Illness benefit is a short term payment made to insured people who are unable to work due to illness. The payment is funded by the social insurance fund (SIF) through the payment of PRSI contributions by workers and employers and, in the event of a shortfall between contributions received and benefits paid, the Exchequer. The fund is central to Ireland’s system of social protection and the Government needs to ensure that it can provide adequate and sustainable social insurance pensions and benefits for a growing and ageing population.
Current arrangements provide that payment of illness benefit begins from the seventh day of the illness. No payment is made for the first six days, known as “waiting days”. Waiting days have been a long standing feature of the social insurance system and are a feature of similar social security schemes in many other countries. When the current waiting day arrangements for illness benefit were changed in 2014 to six days from the previous three, the then projected full-year annual savings of extending the number of waiting days was €22 million per year.
In many instances where occupational sick pay arrangements are in place, employees in effect continue to receive their income from employers. For those who do not have access to such assistance but need financial support during waiting days, they may apply for supplementary welfare allowance.
The Department regularly reviews its supports and payments schemes to ensure that they continue to meet their objectives. Given the cost implications, any change to the current arrangements would have to be considered in an overall policy and budgetary context.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.