Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Questions (88, 106)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


88. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will raise the possibility of restoring any of the cuts made by the current or previous Governments to social welfare payments in the context of the upcoming budgetary process or in advance of same; and her views on whether the PRSI yield, which is significantly ahead of profile in the year to date, gives her some scope to do so. [24120/14]

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Thomas P. Broughan


106. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will reconsider reversing some of the cutbacks to her Department's budget in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 budgets, especially for carers, lone parents, disabled people and senior citizens. [24197/14]

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Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Social)

I mentioned this matter last week. I am not asking the Minister to give information about budget 2015.

My lips are sealed.

I am not asking the Minister about that because at issue is money the Minister will have that will remain unspent. This is voted expenditure and it could be reassigned within the Department without having recourse to a budgetary measure. I am calling on the Minister to consider the €138 million she has gained so far this year and use it to help those whom she has punished in recent years, whether through changes in the respite care grant or elsewhere.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 88 and 106 together.

I will bring to the attention of the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the fact that Deputy Ó Snodaigh is supporting my budget. It is helpful to have an ally such as Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

The Government is committed to reaching the deficit target of less than 3% of GDP in 2015.

Where are the young bucks, though? They are snapping at the Minister's heels.

The Government will give detailed consideration to how the target will be reached over the coming months. The Exchequer returns to the end of May were published last week. They showed that taxes were €446 million or 2.9% ahead of profile while overall net voted expenditure was €156 million or 0.9% below profile. The Department of Social Protection returns showed that net voted expenditure was €138 million or 2.7% below profile, as Deputy Ó Snodaigh noted. This includes the impact of higher PRSI receipts of €108 million in the year to date, due obviously to the additional number of people who are at work, paying PRSI and, as we have seen from the tax returns, paying income tax as well. Overall expenditure on all schemes, services and administration in the Department is under profile by €27 million, or 0.3%.

The better than expected performance of PRSI income mirrors that of taxes and is evidence of a slowly emerging recovery in the economy that everyone hopes will continue. In particular, the reduction of nearly 33,000 in the number on the live register year on year to the end of May is encouraging. The Department and I are committed to an unrelenting focus on job creation. This is the best way of reducing welfare expenditure, while freeing resources to assist the vulnerable and deal with the demographic pressures of an ageing population.

The budget for next year will not be announced until October. As the Deputy rightly stated, I will not discuss its details, nor will I speculate on the overall adjustment to be made. However, it is important that we continue to push the development and roll-out of Intreo in order that people can be brought into employment and avail of education, training and work experience. This year the Department will spend approximately €1.1 million on schemes ranging from the community employment scheme to Tús and the back to education scheme. This is an important investment in the country's future. Obviously, we will watch the data closely between now and October.

I regularly meet organisations that have an interest in social protection matters. I will meet 39 community and voluntary organisations on 4 July. I will listen carefully, as I do every year, to their opinions on the priorities for 2015. I will ensure the issues they will raise at the meeting are brought to the attention of the Government.

I was not expecting a discussion on budget 2015 which we will have in October, but many changes can be made by ministerial order. Some of what we are discussing is Voted expenditure, but in many instances savings have been made, for example, through increases in employment or because so many unemployed persons have emigrated. I asked the Minister a question when we discussed the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill last week. Given the many pronouncements made by her and her Labour Party colleagues concerning a change in attitude, perhaps she might consider prior to the announcement of the budget using some of these savings to reverse a number of ministerial orders instead of sending the money back into the black hole of the Exchequer. She mentioned the respite care grant. Although it was granted last Thursday to many people, it has been €325 short for the past two years. We are facing into another winter, yet the Government cut six weeks from the fuel allowance period for 60,000 or more recipients. Perhaps these cuts might be reversed by using the saving of €24 million, although it would not meet the entire figure of €136 million or €138 million.

I notice that Sinn Féin's proposals to generate extra income are to increase taxes significantly, particularly for those in work or who have family homes. It has also promised on the doorsteps to abolish water charges, the property tax and the universal social charge, USC. It is important that the stabilisation and growth in the economy, particularly in employment, that we have achieved, as a result of which we are able to borrow internationally at cheap rates compared to Germany, should continue. The more people who leave the social welfare system, return to work and pay initially a small amount of PRSI before paying more in taxation, the more there will be an easing in the social welfare budget. I hope this would allow us to invest more in returning people to work through education, training and work experience. This will enable us to secure and improve the position for those who are in receipt of social welfare payments. Importantly, we have been able to maintain core social welfare payments at a difficult time historically. We are moving away from that period, but we still do not know for certain what the economic outlook will be by October. The trends so far have been positive.