I propose to take Questions Nos. 294 and 306 together.
Self-employed persons are liable for PRSI at the Class S rate of 4% which entitles them to access long-term benefits such as State pension (contributory) and widow's, widower's or surviving civil partner's pension (contributory). Ordinary employees who have access to the full range of social insurance benefits pay Class A PRSI at the rate of 4%. In addition, their employers make a PRSI contribution of 10.75% in respect of their employees, resulting in the payment of a combined 14.75% rate per employee under full-rate PRSI Class A. (For employees earning less than €356 per week, the rate of employer’s PRSI is 4.25%).
In 2011 I established the Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare to meet the commitment made in the Programme for Government. The Advisory Group is charged with, inter alia, examining and reporting on issues involved in providing social insurance cover for self-employed persons in order to establish whether or not such cover is technically feasible and financially sustainable. The Advisory Group’s overall 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. The Group has been considering the issue of social insurance coverage for the self-employed and will submit its report once its examination of the various questions has been completed.
The third Actuarial Review of the Social Insurance Fund, as at 31 December 2010, was completed by consultants KPMG in June 2012 and laid before each House of the Oireachtas on 24 August 2012. The Review covers a 55 year period from 2011–2066 and builds on the findings of the 2000 and 2005 Actuarial Reviews of the Fund. The report of the Actuarial Review found that the effective annual rate of contribution, or the required contribution as a percentage of salary, needed to provide the core full-rate State pension (contributory), which is the benefit currently available to self-employed contributors, is approximately 15%. This compares favourably with the 4% rate currently paid by the self-employed. Therefore in terms of the pension entitlements, the report concludes that the self-employed achieve very good value for money in terms of the PRSI contributions paid.
The Review also addressed the long-term cost implications to the Social Insurance Fund (SIF) and the break-even contributions rates required to provide invalidity pensions to the self-employed and to provide jobseeker’s benefit for self-employed workers. The Review found that an incremental increase in contribution rates from approximately 15% to 16% would be required if jobseeker’s benefit in addition to core State pension (contributory) is provided. The average contribution rate required for the core State pension (contributory) plus jobseeker’s benefit and the invalidity pension is estimated to be in the region of 17.3%.
Any proposals to revise the social insurance system for self-employed persons by extending social insurance entitlements will have to be considered in a budgetary context, taking account of the finding of the Actuarial Review that the self-employed achieve very good value for money compared with the employed – when the comparison includes both employer and employee contributions in respect of the employed person.
Self-employed workers whose businesses fail or suffer from reduced demand or who do not have constant or continuous employment, may access social welfare support by establishing entitlement to assistance-based payments such as jobseeker’s allowance and disability allowance. In the case of jobseeker’s allowance they can apply for the means-tested jobseeker’s allowance if their business ceases or if they are on low income as a result of a downturn in demand for their services. In general, their means will take account of the level of earnings in the last twelve months in determining their expected income for the following year and, in the current climate, account is taken of the downward trend in the economy. As in the case of a non-self-employed claimant for jobseeker’s allowance or disability allowance, the means of husband/wife, civil partner or co-habitant will be taken into account in deciding on entitlement to a payment.