Estimates for Public Services 2015 - Vote 37: Minister for Social Protection

The committee will discuss Vote 37, the Social Insurance Fund, Department of Social Protection.

I wish to draw the attention of the Minister and her officials to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. The opening statement submitted to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Everyone should have his or her mobile phone in safe or flight mode or switched off completely.

The purpose of today's meeting is to consider improvements that may be desirable in the performance information included in the Estimates, to undertake a mid-year review of the position as regards outputs and expenditure in the Vote for social protection for the year ended 31 December 2015 and to brief the joint committee on the emerging position so as to permit it to participate in the 2016 Estimates discussions in advance of the finalisation of allocations. After the meeting, the joint committee may agree a report on the outcome of its deliberations today and lay it before the Houses. A briefing note from the Department of Social Protection on the Vote 37 Estimate for 2015 and three separate briefing documents from the committee secretariat explaining the structure and purpose of the meeting - and the issues arising - have been circulated to members.

I welcome the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, and her officials. I now invite her to make a brief opening statement.

I thank the committee for the invitation to appear before it to discuss the mid-year position on the 2015 Estimates for the Department and to look ahead to budget 2016. Late last week, my officials provided briefing material for the use of the committee at this meeting. This includes detailed financial data for 2015, including the mid-year position. Briefing on mid-year progress on the Department’s performance outputs was sent to the committee secretariat over a month ago.

Each year we make about 85 million payments. That is the first output. The major element by far of Department of Social Protection expenditure is expenditure on weekly rates of payment. At the end of August, there were over 1.4 million people in receipt of a weekly welfare payment in respect of almost 2.2 million beneficiaries. This is in addition to 611,000 families in receipt of a monthly child benefit payment in respect of almost 1.2 million children. The scale of these numbers means that the payments and services operated by the Department impact, either directly or indirectly, on the lives of almost everybody in the State in one way or another. These social transfers play a pivotal role in alleviating poverty and Ireland is the best performing member state in the EU in this regard.

Welfare expenditure also contributes, directly or indirectly, to the wider economy, as people spend their benefits and pensions each week, thereby adding to domestic employment and economic activity. The importance of welfare spending as a key tool in stabilising demand is recognised here and abroad. Finally, social transfers provide support across the life course, from helping to protect children from disadvantage to ensuring an adequate standard of living across all age groups. In this regard, it is worth highlighting that almost half, 47%, of social welfare expenditure relates to payments to pensioners and children.

The Government is driving an economic recovery, stabilising the nation's finances and increasing employment. Getting people back to work is the Government's priority and we continue to be absolutely focused on helping people to build better futures for themselves and their families through employment. The Department's Pathways to Work strategy plays a crucial role in this. Pathways to Work aims to ensure that as many newly created jobs as possible go to people on the live register. Pathways to Work has a specific focus on the long-term unemployed or those at risk of becoming long-term unemployed. This focus is paying off. Central Statistics Office, CSO, data for August show that the monthly unemployment rate has now fallen to 9.5%, down from a crisis peak of 15.1%.

It is particularly welcome that long-term unemployment has decreased at a slightly faster rate than the overall reduction in unemployment. It is now down from a peak of 9.5% to 5.5% in the second quarter of 2015. Since 2012, 70,000 long-term unemployed jobseekers have moved to employment and we are on track to reach our 2015 target of 75,000. Most encouragingly, CSO data show that employment has increased by well over 100,000 people under this Government. It now stands at 1.96 million people. This means that our ambitious employment target of 100,000 additional jobs by 2016 was achieved one year early.

Budget 2015 continued the priority focus on increasing employment. We introduced the new back to work family dividend scheme and expanded JobsPlus. There were also a series of measures to help families and the vulnerable. We increased child benefit, the living alone allowance and funding for school meals. We also reinstated, at a rate of 25%, the Christmas bonus, which was where the previous Government made its first reduction.

Getting a job benefits individuals, their families and their communities but it also benefits the public purse, with jobseeker payments falling and tax revenue and social insurance contributions increasing. While it was the norm for the Social Insurance Fund to require annual Exchequer subventions, the fund required a subvention of over €2 billion in 2012 because of the recession.

In fact, we had discussions in this chamber about the "hole", as it was called, in the social insurance fund and all of us were incredibly worried about the potential impact of that on provisions, particularly for pensioners and retired people. Since then, however, the deficit has declined significantly and the 2015 Revised Estimates provide for a much reduced subvention of €180 million this year. This is very important and welcome progress. It is very good news, particularly for our pensioners.

Apart from providing income supports and helping jobseekers return to work, the Department has an important role in the development of social policy and legislation. A recent example is the Gender Recognition Act, which enables a person to have his or her preferred gender recognised by the State. This is vital legislation for transgender people and their families and represents another significant milestone for equality in Irish society. In developing the legislation, my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, and I took on board the views of representative groups, transgender people, parents of transgender children, medical practitioners and citizens. I thank the many members of the committee who assisted enormously in the long parliamentary and consultation process.

One of the reasons for inviting me to appear before the committee today is the mid-year review of the Department's performance targets. There has been some discussion about the appropriateness of the Department's targets, particularly regarding policy-related targets or targets on internal corporate processes, such as those relating to human resources, HR, or information technology, IT, systems. I have just mentioned how important the development of social policy and legislation is to the core work of the Department. The progression of the Gender Recognition Bill earlier this year is a prime example of this work because it provides real, tangible impacts for the people who will benefit from it. It is, therefore, among our most important work, including the work of this committee.

Regarding internal targets, it is vital to point out that one of the priorities of the Department is continually to improve its processes and services for the people we serve, and that is many people in Ireland. It is worth reflecting briefly on the changes the Department has undergone in recent years. The Department has welcomed staff from the former Departments of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation as well as Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, fondly known as Craggy, staff of the former community welfare service, who were formally integrated into the Department in 2011, and former FÁS staff who joined the Department in January 2012. There was an inflow of more than 3,000 staff to the Department. That is a transformation of unprecedented scale in the Civil Service in Ireland.

The work of the Department has also been transformed. The roll out of Intreo offices across the country provides one-stop-shops where a person can make a social welfare claim, avail of the former community welfare services and be helped to return to work, training or education, all in one place. I believe most of the members have visited these bright, clean, painted offices which treat the staff with dignity and, more importantly, treat the people who visit to avail of social welfare services with dignity. That was not possible three years ago. A customer who needed to avail of these three services would have had to register separately three times, resulting in a duplication of time and effort. They registered once in the social welfare office, once in the community welfare service and once in the FÁS office. That has now been reduced to one registration and it is all interactive. This fundamental change has necessitated the integration of very different work practices, cultures and IT systems, while ensuring that the daily work of the Department is maintained at a high level.

When one considers this context, it is understandable that the Department has focused many of its performance targets on ensuring the success of this transformation. As time goes by, and the OneDSP programme becomes fully embedded, these types of targets will no longer feature to the same extent. I recognise the crucial role of the committee in the scrutiny of the Estimates. The Department will take on board any comments or suggestions committee members may have about improving the presentation of targets in order to assist in the process.

I also want to mention updates in the area of fraud and control. It is essential that we maintain public confidence in the welfare system by vigorously tackling any fraudulent activity. One of the new initiatives undertaken is the secondment of 20 gardaí to the Department's special investigation unit since December 2014. Garda officers are now an integral part of the unit and are carrying out a full range of social welfare fraud investigations. The Department has carried out an analysis to measure the effectiveness of the pilot over the secondment period. When we looked at the figures up to the end of July 2015, we found that savings of over €4 million have been generated. This clearly illustrates that the return on investment is a productive one.

Public services cards continue to be rolled out. As of last week, almost 1.6 million cards have been issued, with 513,000 having the free travel, or FT, indication. This has been introduced to enable people gain access to public services more efficiently and with a minimum of duplication of effort, while at the same time preserving their privacy to the maximum extent possible. One of the key benefits relates to the robustness of the identity registration process in order to minimise abuse. It is already proving successful. Using facial recognition software, a number of cases have been detected where individuals were using various identities to make multiple claims in different offices. We now have a facial recognition database of 1.6 million people, which makes it a very significant database. Where a match arises, these cases are immediately sent to the Department's special investigation unit for priority investigation. As identity fraud is as matter which generally falls under criminal justice legislation, all such cases are referred to the Garda for investigation and, thereafter, for consideration of prosecution by the DPP.

With regard to mid-year expenditure, the Department's spend is spread across seven programme areas. Overall, €19.378 billion was allocated to the Department in 2015, which is equivalent to 39% of gross current Government expenditure. Out of this, expenditure to the end of June 2015 was 0.8% above the estimate. Data on expenditure by scheme, service and administration sub-head, as at the end of June, is shown in chapters 2 to 9, inclusive, of our briefing, as appropriate. PRSI income at the end of June was €207 million above profile, which is obviously a reflection of my earlier comments on getting more people back to work. Overall, net Vote expenditure was €136 million under profile at that time. Given the demand-led nature of nearly all of the Department's schemes, it remains too early at this stage to be definitive as to whether a Supplementary Estimate will be required later this year or not.

Looking forward to 2016, the current expenditure ceiling for the Department is €19.276 million, which is €70 million less than the ceiling for this year. The 2016 ceiling allows for an increase in expenditure on pensions of €200 million, reflecting ongoing trends in our demographics, in that, thankfully, there are more older people as they are living longer. It also allows for a reduction of €270 million on jobseeker payments as we get more people back to work.

The Government's Spring Economic Statement, published last April, stated that budget 2016 will include a package within the range of €1.2 billion to €1.5 billion to invest in services, support employment and boost growth potential, while still maintaining our fiscal prudence. The Government has decided that this fiscal space will be split evenly between taxes and expenditure for this budget. The expenditure component, of some €600 million to €750 million, will have to address public sector pay demands, as well as capital and current expenditure. The scale and composition of the 2016 Department of Social Protection budget package is currently under consideration.

I held my annual and extremely useful pre-budget forum on 3 July, during which I and departmental officials listened to the views of almost 40 community and voluntary groups across a range of workshops. It should be noted, however, that at this time no decisions have been made in this regard. I welcome the input of this committee as to which areas of expenditure should be prioritised. I have also recently indicated that I will bring forward proposals to Government to pay a Christmas bonus in 2015.

These are just some of the key issues relating to the Department this year and next year. I thank the Chair for the invitation to this meeting and I look forward to our discussion.

Thank you, Minister. I wish to reiterate that this meeting is split into two parts, the first of which looks at performance information included in the social protection Estimate. I refer members to the output information set out in the Estimate for the Department and to the briefing provided by the committee secretariat on the output information.

Members have some questions for the Minister, but I have just one question. In the lead-up to this, there has been ongoing discussion between the Department, the committee secretariat and members in terms of the process. Guidance on setting output-based performance targets was furnished to the Department and we want to establish the Department's position on the guidance as set out. The guidance provided is based on the guidance provided in New Zealand, because we are trying to become more structured in our budget scrutiny and have had a look at best practice. Does the Department have any issues with the guidance? That is my question. We will move on to members after that.

I note the guidance is from the Auditor General of New Zealand. The secretariat asked what the breakdown of the output would be. The secretariat also said policy and legislation related targets, for example, the publication of legislation such as the Gender Recognition Bill, are not relevant to performance reporting. On that, the recent enactment of the Gender Recognition Act enables a person to have his or her preferred gender recognised by the State. This is vital legislation for transgender people and their families and represents a significant milestone for equality in Irish society. Progressing this legislation has been fundamental to the work programme of the Department and has a tangible impact on the lives of those who will benefit. In saying this, I am conscious I am sitting across from Deputy Ó Snodaigh who played an important role, as did others here, in identifying this legislation. We all worked hard on it and learned a vast amount about an issue that had never been addressed in Ireland since it became independent. I believe, therefore, the suggestion that the legislative output of Departments is not of significance is a political point that can be overstated.

Social protection is not just about making 85 million payments a year, to which I referred. It must also be about the development of policies in order to deliver on the Government's targets in regard to poverty, unemployment, employment, equity, income adequacy and social inclusion.

We all know that we are talking about retired people and pensioners, children, families with children and people out of work. All of us here know that we are especially concerned about younger people out of work, older people out of work, inner city and urban areas with unemployment problems. We are also concerned about similar situations in rural areas. The whole tapestry of Irish life is expressed in the Department of Social Protection. It is not the most productive approach to confine our discussions to very narrow issues, for example, processing times, on which we have had many discussions, even if they are very important for the service people receive. I want to hear the views of the committee on welfare policies and financial allocations and where they should be enhanced, amended or reduced.

In regard to reporting on internal processes, we have just undergone the biggest transformation in the history of the State in terms of a Department, adding 3,000 employees from a series of other Departments in order to re-imagine our social welfare service from just a hole in the wall slot machine operation of paying out, once one qualifies, to a much more comprehensive service around getting people back to work. The OECD extensively uses New Zealand-based data and New Zealand experiences for good and bad. We should remember what happened in New Zealand when it dismantled much of its social welfare system some years ago. New Zealand has many good things going for it but there are things I suggest we do not particularly want to copy from it. There is a fundamental change around integrating very different work practices, cultures, IT systems, while ensuring that the day to day work of the Department is maintained at a high level. I hope that the scale of this transformation - the staff, the systems, the culture, the values that are being put in place - are the building blocks to enable us to deliver our enhanced services to people in this country so that as time goes by, the one DSP programme becomes fully imbedded and these targets will no longer feature. However, as of now they are still very important.

The secretariat has suggested to the Department that it considers reporting on the processing times for each scheme in the Revised Estimates, each of the Pathways to Work targets and progress in regard to reaching child poverty targets. There are a number of practical issues. There is limited space in the Revised Estimates process so there is an issue around practicality. Apart from space issues, there are separate established reporting mechanisms which do not have to be duplicated. Pathways to Work updates are available each quarter in full colour on the Department's website. The colour system, which is easy to follow, is the traffic light system. If red it has still to be done, if green it is being done and if orange, we are still working on it. It is a simple system which is on the website in full colour.

Poverty targets are reported in the social inclusion monitor which is published each year. That needs much development. I will not go into it in detail but a huge amount of work remains to be done on capturing the measurements of poverty as a scientific social science. There are also issues in regard to the timeliness of reporting. Reporting on progress in the area of poverty targets is dependent on the publication, as members are aware, of the SILC report, the survey of income and living conditions, which in recent years, to my great disappointment and frustration, has not been available on time for publication in the Revised Estimates. Conversely, the Pathways to Work programme submits reports much more regularly than once a year. I would like to see that being addressed and I understand it may be addressed in the near future.

I will stop the Minister and bring in Deputy Ó Snodaigh at this point because there might be a supplementary question to be answered.

I thank the Minister. This is quite a complex area and, given the number of documents with which we are dealing, it is difficult to see how we are measuring fully the performance outputs. In OECD terms, we are quite low down in ensuring we have a proper monitoring system or accounting by the Government to committees. It is there but I have found in the past number of years that when we come to this part, there is often a shortage of time, although it is a welcome development that we are at least starting to address these issues in time.

We need to get into the nuts and bolts of the Department. For example, this sheet, which is quite a colourful sheet, is on the Department's website. It outlines targets and when they were achieved. The Minister is quite correct in stating that many of those targets which have not been achieved concern processing times - this is something that needs to be considered - but there are a number which are within the Department's gift. The question for us, as parliamentarians, is why the Department has not moved more quickly. Why has it not managed to deliver? We need to ensure that the targets the Department sets can be reviewed by us every year from now on and that we can hold it to account if they are not met.

There may be some practical reasons. For example, we had the Gender Recognition Bill and I thank the Minister for her recognition of the work of the committee in that regard. This was one of the better experiments, for want of a better word, in terms of legislation, especially complex legislation. If one goes back to 2011, a very short timeframe might have been set for the passing of the Gender Recognition Bill-----

It was five or six months.

-----but it was soon identified that we had problems and that the legislation was not fit for purpose. The Ministers listened and, with the Department, came back with better legislation. That would not have been reflected in the 2011 or 2012 outputs. There will be occasions when the Department cannot achieve its own targets and we understand that, but some targets jump out and we must ask why they are not being achieved. How can this committee play a fuller role in holding this or any future Government to account to ensure that there is full delivery and that whatever issues arise in the context of sharing knowledge and so forth can be overcome?

Does anyone else wish to contribute at this stage? Did Deputy Jim Daly indicate that he wishes to speak?

Can I go into general questioning?

No, not yet.

I call Deputy Brendan Ryan.

Each year, the traditional approach to this discussion between the committee, the Minister and the officials has focused on policy. As a committee, we have spoken about shifting the balance of the discussion towards performance in terms of outputs, measurements and so forth. What we are trying to get at is not so much what we are doing and what the policy decisions or choices are but, rather, how well the Department is using the money allocated. We have been briefed on the general shortfalls in terms of how the Oireachtas, as a whole, and its committees - not just this committee - have been performing and there are some gaps that need to be addressed. It seems that the New Zealand guidance is the standard which has been accepted as getting close to best practice in terms of how this might be done.

It is not so much about the policies that were applied in New Zealand in the past. It is like an ISO standard; the New Zealand guidance is there as something we should aspire to and begin to work towards.

I would ask the Department officials - not so much the Minister - whether they accept that the New Zealand guidance is best practice and is something we should try to improve on. While the Department has a number of issues with how the guidance is being applied to performance measures included in the Estimate, is it accepted that the New Zealand guidance should be our starting point? Have the officials any serious issues with the guidance itself?

I think what Deputy Ryan has said summarises the heart of the issue and how it goes forward. I could give him a couple of examples. The OECD would be involved in this as well. I draw members' attention to the summary of the notes on Vote 37 - the output table, note No. 18. It is Department item No. 64. This goes back to Deputy Ó Snodaigh's point about processing times.

When all of us in this Dáil term came into office, the economy had just crashed through the floor. There were vast volumes of additional people who, unfortunately, had become unemployed. Some 330,000 people lost their jobs and many self-employed people lost their businesses. We know all that and I do not want to go into it. The processing times would then have been under severe pressure.

One of the decisions I took early on, as those involved with the committee will remember, was to invest in IT. It was a pretty high-risk, 50-50 decision. Members will remember our discussions about the domiciliary care allowance, carers and a number of benefits like that. The documents were in the offices in Longford. A lot of them were in envelopes on the floor and we decided we were going to put them all up on the IT system. For me as Minister, that meant three to six months of changeover, which was roughly the time we estimated. It became very difficult because as all the stuff was taken off the floor and put onto the system, processing time was being lost for the applications. We then did what a lot of Deputies at the time were a bit annoyed about. The easiest thing once we got the system up was to process the new, fresh applications and then get through the backlog.

That is ancient history now and the processing times are much better, coming from where we have in terms of the IT system. We have more to do because a lot of IT platforms in Ireland - I know the Deputy has a lot of expertise in this area - go back maybe 20 years and have been added to, patched and so on. I would suggest that the Department should ultimately be moving online. That would mean once people's data were complete, the processing time for the applications would reduce even further. That is a strategic policy decision.

In the context of New Zealand, there are a couple of different ways of looking at social welfare aims and objectives.

I said earlier that the objective of the Government was to get people back into employment. The route for some people is through education, training, community employment and shorter-term schemes such as Tús and Gateway. However, if one was to rely exclusively on the New Zealand model, one of the immediate contraindications would be that if one went back to school or college through the back-to-education process, with which most members are familiar, one would almost inevitably be taken out of job searching during that process, whether it was associated with an access or a degree programme. What I describe is socially very valuable to the whole of Irish society but one might not get full marks from the OECD for doing so because it would state people were being taken out of the intensity associated with a job search. I refer to the experience of community employment, of which Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh has been a strong champion. It is like the chicken and the egg. I do not believe the OECD or New Zealand has yet clarified the matter.

What is social employment? On the one hand, social employment and social occupation give people an opportunity to participate in their own community, of which I am an absolute champion. However, people who come from the troika and so on are saying it involves time taken from a work search and ask why we are doing it. I am saying it is because a community scheme such as that in the SOLAS centre in Headford or one in Ballyfermot is not just about outputs but also about the very considerable contributions made by people to their local community.

To answer the question, I have tried to get into the matter at length. If one is talking about it from a scientific and academic perspective and a perspective based purely on output, one must find a means of marrying the output measurements with the social and human implications of what one is doing. At this point, I do not have a perfect answer because, in a certain sense, we might agree that we should do both. That is what the Department has tried to do. I will absolutely welcome any recommendation the committee makes based on its deliberations, but I want to see both sides of the coin. Deputy Michael Conaghan represents Ballyfermot and Inchicore, as does Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh. Other members represent rural areas which include small and medium-sized towns as their key bailiwicks. Deputy Brendan Ryan is beside Dublin Airport and, although it is in my constituency, he represents it-----

Not anymore; exactly. However, as the airport is located just outside his constituency, we share it. It is in an area with potential to achieve considerable employment growth. Therefore, the social and employment activation questions in each area are subtly different. If we are to develop a model, we must develop one that will be sensitive to these differences. I am not sure the New Zealand model does all of this.

They are issues we can take into account on the next occasion.

I thank the Minister for her briefing and presentation. I remember speaking during the summer with somebody working in quality control in a very technical area in a high-tech company. The person concerned was checking and rechecking technical systems, almost to the point of being sick.

The point he made was that if he could not find the problem, there was something wrong. That was his reasoning and that was what he was there for. He would keep going until he found the problem. Sometimes that is difficult in terms of how Departments present Estimates to the public, committees or policy makers. This is particularly so given that the social protection budget, at almost €20 billion, is the biggest voted current expenditure for which the Government has responsibility.

In the context of the Department's Vote, there is a move from financially-based to performance-based assessments, which is quite complex. As the Minister has outlined, if one is introducing a new programme or initiative such as OneDSP, it is complex. It means a lot of interaction within departmental sections and outside agencies. It may be difficult in the Department of Social Protection and other Departments to assess the success of a new programme based on financial measures. For the public and policy makers, that becomes almost impossible in the way Estimates are formatted.

The question concerns the potential for the Department to embrace performance-related measures within a reporting structure. For example, that would show if this is a programme we would like to have or one that we need to have. That would be assessed not just on a snapshot of a particular Estimate year but also on a continuous basis. In that way, one could say that in year one of the programme the performance output measures have been X. Over two or three years it will become obvious at a glance whether this is working and whether money has been wasted within the programme. If that system was embraced, it would be important in terms of holding the performance of Departments and Ministers to account.

I will comment briefly on that. When Mr. Chopra headed the troika team in Ireland, he introduced a terminology into public policy that has been universally adopted now, which is evidence-based policy making. All my discussions with him were about evidence-based policy making. When I arrived in the Department, some of our interlocutors had the State pension and free travel very much in their sights, as well as various other things particularly to do with older people. Mr. Chopra always talked about evidence-based policy. I would agree with an amount of what the Deputy said. Maybe the way we could address it is to say that departmental programmes - and consequently the measurement of their subsequent performance - should be evidence-based. In other words, what outcomes were set and what did they achieve?

There is quite a difficulty concerning financial measurements but only if one does not have a social policy achievement measure. In something such as social welfare, for example, it is easy to cite the New Zealand or Australian trend, which is basically saying that everything in social welfare should be means tested.

If one has people contributing to a contributory old age pension scheme, that is fine, but one should move to basing pension payments on means such that if somebody who has contributed is fortunate enough to have higher means, one would give consideration to this and move away from universalism. The most outstanding examples of universalism in Ireland are the contributory bases linked with the social insurance fund and, obviously, child benefit. Some of the schemes in New Zealand base everything on means testing, about some of which I have my doubts. Universalism has a very important role to play, particularly in the case of income structures for persons in retirement who, by and large, cannot work again or avail of work easily and, therefore, cannot influence their income hugely. In respect of the State's role in recognising the importance of services and income support for children, in some states that income support is provided through tax mechanisms. In that context, there must be some qualifications about the numbers such that it is about the policy behind them.

To a certain extent, a compromise is probably needed, as one needs a bit of both. We will look at this issue after the meeting and probably make recommendations arising from this discussion.

I thank the Tánaiste for her presentation. As I look at almost everything relating to government, there is now a preoccupation with measuring outputs and statistics; there are statistical measures for everything. We can finish up working towards the examination and statistics that make us look good, or bad as the case may be, but sometimes discrete information is lost. The function and role of an organisation in providing social protection and insurance can be lost. Is there a commitment on the part of the Department to work with this committee to reduce a very substantial set of outputs to outputs that are of relevance to general public consumption and, second, cover areas in which outputs are not measured? There are lacunae within the system in which outputs are not measured and these lacunae can become very important.

To be helpful, will the Senator give us a couple of examples of lacunae?

The one that comes to mind is in the area of social protection. It concerns class K PRSI. Those who pay it do not benefit from it, although they pay at the rate of 4%. The same applies to educational supports. The Minister mentioned persons who moved into the education sector where one moved from one set of statistics into another. Heretofore, we have not measured the success of programmes such as VTOS. We know that there is an input and an end to the programme, but we are not measuring or have not measured its success or otherwise. There is a crossover between the education sector and the social protection system. It is about devising reports that are meaningful. That is where I am coming from.

For the Senator's information, there was no capacity before we began the amalgamation process I described. As an expert in the education field, the Senator knows that people who gained access to a course either did show or did not show up. That is on the FÁS side. Going back to the New Zealand model, one can take it to a greater extreme and say that while somebody who is unemployed is doing this - this is the example that is and will be given by professionals in the area - he or she is not searching for a job and that, therefore, the person who does not enter the education sector might find a job faster.

On the class K contributions made by politicians-----

Since 2015 they are made by anybody with what is called unearned income.

It seems to be anathema to the notion of social insurance that one would make insurance contributions from which one could never draw down.

The Senator might take up that issue with my colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan. That was a particular feature in terms of the stress endured in the country as a consequence of the crash and also the fact that many in politics and other walks of life were well provided for in terms of pensions.

We will move on to more general issues, but the guidance provided by the Department states output performance measures should not relate to internal processes, events, milestones or other deliverables. It further states there may be a need for these to be communicated in other ways but they are not outputs. That is a source of tension between the Department and the committee. We received a briefing earlier. There is consensus that we do not do enough and that we are not strong enough in holding the Government and Departments to account. We are at the bottom of the rankings in terms of budget scrutiny by committees, but as a pilot measure, the committee has taken on the task of trying to improve this. The Department of Social Protection is one of the best performers in providing transparent information. Those who have been members of other committees and everybody else are of the view that very good information is provided. It is a matter of determining how we can improve the process in order that we do not get into discussions in which everybody says what he or she thinks but in which we do not get to a point where we can say, "Here is the gap and this is what needs to be done." Arising from this discussion - this is a little unusual for everybody because it is the first time we have done it - we will probably produce a report on this issue and try to make recommendations on how we might move forward in the next set of Estimates. If there is anything to be added-----

May I make a couple of points to try to be helpful and perhaps agree on some common ground?

It is a difficult issue for all of us. We all want to do what is best, but I do not think we can separate social protection from the underlying policy. If we just go by numbers and forget about the policy and the implications for people, that is tricky territory and one might be disappointed with the answer one receives. The officials will take note of any suggestion or recommendation made by the committee at the meeting today, as well as the points made by Deputy Brendan Ryan and others. We will try to come back with some thoughts on them.

In terms of an input from our sister Department which has an influence on all of our deliberations, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, it publishes the Revised Estimates Volume and as such, has a significant role to play, as the secretariat, in particular. knows. The Department's consideration of important policy and organisational outputs should be properly reflected. What I will do as Minister - members might feel free to do the same - is see if I can commission somebody to produce a paper on this issue for the Department. Nobody comes to mind immediately, but the policy, the organisation, the money spent and the results are all part of a moving process.

One cannot pull one out of the other. For example, one can have a great policy, but as we know from recent years, if one does not have enough money, one cannot pursue the policy to get the outcomes one needs. Equally, if one spends money with no policy attached, people might ask where the focus is in terms of doing the best with it. We might consider commissioning somebody with expertise in the area to advise us in terms of Ireland. I say that wearing my accounting hat. I have an accounting background, although not in public finance.

The other approach is to look at international best practice benchmarks where they are available and appropriate. That goes to the heart of the situation, such as when people are unemployed how one encourages them and helps them to avail of a process to get back into employment. We must look at what countries do this best and how we rate against them. In part, that involves the countries whose economies are doing best and growing because that is where one gets employment but, equally, we know at a time of full employment in Ireland we had jobless households where people were not employed. Again, we might ask somebody to do some work on that.

The secretariat's view is to ensure that the areas with the most expenditure have adequate performance target coverage. There is a school of auditing called the "cat's milk school of auditing", which may have operated in the Irish banks. One goes in and one checks something rather small, that is dear to people and cherished, such as the milk for the office cat and one checks whether that money was spent well but one loses sight of the bigger picture. We do not want to be in the "cat's milk school of auditing". We want to be in the school of auditing relating to the big items that add up to the significant expenditure of the Department. Some of my time was spent as an auditor in my early career.

We will try to wrap this up now so we can move on to the more general areas. I will allow a lot of flexibility.

I wish to comment on the more general area.

Coming from years in opposition, one of the reasons one often finds the Opposition does not engage fully in the process of finding alternatives in social protection or finance is we are hampered in that regard because of-----

No, not politics. It is a constitutional ban which the Constitutional Convention addressed and asked us to examine; it is in one of the reports. It prevents us from putting forward proposals, be they positive or negative, in response to legislation. That gives rise to the view of why one would bother to make a proposal on a piece of legislation that is on Committee Stage because it would get ruled out of order. That is something we need to address in politics in general. I hope the report of the Constitutional Convention will be addressed and perhaps a referendum will be held to alter the situation that is preventing us from having such an input. Sometimes, people have very good, practical solutions or proposals which might cost money but they do not even get aired, other than as a press release outside the House rather than being heard as part of a practical debate. The same applies here when one gets a wad of paper with a load of expenditure items and very little time to go through each one. One is not going to spend a huge amount of time and effort unless one has it because politics dictates that one gets headlines and sometimes that is the wrong thing to do. It is good to take the time and effort to look into matters and tease them out properly.

This is something we have been talking about for a while. Our objective as a committee is to move towards a different and preferred model for the 2016 Estimates. There have been suggestions that the committee will generate a report from today's meeting and officials will come back with suggestions or feedback based on what they have heard. The Minister said she might get somebody to prepare a paper on it. My preferred approach would be to work together to come up with something involving officials from the committee secretariat, the Minister's officials and as many members of the committee as would be interested, to see to what degree we can come up with a preferred model that would work for Ireland.

As a prompt to Deputy Ryan, I ask him if there are particular areas members would select as being significant for me and my officials to pick. He does not have to answer now as it would be better for members to discuss it collectively among themselves. We are not going to be able to address every area immediately but one could imagine that, over a three- to five-year cycle, we could cover quite a number of areas. Perhaps we could pick a number of areas to see what progress we could make in this regard.

That is a good idea.

I foresee a situation where the people to whom I refer are around a table. The Minister's officials may say something is too long-term and we should hold off on it. We would eventually have to come to an agreement on what progress we might make in the short, medium and longer term.

Going back to Deputy Ó Snodaigh's point, we have to bear in mind that the REV will be out in December so the process has sped up a lot. Following the discussions by members they should select something they consider important and significant. They can discuss their selection with officials or with me but they will have to select one area, for example pensions or illness, or the case of people doing Jobsearch or not doing Jobsearch but taking a place in community employment. There are contradictions in the New Zealand model.

What has been proposed is a good idea. We have to work together and we need common ground to move towards this type of model. It is a question of how we get there. We cannot do it all at once but it is a good idea to focus on one part. We will come back to the Minister on that and then we can figure out what areas are those on which we would like to focus.

We have probably exhausted that topic at this stage. We will now turn to the programmes but I intend to give everybody a chance, at the beginning, to raise whatever issue they want. I will take Deputy Butler and then Deputy Conlan.

I thank the Minister for coming in today with the Estimates. We talk about social inclusion and the commitment to that and the Minister knows about my concern, which is the self-employed social inclusion. We commissioned the Mangan report, in which the Minister was involved and which came up with a new stamp at 5.5% to give sick pay and disability, which would be assessed in the long term. We have 340,000 self-employed, a quarter of the workforce, and, please God, the number will get much bigger. The elephant in the room is whether we make it mandatory or voluntary and a lot of groups are suggesting it be voluntary because of the bigger earners. I propose we cap it at a certain level but it would have to be mandatory to work as nothing will work in social protection-----

The Deputy said it could be capped at a certain level, will he explain what idea he has in that regard?

I am talking about the gentleman who is a painter or a candlestick maker who is just bringing in a normal income. He would have to pay the stamp but the gentleman who has three or four pharmacies - to take the example of pharmacies - and a big turnover of a few million euro a year, would not be jumping out of his skin when we would say that we would slap another 1.5% on him to pay for a social provision. At some level we would cap him and that would bring everybody into the picture. IBEC published a report covering this area which we received and 78% of its members are in favour of the introduction of such a new stamp. Some of them want this measure to be mandatory and some of them want-----

Did the Deputy say IBEC?

Many of them wanted it be voluntary but a good few wanted it to be mandatory. We had a group from the Self Employed Alliance before the committee and the members of that group, representing everybody from the baker to the candlestick maker, namely, the small man operating a business and employing one or two people, were all in favour of the mandatory payment of a new stamp. We must remember------

Is a mobile telephone switched on in the Deputy's vicinity?

No, it is not my phone. During the crash, based on the figures in the last report we got, roughly 20,000 self-employed people were in receipt of social welfare. Hopefully, that figure has fallen since then. Basically, the workers who paid PRSI were paying for those social welfare benefits. Why should other people be paying for the benefit paid to the self-employed when they can pay for themselves? The new stamp would cover sick pay and disability pay and if it the payment was for a longer term, the applicant would be assessed. We could bring in the measure in stages.

We are another four years down the road and nothing has been done for the self-employed. It is a major issue. One or two in every ten people I talk to when I knock on doors asks what is being done for the self-employed. It is evident from the statistics that a quarter of the workforce are self-employed. We should look at the Mangan report, move forward on this issue and put it in place.

I will ask the Minister to reply to each question from members in this round for questions.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, has been speaking about looking at issues around the self-employed in the context of the budget. In fairness, I will certainly be having some conversations with him around this. We have discussed this issue on many occasions. It is crazy that self-employed people would not welcome a proposal to have a fairly cheap form of essential insurance in the event of somebody having an accident. Better-off self-employed people can afford quite expensive income protection insurance, but young guys in their 20s and 30s doing work such as roofing cannot afford it. All of us are very concerned about the incredible number of farm accidents there have been. With the hidden history in this area, we do not know what the insurance status of some people would be except that many of the fatalities - obviously, we have a social protection system - result in people getting survivors' benefits from widows, widowers and so on. The Deputy might have a better insight into exactly what the Minister is planning to do.

I have spoken to the Minister, Deputy Noonan, and hopefully the pressure of what I said on this will come to bear on him, and it would be great if the Minister spoke to him as well on this.

A lady who came to my constituency office recently advised me that she was working and earning €400 a week, her husband who was self-employed had got sick, they had two children and a mortgage of €1,600 a month, and her husband on being assessed for social welfare benefit was given a payment of €1.80 per week. If the new stamp proposed in the Mangan report was in place, that gentleman would be entitled to €180 a week. That payment would make a huge difference to that family for the nine months involved and following that period that man would be back into the workforce. We must examine this issue as it is a major one as we move forward. People have pushed for the introduction of this new stamp and if we get this system up and running it will greatly benefit people, regardless of whatever political party brings it in as I am not bringing politics into this issue. I suffered in this respect as I was self-employed and had a business but lost it after 24 years.

I was entitled to absolutely nothing. Weeks went by when I did not know if I had enough money to put food on the table, not to mention paying the mortgage.

Sorry, Deputy Butler-----

Allow me to finish. It is vitally important that we push on with this new stamp for the 340,000 self-employed people.

On that issue, Deputy Butler has done much work on this matter for the committee. He has the support of the whole committee, on a cross-party basis, that something should be done. If in the budget the Minister introduces tax reductions for the self-employed, this would be the ideal time to introduce this measure. People would then see exactly where their money is going. That is the great thing about a contributory payment, one is making a contribution and getting something in return.

In support of Deputy Butler, I went bust in 1983 and went through exactly what the Deputy is talking about and had to be practically destitute before I could get a penny anywhere. It is simply not on. We are talking about 1983, which is nearly 40 years ago. It is really time that we caught this nettle and did something proper with it. That is from a dedicated trade unionist, supporting the self-employed. We have to do something about this issue.

I welcome the Minister. From speaking to people who go to the labour exchanges, the impression I get is that the service provided in the recent past is very different. The service is more streamlined, more efficient, more humane and more dynamic. Perhaps much of that has to do with the Minister because of the compassion, the passion and the skills she brought to it. For people who now go to the social welfare dole office, I think it is a much more dynamic encounter than previously and invariably there are always practical outcomes for many people. People will say they are going to the local employment service. That combination of the dole office and the local employment service is a great presence in working class communities, those two offices working together, working one off the other. I think the local employment service is the silent partner in the whole business of getting people back to work and combatting poverty. It is very positive.

Does Deputy Noel Harrington wish to say something on that issue?

Yes, on the general issue if that is acceptable.

I welcome the expenditure Vote. In the time remaining perhaps the Minister would consider some initiatives. In recent years the service provided by the Department of Social Protection has become a much different user experience than had traditionally been the case. However, there is still some work that could be done. An issue the Minister and the Department might consider would be a tracking system on applications for individual clients, similar to that which operates in the Passport Office. I do not think there is a public representative who does not spend a significant amount of time chasing down applications and using the time of clerical officers in the Department to check on where various applications are at a given time. An online tracking system would be helpful for all social protection clients. While many in employment are used to getting their P60s at the end of each year, one should get a statement of one's social protection information annually. If one could log on to the Department of Social Protection with one's PPS number to see where one stands at year end 2015, one could make a reasonable stab at where one expects to be on the date of retirement. At the moment, in our offices and in the social protection offices everyone is taking time out to get that information which would be useful.

As regards the question of getting more information on clients, there is a very big disconnect between the expiry of carer's benefit and the ability of the people who had been claiming it to qualify for full carer's allowance. They seem to fall through a big gap in the system.

My final point relates to the upcoming budget. There are huge demands on social protection and there is a shopping list every year for all the different sectors, such as the elderly, the disabled or the unemployed, but one sector suffers more than any other and that is the elderly who are living alone, where base costs are high and there is only one allowance in a household. The same base costs arise where there are two pensioners and consideration should be given to the disposable income available to two claimants in a household versus the disposable income available to those living alone. We should also recognise that every increase of €1 for a claimant living alone amounts to a charge of approximately €10 million, while an increase of €1 for those on State non-contributory and contributory pensions is some €30 million. We should look at the outputs and see where we are going with those.

Can the Deputy expand a little on that point?

The base costs of all households are almost the same. The heating costs, food costs and, in many cases, rent - though maybe not for the elderly - are the same for two people claiming, or where there is a qualifying adult in a home, as for a person on his or her own with only one income. We give a living alone allowance of, I think, €12 but this needs to be looked at.

I ask the Minister to reply and I will ask a couple of further questions afterwards. Following on from Deputy Conaghan's question, does she have any update on the roll-out of the Intreo service?

I share the concerns of Deputy Butler about the importance of social insurance for the self-employed and we have had some excellent reports on the subject. It would be helpful, however, if some of the small firms organisations would indicate their position because, until very recently, they have indicated a lot of opposition as opposed to support. The Deputy has been very helpful in having dialogue with these people and I am quite supportive of this.

What we have tried to do with the Intreo offices has been transformational. Many people have said to me how surprised they were at how well they were treated, although I am not saying everything is perfect everywhere. Physically, the offices are significantly improved in terms of the working environment for staff and the development of IT has enabled a significant reduction in the level of paper files all around the place, which threatened to overwhelm the offices in the old days. If inspectors can carry their files on a laptop, with suitable encryption, they do not have to carry vast volumes of paper files and can do much more work. We are trying to build up a professional esprit de corps among staff and we recognise that staff in social protection have, at times, a difficult job as the office is probably the last place people would have wanted to visit.

I had an outstanding experience of meeting people who graduated sometime around 2008-2009, and who had done everything right. They did not plan to visit a social welfare office but they could get absolutely nothing, including any experience. In many cases, they were not even getting replies to their inquiries because they lacked experience. The feedback on the whole Intreo system has been very positive but we still have a lot to do in terms of educating people. For example, with returning emigrants, we are subject to the broad European Union HRC rules. If somebody has lived in Germany for three or five years, he or she might be a bit surprised to be asked questions when he or she returns home. There is much additional communications work that we should do. Some of the EU rules, in terms of things like HRC, are very demanding, not least on our own people returning home. We are set up for older people returning home to Ireland. We have set up a lot of solid relationships with Irish emigrant centres where they exist, particularly in the UK but also in other countries, including in the United States.

In regard to Deputy Harrington's comments on the tracking system, that is certainly something we can look at as the IT develops - for example, having access to where one stands in terms of one's social welfare contribution history. If a person retires next year, what would he or she be entitled to? If someone dies next year, what would his or her spouse be entitled to, if anything? These are important questions for people and for rural families where there may be a mix of farming and employment. We would be happy to work with the committee on this. Some of those developments are dependent on resources. We are just walking, not running as yet, in terms of the increased resources. In terms of increasing the resources we can allocate, the whole business of getting people back to work is so important because it frees up money for pensioners, for children and for the kind of people in fixed income scenarios who do not necessarily have the ability to go out and earn.

In regard to the carer's allowance, I meet the Carers Association several times a year. It is an area in which I am very interested. Like many members, I have a lot of personal experience as well as political experience of this. Carers are of tremendous value to Irish society and, indeed, to the HSE. The committee might invite Ms Teresa Leonard, assistant secretary at the Department of Social Protection, who oversees much of the IT transformation in the Department. Ms Leonard's contribution could be of particular value to the committee in this respect.

Last year I recommended to Government a small increase in the living alone allowance and that is certainly something we will keep under review.

I presume we are dealing with the broad-----

Yes. We are dealing with all of the programmes at this stage. We may need to vote at some stage.

I have quite a number of questions about the document itself which we might get to at some stage. One of the questions, not specific to the document, is a policy question which is starting to emerge, namely, the issue of adult dependents looking for access to job activation.

Since they are not in receipt of a social welfare payment, they fall into this category. There are others who are working and not in receipt of a payment. Some days ago I was dealing with a woman, who works for two hours a day for five days a week. She does not receive a jobseeker's allowance because of the way it is staggered. This means that she is not in receipt of a social welfare payment, which means that she is excluded from courses or schemes that may help her to move beyond the period of two hours a day and better her position or find a full-time job. As she owns her own house, her options are limited.

Questions such as these are often hidden in the middle. Some of the rules and regulations prevent the population from benefiting from what can be quite a beneficial system. I give credit to the Department and the Minister in regard to what others have said about the Intreo offices and the logic behind the system. This should have been achieved years ago. The programme has been beneficial to many people and I hope it will continue to be rolled out to the benefit of those concerned. I refer also to the IT system. I understand the time it takes to roll it out.

My main question is related to the introduction. Does the Chairman want me to leave it or deal with it now?

The Deputy may deal with it now.

Every year since the crisis, expenditure on social protection has decreased. At this stage, it is estimated that €220 million will not be spent this year. Every year recently, quite a substantial amount of money estimated for the Department has not been spent. It goes back to the Department or into the social fund. Up to this year, the social fund has been substantially overdrawn. This year, however, the Estimate figure is €180 million. There is a saving, or bonus, of €220 million. It is not so much that there is a bonus but that the performance of the Department, perhaps because of increasing employment and everything else, is such that it will end up with an extra €200 million. Usually, it transfers back to the Exchequer.

If one matches the two, it means that there is a figure of €40 million. I have argued before with the Minister that rather having any of the money allocated from the social fund or elsewhere for social expenditure returned to the Department of Finance, it should be spent because of the benefits. It is included in this document and the Minister has stated on a number of occasions the benefits of a social fund transfer. If the funding goes to another Department, it will not directly address the level of poverty or an increase in the incidence of poverty among some sections. It should be recycled within the Department, if at all possible.

I wish to make three points, the first of which is about people who were made redundant recently. This concerns the general social welfare category. There seems to be a discrepancy in how long people have to wait before they can draw down payments. I am aware of somebody who was told he would have to wait for weeks. When he challenged the decision, he had to wait only one week.

The second point is about qualified persons, particularly people in the teaching profession, who are laid off on a short-term basis, or professionals such as solicitors and accountants who are between jobs. They are sent to engage in a review of their training needs, but this seems to be a waste of the Department's time. The people concerned are highly qualified and going to move straight back into the workforce.

My third point is on the issue of class K contributions - 22% of our local authority representatives pay only class K PRSI. We recently carried out a study that compared a councillor and a Senator, both at the age of 66 after ten years' service. The councillor was worse off by €16,500 per year than a Senator who had no other entitlement than an Oireachtas pension. Unlike those of us in the Oireachtas, people in local authorities do not have any pension to draw down. At the very least, there should be an opt-in clause for those who do not pay class A PRSI in some other employment. I know the Tánaiste is interested in this because it affects more women than men, particularly council members who are stay-at-home mothers and who make class K contributions. After 20 years' service they have absolutely nothing for the 4% of representational payment that they have paid in PRSI each year, whereas if they had paid class A or could have opted into it they would have their old age pension. There is an example of a woman with breast cancer who has been cut off the payroll because she cannot now attend council meetings. She is not entitled to disability benefit, yet she has paid exactly the same PRSI as a person in the private sector who has made class A contributions. She has paid exactly the same proportion of her income. That is an anomaly. It is an example of the lacuna I spoke about and does not apply only to Oireachtas Members.

Are there any outstanding questions for the Minister?

There is a whole range of questions.

I do not know if we will have time for them.

We will not have the time because there are a number of questions.

I do not think the witnesses will come back.

Some of them do not require a Minister to be here. It can be an official.

Yes, we can get an update.

The questions are about the Estimates that we have. They are not policy questions.

Could we e-mail any outstanding questions to the Department?


On page 4, the total expenditure on the 2015 review is €19.378 billion, which is a decrease of €226 million, as Deputy Ó Snodaigh has pointed out. One has to understand the people underlying the statistics. I will comment on another point raised by Deputy Ó Snodaigh. When the country went into meltdown, 330,000 jobs were lost and many of those people ended up in the Department of Social Protection, including self-employed people. As one of the Mangan reports showed, when I became Minister I changed the system to current year accounts. For tax purposes accounts were in arrears and, before I became Minister, one had to get all of one's accounts and one ended up in a cul-de-sac where, until one had up-to-date accounts, a presentation could not be made because the offices would ask for tax returns and one might not have made them yet. All of that has been brought on to a current accounting basis. If a fisherman or farmer has had a drastic disimprovement in financial circumstances he or she can go into a social welfare office and bring that to the attention of the social welfare staff. In the case of a farmer or fisherman, or the example that Deputy Ó Snodaigh gave of the lady with partial work on a daily basis, if a person has other income or if other people in the house, such as a spouse has significant other income, it will be subject to a means test. If they meet the means test, they will be able to get a social welfare payment. The Mangan report showed that nine out of ten people who so applied and who were subject to a means test did get significant help.

In the case I am talking about, for instance, the woman works for two hours a day, which means she does not qualify for any payment because she does not work enough hours to get family income supplement. There is nobody else in the house, which she inherited from her mother who died two years ago and if she gives it up she can get jobseeker's allowance but she wants to stay in employment and maybe do a course to better herself.

Did she have a widow’s pension if her husband died?

She was not married. It was her mother she inherited the house from. There are anomalies and this is the problem. There are people who are caught.

Our problem, to be honest, is the balance between employers, many of whom would like people to work for an hour or two a day and the Department of Social Protection to pay the balance. We are putting a lot of money-----

She was not looking for payment. She was looking for access to the jobs activation programmes.

I appreciate what the Deputy is saying. When the collapse happened we focused, and still do to a certain extent, on people who are unemployed because that is the imperative. I acknowledge what the Deputy is saying and as time goes by we should be able to deal with some of those people.

In jobless households there is also an issue, which the Deputy would be familiar with. The key earner or the principal claimant may not be enthusiastic about working but may have a spouse or partner who is but who may not be able to work, although he or she would be precisely the person who would benefit. Knowing those kinds of household circumstances, I would like us to be more flexible so that one person at least could claim. It is technically complicated because sometimes that person has to switch over to being the principal claimant and sometimes the existing principal claimant might not be alright with that because the money is his or her money. The Deputy knows what I am talking about.

That is perhaps a social issue which we have to negotiate. Maybe the committee could make a recommendation to us that would be helpful in that respect but it does have to be negotiated.

To come back to the issue of the €220 million we have saved, there is a broader issue that I referred to in my statement. The demographics mean we have more children, which is great but that means more child benefit. That is a universal payment. I am not going to debate it now but I am in favour of a universal payment, not least for the reason Deputy Butler gave earlier, that there are 340,000 self-employed people and the number is growing. The child benefit has been, and still is, a very important cash flow for all those self-employed building contractors around the country who have two, three or four children. For the time being I will continue to prioritise it, notwithstanding a growing body of people who suggest much of it might be spent on pre-school education. Our child benefit is paid to children under the age of 18 and children continue to be a demand.

Another area of expenditure is approximately €200 million a year to meet the needs of additional pensioners. We have done that without any big fuss or hullabaloo through the worst of the crisis when everyone said we should cut benefits for the existing pensioners and get it out of that.

Consequent on this changing age profile, there is a steady increase in the number of domiciliary care allowance payments. I am not saying it is huge but it is there. For instance, during the last session we addressed the issue of children on the Asperger's syndrome and autism spectrum. We have more carers partly because of the number of older people, which I think is a very good thing to stand over. That does, however, mean that we must consider what happens to carers next. It is why I meet the Carers Association regularly. We have several pilots going with them so when people are finished caring they can have more access to schemes and services. The committee could perhaps come forward with ideas on that.

A vote is taking place now so we are all going to attend to it. We do not want the Government to fall or the election to take place any earlier than is necessary.

Yes, before the budget. In respect of class K contributions, I suggest that the committee might decide to commission one or more of the members to produce a report on it and if it can arrive at a recommendation, make it available. It could be done in a relatively short period of time and might be something that we could revisit during the debate on social welfare legislation. Equally, it might be available during the term of the next Dáil or the next committee.

It is something I will bring to the committee if that is agreeable.

Perhaps the Senator can discuss it with the committee. We have received a lot of representations about it in the terms outlined by the Senator and it is an issue. If the committee does some work on it and could get all-party agreement on it, I would certainly be able to address it. It must also go to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform but the Senator is aware of that.

I thank the Minister.

It could be sent to the Department of Finance because, ultimately, it is a matter for the Minister for Finance. I think it was the late Brian Lenihan who introduced it in late 2010.

It was amended in 2014.

Could the Senator elaborate?

It was amended in 2014 to broaden it to all unearned income. We will bring something to the Minister on it - specifically relating to local authority representatives.

The committee can decide that.

To conclude, I thank the Minister and her officials and all the members.

On my own behalf and that of my officials, I thank the Chairman and the members.

The joint committee adjourned at 5.50 p.m. until 1 p.m. on Wednesday, 30 September 2015.