That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to make provision for a statement of principles to inform the interpretation and administration of the Social Welfare Acts; to provide for a social welfare charter; to impose a duty to promote the take-up of social welfare entitlements; to set out certain rights to information, advocacy and support for social welfare applicants and recipients; to confer additional functions on the Citizens Information Board; and to provide for related matters.
As set out in the Long Title, this is a Bill to make provision for a statement of principles to inform the interpretation and administration of the Social Welfare Acts; to provide for a social welfare charter; to impose a duty to promote the take-up of social welfare entitlements; to set out certain rights to information, advocacy and support for social welfare applicants and recipients; to confer additional functions on the Citizens Information Board; and to provide for related matters.
Section 1 provides for the Short Title of the Bill and for its collective construction, together with the Social Welfare Acts. It also provides that the Bill comes into operation six months after its passing. Section 2 is an interpretation section and defines terms used in the Bill.
Section 3 sets out the social welfare principles as follows. The social welfare system contributes to realising economic, social and cultural rights that are indispensable for personal dignity and the free development of human personality. The social welfare system progressively achieves the commitments made in Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 45 of the Constitution. Social welfare is an investment in the people and is accordingly for the public good and general benefit. The delivery of social welfare is a public service. Respect for the dignity of persons should be at the heart of the social welfare system. The social welfare system should contribute to reducing poverty. It should be designed on the basis of evidence and should be progressively improved in ways that put the need of those who require assistance first and should advance equality and non-discrimination. The social welfare system should be efficient and should deliver value for money.
This section provides that all those concerned with the interpretation or administration of the Acts, or performing functions under them, must have regard to the social welfare principles. In addition, a court or tribunal in civil or criminal proceedings may take the social welfare principles into account when determining any question to which the principles are relevant. However, nothing in this section of itself gives rise to a cause of action in respect of anything done in the administration of the Acts or the performance of functions under them.
Section 4 provides that a social welfare charter is to be prepared, published and, from time to time, reviewed. The charter must set out what is to be expected from the Government and the Minister when developing social welfare policy; from the Minister, his or her officers and others when administering the Acts or performing functions under them; and from persons who apply for and receive assistance through the social welfare system. The charter must reflect the social welfare principles as spelt out in the Bill and the Minister must prepare the charter within six months of this Bill coming into operation. In preparing the charter, the Minister must consult the board and the persons who receive assistance through the social welfare system or their representative bodies, together with such other persons or bodies as he or she considers appropriate. The Minister must lay a draft of the charter before both Houses of the Oireachtas for their prior approval and must make the charter publicly available by appropriate means.
Section 5 requires the Minister to review the charter within five years of its being made, and every five years thereafter, involving the same consultation process. Following that review, the Minister must decide whether or not to make any changes to the charter and must lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report setting out the consultation undertaken in carrying out the review, the reasons for the Minister's decision to make changes or not to make changes and, if the Minister has decided to make changes, a draft of the charter showing the changes he or she intends to make.