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Social Welfare Code.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 14 December 2006

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Questions (120, 121, 122, 123, 124)

Richard Bruton


103 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has considered paying family income supplement at the 70% differential; the estimated cost of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43265/06]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

Family income supplement is designed to provide support for people on low earnings with child dependants and provide the incentive for them to remain in, or take up, employment. Recent improvements to family income supplement include the change of assessment from a gross income basis to net income, the increase to €20 per week in the minimum payment and, in Budget 2007, the continued re-focusing of income thresholds to include additional gains for larger families.

The improved income thresholds which I announced in Budget 2007 will result in increased average weekly payments for most FIS recipients from €76 (for a one child family) to €392 (for a family with eight or more children), and will also make an estimated 5,600 additional families eligible for a full FIS payment. This will increase the average payment, per child, to €50 a week. The cost of this measure is estimated at €32 million per annum, while the additional cost of paying family income supplement at the 70% differential in a full year is estimated at some €23 million.

Dan Boyle


104 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has satisfied himself with the State pension increase to €200 as recently announced in Budget 2007, in view of the fact that the poverty line is currently at €203.55 and some 37% of pensioners are relying on the State pension. [43240/06]

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Since taking office this Government has made the needs of older people a priority with the inclusion of several commitments in the Programme for Government aimed specifically at the group. I am very pleased to say that we have delivered on the commitment to increase the state pension to €200 per week by 2007. In addition, the State pension (contributory) has been increased by €16 per week to €209.30 per week. Pension increases have been well ahead of inflation thus ensuring that not only is the real value of pensions maintained but that they are significantly improved in real terms. For instance, since 1996, and including the budget increases, pensions have increased by almost 119%, or about 57% in real terms, faster than both price and wages growth over the period.

The State pension (non-contributory) is a social assistance scheme which, in common with all other such schemes, features a means test to ensure that resources committed to social assistance payments are used to provide support to and improve the position of those who are most in need. The new enhanced State pension (non-contributory) for those over 66 years which I introduced at the end of September, features significant improvements in the means test and an incentive of €100 per week of earnings disregarded for pensioners who may wish to earn extra income to continue in employment. I was happy to be able to build on these improvements in last week's Budget by increasing the basic means disregard to €30 per week, and at the same time enhancing the employment incentives by increasing the earnings disregard to €200 per week. Both of these disregards are doubled for pensioner couples.

Other measures of benefit to older people include last years' increase in the over 80 allowance of €3.60 per week, bringing it to €10 per week and this years' increase in the fuel allowance of €4 per week, bringing the allowance to €18 per week. This represents a doubling of the fuel allowance in the last two years. The household benefits package, which comprises telephone allowance, electricity/natural gas allowance and free TV licence is available to people living in the State aged 66 to 69 years subject to certain conditions, and to over 70's. The electricity/natural gas allowance is of immense benefit to older people who have in general greater heating requirements. As already announced, the value of the natural gas allowance has been increased and the number of free units of electricity will increase by 600 units a year to 2,400 units.

The additional supports, combined with the unprecedented increases in pension rates demonstrate that the needs of older people continue to be a priority for this Government. I will continue to look for opportunities to make further progress on improving the level of supports we provide for our older people.

Question No. 105 answered with QuestionNo. 12.
Question No. 106 answered with QuestionNo. 60.

Gay Mitchell


107 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the measure he will take to recognise and support carers under the age of 18; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43290/06]

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I have examined "Caring Before Their Time? Research and Policy Perspectives on Young Carers" by Barnardos and The Children's Research Centre, which was published in September 2004. I was particularly struck by the fact that, of the estimated 3,000 young carers who are providing some care, there are over 300 carers between the ages of 15 and 17 years of age who are providing full-time care. It is clear that this group needs appropriate supports.

I recognise that special help, advice and support is essential for young carers who are often caring for a parent and, in particular, that services must be put in place to support the household and to ensure that young carers remain at school. The Barnardos report recommends that policy relating to young carers should be a matter for the Department of Health and Children with services being delivered by the Health Service Executive. These include the services of home helps, public health nurses and home care packages generally. The report considers that further research should be undertaken on numbers of young carers, the supports available to them, their needs and the impact of their caring role on their education and general development.

I am pleased that the national partnership agreement "Towards 2016" commits the Government to undertaking a study (with the involvement of relevant Departments) of the extent to which children undertake inappropriate care roles in order to establish the extent and degree to which this issue arises and the levels of impact it has on the lives of children concerned. Based on the outcome of this study and an analysis of the issues identified, a programme of in-home supports will be developed to alleviate specific problem areas identified for children.

The report of the Long-Term Care working group is being considered by the Government. This Group was established by the Minister for Health and Children and myself in January 2005 to identify the policy options for a financially sustainable system of long-term care. It comprises senior officials from the Departments of Finance, Health and Children and my own Department. My officials have brought the issue of young carers to the attention of the working group.

Supports for carers from my own Department include the respite care grant and the carers's allowance. The respite care grant, which is an annual payment for carers who look after certain people in need of full-time care and attention, is payable from age 16. The payment is made regardless of the carer's means but it is subject to certain qualifying conditions. The grant from will increase from €1,200 to €1,500 per year from June 2007. Carer's allowance, which provides income support to people who are providing certain older people or people with a disability with full time care and attention and whose incomes fall below a certain limit, is payable from age 18.

I am always prepared to consider changes to existing arrangements where these are for the benefit of recipients and financially sustainable within the resources available to me. I will continue to strive to bring forward proposals that recognise the valued and valuable contribution of all carers in a tangible way.

Question No. 108 answered with QuestionNo. 94.

Brendan Howlin


109 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will accept the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission that same sex cohabitants should be treated in the same way as opposite sex cohabitants for social welfare payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43119/06]

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Two important pieces of work have recently been completed regarding different types of partner relationships and how they should be treated and recognised in Irish society. The first report an "Options Paper, presented by the Working Group on Domestic Partnership" to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, focuses on different types of cohabiting relationships, both same and opposite sex and presents a range of options with regard to giving legal recognition to these relationships. Officials from my Department contributed to the work of this Group. The second report — the "Report of the Law Reform Commission on the Rights and Duties of Cohabitants" makes substantial recommendations for reform of the law concerning cohabitants including both opposite sex or same sex couples who live together.

These reports come at a time of wide public debate on the question of according legal status to cohabitants generally and same sex couples in particular and will contribute to the informed debate on these important topics. In addition my own Department is currently carrying out a technical review of the entire social welfare code to examine its compatibility with the Equal Status Act 2000 (as amended). The review will examine the schemes and services provided for both in social welfare legislation and the administrative schemes operated by the Department. It will identify any instances of direct or indirect discrimination, on any of the nine grounds under the Act, including: gender, sexual orientation, marital status and family status that are not justified by a legitimate social policy objective or where the means of achieving that objective are either unnecessary or inappropriate. This work, together with the reports I have referred to, will contribute to informed planning and policy making to ensure that the social welfare system reflects the needs and expectations of citizens and is equitable in meeting those needs.

Question No. 110 answered with QuestionNo. 35.
Question No. 111 answered with QuestionNo. 66.

Ivor Callely


112 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of people in receipt of a social welfare payment due to being unable to obtain employment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43167/06]

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There were 148,529 people on the Live Register at end-November 2006, which comprised 88,583 males and 59, 946 females. There were 56,343 claiming Jobseekers Benefit, 82,713 claiming Jobseekers Allowance and other registrants amounting to 9,473. This is the lowest November Live Register since November 2001, when it was 147,100. The Live Register stood at 150,073 at end-November 2005, so it can be seen that there has been a reduction of 1,544 in the year.

My Department through its employment support and other services has assisted many people away from long-term unemployment and back into the workforce. The primary role of my Department's locally based facilitators is to assist the unemployed and other welfare dependants back to work, training or further education by providing them on an individual basis with assistance to access the necessary programmes or supports which their circumstances demand. Facilitators have access to some additional services, such as the special projects and family services funds which provide funding for specialised training and supports for those who are distant from the labour market and who need additional help in preparing them for further training and employment. The back to work allowance was introduced in September 1993 as part of my Department's programme of initiatives designed to assist the long term unemployed to return to the active labour force.

My Department also administers the back to education allowance or BTEA which is a second chance education opportunities scheme designed to encourage and facilitate people on certain social welfare payments to improve their skills and qualifications and, therefore, their prospects of returning to the active work force. In the recent budget I announced that I would extend immediate entitlement to BTEA to people who have been made redundant and who have an entitlement to statutory redundancy payments and to a social welfare payment. They will have an immediate access to BTEA to prevent long term dependency on unemployment payments. In addition, under the Employment Action Plan (EAP), customers, aged 18 to 64 years, who are approaching 3 months on the Live Register, are systematically referred to FÁS for guidance, intervention or placement.

The services provided by my Department to assist the unemployed, particularly their continued relevance and flexibility, are under constant review. I am particularly interested in advancing measures that blend activation with supports and that make the transition from welfare to work as seamless as possible.

Question No. 113 answered with QuestionNo. 12.
Question No. 114 answered with QuestionNo. 7.
Question No. 115 answered with QuestionNo. 94.