Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Questions (128, 129)

Micheál Martin


129 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Social Protection if she is satisfied that the commitments in the programme for Government on eliminating poverty traps are being met; if the commission on taxation and social welfare has made recommendations on same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1925/12]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Social Protection)

Creating jobs and tackling poverty are two of the key challenges that we face. As reflected in the commitments contained in the Programme for Government, it is essential that our tax and social protection systems play their part in addressing these issues and ensure that work is worthwhile. To this end, I established an Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare last year to address a number of specific issues and to make cost-effective proposals for improving employment incentives and achieving better poverty outcomes, particularly child poverty outcomes.

In line with this rationale, the Group has been asked to examine a number of specific issues and make recommendations on these, including child and family income supports, working age income supports, the appropriate unit of assessment in both the tax and social welfare codes, the interaction of the tax and social welfare codes, issues concerning social insurance for self-employed people and any other issues that may be referred to it.

The Group's method of working is based on producing modular reports on the priority areas identified in the terms of reference. Where possible, the aim is to provide recommendations that can be acted upon in time for the annual budget/estimates and legislative cycle and to allow the Government to best address its commitments under the EU/IMF Programme of Financial Support.

Richard Boyd Barrett


130 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Social Protection if she raised the issue of growing poverty and inequality resulting from austerity with her European counterparts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39783/11]

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Tackling poverty and protecting the most vulnerable is a key priority for the member states of the European Union and a core element of the jobs and growth strategy set out in Europe 2020. In 2010, the EU Council of Ministers adopted an EU poverty target, with the aiming of lifting 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and exclusion by 2020. Meeting this target requires ambitious national targets and the necessary measures to meet them.

My officials and I have contributed to a number of EU considerations on the social impact of the economic and fiscal crisis. At the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council in June 2011, the Council adopted Conclusions on tackling child poverty and promoting child well-being. At the meeting, I welcomed the Council Conclusion and outlined Ireland's commitments to tackle child poverty and to support the development of a recommendation on child poverty and well-being in 2012.

In October, 2011, I led the Irish delegation at the First Annual EU Convention on Poverty held in Krakow under the Polish Presidency, which was attended by some of my EU counterparts, as well as many other European stakeholders. I spoke at the opening plenary session about the challenges Ireland faces in meeting its national poverty target given the current economic and fiscal situation. The main messages from the Convention were to re-affirm the need to tackle child poverty and to promote employment as the most effective route out of poverty, despite the economic situation not being conducive to employment growth.

My officials are also part of the EU Social Protection Committee which is monitoring the impact of the crisis as part of the open method of co-ordination on social protection and social inclusion. The Committee is current finalising its third report on the social impact of the crisis and the on-going fiscal consolidation. A key message from the report is the role of social protection in cushioning the impact of the economic crisis on individuals and in providing an automatic stabiliser for the economy by underpinning aggregate demand. The report shows that Ireland performs well in this regard, with social transfers reducing the at-risk-of-poverty rate in 2010 from 51 per cent to 16 per cent. This represents a poverty reduction effect of 60 per cent from social transfers, one of the highest in the EU.

A rapid return to economic growth and the development of inclusive labour market policies are crucial to reduce poverty and social exclusion in the EU and in Ireland. My Department will be playing a key role in this through the establishment of the National Employment and Entitlement Service which will be supporting people back into the labour market.