The Social Welfare Commission Bill 2018, sponsored by the Deputy, seeks, among other things, to establish a commission to monitor and make recommendations on social welfare rates at least once a year.
The Deputy will be aware that ideas of benchmarking and indexation of social welfare rates are not new. For example, previous studies were conducted by the Commission on Social Welfare in 1986, long before the Deputy and I were Members, and by the social welfare benchmarking and indexation group in 2001.
In our roadmap for pensions reform, which was published on a snowy day last March, the Government committed to examine and develop proposals to set a formal benchmark target of 34% of average earnings for the contributory State pension and to institute a process whereby future changes in rates of pension payment will be linked explicitly to changes in consumer prices and average wages.
My Department is currently considering options to implement this commitment by examining previous studies on benchmarking and indexation, international experience and a range of potential benchmarks and indices. It is worth noting that the current rates of payment mirror closely already the benchmark levels proposed in previous reports, including those proposed by the social welfare benchmarking and indexation group of 2001 which is usually relied on by advocacy and other groups.
In terms of the wider application of indexation of social welfare payments generally, section 19 of the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Act 2018 provides that, as Minister, I will arrange to "consult with stakeholders on examining ways in which social welfare rates are increased with the aim of ensuring adequacy for all recipients and shall do so in quarter 1 of 2019". From recollection, albeit the Deputy can correct me if I am wrong, that provision was proposed in an amendment which he tabled and we all supported.
In this context, my Department met with numerous interested stakeholders during quarter 1 of 2019 to solicit views on how the adoption of benchmarking and a system of indexation might work for social welfare rates more generally. The feedback from this consultation is currently being considered and will help to inform the development of what will hopefully be a collective approach to benchmarking and indexation.
In addition, I propose that the issue will be considered at my Department's pre-budget forum on an official basis in July. The forum includes representatives from the community and voluntary sector, ICTU and IBEC, among others. I have the Deputy's views, which are welcome, and would welcome also the views of those in other political parties who are interested in this area and who might make submissions.