My Department examines the impact of potential policy measures on income and poverty rates, as well as employment incentives, on an ongoing basis. These measures include changing how income is treated in means assessments, and the level of income thresholds and disregards. Analyses often involve carrying out a social impact assessment which estimates the likely distributive effect of changes on household income using the ESRI’s SWITCH model.
As well as carrying out reviews, I, and my officials, regularly engage with the community and voluntary sector, including at the Department’s annual Pre-Budget Forum, to learn from their insights about how our schemes and services impact people’s lives across the country and how they might be improved.
Employment is the best, and most sustainable, route out of poverty for most people. Therefore, means testing policy aims to achieve a balance between ensuring resources are targeted towards those with the greatest need while supporting people to take up employment opportunities. For example, over the last four Budgets, income disregards for one-parent family and jobseekers transitional payments have increased from €90 to €165 per week, enhancing the incentive for a lone parent to take up employment.
As well as these ongoing assessments, my Department has focused on specific areas of means testing. Last year, my Department reviewed how income generated from rent-a-room relief affects payments and, earlier this year, the financial impact of maintenance payments on means assessments was reviewed. In addition, consideration of means assessments and related issues feed into many policy decisions and strategies. For example, the 2012 Review of Department of Social Protection Employment Support Schemes, the Make Work Pay Report for People with Disabilities and many research projects and evaluations under Pathways to Work – the Government's overarching policy framework for activation and employment policy.