Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (351)

Seán Canney

Question:

351. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Social Protection the plans being put in place to support small businesses that are not eligible for the Covid restrictions support scheme or the restart grant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2697/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Social)

The Enterprise Support Grant (ESG) is available to eligible self-employed recipients who close their Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and re-start their business. A once-off grant of up to €1,000, to assist with the costs associated with reopening, is available under this measure.

The grant, of up to €1,000, is payable to self-employed individuals who employ fewer than 10 people, have an annual turnover of less than €1 million and are not eligible for support from similar business reopening grants, such as the Restart Grant, from other Departments.

Approximately 8,400 applications have been approved since the introduction of this grant, with funding of almost €8m paid to small businesses. A provision of €12m is available for this support in 2021. The extension of this grant into 2021 ensures supports remain available to qualified self-employed individuals who close their PUP as restrictions are eased. Detailed information about this grant and other supports for self-employed individuals is available at www.gov.ie/dsp.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

Questions (352)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

352. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of childcare professionals who have applied for the pandemic unemployment payment since 1 January 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2703/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

To date over €5 billion has been paid in relation to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) since its introduction in March 2020 in response to the unprecedented effects of the Covid-19 virus.

According to my Department's records, approximately 3,200 childcare workers received PUP on 12 January 2021.

I trust that this clarifies the position.

Fuel Allowance

Questions (353)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

353. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Social Protection if she received a request from a charity (details supplied) for a double fuel allowance to be paid for a two-week period over the next few weeks; if the request will receive a response; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2730/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The Fuel Allowance is a payment of €28.00 per week for 28 weeks (a total of €784 each year) from October to April, to an average of 372,000 low income households, at an estimated cost of €300 million in 2021. The purpose of this payment is to assist these households with their energy costs. The allowance represents a contribution towards the energy costs of a household. It is not intended to meet those costs in full. Only one allowance is paid per household.

My Department also pays an electricity or gas allowance under the Household Benefits scheme at an estimated cost of €265 million in 2021. This is paid at a rate of €35 per month, 12 months of the year.

I can confirm that I have received the letter from the Society of St Vincent de Paul referred to by the Deputy and I am writing back to them in relation to the range of issues raised in the correspondence, including in relation to the fuel allowance.

In Budget 2021, the Government targeted one third of carbon tax revenues to go towards boosting the incomes of poorest in our society. Based on ESRI research, three key social welfare payments were targeted for increases in the budget as a result - the Fuel Allowance, the Qualified Child Allowance and the Living Alone Allowance.

From January 2021, the Fuel Allowance was increased by €3.50 per week to €28 for a period of 28 weeks, while the increase in carbon tax on solid fuels will not take effect until May 2021. This will ensure that recipients will benefit from the increased payment over this winter period.

Financial assistance is available under the Exceptional Needs Payment and the Urgent Needs Payment schemes, on a year round basis, to assist with expenditure which a person could not reasonably meet out of his/her weekly income, which may include exceptional heating costs. Applications are considered on a case-by-case basis.

Following the recent activation of Level 5 measures, as set out in the Government’s Plan for Living with COVID-19, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) has put in place a moratorium on all disconnections of domestic customers to take effect from 8 January 2021. This moratorium will remain in place for the duration of the current Level 5 restrictions.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Personal Public Service Numbers

Questions (354)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

354. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Social Protection when an application for personal public service numbers will be processed for persons (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2760/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

I can confirm that my Department has allocated Personal Public Service Numbers (PPSNs) to the individuals referred to by the Deputy. Letters issued on 18th January 2021 with details of their PPSNs.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Fuel Allowance

Questions (355)

Danny Healy-Rae

Question:

355. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will review the list of payments that qualify for fuel allowance (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2836/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The Fuel Allowance is a payment of €28.00 per week for 28 weeks (a total of €784 each year) from October to April, to an average of 372,000 low income households, at an estimated cost of €300 million in 2021. The purpose of this payment is to assist these households with their energy costs. The allowance represents a contribution towards the energy costs of a household. It is not intended to meet those costs in full. Only one allowance is paid per household.

My Department also pays an electricity or gas allowance under the Household Benefits scheme at an estimated cost of €265 million in 2021. This is paid at a rate of €35 per month, 12 months of the year.

The criteria for fuel allowance are framed in order to direct the limited resources available to my Department in as targeted a manner as possible. Disablement benefit is not a qualifying payment for fuel allowance and therefore, no fuel allowance is payable if a person in a household is in receipt of this payment. Disablement benefit is not a means tested payment and is based on a person’s PRSI record. Disablement benefit can be paid to people in employment and also paid in addition to most other Social Protection payments.

The only exception is where the person on disablement benefit is also in receipt of incapacity supplement, then fuel allowance can be paid subject to satisfying all other qualifying criteria. Incapacity supplement is an increase to disablement benefit where a person is considered to be permanently incapable of work, as a result of an occupational accident or disease and does not qualify for another Social Welfare benefit.

The guidelines for the fuel allowance scheme are kept under review. However, any decision to extend the eligibility criteria to allow a person in receipt of disablement benefit to qualify for the fuel allowance could not be considered in isolation, which in turn would have cost implications, and would have to be considered in the context of overall budgetary negotiations.

Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, my Department operates both Exceptional and Urgent Needs for people who have an urgent need, which they cannot meet from their own resources. These payments are available through our Community Welfare Officers.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Invalidity Pension

Questions (356)

Sorca Clarke

Question:

356. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of invalidity pension applications received by her Department in 2020; the number of applications that were approved; the number of applications refused; and the number of applications still ongoing. [2929/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The table below shows the number of invalidity pension claims received, approved, refused and withdrawn for the period requested.

Year

2020

No of applications received

9,991

Claims awarded*

8,332

Claims disallowed

5,270

Claims withdrawn

1,350

Claims pending

1,312

*Please note that the statistics in relation to awarded cases include cases in the disallowed category which were subsequently awarded following a review or a successful appeal.

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

Questions (357)

Cormac Devlin

Question:

357. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for Social Protection if consideration will be given to extending pandemic unemployment payment eligibility to anyone who is off work to care for an elderly or sick relative during the Covid-19 pandemic; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2944/21]

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Written answers (Question to Social)

The COVID 19 pandemic unemployment payment is not payable where a person leaves work to care for an elderly or sick relative.

There are range of flexible options that may be available to the individual including allowing employees to work from home, altering shifts so that employees can coordinate caring between themselves and partners or another person, allowing employees to rearrange holidays or take paid time off that can be worked back at a later time.

Where it is not possible to make appropriate compassionate leave arrangements, employees may be able to avail of some statutory entitlements including force majeure leave, carer's leave together with carer's benefit or carer's allowance.

Any person who is experiencing financial hardship may be eligible for other financial supports under the means tested Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme including an Exceptional or Urgent Needs Payment.

I trust that this clarifies the position for you.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (358, 374, 382)

Holly Cairns

Question:

358. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if a physical copy of the mother and baby homes commission report is being given to each known survivor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3181/21]

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Niall Collins

Question:

374. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if a copy of a report will be issued to a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2604/21]

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Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

382. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth when hard copies of the commission on the investigation into mother and baby and Bethany homes report will be made available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2888/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 358, 374 and 382 together.

A printed copy of the Final Report of the Commission will be made available to any survivor who wishes to have one.

The Report was made available in digital format in the first instance so as to immediately make it available to the widest possible audience. This is particularly important having regard to the sheer size of the report and the extreme challenges which arise in disseminating hard copies, due to current necessary public health restrictions.

On the 13 January, my Department issued an email to our contact list of survivors and advocates and posted a notice on my Department's website, to outline how survivors and their advocates could secure a copy of the report. My Department can be contacted at 01-6473200 from Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 6pm, or by emailing motherandbabyhomes@equality.gov.ie. There is no charge for any former resident to be provided with a copy of the report.

With regard to the details provided by the Deputy, my Department will make contact directly with the individual concerned and make the necessary arrangements.

The Department has an abridged version of the Report, containing the main chapters such as the Executive Summary, Recommendations, and of course, the key chapters containing Survivors’ own stories, for any survivor who requests one. The Department also has printed copies of the full report (six volumes of almost 3,000 pages and weighing 8.5kg) which if preferred, are also be available for any survivor who requests one, again free of charge. The Department has limited stocks of both formats but additional copies will be produced to meet demand.

My officials are procuring the services of third parties to print and deliver the hard copies of the report, hence the need for written consent from individuals. Names and addresses will be shared with a third party service provider and this will be done in full compliance with General Data Protection Guidelines.

When the public health situation permits, the Department will also make available printed copies of the full report in specified public facilities. Further details of these arrangements will be publicised in due course.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (359, 363)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

359. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the details of authorities, persons, Ministers and Departments that had access to the final report of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation prior to 10 January 2021. [2292/21]

View answer

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

363. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the steps he will take to ensure a full investigation into the leak of the mother and baby homes report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2337/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 359 and 363 together.

It is a matter of deep regret that details of the Commission's Final Report were leaked ahead of its publication. I contacted survivors immediately on learning of the coverage in a Sunday newspaper and the matter is now under investigation. I understand why many survivors are feeling hurt and let down that any element of the Report was given to the media in this manner. This is not what I had planned and it should not have happened.

It was always my intention that survivors would be the first to hear details of the Commission's findings, how to access the Report, and the measures proposed by Government in responding to the Commission's recommendations. My Department had taken appropriate steps to set up engagement with survivors and to maintain the confidentiality of the Report prior to its publication.

This issue was discussed at Government level and the Secretary General to the Government is leading an investigation into these matters. I await the outcome of this process.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (360)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

360. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of times since he took office that he has spoken to or corresponded with his predecessor (details supplied) about the mother and baby homes commission of investigation and issues related to it. [2293/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

I met with my predecessor in July, shortly after I was appointed. We discussed a wide range of issues pertaining to the remit of the Department, and the additional functions transferring to it. The topics we discussed included the Adoption (Information and Tracing) legislation, and the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (361)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

361. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if teachers are officially recognised as essential workers for access to childcare purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2335/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

A Government decision on 6th January 2021 paused the ECCE programme for the remainder of the month and restricted access to other types of early learning and care and school-age childcare to only the children of essential workers and vulnerable children.

My Department has provided guidance in respect of the eligibility criteria for parents and providers with regard to essential workers. For the purpose of access to early learning and care and school-age childcare, an essential worker is a person working in an essential service as defined by Government.

The Government list of essential services at Level 5 is available at gov.ie and includes education.

For the purposes access to early learning and care and school-age childcare, an essential worker may be working from home. One parent working in an essential service confers eligibility.

This approach aims to protect public health and reduce any unnecessary contacts in the population, as well as ensure that essential services continue functioning for the good of society and the economy.

Parental Leave

Question No. 363 answered with Question No. 359.

Questions (362)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

362. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the status of the extension to parental leave as a result of budget 2021; if he will bring forward the start date of such leave; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2336/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

The Parent’s Leave and Benefit Act 2019 introduced two weeks of paid parent’s leave for each parent to be taken in the first year after the birth or adoptive placement of a child.

Under proposals approved by Government in December 2020, each parent will be given an additional three weeks of paid parent's leave, and the period in which it can be taken will be extended to the first two years after the birth or adoptive placement of a child.

It is anticipated that the legislation will be introduced in early 2021.

Question No. 363 answered with Question No. 359.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (364, 383)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

364. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the extent to which he will be consulting with the collaborative forum on the mother and baby and Bethany homes commission of investigation report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2338/21]

View answer

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

383. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth when he will be engaging with survivors again once they have reviewed the commission’s report into mother and baby homes; the mechanism by which engagement will take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2889/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 364 and 383 together.

In responding to the Final Report of the Commission of Investigation, I and my colleagues in Government are committed to taking a survivor-centred approach, characterised by consistent engagement with former residents and their representative groups, including the survivor diaspora. The design and delivery of the measures within the Government's Action Plan will be directly informed by the views of survivors, their families and advocates.

The State accepts its responsibility for the failure to listen and act in the past, and in more recent times. Engagement and consultation around the Action Plan requires specific structures, systems and resources to ensure it is inclusive and effective. Innovative methods are required to achieve this objective, especially given the continuing challenges presented by the restrictions necessary to reduce the public health risks associated with Covid-19.

I want to commence this enhanced dialogue as quickly as possible. As a first step, I want to consult with members of the Collaborative Forum, as I believe that a new and enhanced model of engagement, which builds upon the strengths of the existing process, can add to the Forum’s significant work to date. I have issued invitations to forum members for two meetings so we can discuss how best to develop dedicated channels of communication and increase opportunities for direct engagement with the large number of stakeholders and their representative groups. We need to deepen our understanding of the full range of perspectives on these deeply personal issues and the specific needs of survivors now and into the future.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (365)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

365. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if childcare services have been requested to remain closed beyond 31 January 2021, if providers will be requested to continue the suspension of fees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2354/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Between 11 and 31 January, access to early learning and childcare services is restricted to the children of essential workers and vulnerable children. In addition, the resumption of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) pre-school programme has been delayed.

During this period, my Department is continuing to provide funding under its schemes (ECCE, NCS, CCSP and TEC) as long as early learning and childcare services remain open for essential workers and vulnerable children, or have been directed or approved to close.

In addition, all early learning and childcare services remain eligible for support under the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) and are exempt from the turnover rule. With enhanced EWSS subsidies in place until 31 March, EWSS subsidies are estimated to cover up to 50% of the operating cost of these services.

In view of State supports provided to the sector during this period, I have asked early learning and childcare services to refund or credit fees for parents who cannot access services at this time, where possible. I am aware, and welcome, that many services have already taken this step.

My officials are engaged in detailed planning as regards the arrangements for early learning and childcare services from February onwards, including in respect of funding for services, sustainability of services and the issue of parental fees. To inform this work, officials will be engaging with the COVID-19 Advisory Group, which comprises representatives from the early learning and childcare sector.

Progressing the implementation of these plans will depend on the decision to be taken by Government on COVID-19 restrictions from 1 February.