Section 10 also relates to self-employment, in this case by providing that city and county councillors will in future be brought into social insurance cover as self-employed people. They will be treated in the same manner as other self-employed people insofar as entitlement to the wider range of benefits is concerned. Councillors currently pay class K contributions, which were introduced at a time when we were experiencing an unprecedented financial crisis. Payment of the class K contributions was one of the measures which ensured that public office holders made their contribution to the resolution of that crisis. No benefits accrue from these contributions. Along with many Members of the Oireachtas on all sides, I have been concerned about the social insurance position of councillors. Unlike Members of the Oireachtas and the Judiciary, they do not have any occupational pension rights. It is now appropriate that they be brought into social insurance cover, particularly for pensions.
It is important to say that councillors will continue to pay 4% of their income in 2017 until they reach the age of 66. There will be no improvement in net pay for the vast majority of councillors. The benefit will be long-term when they reach pension age or if they are unfortunate enough to experience a long-term disability or illness rendering them incapable of work. They will have to satisfy the same contribution conditions as anyone else to get these benefits but they will get them.
The various measures to expand social insurance coverage to the self-employed fit well with the Government's policy of making work pay and encouraging self-employment and entrepreneurship and encouraging people to take calculated risks.
I intend to continue to extend the benefits available to self-employed persons through the social protection system and will look at further options in the coming year, particularly with regard to jobseeker's benefit.
In the course of the passage of the Bill through the Dáil it was evident that everyone who had contributed to the debate was keen to ensure the impact of the reforms to the one-parent family payment since 2012 would be thoroughly evaluated. Section 12 is a new section of the Bill, as amended by the Dáil, and provides for an independent evaluation to be completed within nine months of its enactment. We anticipate having it done prior to the summer in order that it can feed into the budgetary process.
Section 24 increases the income disregards for the one-parent family payment which, from the start of next year, will rise by €20, from €90 to €110 per week. This measure reverses in part previous reductions and is designed to encourage one-parent families to stay in or return to work or work more hours. It will also apply to persons in receipt of the jobseeker's transitional payment. It is intended that it will kick in on 5 January, subject to the Bill being passed by the Seanad.
As part of the Government's commitment to rural Ireland, the Bill, in section 23, reverses completely the cuts made to the farm assist scheme in 2012 and 2013. This will provide enhanced support for approximately 8,000 farm families throughout the country.
Young jobseekers under the age of 26 years generally receive age-related reduced rates of jobseeker's payments of either €100 or €144 per week. These will increase proportionally with the general rate increases. A similar approach will be taken to others such as qualified dependent adults. The focus of the Government is on helping and encouraging young jobseekers into employment and education. We do this by actively engaging with them one to one and helping them to attain additional training and educational qualifications that will assist them to find a job. I strongly believe welfare should be a second chance, not a way of life; therefore, from next September, when a young jobseeker participates in the Department's back to education scheme, he or she will be entitled to receive the full maximum rate of jobseeker's payment which will then be €193 per week, as opposed to the €160 he or she currently receives. This 21% increase represents an extra €33 a week and demonstrates the State’s support for young jobseekers who try to help themselves by enhancing their education and skills. It is the biggest single increase in the social welfare package and specifically targeted at young jobseekers.
I do not want to take up the time available in the House for the Second Stage debate by going through the Bill section by section. I am keen to use the time we have available to hear the views of Senators. I will instead give a very brief summary of the key aspects of the Bill and we can, of course, return to the individual sections on Committee Stage.
Section 2 relates to the definition of a qualified adult for the purposes of the half-rate carer's allowance, while section 3 relates to paternity benefit. Section 5 relates to illness benefit, while section 11 relates to the one-parent family payment and blind pension. Section 13 relates to the supplementary welfare allowance, while section 19 relates to gardaí seconded to the Department. The amendments are all largely of a technical nature and involve no change in policy, rather they are included to resolve some minor deficiencies which have been identified in the social welfare code.
The provisions in section 18 are designed to update the social welfare legislation in the area of habitual residence to reflect legislative changes introduced by the Department of Justice and Equality. Section 22 similarly updates the legislation to reflect the introduction of the GLAS scheme by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Sections 4, 9 and 10 all relate to the changes I outlined to treatment benefit and invalidity pension schemes for the self-employed, including city and county councillors. Section 9(b) provides for the extension of the benefits currently available under the treatment benefit scheme. When the necessary discussions with the bodies representing dentists and opticians have concluded, I will introduce regulations to make an expanded treatment benefit scheme available to the employed and self-employed with effect from October 2017.
Sections 6 to 8, inclusive, 21 and 25, with Schedules 1 and 2, provide for new rates of social insurance benefits and social assistance payments to be paid from March next year. Proportionate increases for those in receipt of reduced rate payments and qualified adult dependants are also provided for.
I spoke about section 12 which provides for the preparation of an independent evaluation of the reforms to the one-parent family payment since 2012. Section 14 is an amendment to require employers, where they are requested to do so, to provide information for the Department on child benefit claims.
This mirrors the requirements that already exist for a number of other schemes, such as FIS and the back to work family dividend. These powers are particularly relevant to child benefit payments made on the basis of employment in the State under EU regulations.
Section 15 deals with situations where someone has an entitlement to maternity, paternity, health and safety or adoptive benefit as well as the back to work family dividend. Senators will be aware that the back to work family dividend, introduced in January 2015, offers financial support to families moving from social welfare into employment where the claimant, having taken up employment or self-employment, stops claiming a jobseeker’s payment or a one-parent family payment. Under current legislation, someone in receipt of the family dividend cannot concurrently receive payment for maternity, paternity, health and safety or adoptive benefit. In such cases, my Department has to suspend payment of the dividend until entitlement to, for example, maternity benefit is exhausted. At that point, payment of the dividend is resumed. This practice is disruptive for the customer and administratively cumbersome. Section 15 deals with this issue by providing that maternity, paternity, health and safety or adoptive benefit can be paid concurrently with the back to work family dividend.
Section 16 provides powers to allow regulations to be introduced to prescribe a specified time for making a paternity benefit claim. This is a standard provision that applies to the full range of other welfare schemes. Section 17 provides powers to enable regulations to be introduced to set out the conditions to apply where a person nominates another person to act as a "temporary" agent to receive or collect a social welfare payment on the person's behalf.
Section 20 deals with the position of Romanian and Bulgarian nationals and their families who were working in Ireland during the transitional period from 2007 to 2011. It provides that contracts of service in which they engaged here during that period fall within the categories of employment where a person is regarded as an employed contributor. As a result of this change, any PRSI contribution paid by a Romanian or Bulgarian employed contributor during the transitional period will be recognised as valid.
Section 23 provides for the reintroduction of the income disregards and tapering arrangements that applied to the farm assist scheme before 2012, thus reversing all of the cuts made to that programme. Section 24 provides for an increase in the earnings disregard for one-parent families.
The actions contained in the Bill will be supplemented by other budget measures that do not require amendments to the primary legislation. One of these is the Christmas bonus. Last week, my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, and I signed the order allowing for the payment of the bonus. It will benefit more than 1.2 million people at a cost of some €221 million and is being paid across this week.
The Bill reflects the responsible and prudent approach of the Government to ensuring that our economic recovery is not put at risk. There are increases in all core social welfare payments, which will benefit individuals, families and their communities. There are also specific targeted measures that will provide additional supports to vulnerable sectors of our society, including one-parent families and low-income farm families. The Bill is reforming and progressive in recognising the needs of the self-employed.
This is the first Social Welfare Bill to be introduced under the partnership Government. We intend that future budgets will continue to improve the living standards of all of our people, assist people to move from welfare into work, support self-employment and self-reliance and develop a strong social insurance system based on the contributory principle. I commend the Bill to the House.