robust measures are in place to deal with this. I am certainly not aware of those robust measures and they do not seem to apply in Limerick, whatever about the rest of the country. When I asked people what did they do, somebody who approached the Revenue Commissioners was told it was a matter for the employer. As for approaching the scope section, if the scope section is to deal with all of those thousands of people, it will be overwhelmed. In any case, the Minister will find that in most cases workers are compelled to sign a piece of paper to say that they are now self-employed. There is no point in going to the scope section if one has already signed a piece of paper. They do that on pain of losing their employment.

In any case, if they do not do so, they will not get the jobs at all. I disagree with the conclusions reached by the report prepared by the Departments of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Finance. A report with which we were circularised recently by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, pointed out that in the past ten years there has been a 23% increase in the number of the self-employed working without employees. The report to which the Minister referred involved an inspection which was carried out around the country and involved interviews of 11,699 people. One in ten, the report found, was bogus self-employed, and it very specifically stated that those who carried out the interviews were convinced they were not being told the full truth. This is a serious problem. The Minister says the figures are consistent with the EU's, which may or may not be the case, but the fact that something wrong is happening in the EU is no justification for it happening at the same rate here. It is a real problem. I deal with real people who are affected by this and I am sure other Deputies have the same experience. Many of them work for subcontractors employed by the State. The money is all coming from the State. When I raise the matter with the relevant Ministers - not Deputy Doherty, but other Ministers - they just do not want to know. They say it is none of their business, "nothing to see here, move along", but it is happening and is causing real hardship. Genuine employees are being-----

Sorry, I took my eye off the clock.

-----deprived of employment rights gained over many years and at the same time the Exchequer is losing money.

I call the Minister. I apologise to the House.

The Department's scope insurability section is responsible for making those statutory decisions on insurability employment under the Social Welfare Act. While the Deputy might be concerned about its capacity and workload, it certainly does not have a problem looking at the instances that are being brought to its attention. The insurability decisions are based on evidence that is provided, including the report from the social welfare inspector who goes out and sees the business where appropriate, and case law from previous court judgments. I will do a public awareness campaign this year because I am quite sure a very large number of self-employed people or people who think they are mismatched within the PRSI system do not even know about scope. We have a body of work to do to let them know what it is and what it can do for them. Any worker who has concerns about his or her employment or social insurance status should contact my Department and scope will kick in and take care of the matter. As I said, the Social Welfare Act is so robust it allows us to go back and recoup social insurance contributions that should have been made from the time the employment started, whether it was disguised or not disguised. The independent scope division will make that decision.

Deputy Penrose has the first supplementary question.

I hope I get a little latitude. Bogus self-employment contracts effectively deny workers the same level of protection and entitlement their employed colleagues enjoy. I note the report commissioned by my colleague, Deputy Joan Burton, has finally been published. Bogus self-employment is a scourge of many industries, hitting the construction industry, the gig economy and the IT sector particularly hard. The figures that were postulated and arrived at in the study to which the Minister refers are difficult to believe. There is very little real information on the number of people who might be in so-called false self-employment. The report relies on CSO figures, but the CSO quarterly national household survey relies on self-reporting. This means that if people tell the CSO they are employees, that is how they are recorded. For all we know, it might be false self-employment, but they think they are employed. As Deputy O'Dea said, they sign bits of paper without knowing the details of what they are signing. The spread of these arrangements results in a loss of PRSI and tax income to the State, leaves people without entitlements and makes it very difficult for workers to bargain collectively for better terms and conditions. Of course, it suits the employers. Employers force workers into disguised self-employment arrangements and those workers are to all intents and purposes direct employees in all but name. As I said, they lose their rights as workers and their social welfare entitlements. This behaviour cheats the State out of tens of millions of euro in lost PRSI income and tax revenue, which means less money for social welfare which the Minister needs and for hospitals and schools. It is time to bring an end to this because it is rampant.

Deputy O'Dea is right: many of us in our everyday activity meet people who lose out badly. I know a code of practice was introduced in 2007 that set out criteria designed to help determine whether a worker is an employee or a genuinely self-employed contractor, but given the alarming growth in false self-employment since the code was first introduced, it is clear this initiative has not served the workers well. My colleague, Senator Gerald Nash, who is the Labour Party spokesman on social protection, is bringing forward the Protection of Employment (Measures to Counter False Self-Employment) Bill 2018. It will be introduced in the Seanad next week and I anticipate that it will receive widespread support. We must tackle this. It is a scourge for the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and SIPTU. All the unions are concerned about it.

I will ask the Minister only one question. Will she put on record the number of cases determined by the scope section for the most recent year for which the data are available? That would be interesting. How many people in the scope section are allocated to this task and how many inquiries has it had in this regard over the past year or so?

I do not have the data the Deputy is looking for so I commit that I will come back to him with the number of cases scope has managed in recent years and the staff complement involved. I do not disagree with either Deputy. There is an issue with disguised employment in the country, but I can only go on the basis of the data I have. The numbers involved are not as large as anecdotally I had heard they were before I became Minister. Before I saw the report, I probably would have thought the numbers were far larger than they actually are. This does not matter in essence because the people who are being forced into disguised employment, whether they number 500, 5,000 or 50,000, are being mistreated by employers, so for two reasons we will closely look at the three recommendations of the report. Two of the reasons fall under the remit of the Department of Finance and one under my Department. We will look very closely at the issue because I could certainly do with the €60 million, thank you very much, and I would not have trouble spending it.

Scope does work. If I do anything this year, it will be to ensure that people know about it and know there is no need to fear it from their employer's perspective. While I know what Deputy O'Dea is saying - that if these employees rock the boat they may lose their jobs - the balance of someone being secure in his or her employment prospects and being treated well and with dignity by an employer can only be fixed if someone brings the matter to our attention.

Another matter I wish very quickly to put on the record is that we moved last year, and we continue to do so this year, to ensure that the benefits under the Social Insurance Fund that are available to employed people are extended to self-employed people. We have done likewise in respect of treatment benefits. We introduced the invalidity pension last year and we will keep going in the coming years, economy willing, to ensure everyone has equal status in the Social Insurance Fund.

There are two further supplementary questions. I will take the first from Deputy Penrose.

With our Protection of Employment (Measures to Counter False Self-Employment) Bill 2018 we certainly do not want to interfere with the status of genuinely employed self-employed people or bring them into an employee framework. No one is interested in that because those thousands of people provide jobs and work extremely hard. A common misconception is that parties are free to choose whether they provide services, whether employee or self-employed, and can sign their contracts accordingly. That is codswallop. The people who are in the superior position impose their view upon the people in the lesser position. The Minister should remember that, in reality, the test of employment status is a matter of law and not determined by the label attached to the relationship by the parties. This is why in our Bill we have a number of measures which will be of help in this regard and will get down to ensuring a way to identify the relationship. It is a very important Bill and I hope it gets full support. The Minister talks about getting the income disregard for lone parents sorted out, the pension anomalies and all the other anomalies that were created after the 2012 changes. These must be tackled, and fair play to the Minister for going about tackling them. She could do with money and it is being lost as a result of bogus self-employment. I support these projects in every way and would like to be allocated them and gather the information from people. It is about time we deal with this, but there are rogue employers out there fooling decent employees into feeling that there is no choice. They are put on a certain contract and that is what they have to take: otherwise, it is "down the road with you" and there is someone else to take the person's place.

Again, I do not disagree with what the Deputy has said. I have not seen Senator Nash's Bill. I look forward to having a look at it, engaging with it-----

I know the Minister will support it next week.

-----and, I hope, if I can, supporting it. Ultimately, what we need to do, and I think what we all want to do, is to ensure that those who feel they are being marginalised or put in vulnerable positions by being made misread or misstate their employment status feel they have recourse to someone. Again, if I have to strengthen the scope division, we will do so, but I genuinely do not think I need to do so. What I need to do is tell people it is there and what it can do for them and allow people to come along with their inspectors to tackle these people who are taking advantage of others because of their strength and might. This will ensure that all employees are treated with dignity and respect.

Deputy O'Dea has the final supplementary question.

I take the Minister's point but, as Deputy Penrose said, most people have no choice. If one signs a piece of paper under duress stating that one is self-employed because one does not get the job otherwise, there is not much good going to the scope section afterwards. That is the problem. Something must be done on a broader scale to prevent employers from engaging in this abuse - and it is an abuse.

In the latter part of the Minister's reply she mentioned the extension of certain benefits to the self-employed. She will be aware of a fairly detailed survey of the self-employed which stated they would be prepared to increase their PRSI contributions in return for further benefits, such as jobseeker's benefit, being extended to them. If employers are willing to pay more, it disincentivises the idea of self-employment because it narrows the gap between what they save and what they get, with 14.75% as opposed to 4.75%. If it were increased, the gap would be smaller. If the self-employed are willing to pay for this themselves, would that not be a better idea than putting it on the taxpayers?

The Deputy has raised two separate issues. Let me be very clear, in case anybody thinks I am soft on this, bogus self-employment or disguised employment involves the wilful evasion of income tax, PRSI and social insurance liabilities and it will not be tolerated. There are mechanisms in place. I hear what the Deputy is saying about people not being given a choice but they have a choice to report it thereafter. If we do not know about it, we cannot inspect; if we cannot inspect we cannot catch people and if we cannot catch people we cannot fine them and put them in prison. We want to send out a clear message that for us to tackle the small amount of people who are taking the Mick, we need to be told about it. When we do the advertising campaign on scope we will tell people loudly and clearly. I will make sure we will monitor the increase in the number of reports coming into scope because if there is not an increase, we are definitely doing something wrong.

While I do want to extend to self-employed people all the benefits that employed people currently have, I absolutely do not want to increase the money self-employed people pay. I want to make sure there is an equilibrium and balance between what an employee pays and what a self-employed person pays and that it is the same. If anybody is going to pay the extra it is the people who only have one contract with one person, and this is the responsibility of the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Finance. Let us look at that as being a contract tax or a contract self-employment tax, as opposed to taking more money from self-employed people who have had the gumption to provide employment for themselves.

Question No. 39 answered with Question No. 36.
Question No. 40 answered with Question No. 38.