Written Answers. - Family Support Services.

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

452 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the plans, if any, he has to improve the position of the married woman working full time in the home rearing children; the measures, if any, he has taken since 1997 in this regard; the recent studies being considered on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7885/99]

The position of people working full time in the home rearing children is being examined from a number of perspectives; maintaining their PRSI contribution records and recognising and supporting the very valuable role which such people play in society.

From 6 April 1994, special arrangements for homemakers were introduced to assist people who work in the home to qualify for old age contributory pension. From that date, contribution years spent out of the workforce caring either for children up to the age of six, which was increased to age 12 from April 1995, or incapacitated people, may be disregarded when calculating the yearly average number of contributions. A maximum of 20 years can be disregarded in this way. My Department will shortly be undertaking a review of this provision to allow women, who take time out of the paid workforce for family reasons, to continue contributions for pension purposes. This is in line with the Government's commitment in An Action Programme for the Millennium.

The Commission on the Family considered the position of parents taking time out of the workforce to care for children and put forward a number of different suggestions designed to recognise the valuable work performed by these parents and to provide direct support when their child care responsibilities are at their most demanding. Their suggestions include an enhanced child benefit, a parenting allowance and a PRSI based parental leave scheme.

There is also demand for change in the way qualified adults are catered for under the social welfare system. It is felt in many quarters that entitlements should not be derived from spouses or partners but that people should be able to qualify for payments in their own right. Such a system poses many difficult questions, not just for the social welfare system, but also for the taxation system.

In this regard, an interdepartmental group, chaired by my Department, is currently examining the treatment of married, cohabiting and one-parent families under the social welfare and tax codes. As part of its terms of reference the group is to examine and cost ways of ensuring consistent and equitable treatment of the household types concerned under both systems. As part of its work the group is reviewing previous reports in this area, including the report of the Commission on the Family some of whose recommendations are outlined above. The establishment of the group also marks the first stage in meeting the commitment in the national anti-poverty strategy to examine the individualisation of social welfare payments.
The group will complete its work in the next couple of months and we must await this report to see what measures are proposed before deciding on further action.