I thank the 11 Members of the House for their contribution to the Order of Business. Both Senators Ardagh and Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, a Government backed mortgage scheme for first-time buyers launched in February 2018 with a projected 1,000 loans during a three-year period. The scheme has exceeded expectation. Some 575 people have been helped through this scheme to purchase their own home. A further 1,000 applicants have been approved and have not drawn down the funding. Both the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Taoiseach have said that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is in negotiations with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government about continuing this very important scheme which allows people who have been refused a loan by the banks to be able to purchase their own home. We all want to see that happen.
What the Members opposite did not say was that the Government is considering increasing the cap above €200 million. The Government is consulting with the Central Bank of Ireland regarding loans being approved. As we all know this is a very important scheme for people which offers a pathway to being able to buy their own home. I certainly hope that we can have this done quickly. It is an important piece of the housing market. Members will know that people who avail of loans under this scheme are those who have had their loan applications rejected for a variety of reasons by commercial banks. I hope the Government, through the Central Bank of Ireland, will facilitate the continuation of this scheme and I very much look forward to the Government working to have the scheme re-opened.
A number of Members have raised the report of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Senators Ardagh and Conway-Walsh raised the issue of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. I join with Members in commending and congratulating the volunteers of the society for the significant work they do in communities across our country. They are a very important part of the social fabric of our society and assist many different people in a variety of ways.
In the five-year period from 2012 to 2017 our country was in the depths of the worst recession ever. Government took a number of steps in those times and subsequently to improve supports for lone parents. For example, the income thresholds for the working family payment were raised, rates for qualified children were increased, the earnings disregard for one-parent families and jobseeker transition payments were increased, and back to school clothing and footwear allowance was also increased. If an analysis of the four budgets from 2015 to 2019 was done, it would be seen that the average weekly income of lone parents has increased by €43.75 for those in employment and by €45 for those who are unemployed. This compares favourably with a weekly increase of €39.25 in the earnings of the average household. As a result of budget 2019, lone parents working 15 hours a week at the national minimum wage are now better off by €1,000 a year. Senator Conway-Walsh made reference to visits to doctors. It was this Government and the last Government that introduced the free GP scheme for those under six and those over 70. I know that does not apply in this case, but some people will want to hear that. I will be very happy to have the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, come to the House in respect of the scheme. Last week the Children's Rights Alliance published its 2018 report card which showed that budget 2018 and budget 2019 included measures specifically aimed at supporting families on low incomes. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House in that regard.
Senator Ardagh also raised the issue of electric and motorised scooters and the challenges they present. I will have the Minister, Deputy Ross, come to the House with regard to that matter.
Senator McDowell, Senator Boyhan and, indirectly, Senator Humphreys raised the issue of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. I am not going to add any fuel to the fire or add anything to Senator McDowell's comments regarding tweets and newspaper reports in respect of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill last weekend. Members of this House have their views on the Bill and I respect those views entirely. As Leader of the Seanad and on behalf of the Government, it is my job to facilitate all requests in the House. Requests are made every day and I will always try to facilitate them. If Senator Boyhan was discommoded, I sincerely apologise to him. The email to the Cathaoirleach went out at 3.30 p.m. the day after the group meeting. That is one day. I do not believe that discommoded people but, if it did, I apologise. As Senator Boyhan knows quite well, the schedule is an indicative schedule. As I said in this House and in the group meeting, it is my intent to put the Bill on the schedule whenever the Minister for Justice and Equality is available. That is what I have done.