Vote 37 - Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Supplementary)

Before we commence, I ask members to remember to turn their mobile phones off or to flight mode because they interfere with the meeting and the recording.

This meeting has been convened to consider the Supplementary Estimate for Vote 37 - Employment Affairs and Social Protection which was referred by the Dáil to the select committee on 19 November. I welcome the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, and her officials, to the meeting. I especially thank the Minister and her officials for the briefing material which has been provided and circulated to the members of the committee.

Two sets of imeachtaí have been circulated to members relating to the Revised Estimates for Vote 37, considered on 27 March 2019, and those relating to the Committee Stage of the Social Welfare (No. 2) Bill considered on 21 November. We have also circulated draft minutes of the meeting of 9 July which recommend that Deputy O'Dea's Bill, Pensions (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2017, proceeds to Committee Stage. Are they agreed? Agreed.

I propose to invite the Minister to make an opening address to the committee in a moment and members will then have an opportunity to ask her a question. Before that, I remind members that, in according with Standing Orders, discussion should be confined to the items constituting the Supplementary Estimate which are: administration pay; administration non-pay; non-contributory State pension; jobseeker's allowance; one-parent family payment; widow and widower's pension; basic supplementary welfare allowance; farm assist; exceptional and urgent needs; other working agency reports; the community employment, CE, programme; rural social programme; the Tús initiative; back-to-work enterprise allowance; youth employment support scheme; back to education; back-to-work family dividend; JobsPlus; disability allowance; carer's allowance; domiciliary care allowance; carer support grant; disability activation support; wage subsidy scheme; child benefit; working family payment; back-to-school clothing and footwear; school meals; rent supplement; telephone support allowance; household benefits package; fuel allowance; grant to the Citizens Information Board, CIB; miscellaneous and appropriations-in-aid. I ask members to refer to those specific sub-headings when they are making contributions.

I neglected, at the start of the meeting, to acknowledge an apology from Deputy Brady who will not be here today.

The Minister should not look so happy.

I understand that Deputy Bailey is not available for today's meeting but Deputy Brophy will assist in her absence.

Apologies have therefore been received from Deputies Bailey and Brady. I call on the Minister to make her opening statement.

I thank the Chair and committee members for the invitation to appear before them.

I am seeking a Supplementary Estimate of €100 million for 2019. The purpose of this Supplementary Estimate is primarily to fund the Christmas bonus for Vote 37 social assistance recipients. The Christmas bonus will be paid next week.

I was pleased that we could restore the Christmas bonus last year, and I was very happy to announce that, despite the current climate of uncertainty, the Christmas bonus will again be paid at a rate of 100% this December. The payment recognises the needs of people who are long-term financially dependent on their social welfare payment for all or most of their income, such as pensioners, people with disabilities and carers. It will benefit some 1.2 million long-term social welfare recipients and is estimated to cost approximately €279 million overall. It is likely to be spent in local communities, contributing to local communities, towns and villages during what I hope will be a happy Christmas season.

This cost is broken down into nearly €123 million for Vote 37 recipients and over €156 million for Social Insurance Fund recipients. The Social Insurance Fund is meeting the cost of the bonus being paid to people on contributory payments such as the contributory State pension, invalidity pension, and so on. Accordingly, this element of the bonus does not impact in any way on this Supplementary Estimate.

In contrast, the bonus that is paid to people in receipt of payments from voted schemes is met entirely by the Exchequer. As the committee knows, the bonus is not included in the original Estimates for the Department and, unless savings are made that will meet the entire cost, a Supplementary Estimate is required each year in order to ensure that the bonus gets paid.

This year, I have again included an additional table, beginning at page 3 of the committee’s brief, which provides the outturn position on the various schemes prior to the payment of the bonus. The Chairman had previously suggested that this approach would be of assistance to the committee and I know it helped last year so we should continue in that vein every year.

Income from PRSI receipts during 2019 will result in Social Insurance Fund income of an estimated €11.6 billion. This will be €393 million, or 3.4%, ahead of the 2019 Revised Estimate and will be €1 billion, or 9.5%, ahead of the position in 2018.

Expenditure on Social Insurance Fund schemes and administration, including payment of the Christmas bonus, is expected to cost approximately €10 billion. This is €220.5 million, or 2.2%, above profile, of which €156.5 million is due to payment of the Christmas bonus. Even with the payment of the Christmas bonus to social insurance schemes, the surplus of income over expenditure in the fund in this calendar year is expected to be around €1.6 billion. This is due mainly to the higher PRSI receipts from increased numbers of people at work. The accumulated surplus in the fund at the end of the year is estimated to reach €3.9 billion.

While it is, of course, welcome to see the fund in a healthy surplus, it is worth remembering, particularly in these uncertain times, that this surplus can become a deficit very quickly. A similar surplus was exhausted within two years when the recession had a significant impact on income to the fund.

Overall expenditure on the Department’s schemes, services and administration in 2019 is expected to be €20.8 billion. This will be €311.7 million, or 1.5%, more than provided for in the original 2019 Revised Estimates. As I mentioned earlier, some €279 million of this is due to payment of the Christmas bonus.

Total expenditure for the Department, which includes expenditure from the Vote and from the Social Insurance Fund, comprises overspends on some schemes and underspends on others.

On the social insurance side, there has been a higher than anticipated expenditure on the State pension (contributory) but a lower than estimated expenditure on illness benefit. On the Vote, there has been a higher expenditure than profiled on illness, disability and carer's payments and lower than estimated expenditures on working age employment supports. Taken together, and excluding the Christmas bonus, departmental expenditure on schemes and services is expected to be €32.3 million ahead of the profile, which is less than 0.2% of its expenditure.

The live register is expected to average at approximately 192,200 in 2019, which is a reduction of more than 29,000 on the average for 2018. While the live register is not designed to measure unemployment, this decline reflects the positive trends in the labour market generally. The numbers in employment continue to grow and the number of people unemployed fell by 11% over the year to quarter 3. The latest data shows the unemployment rate has fallen below 5%. The live register is now under 180,000, the lowest since early 2008. These positive trends are very welcome and in line with the Government's pathways to work objectives.

The 2019 Supplementary Estimate referred to the committee and the briefing provided to members lists the schemes for which additional sums are being sought, as well as the schemes that are behind profile. The amount of the Supplementary Estimate is derived by estimating the outturn across all voted schemes, which includes underspends on some schemes and overspends on others, and adding in the cost of the Christmas bonus. As the members are aware, almost all of my Department’s expenditure is demand-led. Changes in the economy, labour market and society, as well as the demographic make-up of the population at a particular point in time, all impact the expenditure across the Department. An estimate of expenditure for any scheme for the following year is published in December as part of the annual Revised Estimates programme. The individual estimates are constructed on a scheme by scheme basis, using data on trends in recipient numbers, average payment values and other relevant information that is available at the time the estimate is calculated.

As I mentioned earlier, it is appropriate to note that the outturn position for the Department, in the absence of the payment of the Christmas bonus, would be €20.5 billion, or 0.2% above the Estimate. I am sure the committee will agree that this provides a great degree of assurance that the Estimates process in my Department works very well and provides insofar as is possible given the large number of variables involved a clear and accurate picture of projected expenditure. Trends can and do change over the course of each year, however, resulting in expenditure being higher or lower than provided for in the Estimate. Actual expenditure on most schemes will never be precisely on target because of these factors. The extent of any overspend or underspend only becomes fully apparent at the end of the year when the outturn for the year has been confirmed.

I hope that my opening statement, together with the briefing material provided, has given the committee a clear overview of where we expect to be at the end of the year. I look forward to members' questions and, hopefully, positive comments.

Before I open up the debate to members I would like to make one or two points. I want to acknowledge the changes previously made by the Minister's officials in regard to the insertion of a a third column to take account of the Christmas bonus because this makes the figures much easier to use. The Minister mentioned that the Christmas bonus is not included in the original Estimates of the Department, which, perhaps, is a policy decision. It is a pity it is not included because the beneficiaries of it are the people who are the most vulnerable and probably need to make sure they can plan for Christmas such that they do not have to engage the services of moneylenders and so forth. It is not only the amount paid, but the certainty around it, that is important to people. However, that is a political and policy position.

On the Social Insurance Fund, the Minister mentioned that the surplus is €3.9 billion. Does the Minister have a view on where that surplus should be spent over the next year or two? I also have a technical question on the Social Insurance Fund in regard to subhead A.38, which is the household benefits package. The sum of €20 million of expenditure has been moved from the Vote to the Social Insurance Fund. The rationale for this is a detailed analysis of claims. However, there is no breakdown of how the calculation was done. There is a substantial change in percentages. The spend decreased from €89 million to €69 million by way of the transfer of €20 million of that spend to the Social Insurance Fund. I accept the Minister may not have this information to hand today but perhaps she would undertake to forward to the committee a detailed note on the rationale for that process and how the calculation was done.

I have previously stated in this committee that I would like the Christmas bonus to be renamed. I tried to do it this year but because it is mentioned in so many plans etc. I could not do it. There is also a Christmas payment but because nobody gets paid on Christmas people are given a double payment the previous week. The Christmas bonus is not actually a bonus it is a payment that people need and rely on. We need to change the terminology because it irks people who do not get it. The people who do not receive it probably do not realise that the people who receive it do not get anything else other than it. I think we should change the language around it. I would also like to have certainty around it but that is a conversation that needs to be had with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which I will do.

On the Chairman's question with regard to the Social Insurance Fund, I will have the details on the reason that €20 million was moved to the fund circulated to him because it is too difficult to explain.

I am happy to receive a note on it. It is obviously a complicated calculation and rationale.

The Social Insurance Fund is in surplus. I plan to release the documentation supporting the new total contributions model when I bring the memo to Cabinet. If everything remains the same, that surplus will be diminished very quickly over the next number of years and we would rapidly end up in a negative that would have to be supported by the Exchequer's other funds, notwithstanding any changes that we would make. We will attempt to make changes in how we calculate the State pension (contributory) going forward, with regard to the number of contributions that are needed. It is better than expected this year, which, I think, is related to more jobs having been created this year and thus increased social insurance contributions. At some point in the future, we need to have a conversation about it. There are payments which I believe should be met from the Social Insurance Fund but are not and people who are not paying into the Social Insurance Fund in the same way as others. I want to ensure there is an equality of access to the Social Insurance Fund, which means an equality of input. This, too, is a conversation we need to have.

On the Social Insurance Fund, am I correct that what the Minister is saying is that she will publish the scheme of the new total contributions model some time soon and that it will be accompanied by the Social Insurance Fund projections based on the new scheme?

I think it is only fair that we do.

There will be no other changes.

A great deal of work and research has been done on what the new model can and should look like. The proposed model might not be the same at the end of the process as it was at the beginning of it. The rationale for it has to be laid out to everybody. I do not believe any data should be held back. There should be transparency around what the Social Insurance Fund will look like in the next 30 to 40 years if we do nothing and what it will look like if we do X, Y or Z. I do not believe there has ever been a piece of legislation put forward that has not been amended in some way, shape or form. Members would not be able to put forward amendments without accurate information on what will happen in the future based on demographics, pension increases, work trends and so on. I think all of the data has to be released.

When will the documentation be released?

Soon. We are close to completion. There are a couple of niggling issues that need to be ironed out.

The Minister used the word "soon" a month ago in the Dáil.

Will it be released before Christmas?

No. It should be released in early January.

I thank the Minister and I call Deputy O'Dea.

Obviously, we will not be opposing the Supplementary Estimate because we want people to get their Christmas bonus, as it is currently known. I have a few questions for the Minister. One of the reasons savings were made is because the Department operated at under the approved headcount for the last 12 months. What is the approved headcount and how many posts were vacant?

There have been suggestions that not everyone is aware of the existence of the working family payment, formerly known as the family income supplement. I note that the number of recipients of the family income supplement was 971 below the Department's estimate. What is the total number of recipients of that payment? Similarly, the number of recipients of the back to work family dividend is 791 below the estimate. What percentage of the total does this represent? On the other hand, the number of recipients of the disability allowance is 1,571 above the profile. Again, how many people are in receipt of disability allowance? On page 14 data is provided for the youth employment support scheme. The spend was €4.2 million lower than expected because the number of participants was 278 below profile. Does the Minister have any idea why that was the case? Is anything being done about it? I note that disability activation supports are somewhat below profile, as per page 15. Apparently part of the reason for this is that the number of claims was lower than anticipated. There must be something wrong here because it is not plausible to suggest that we are doing enough or spending sufficient money on encouraging people with disabilities into the workforce. Such a suggestion would be quickly contradicted. What is the situation in that regard? The data on page 16 is extraordinary. How many schools are availing of the school meals programme? The estimate is down by €4 million due to the fact that there have been delays in the submission of applications by 70 schools while a further 71 schools that are eligible have not applied at all. A total of 80 schools have applied and the Department has sought further information from them which has not been supplied. This suggests that they are not too bothered about the situation which I find quite bizarre.

Is it in order for me to ask a question on the contributory old age pension?

It is not a particular subhead but if the Deputy has a general, but brief, question he can go ahead. .

I note that the increase in expenditure is 5.23%. How much of that is attributable to the budgetary increase and how much to additional people qualifying for the payment?

Which old age pension is the Deputy asking about?

The contributory pension. What would it cost to increase the contributory pension to the much-talked about target of 34% of the average industrial wage?

If I miss any of the questions I ask the Chairman to advise me at the end.

The Deputy will come back to the Minister himself.

I thank the Deputy for his questions. The first question was on the working family payment, formerly known as the family income supplement. There are two reasons for the reduction there. We spent a considerable amount of money on a publicity campaign this year. That campaign was very well received which I took some comfort from because sometimes one can spend a lot of money on advertising and it totally misses the point. Lots of people told me that they did not know about the payment. They sent me messages on Facebook Messenger asking for more details and so on. This means that the campaign did land and people did hear it, which was good. At the same time, there were lots of people who were working and whose wages increased to such an extent that they were over the threshold for qualifying. The numbers evened out to some extent. Some of the extra 29,000 people who got jobs would have been in receipt of the working family payment. Also, some of the people who were in receipt of the payment had salary increases which brought them over the threshold. A number of new people are in receipt of the payment. It would be interesting to find out at the end of the year how many people who were in receipt of the payment are no longer getting it because of an improvement in their financial position, how many got new jobs and how many are new recipients. I will see if I can get that information at the end of year and if so, I will pass it on to the committee. I believe the aforementioned advertising campaign was worthwhile. Given the number of schemes that we operate, we should probably spend a little bit more on telling people exactly what is available. Lots of people do not know about much of the stuff done by the Department. It might be worthwhile to do that in the future.

On the back to work schemes, as I said already there are 29,000 new workers this year. Some of those people would have been receiving the back to work family dividend but are now in better paid jobs. There is nothing sinister here. All that is happening is that people's circumstances are improving, which is borne out by the SILC data. Indeed, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the latest figures from the CSO, published this morning. Those figures show that what we are doing and the areas on which we are spending money is having an effect. We are directing resources at the most vulnerable and that is having a positive impact. People's boats are being lifted and buoyed by direct social transfers and changes in labour force participation.

Expenditure on disability allowance is going up because some people who were in receipt of other payments should have been in receipt of disability allowance or an invalidity payment instead. We have become more conscious of that. It is also something that the community and voluntary sector has been helping us with in the last while. When we send people to community and voluntary bodies for labour force participation schemes or community employment schemes, they vet them to assess their suitability and come back to the Department with helpful advice. This is one of the extra strings to the bow of the community and voluntary sector. They come back and tell us that they do not think certain people should be on a jobseeker's benefit or jobseeker's assistance payment but should be on some other payment. We reclassify people on the back of their advice. It is the case that more people are presenting with difficulties and struggles in life, which seems to be contradicted by the fact that we are spending less on activating people. We need to do more in that space. The launch of the Ability Programme took some of the money we were spending on the Vote but that programme is working really well. We probably need to double the funding for that programme. A lot of our funding last year went into the Social Innovation Fund. I was happy to work with industry in the last couple of weeks to encourage it to invest in helping people with disabilities or added stresses in their daily lives but that does not mean that I do not have plans to spend money next year. Obviously this is only compensating for an overspend in other areas.

The youth employment support scheme needs to be refined. The young adults recruited onto the scheme who were ready to be activated and put onto training and work experience schemes did really well out of it. I must thank the participants and the employers who worked with us on the scheme over the last year. An awful lot of the participants got jobs, which is great. However, I must acknowledge my own ignorance in respect of this area because what I had not countenanced or understood was that a huge number of our young people are not ready to be trained or put into an employment environment when they sign up for the youth employment support scheme. We are currently drafting a pre-youth employment support scheme training course. I have done a number of youth employment support scheme recruitment days in the past year and have been struck by the number of young people attending who do not have an ounce of self confidence or self esteem. They are just not ready to be put into an employment environment. We need to do a two to four week pre-youth employment support scheme course with them. Such a course is currently being devised at the moment to help them to realise their talents and skills and to build their self esteem so that they can walk into a work-ready environment. That course will be rolled out at the beginning of next year. I have no doubt that I will spend every penny next year on the youth employment support scheme. I must honestly admit that I did not realise the difficulties being faced by young people. I thought they would not have the same difficulties as people who have been out of the labour market for long periods but they do, unfortunately. Now that we have realised that, we can address it.

It is very easy to think that if we offer free school meals to schools that every one of them will jump at the chance. However, it is not so easy for schools that do not have strong parent association supports or ancillary staff available. We try to work with the schools to address their difficulties. There is a will on the part of all of the schools to participate in school meals programmes, whether they are hot meals, cold meals, breakfast clubs or after-school clubs but some have additional issues which prevent them from being ready on day one when the money is available. We are working with those schools to try to ensure that they take up the offer. Some schools do not want to participate for whatever reason and we cannot force them to do so. At the moment, outside of the pilot scheme for the hot school meals, the cold school meals programme only applies in DEIS schools.

There are plenty of non-DEIS schools that would have loved to have access to the programme but the Vote does not have sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to do anything other than cover DEIS schools.

On that point can the Minister clarify the numbers please? The Department made a saving of €4 million. As Deputy O'Dea said 70 schools participated. There were delays in submitting applications. Some 71 were eligible to participate but have not availed of the programme, and 80 applications were received, where further information is required. Some €53 million is being spent, and the question that Deputy O'Dea was asking was how many schools are within that figure and are benefiting from that scheme.

Of the total of 1,891 DEIS schools, some 858 participate in the scheme. The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of meals to 1,580 schools and organisations, benefiting more than 250,000 children. The objective of a scheme is to provide regular, nutritious meals, be it for breakfast, lunch, or after-school clubs. It is not just DEIS schools that get it, nor do they get it just for lunches. It is a wider programme that reaches a wider audience over and above the 858 schools.

What are some of the other groups, other than DEIS schools, that are in receipt of the school meals?

It might be helpful for the committee if I get the full list from the Department of Education and Skills. There are some schools that are classified as nearly–DEIS. The terminology is not mine. The Department of Education and Skills is responsible for putting the schools in a hierarchy of need. Every single DEIS school receives an application. There are some schools that would potentially qualify for DEIS status notwithstanding that they do not have exactly the same criteria. These are in the next group of categories. A number of years ago, long before my time, the school meals programme was opened to that next category of schools. They are not quite DEIS, but they would be so but for compliance possibly with one other condition.

In total, how many schools does that come to?

There are 1,580 schools in total availing of some form of access to the school meals programme.

My apologies to Deputy O'Dea.

Could the Minister continue, please?

Finally, I will answer the question on the numbers of people on the scheme. We have 145,544 recipients on the disability allowance, 52,036 recipients on the working family payments scheme and 5,607 on the back to work family dividends scheme. The State contributory pension is very close to the 34% of the indexation level that we would like it to be at. We need to see how wages increase next year. That would increase the State pension from the current €243 by €7 per week, to bring it up to 34%. I do not have an answer to hand to the question as to why there was of 5.2% increase in the contributory pension this year, but I will come back to the committee with that answer.

Can I ask one more question, please? It has been suggested to me that there is some change in conditions on the jobs initiative, JI, workers scheme in holiday pay, length of holidays, time off, etc.

Jobs initiative. It has been suggested to me in respect of one or two schemes that people have received a directive from the Department which has changed their conditions somewhat for the worse. I put a query in about it and the Department asked me to send on details of the specific areas. It was more or less denying there has been any general change.

It is news to me if there has been a change because JI is a closed scheme and everybody on this scheme is covered by its existing conditions.

That is interesting.

I would genuinely ask the Deputy that if he knows something that I do not, to tell me and I will find out what is going on. There should be no condition changes to people on a closed scheme.

Undoubtedly, we will let the Minister know.

I thank the Deputy.

Deputy O'Dea is happy for the moment. I call Deputy Carey.

I thank the Minister for her positive engagement with the committee and for the comprehensive briefing she has given us. I welcome the fact that the Christmas bonus was restored to 100% last year and again this year. I agree with her comments on changing the language around that particular payment and the need to have certainty for those people who really depend on it coming up to the Christmas period. It gives a massive boost to the local economy, shops and service providers. I welcome the positive trends in the live register figures which continue to fall and are below 5%, the lowest since early 2008. Please God, those trends will continue.

The fact that the Department's expenditure on schemes and services is expected to be 2% ahead of profile is an endorsement of the Minister and her officials. They have command over their Department and it is good that she can come in here today and present these documents to us in a very upfront and positive way.

I thank the Deputy for his compliments, I am not sure if I deserve them even if I give a good impression.

My apologies to Deputy O'Dea as I did not answer his question about staffing. We have a headcount for the end of the year of 5,900, which is a reduction of 200 people from the year before.

I have one or two further questions. The figures are not significant but I am curious as to what is going on behind them than the actual numbers. There is a grant of €841,000 for the Citizens Information Board, CIB, and a saving of €0.5 million on Abhaile due to the volume of vouchers not being redeemed as predicted. Can the Minister put that in context? How many vouchers were redeemed and how many were not? Equally, when she talks about the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, another half a million euros is referred to as a reduction in the allocation to Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS, companies for the dedicated mortgage arrears services. These are small amounts of money but is it is surprising that demand is not there from the pressures that we anecdotally hear about. I do not know if the Minister has numbers to hand on this.

I do. The most recent review we did indicates that CIB does not need to draw down €59.26 million. It calculates that it will have savings of approximately €1.2 million, €500,000 of which is due to less than anticipated demand on vouchers. This is the direct reason CIB intends to take on board its own in-house help as opposed to using voucher schemes. That will probably cause some issues for those who are doing the work through this voucher system but we need to ensure that we are following through and giving the help to the people who are coming. The simple fact of the matter is that people were receiving vouchers and were not using them. We cannot make people use them but we have to ensure that we make available the resources that are needed.

Can the Minister clarify if people were getting the vouchers and were not using them or were they not being given vouchers and told to use internal services?

We do not have the internal services yet. They were getting the vouchers, but not redeeming them. There was a gap between leaving-----

How many? Does the Minister know what that €0.5 million represents in numbers?

It is €500,000.

I know that.

I will try to get that number for the committee. I will probably be able to do that today. I will find out and come back to the committee later on.

What I am trying to get at here with the Minister is how many vouchers were redeemed and how many were unredeemed? We do not know what the scope of it is.

There is a similar trend on the MABS side.

The €400,000 due to the reduction in the allocation to MABS in the national development was due to less than anticipated spend on a number of projects that it had. It was not over and above the day-to-day business that it does. It had specific projects that did not cost as much as it had anticipated at the beginning of the year. Approximately €100,000 of the €1.1 million was due to a reduction in the number of MABS companies. As the committee will be aware - it is a conversation that we have had a number of occasions in the past - there were a couple of reasons the company streamlined the way it used to do business. One was for governance and also to have better outputs. A plus from its perspective happens to be a reduction in the cost of governance and the running of the businesses. There was also €100,000 of savings, even though it is not really savings, because it is due to a delay in the processing of the dedicated advocacy pilot scheme that we announced earlier on this year. It is just late in starting. Once it kicks in it will have a fund associated with it, which is why the €100,000 has not been spent.

I will come back to the Chairman later on with exactly how many vouchers were issued, how many were redeemed and how many were not.

I thank the Minister. I have one final question. On a different subhead, subhead A2, administration - non-pay, there was a variation but it was off-set by higher expenditure on agency services of €3.55 million. What was the total expenditure on agency services? I could not exactly work it out easily. What was planned and budgeted and what was the extra €3.55 million?

The planned and budgeted amount was €128.5 million. The amount actually spent was €132.050 million. The extra is €3.5 million. It is not 100% allocated but the vast majority of it went to the renegotiating of our GP contracts. That probably does not pop into the Chairman's head as an agency but we classify all of the doctors who do all of the certifications for us as agents. As the Chairman will be aware from the lovely mess that we caused with the illness benefit changeover last year, we renegotiated the payments to our agency staff - our GP contractors. It was increased significantly. It is now €50 per payment. Although we had anticipated we would be giving them an increase, we did not anticipate how good, as negotiators, they would be. They got a better than anticipated, but well-deserved, increase.

Will the Minister provide a breakdown of what was included in the €128.5 million which was the planned amount? What were those agency services?

The breakdown of the original estimates was: An Post agency fees, €31 million; the medical certificates, as originally anticipated, €23.7 million; JobPath, €57.5 million; our nurses, €270,000; and our branch managers, €16 million. The actual outturns were as follows. An Post agency fees, as opposed to €31.03 million, were €30.1 million. Our medical certificates, as opposed to €23.7 million, were €30 million - an increase of €6.3 million. JobPath was estimated at €57.5 million and came in at €57 million - the figure was down. Our nurses were €270,000 and came in revised at €150,000, the figure was down. Our branch managers was estimated at €16 million and it came in at €14.8 million, also down. The only one that was up there was our GPs.

Are there any further questions? Would the Minister like to make any concluding remarks?

I thank the committee for its input, its help and, most important, its co-operation for what I hope has been a successful year.

That concludes consideration of the Supplementary Estimate for Vote 37 - Employment Affairs and Social Protection for the year ended 31 December 2019. I thank the Minister and her officials for their attendance here today, and particularly the clear and effective manner in which the material was presented to us which makes it easy to work our way through it.