Other Questions

Respite Care Grant Administration

Niall Collins

Ceist:

128. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will outline her plans for the future of the respite care grant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4081/13]

Dara Murphy

Ceist:

398. Deputy Dara Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection if savings are found within her budget during 2013, is it envisaged that the cut to the respite care grant will be restored; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3993/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 128 and 398 together.

Expenditure on carers has increased significantly in recent years. In 2013 it is estimated to be €776 million, compared with an estimated outturn of €771 million in 2012. The expenditure on carers in 2012 included €509 million on carer’s allowance, €24 million on carer’s benefit, €135 million on the respite care grant and €103 million on domiciliary care allowance. This represents an increase of almost €20 million on expenditure in 2011. Even with the reduction in the respite care grant, expenditure on carers in 2013 will be higher than in 2012.

The respite care grant which is not means tested is paid to approximately 70,000 people each year, with approximately 4,000 receiving more than one grant as they care for more than one person. There are almost 52,000 people in receipt of carer’s allowance. Of these, over 23,000 are receiving half-rate carer’s allowance in addition to another social welfare payment at an annual cost of some €90 million. There are over 1,600 people in receipt of carer’s benefit. The numbers in receipt of a carer’s allowance payment from the Department have increased by more than 150% in the past ten years from 20,000 in 2001 to 52,000 in 2012, while expenditure on the scheme has increased by almost 220% in the same period.

I am acutely aware that the reduction in the respite care grant is difficult for carers. However, in order to protect the core weekly payments which people receive, including disability payments, pensions and carer’s allowance, the Government had to look very carefully at other additional payments, including the respite care grant. Such an annual payment, in a single lump sum with no requirement to satisfy a means test, is not available for any other group, nor is there an equivalent payment for carers in any other country in Europe. I have no plans to amend the respite care grant at this time.

As Deputies know, the income disregard and means test for carers are the most generous within the social welfare system. A couple aged under 66 years with two children, earning a joint annual income of up to €35,400, can qualify for the maximum carer’s allowance payment, while a couple earning just under €60,000 will still qualify for the minimum rate and may also be eligible for the household benefits scheme.

I refer to Question No. 398.

One minute is allowed per question and reply. The rules have changed.

I understood the minute rule applied to general questions. Deputy Dara Murphy and I asked the Minister whether she envisaged this cut being reversed. Although there was no direct answer, I take it from what the Minister stated that the answer is "No". She gave an expenditure figure of €776 million for carers. Will she agree that the cost of care provided on a voluntary basis, at some 900,000 hours, if costed, would amount to €77 million per week, which is effectively a contribution of some €2.5 billion to the Exchequer? In other words, we are getting back from carers almost four times what we are giving to them. In view of this and the work they are doing - many carers testified in a recent survey that their own physical health had been affected - and given that the budget deficit figures came in beneath target, will the Minister reconsider the decision to impose the cut in June?

Like the Deputy, I have immense personal knowledge of the work carers do. What is important for carers is their weekly income. In government the Deputy's party cut the weekly income of carers by €16.30 a week.

That cut was reversed.

From speaking to carers, we know that such a reduction affects them most.

Why then did the Minister axe the grant?

The work carers do is incredibly valuable-----

-----for the people for whom they care, particularly within a family. I agree that many carers provide an extraordinary level of care and in the process suffer from considerable exhaustion. In the case of the respite care grant, the cut reduced the payment to above 2006 levels. Given the economic pressures on the country, as bequeathed by the Deputy's party-----

Will the Minister reverse the cut?

-----he must admit that in 2013 there will be an increase in overall spending on carers-----

Waffle. Deputy Colm Keaveney, the Minister's party chairman, voted against this measure.

-----which is a mark of the consideration, respect and admiration the Government has for the work they do.

Will there be further cuts?

We are determined to continue to support carers and not to do what Fianna Fáil did and reduce their weekly payment by €16.30.

Will there be further cuts? I take it the answer is "No".

Employment Support Services

Joan Collins

Ceist:

129. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Social Protection if she is planning to bring in a JobBridge-type scheme to take thousands of unemployed persons into local authorities on internships; her views on this type of scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3913/13]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

158. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Social Protection if she is planning to bring in a JobBridge-type scheme to take thousands of unemployed persons into local authorities on internships; her views on this type of scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3916/13]

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

172. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will provide details on the new local authority social employment scheme; the persons who will qualify; and if it will be open to people on disability. [4061/13]

Michelle Mulherin

Ceist:

386. Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will provide details of the new local authority scheme announced by her; the way the scheme will operate and the types of work within a local authority that will be covered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3800/13]

Michelle Mulherin

Ceist:

387. Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Social Protection the criteria for eligibility as a participant on the additional community employment placements and new local authority scheme announced by her in the context of budget 2013; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3801/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 129, 158, 172, 386 and 387 together.

I am happy to say spending has increased very significantly on employment support schemes, from €958 million in 2012 to an estimated €1.045 billion in 2013. As part of this increased expenditure, there will be 10,000 additional work placements. The Government, as part of the budget package for 2013, announced a number of initiatives focused on providing work opportunities for those currently unemployed. The key elements of this package are to add an additional 2,500 places to the JobBridge programme, 2,000 places on community employment schemes, 2,500 on Tús – the community work placement initiative - and the development of a new initiative with local authorities to provide 3,000 opportunities in 2013. This is in line with the commitments set out in the Action Plan for Jobs and Pathways to Work. The design of the local authority initiative and the nature of work to be undertaken will require consultation with a range of stakeholders, including those bodies responsible for the delivery of other schemes funded by the Department of Social Protection. Development work on this new initiative has commenced with the local authorities. The method of allocating places, the criteria for selection of participants and the timetables for the development of pilot schemes to inform the design of the scheme and the roll-out of the full initiative have yet to be agreed.

I made announcements in recent days on the roll-out of new community employment placements to which the same eligibility criteria will apply. I hope to announce the allocation of additional placements on Tús in the coming days once the necessary consultation with local development companies has been completed.

The Minister has stated a new scheme involving 3,000 job placements is coming on stream and that these placements will be with local authorities which have lost approximately 7,000 staff in recent years. Why is she establishing a new scheme under which those who take up job placements will not be paid the same amount as those already employed in a particular section or department? How will the scheme operate? Will those participating in it be paid €50, as is the case with their counterparts on the JobBridge programme? Will the placements be for a short period? Is it intended to take the people concerned into local authorities as workers? People were stunned when the announcement to the effect that placements of this type were to be created, particularly as that announcement was made by a Labour Party Minister. Will the Minister clarify exactly what will be involved? Will the placements be similar to those on offer under the JobBridge programme? Will they be short-term or long-term in nature? How much, if anything, will those offered placements be paid? Will all of the placements be offered to people who are long-term unemployed? What will be the position on people not in receipt of social welfare payments and who are long-term unemployed?

The terms and conditions relating to and the duration of these placements will be broadly similar to those which obtain to community employment schemes and Tús. Local authorities will organise a number of pilot schemes which will commence during February and inform the final design of the scheme. It is anticipated that the local arrangements to permit the pilot schemes to commence in February will be concluded in the coming weeks. My aim is to have the full scheme in operation by sometime in the middle of the year and to have 3,000 people on placements towards the end of the year.

The scheme will be very much geared towards people who are unfortunate enough to be long-term unemployed. We will be considering people who have been not one but rather two or more years on the live register and who have not been participating in education, training or employment. The scheme is designed to assist people in gaining work experience and also in carrying out valuable work in their communities and local authority areas. The response to the Tús and JobBridge programmes has been extremely positive. I await the launch of the pilot schemes which are due to commence in February by the local authorities. The response and interest from communities have been extremely positive.

I will allow Deputy Joan Collins one supplementary question as Deputy Wallace wishes to contribute.

I thank the Deputy. He is very gracious.

I am sure people want to do valuable work. I know they want to work rather than sit at home. However, the Minister's proposal is not creating jobs. It seems she is creating short-term placements without any long-term work. People want to work until they are 60 or 65. They do not want a short-term job such as cleaning parks, for example. If the local authorities need the work done, why not create a job? This is preferable to using low paid workers who are on social welfare and paying them €50. It is outrageous.

This time last year, Deputy Joan Collins was very concerned that there were not sufficient places available on community employment schemes. Now she seems worried by our provision of extra places.

We do not know what the scheme is.

The critical issue is that there are numbers of people who have been out of work for a very long time. A part-time job placement with a local authority is restricted to less than 20 hours. There is a fair level of interest in this scheme, particularly in rural areas because people are contributing to their local community. It is a very positive opportunity for individuals who, through no fault of their own, have lost their jobs. Such a person may have been employed in the building trade and the job disappeared. In some cases, people have returned to their home rural areas while others have been at home for a long period of time. I am told by people that they would love an opportunity to get back into work. Ireland's economic situation is known to the Deputy. In applying for a job the person who is more than two or three years on the live register, as opposed to a person already in employment in another job or who may be recently finished college or school, is at a significant disadvantage. This scheme is a way of helping people who have been out of work for a long time to avail of education, training and work experience. They can then make a valuable contribution to their own community while gaining good quality experience which will help them to go for a job.

The Minister's point is that the long-term unemployed are more deserving of assistance in some form. For those who wish to avail of the scheme will she consider relaxing the rule whereby a person must be unemployed for a period of three months before availing of the scheme? Is it true that lone parents and people with disabilities are not eligible to avail of the scheme? The final report from Indecon was expected last December. Has this report been published?

I have received a draft copy of the Indecon report. It confirms the initial figures that more than 50% of people who took a JobBridge internship in the private sector have proceeded on to further work and approximately 40% in the case of those in public sector internships. These are preliminary results but they are positive and are in line with the initial survey carried out by Indecon.

The Deputy asked a question about JobBridge. Since last May the JobBridge scheme has been open to people with a disability and to lone parents. Initially JobBridge was confined to people on the live register for at least three months. On the question of whether the requirement of a period of time on the live register should be dropped, I will have to think about that. The Deputy will know that some people have been unemployed for a very long time, out of work for two and three years. These people are now quite far removed from the labour market. As well as offering JobBridge-type opportunities to people who have been unemployed for a very short period of time, it is also necessary to consider the people who are out of work for a very long time, particularly those out of work for more than two years.

We are reviewing continually all the various opportunities to ensure people get a chance. It may be a chance to return to education or training, but this does not suit everybody. There is a demand for community-based employment according to the terms of the community employment scheme. As one will know, those concerned do tremendous work in various communities throughout the country.

There is not enough detail available on the scheme so it is difficult to question the Minister. A key question concerns why an existing scheme, such as the community employment scheme, Tús or even JobBridge, is not used. Does the Minister intend to use the proposed local authority scheme to undermine craft workers and their rates? I refer to electricians or bricklayers who have been unemployed for a long time and who may be going to a local authority to do some type of work. If the Minister does not intend to do what I have outlined, I cannot see how she can separate the work from that which already exists for workers in the local authority. Why not employ the staff directly? Is the Minister proposing a kind of chain gang of unemployed people who will be sent out to clean the street or sewers or cut the grass? In the past, this kind of work was carried out by direct labour employed by the local authorities. Over the years, local authority numbers have been reduced. While the Minister is still thinking about the new programme, will she take my point on board?

It is not only a question of allowing for work experience, as training needs to be made available also. There needs to be payment in recognition of the fact that one is working. We must ensure we take into account the training that is not available under Tús, for example. Tús, unlike the community employment scheme, does not have a training budget. In JobBridge, at least, one is placed in a work environment where it may be possible to get specific additional training from the employer. In the case of the proposed programme, the local authority should have to provide the required additional training, be it computer training or otherwise.

As I stated, I am waiting for the local authorities to respond and establish pilot schemes. We expect that those schemes will influence the nature of the final schemes.

When I started Tús, there was nobody on it at all. There was no specification other than that it would be for people who were unemployed for more than one year. I do not know whether the Deputy has had an opportunity to meet people on a Tús programme in his constituency. There are now more than 5,500 people signed up to the programme. People with the best of skills who worked very hard during the building boom lost their jobs and found themselves unemployed for six months, then a year and then longer, thus becoming long-term unemployed. The programme has proven to be very popular.

With regard to the local authority social employment scheme, the critical point is to offer a high-quality experience that will provide for progression, as the Deputy stated. We hope to be in a position to achieve this when we get the details from the local authorities. I will keep the Deputy advised.

There can be a difference between rural and urban areas. In rural areas, in particular, there may be many unemployed people who were once in the building trade. A scheme such as the one proposed may well be of significant assistance to them. There will be some co-operation between existing schemes such as the community employment scheme. One should remember, however, that I have offered the community employment scheme 2,000 additional places under current terms and conditions. I am also providing for new projects where they may have been identified by community employment schemes, and I am ring-fencing a significant number of places for community employment schemes that deal with people with a history of drug problems. We are, therefore, trying to have a collection of schemes that meet the needs of various clients of the Department of Social Protection.

A percentage of people on the live register were previously self-employed. I have had a number of requests that the JobBridge scheme be extended to the self-employed. Is this under consideration?

There are self-employed persons now on the live register who after a period of time may qualify. As the Deputy is aware, on ceasing self-employment they would not normally have an immediate entitlement to social insurance payments but, ultimately, many of them will make a claim. I will obtain the figures for the Deputy. In that context, the people concerned under normal conditions would be eligible for any of the schemes mentioned. I will see if we can get the data for the Deputy.

Let me say to the Minister and the Members present that there is an opportunity before the next item on the clár for us all to express our deep sadness and condolences to the family of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe who so courageously carried out his duties and in so doing lost his life. All Members of the House and staff are deeply saddened by the event and convey our deepest sympathy to his family and colleagues.

On my own behalf and that of members of the Labour Party, of all parties and none throughout the country, I express our sincere condolences to the wife and children of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe who must be experiencing tremendous grief and torment as a result of what happened to their beloved husband and father. It is important to note that, as a garda, he died protecting and serving his country. It is difficult to read some of the details in the newspapers. The murder was particularly callous, cold and merciless.

There will be formal expressions of sympathy on the Order of Business.

I appreciate that, but I join colleagues in expressing sympathy to the detective garda's family. He had very close family connections in Limerick. His brother-in-law is a serving member at Henry Street Garda station. On my own behalf and that of the Fianna Fáil Party, I express our sincere condolences and hope those responsible for this brutal murder will be brought to justice quickly.

There will be formal expressions of sympathy later.

Pension Provisions

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

130. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Social Protection further to Parliamentary Question No. 116 of 13 November 2012, stating that backdating the home-makers scheme to 1953 would cost the Exchequer in the region of €160 million and 1973, an estimated €150 million, if this is an annual cost; and the number of people that would be effected by the introduction of such a change. [4071/13]

The State pension is a very valuable benefit and the bedrock of the pension system. Therefore, it is important to ensure those qualifying have made a sustained contribution to the social insurance fund over their working lives.

The homemaker’s scheme makes qualification for the contributory State pension easier by disregarding time spent out of the workforce on caring duties. The scheme was introduced in and took effect from 1994. Eligibility for the scheme is conditional on, first, meeting the standard qualifying conditions for State pension.

As previously stated, backdating the scheme would involve considerable costs. The 2007 Green Paper on pensions indicated that to back-date the homemakers scheme to 1953, the year when the unified system of social insurance was introduced in Ireland, would cost the Exchequer in the region of €160 million and to 1973, an estimated €150 million. These were immediate annual costs at the time of publication of the Green Paper. It is difficult to determine exact numbers, given the absence of information on those involved, including their family circumstances, work and insurance records. These costs took into account the likelihood that any backdating would go towards improving the position of those already in receipt of reduced payments or a qualified adult payment. The cost of the scheme, under current rules, is expected to increase in the coming years owing to the increase in female employment rates since 1994.

While my Department will keep the homemakers scheme under review, improvements which could result in further costs for the Exchequer could only be considered in a budgetary context where our financial position as a country had improved significantly.

The people affected by this are overwhelmingly women and worked in the public sector. The ones most hard done by are the ones who were forced to leave because of the marriage bar in the Civil Service. The Minister may be aware of a SIPTU campaign to highlight this issue. Prior to Christmas, several of its members highlighted their own personal testimonies on how they were affected. In one case, a woman who worked in Aer Lingus was forced to leave because of the marriage bar. The Minister stated consideration would not be given to the issue at this time. I urge her to look again at this matter. Does she know the number of people who will be affected by this over the next several years? As we have an aging population, I would assume that figure will be reducing.

I too wish to express my and my party's sympathy to the family and colleagues of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe.

An analysis undertaken in the 2007 Green Paper on pensions, published by the previous Government, identified that to back-date the payment to 1953 when the current pensions system was introduced would cost €160 million. Even back-dating the payment to 1973 would still involve substantial costs. I propose to keep this under review. However, I have to be honest with the Deputy. Every year social welfare pays out an extra €200 million to €300 million in pensions because we, happily, have many more older people living longer. With this increased population in retirement, I would find it difficult with the current budgetary restrictions to find an extra €160 million per year to cover the homemaker scheme. I will keep this issue under constant review.

The Minister has addressed my question. The key point is that society is moving forward and trying to address inequalities from the past. This matter is one of those inequalities. We should take the earliest opportunity to address it; it should not be just a matter of whether we can afford it. Equality in our society comes at a cost. In this case, it is a substantial cost but we must find a way of coming around this. The SIPTU campaign suggested a 1964 cut-off date rather than going back to 1953. There would not be much of a difference in the costs for these two dates. This matter must be kept under review.