I start by wishing the Leas-Chathaoirleach a happy Christmas.
I thank the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Ó Cuív, for taking his motion himself. It is a sad reality that jobseeker's benefit is not available to the self-employed. It is a significant issue for so many constituents who have contacted me. They all know that if one meets the required level of PRSI contributions, one can get certain benefits from the State such as maternity benefit, adoptive benefit, bereavement grant, widow's/widower's contributory pension, guardian contributory payment and the State pension contributory, but the key issue, as I mentioned at the start, is that a self-employed person is not entitled to receive any form of guaranteed jobseeker's benefit from the State.
In my constituency offices in Ardee in Drogheda, I have had numerous self-employed persons, from owners of bus companies to restaurateurs, small builders and driving instructors, who often have sacrificed their savings to keep their business going. If they had one member of staff, often they have sacrificed any savings and payment or money that they had to try to keep their business and their employees going. They often said to me that the employee is the only person taking a wage from the business. A real concern expressed to me at the Drogheda and District Chamber of Commerce budget breakfast last Wednesday, 8 December, the day after the budget, was the sense that there is a twin-track approach to the economy. We are actively helping the export sector of the economy but perhaps we are not doing enough to help our indigenous industry and business. That is something I would like the Minister to address.
I am sure the Minister will outline the differences in payment, with jobseeker's allowance being a means-tested payment and jobseeker's benefit a guaranteed payment based on PRSI contributions. As I have indicated, a self-employed person is not guaranteed any unemployment benefit from the Government and only receives a payment if income is at a low enough level to meet the requirement of a means test. Matters may have gone beyond the point of no return when the self-employed person reaches this stage and the significant concern is that businesses and the self-employed only get to that point when they have gone to the wall or much savings have been sacrificed.
The State and some people may feel that these people have some savings, money under the mattress or some other assets, and that is why the guaranteed jobseeker's benefit cannot be given. In the new reality of the past two or three years, we have gone beyond such a position to a point of no return. Businesses have often ended up selling assets just to stay afloat.
I look forward to the Minister's reply to this very significant issue, as coming to Christmas many shop owners have been in contact with me. They have been badly struck by the weather over the past two weeks but have hoped that this Christmas can get them to the new year. They are praying for good weather and a good Christmas period in order that they can look forward to 2011. Many such businesses are concerned about getting money in over the Christmas period because they may not see 2011.