The 1991 Estimate for the Department of Social Welfare provides for an increase of £100 million in overall expenditure. Gross expenditure for 1991 is projected at £2,900 million as compared with a projected outturn of £2,800 million in 1990. This amount will finance and preserve all our existing schemes and services, including the new schemes which were recently introduced such as the carer's allowance, the lone parent's scheme and the free travel scheme for companions of the handicapped. It also provides for a back to school clothing and footwear allowance next autumn.
Each day of the year we now spend in support of the elderly over £2.3 million, the unemployed over £2 million, families over £2.1 million, the sick and disabled over £1 million, and in total £7.4 million.
In accordance with normal practice, the Estimate provides for the carry-over cost of increases given in the 1990 budget — some £100 million. It does not include any provision for increases in 1991. These will be provided for in the forthcoming budget.
The net Estimate for 1991 to be provided by the general taxpayer is £1,554 million. This is the Exchequer's contribution to the social welfare services and is £78 million higher than the published Estimate for 1990.
Gross expenditure in 1991 is estimated at £2,900 million. This comprises insurance based payments, funded from the social insurance fund, and assistance payments which are totally Exchequer funded. The social insurance fund is funded by the Exchequer, employers, employees and the self-employed. The Abridged Estimates show the Exchequer contribution to the SIF which is 23 per cent lower in 1991 than in 1990.
The reduction in the Exchequer's contribution to the social insurance fund of £28.367 million, or 23 per cent is mainly due to the projected increase in PRSI income, arising principally from increased numbers in employment. This is offset mainly by the extra cost of the 1990 budget improvements. There are substantial increases in expenditure on a number of schemes.
The 1991 estimate for family income supplement is increased by 14 per cent to £9.7 million. This takes account of the carry-over costs of the 1990 budget improvements to this scheme. Substantial improvements introduced last July include increases in the income levels and maximum payments for eligibility for the scheme and a new minimum payment of £5 a week.
The 1991 estimate for unemployment assistance is increased by 11 per cent. Again the increase arises primarily because of the carry-over costs of the 1990 budget increases. Personal rates for the long term unemployed were increased by almost 11 per cent while the short term rates were increased by over 7 per cent last July. The forecast for 1991 is an average number of 221,000 unemployed. This estimate provides for the continuation of the special arrangements under which the long term unemployed can now avail of second chance education.
A sum of £116.1 million has been provided in 1991 for the new lone parent's allowance. There is a corresponding reduction in the Estimates for the widow's and orphan's non-contributory pension and the deserted wife's and unmarried mother's schemes. All lone parents with children, who were catered for under these schemes, are now part of the new lone parent's scheme. In addition, a major feature of the new scheme is that it caters for the first time for separated spouses rearing children without the support of a partner. Overall, the 1991 provision for these families shows an increase of £29.75 million, 21 per cent.
The 1991 Estimate provides £9.7 million for the carer's allowance which I introduced in November last. This was a major innovation and has been widely welcomed. It provides, in addition to improving the basic rates of payments, a direct payment to people on low incomes who provide full-time care and attention for invalided social welfare pensioners. It is expected that up to 10,000 carers will qualify and to date some 3,500 claims have been received.
The overall provision for grants to voluntary bodies in 1991 is £1.3 million. This includes the provision for once-off grants to voluntary social service organisations and the continuation of the community development initiative which I introduced this year. In the 1990 budget additional provision of £500,000 was made for grants to locally based women's groups. There was a very positive response to the introduction of the new scheme which was seen as recognising the increasing involvement of women in identifying the issues and tackling the problems which affect them in their daily lives. The scheme is now being reviewed and provision for a further scheme will be a matter for consideration in the budget.
The 1991 Estimate for my Department provides for the preservation of all existing schemes and services and the continuation of the new schemes which were recently introduced. Further increases in payments and other improvements are matters which will be considered in the context of the 1991 budget. Along with controlling expenditure we have ensured that the position of those on the lowest levels of income has been continually improved in real terms. At the same time, our duty to the taxpayer requires us to be vigilant and to ensure that this money is spent effectively and directed towards those who are genuinely in need. TheProgramme for National Recovery has underpinned the developments in social welfare and provided the framework within which substantial improvements have been achieved for those dependent on social welfare.
As Minister for Social Welfare I am particularly conscious of the need to ensure that those dependent on social welfare benefit from the improvement in the economy as a whole. Over the past three years considerable improvements in the basic rates of payment have been achieved. For example, a special increase for those on the lowest levels of payment, the abolition of the rural rate of unemployment assistance, the streamlining of adult dependant and child dependant rates and the introduction of a minimum payment for child dependants have all resulted in substantial improvements for this group. The basic rate of unemployment assistance, long term, has been increased from £36.70 in July 1986 to £52 in July 1990, an increase of 42 per cent in nominal terms and almost 26 per cent in real terms. A family with three children has come from a rate of £89.45 up to £116, in July 1990, an increase of £26.25 in money terms representing an increase of almost 30 per cent in nominal terms and 15 per cent in real terms.
The personal rate of contributory old age pension has increased from £53.45 in 1987 to £61.50 this year. The rate payable to married pensioners where the dependent spouse is over 66 years increased from £93.35 in 1986 to £107.20 this year. The rate for married non-contributory pensioners was increased from £68.75 to £79.50. This year, for the first time, special additional increases were made not only to the long term unemployed but also to old age non-contributory pensioners and widows.
The personal rate for contributory widow's pension and deserted wife's benefit was £48.10 in 1986 and has increased to £56 this year. A lone parent with three children on assistance payments received £87.80 in 1986 and this has increased to £101 this year. Again the highest increases have been targeted at lone parent families who depend on assistance payments.
Contributory widows and recipients of deserted wife's benefit have received increases of over 16 per cent in the personal rates of benefit. The personal rate in 1986 was £48.10; in July 1990 it increased to £56.
In addition to improving the basic rates of payments, a number of other important changes have been made in the social welfare code. The most significant of these changes this year were the new carer's allowance and lone parent's allowance schemes which I have already outlined. Other important improvements have also been made.
The £5.3 million back to school clothing and footwear scheme was introduced this year to help social welfare recipients provide for their children's needs. This provided £25 for each child at primary school and £40 for each child at second level at this expensive time of year for families. Over 170,000 children have benefited and will benefit again this year.
The process of introducing greater flexibility into the unemployment payments system was continued by the introduction of the vocational preparation and training scheme and a new pilot scheme to enable the long term unemployed pursue a third level course. This latter scheme is a particularly innovative one and at present 68 people are participating at various third level institutions.
Further improvements in the family income supplement scheme include increases in the income limits and maximum rates of payments; the introduction of a minimum payment of £5; receipt of FIS no longer affects entitlement to a medical card and workers who expect to be employed for at least six months as against 12 months can now qualify.
We have introduced new arrangements to allow a companion to travel with a person on disabled person's maintenance allowance. Many recipients of the disabled person's maintenance allowance were unable to avail of the free travel concession because a companion brought along to assist mobility had to pay the appropriate fare. To date almost 6,500 free companion travel passes have been issued.
A new social welfare appeals office was established. This is a major development in the social welfare area as the new appeals office has been set up as a separate office under its own director and chief appeals officer and administrative staff. This new office acting independently will ensure that social welfare clients have an appeals system which is clearly seen to be modern, efficient, fair and easily accessible.
A special smokeless fuel allowance of £3 per week is being paid from mid-October 1990 to mid-April 1991 to recipients of social welfare and health board payments in restricted areas under certain conditions. There will be PRSI exemption for up to 50,000 low paid workers. Workers with gross earnings of £60 or less weekly paying class A contributions are exempt from paying the employee's insurance contribution. The Christmas bonus was paid to 595,000 people on long term social welfare payments and their 370,000 dependants. The bonus cost £25.6 million this year, an increase of £1.6 million on the 1989 allocation. The introduction of a pre-retirement allowance scheme for those on long term unemployment assistance who are over 60 years of age allows those concerned the option of transferring to payment by pension order book which they cash at the local post office. They are only required to make a declaration regarding unemployment once a year. To date approximately 6,500 claimants including smallholders have availed of this option.
I have spoken often of how social welfare services should meet the needs of clients in an efficient way. I want to provide clients at a local level with access at one point of contact to all social welfare services. I introduced, and I am committed to developing, the concept of the one-stop-shop. This involves providing access to a broad range of services at local level. Ultimately, my intention is that clients will be able to have all their social welfare needs catered for at their local office.
Early in 1991 I intend to set up a regional structure for social welfare services. This will be a major development for my Department. The new regional management structure will bring greater efficiency to the services, will enable greater devolution of responsibility to the local level and give easier access to social welfare clients. Eight regional centres will be established at Cork, Limerick, Sligo, Longford, Dundalk, Dublin, Athlone and Waterford.
I will continue the process of introducing one-stop-shops, of modernising the system to make it more accessible and user-friendly and of enhancing the dignity of those who rely on our services. In the period since 1987, under the Government's decentralisation programme, we opened a new pensions services office in Sligo and a new child benefit office in Letterkenny this year. Nine new employment exchanges were opened throughout the country while extensive renovations were carried out at ten other centres.
In addition projects are currently under construction or at an advanced planning stage at eight other centres. Renovation works are proposed at three further centres over the next year. We have also invested heavily in computerisation to speed up and simplify payments and claims. This will result in an integrated and much-improved service for the public. A wider range of services will be provided, information services will be improved and extended. There will also be adequate private facilities for transacting business in a private and confidential way.
Computerised facilities will in turn open up the possibility of providing more flexible payment methods for social welfare clients. I see the introduction of more modern payment methods as an essential pre-requisite to enabling us to provide a better service. Ultimately as we get away from the need to provide payments in cash at all offices with the security and other restrictions which this imposes, and begin to use more efficient payment methods, in co-operation with other bodies like An Post, we can develop our own offices to provide a broader range of personal services to social welfare clients.
One of the other benefits of having a more modern system of payment is that it will enable the introduction of more flexible signing arrangements for unemployed people. There will still, of course, be a need to exercise proper control over schemes. The introduction of new payment systems, however, would enable the present signing arrangements to be modified in certain cases and be replaced by more systematic and selective, and therefore more effective, reviews of claims.
One of the major developments in the social welfare system in recent years has been the increasing involvement with voluntary organisations. I see my Department as not just being in the business of providing money but also being involved in the welfare of people in the broadest sense. Voluntary organisations have a major role in this regard. Many such organisations are working on a daily basis with social welfare clients and are aware of their needs and their difficulties. I was glad to be able in recent years to provide assistance to many such organisations. In particular I have received a great deal of assistance from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in meeting the needs of the poor. The society now have over 10,000 voluntary workers in the field. The society have been to the fore in tackling the problems associated with moneylenders, in providing job opportunities through a major innovative, community-based scheme and in organising a programme of home management and personal development courses, designed to help families acquire basic skills of budgeting and self-development. In April 1988 I made a special grant to the society to fund the setting up of these courses on a nationwide basis. The success of the courses has convinced the society of the value of these courses. Over 7,000 families have already benefited under the programme and it is regarded by the society as, "the Society's most effective strategy for helping families on low incomes".
The value of this sort of practical action in helping people to help themselves is evidenced by the number of groups which applied for funding to run similar courses, under the new scheme of grants for women's groups which I introduced earlier this year. About 70 women's groups received assistance for this purpose this year which benefited an estimated 1,400 women. Further courses have been provided through the voluntary grants scheme. In all up to 10,000 families have benefited from these courses over the last three years.
I am therefore pleased to announce that I am making a grant of £100,000 to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to expand and develop these innovative and worthwhile home management and personal development courses.
We have made substantial progress in the last three years in improving the position of the least well-off in our society. This progress has been underpinned by theProgramme for National Recovery and, in particular, the consensus which the Taoiseach initiated between the Government and the social partners. Through the programme the imbalances in the public finances have been addressed and inflation has been reduced to below 3 per cent. Over the three year life of the programme, total non-farm private sector employment has increased by some 70,000. This is striking evidence of the success of the programme. It is crucial to the interests of the less well off who depend on social welfare that a new programme for the nineties is agreed.
Despite the continuing need to control expenditure, we have maintained and significantly improved our social welfare system and made sure that special consideration is given to the most vulnerable sections of our society. We have also introduced many new and innovative schemes. There is, of course, much more to be done. I am confident that, with the agreement of the social partners on a new programme for economic and social development, we will be in a position to lay the foundations for further major improvements in social welfare in the years ahead.