Other Questions

Respite Care Grant Payments

Colm Keaveney


110. Deputy Colm Keaveney asked the Minister for Social Protection if she has carried out any analysis of the impact of the respite grant cut in the 2013 budget on the lives of persons with disabilities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3678/14]

The purpose of this question is to give the Minister an opportunity to make a statement on any analysis of the impact of budget 2013, particularly in respect of the respite care grant. As the Minister is aware, the respite care grant was cut by 19%. I would be grateful if the Minister would give the House a statement regarding any analysis of the impact of this decision on people with disabilities.

The financial supports available to carers in Ireland are among the highest rates of income support in Europe. Expenditure on carers has increased significantly in recent years and it is estimated the overall expenditure for 2014 will be €806 million, which is €4.6 million higher than the expected outturn for 2013. This does not include the value of other welfare payments, which more than 24,900 recipients of half-rate carer's allowance also receive. This would bring the amounts involved up to well in excess of €1 billion.

I fully appreciate the important and difficult role carers undertake in this country and that carers need our support. The annual respite care payment is a single lump sum with no requirement to satisfy a means test. There is no equivalent payment for carers in any other country in Europe. Almost €120 million was spent on the respite care grant in 2013.

In framing budgetary adjustments, the primary concern has been to protect primary social welfare rates. To protect the core weekly payments which people receive, including disability payments, pensions and carer's allowance, the Government in 2013 had to look very carefully at other additional payments, including the respite care grant. One of the main findings of the budget 2013 social impact assessments was that the principal welfare and direct tax measures in that budget did not lead to any significant change in the at-risk-of-poverty rate. This confirms the continuing strong poverty reduction effect of social transfers during a period of very difficult fiscal consolidation.

In December 2012, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources described the 19% cut in the respite care grant as modest. Does the Minister for Social Protection agree with the position of the Carers Association that every euro spent on the respite care grant saves the State €5 in institutional care? Subsequent to the 19% cut, the Minister gave a commitment in the Seanad that she would review innovative ways of redressing the 19% cut. The purpose of this question is to establish whether the Minister has set work in progress to understand the impact of the 19% cut in the respite care grant on people with disabilities and families caring for them and to ask her to fulfil the commitment she gave in the Seanad subsequent to the budget to carry out this analysis of the 19% cut, which was described as modest by her colleague.

I am sure the Deputy knows, and I think spoke about, the fact that the most grievous change relating to carers was the reduction of €16.40 per week in disability payments and other payments related to people who may have been looked after by carers, which reduction was introduced by the Deputy's new party, Fianna Fáil. That would be the strongest communication to me from carers, which is why when I became Minister, I made a choice to prioritise the core weekly payment because carers depend on that.

As most Deputies know, when I became Minister there was a significant backlog, which had understandably built up under the previous Government, given the significant increase in the numbers claiming unemployment and jobseekers' payments. There was a large backlog in applications for carer's allowance, domiciliary care allowance and disability payments. I have prioritised removing these backlogs and am happy to report that there are significantly more people in receipt of carer's allowance, which is their highest priority, than there were when we entered into office.

I must call Deputy Keaveney. I will revert to the Minister.

Subsequent to the decision made-----

This is the second time, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

-----in budget 2013, the Minister gave a commitment to review the situation and explore innovative ways of addressing the shortfall in the 19% cut, which was described by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, as modest. I suspect that, after a certain duration in government, mission creep or groupthink establishes itself, particularly in the Cabinet. The Minister, Deputy Burton's comments are alien to the fact that many of her backbenchers are meeting in their constituencies families who have been affected by financial worries, hidden costs that we have discovered in recent budgets and increased electricity, fuel and medical costs. The cut in the respite grant has been the most targeted, affecting the most vulnerable people.

In the Seanad, the Minister committed to establishing the impact on the lives of people who have disabilities or who depend on carers. Will she share with this House details of that analysis, assuming any was done?

I thank the Deputy, but we are over time.

I would be happy to do so. A number of issues have arisen, the first and most important of which has been the inherited backlog in applications for the domiciliary care allowance. Approximately 40% of those who receive that allowance go on to claim either a full-time or half-rate carer's allowance. The second issue is the backlog in applications for carer's allowance and delays in the disability and invalidity pensions.

After I became Minister, I told the House at length that we would invest in new IT systems to upgrade the platforms for these important allowances. I am happy to say that we have done so. Consequently, and as the statistics will show the Deputy, the number of people in receipt of carer's allowance and half-rate carer's allowance has increased significantly. In addition to the respite grant, people also get the benefit of the household benefits package-----

It used to be more.

-----and the free travel pass, which are important supports.

I thank the Minister, but we must move on to the next question. Please conclude.

Let her answer the question.

In difficult economic times, we have what is probably the best package of supports for carers in Europe, including income support and the travel pass. We have been able to maintain this position whereas the Deputy's current party cut the weekly carer's rate by €16.40.

Why did the Government not restore it?

This is the cut that received the most complaints in the feedback.

The Government has spent more on consultants at Irish Water.

Deputy Keaveney asked me about the feedback.

I asked about the analysis.

This is what is most mentioned to me in the feedback.

We must continue. Deputy Higgins's question is next.

I had my hand up.

I know, but we have only six minutes. We have gone two minutes-----

This is the second time this week the Leas-Cheann Comhairle has stopped me from contributing.

If there is one question, there are only six minutes. I am sorry.

We were not here yesterday.

Job Initiatives

Joe Higgins


111. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Social Protection if she is concerned that a company (details supplied) has advertised for 28 positions through the JobBridge scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3589/14]

I wish to ask whether the Minister is concerned that the Advance Pitstop tyre company has advertised for 28 interns through her JobBridge scheme, which is the second time around for the company. Obviously, this is a displacement of proper work at decent wages and a gross abuse of the young unemployed and taxpayers.

To date, more than 25,200 jobseekers have participated on JobBridge. I am happy to report that it currently has 6,400 participants.

The scheme has proved to be extremely popular with people who, unfortunately, are unemployed and who have been unable to get work experience. In the past, internships tended to be offered in professional or graduate-type roles and proved to be an effective entry route to employment for those with higher education who had the family supports or networks which enabled them to avail of this type of opportunity. Unfortunately, people without these supports could not avail of internships, as to do so would have caused them to lose entitlement to their jobseeker's payment. JobBridge addresses this issue and also opens up internships as a route to employment for people with lower levels of skills or little in the way of employment experience. This breaks the cycle whereby in order to get a job, one requires experience, but in order to get experience, one requires a job. That is the catch-22 which JobBridge seeks to break.

JobBridge is a voluntary scheme. Interns are free to choose whether to participate. Accordingly, if the scheme is to be of benefit to lower skilled or inexperienced jobseekers, it requires host organisations to offer a range of internships across the employment spectrum. Therefore, I am not disposed to selectively limiting the availability of internships.

The Department has a number of controls in place to prevent abuse of the scheme. These include requirements on host organisations to provide a mentor to the intern, to sign and operate a standard agreement, to submit regular monitoring reports to the Department and to co-operate with random monitoring visits. More than 4,400 monitoring visits have been conducted to date - a very high level of detailed monitoring given that there have been around 9,000 host organisations - 98% of which were found to be satisfactory. There are also limits placed on the number of internships that can be offered by any one organisation related to the number of staff employed by the company and there are restrictions on the repeat or sequential use of internships. I am satisfied, based on the Department’s monitoring visits and the report of the independent evaluation, that these controls are working effectively.

The Minister did not address the issue of Advance Pitstop with good reason, because this blatant exploitation calls her bluff and bluster on the JobBridge scheme. Advance Pitstop is the Irish arm of a major multinational tyre company. Advertising for 28 interns on JobBridge provides for a displacement of proper, full-time jobs, and that is quite clear. The advertisement by Advance Pitstop offers €50 a week, specifying a 40 hour week. That is the equivalent of €1.25 an hour. That beats even the super-exploitation of Gama Construction, which we blew out of the water in 2005.

What does the Minister make of two science companies advertising for interns on €50 per week, and specifying that the interns must have a PhD in science? One company describes itself as using chemistry, physics and other sciences to manipulate atoms to make molecules for new products, better known as nanotechnology, the very cutting edge of industry and technology. It is offering €50 per week to PhD graduates. Is this the brave new world the Labour Party and the Government is sponsoring through JobBridge?

The Deputy, like some others in this House, has a very strange attitude to employment and to people getting employment. Sometimes when I listen to him, I think he would rather prefer if people stayed unemployed and perhaps they would listen to him more or something like that. I am not quite sure.

The Minister should just deal with the issue.

We do not want to see them exploited.

First, people are in receipt of jobseeker's allowance. A married person with a spouse and three children would possibly get €400 or €500 per week in the total social welfare package.

The figure will be significantly higher if, for instance, he or she is also in receipt of rent supplement. Giving people an additional top-up of €50 is intended to assist with travel costs and other expenses associated with taking part in JobBridge.

Deputy Higgins referred to the motor industry. He may not be aware that large numbers of people, particularly young men, are extremely interested in working in all parts of the motor trade. Unfortunately, as a result of the collapse in construction and crash in the economy, full-time apprenticeships in this type of employment are only now being restored. While this type of work may be beneath Deputy Higgins, it is certainly of interest to some people who have taken it up.

Advance Pitstop had a cohort of interns who finished in the summer of last year. Having taken a cooling off period of six months, the company has now returned to the market seeking another 28 interns. If the Minister had not facilitated the exploitation of young workers through this cheap labour scheme, Advance Pitstop would have been obliged to hire workers at real rates of pay. The scheme is displacement and substitution of the worst kind and the Minister is facilitating this gross abuse of young workers.

The Minister did not comment on people with doctorates being enticed to work for €50 per week. She should get real and address this issue of gross exploitation. If, however, she chooses to continue with this scheme, she should remove the word "Labour" from her party's banner because exploitation of this nature is a disgrace and utter insult to the founders of the labour movement.

The Labour Party is the party of work. The Deputy wants Ireland to be a country of welfare only, one in which no one works. He is wrong and his attitude is out of date.

I want real jobs at real wages.

People who have found themselves out of work as a result of the economic crisis are extremely anxious to get back into employment.

The Deputy spoke of companies seeking people with PhD qualifications. One of the sad things I have encountered as Minister is people with extraordinary qualifications and a strong desire to work finding themselves locked out of employment. They do not want to stay on welfare, even though by European standards, specifically the standards of our nearest neighbour, the social welfare system is very strong and well financed. People want to become financially independent and enter employment.

We need policies that create jobs.

Some people who take up JobBridge have families and are receiving significant supports, including rent supplement. In the past, such persons were required to give up all supports to gain work experience. We are trying to get the country back to work and this is one of the ways we are doing so. As Indecon has shown, 61% of JobBridge participants subsequently secure further employment.

Only 20% of them are hired by the companies they work with.

Civil Registration Legislation

Seán Kyne


112. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will provide an update on the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill and its progress in view of ongoing concerns regarding the registration of deaths abroad. [3761/14]

Joanna Tuffy


367. Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to allow the families of citizens who die abroad on holiday to register their deaths at home; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3641/14]

My question relates to the progress of the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill, with particular reference to the registration of Irish citizens who die abroad.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 112 and 367 together.

On 19 July 2013, the Cabinet approved the drafting by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government of the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill.

I brought this proposal for legislation to the Cabinet as there are a number of important policy issues I want to see implemented through amendments to the 2004 Act. The Bill will provide for a wide range of issues relating to the registration of life events in the State. Representations and recommendations have been made by various groups and organisations since the enactment of the Civil Registration Act 2004 and this Bill seeks to address these issues. The General Register Office, which administers the civil registration service, has also identified areas where legislative amendments are required to streamline the service to the public.

The Bill is currently being drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. The issues are complex but it is a priority for me to have it published at the earliest possible date. I am seeking completion of it by the end of April, if feasible, and certainly no later than the end of June. The legislation will provide for the development of a mechanism to register the deaths of Irish persons normally resident in the State who die while on short-term absences from the State. The Deputy will be aware that usually when a person dies abroad the death is registered by the authorities in that country, from which a certified copy of the death registration is obtainable. In general, only deaths which occur within the State can be registered here although there are some exceptions, such as the death of a person on board an Irish aircraft, the death of a member of the security forces serving outside the State or where a death occurs in a country which does not have a system in place to register deaths.

I realise that it is very important for families to have the death of their loved one abroad registered in Ireland. In this regard, the Department has examined options for providing a mechanism that deals with these cases in a way that addresses the concerns of families while ensuring the validity of the current registration process.

I thank the Minister for her reply and her commitment that the Bill will be published by the end of April or, at the latest, the end of June. I do not doubt her bona fides in that regard. Unfortunately, this Bill has been delayed for some time. Like other Deputies, I have raised this matter on a number of occasions. I published a Private Members' Bill dealing with the issue in November 2012, although I held off introducing it when I realised that the Minister was progressing the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill, which also encompasses a range of other issues.

The Help Bring them Home campaign in Galway, members of which made a presentation on this matter to an Oireachtas committee during the lifetime of the last Government, have expressed concern about the delay in introducing the Bill. As such, I welcome the Minister's commitment in that regard. One woman to whom I spoke, whose brother died abroad, told me that her parents would like to have a death certificate for him before they pass on, which puts this issue into context. People who do not understand the legislative process are concerned that the Bill will be forever delayed. As such, the Minister's commitment is welcome.

The gender recognition Bill is similarly delayed. I am sure the Minister also proposes to progress that Bill.

I am aware of Deputy Kyne's Bill. I acknowledge the work he put into its preparation. I was surprised to learn on becoming Minister for Social Protection that the drafting of legislation, in terms of the fine legal details, is a lengthy process. The heads of the gender recognition Bill have been considered in committee, the report of which I am currently considering. The last number of years have been exceptionally busy for the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel in terms of the drafting of legislation. I understand that office is currently working flat out on the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill. I hope it will be published in April and, failing this, by the end of June.

I, too, welcome the Minister's commitment in regard to this issue. I wish also to draw to her attention to the fact that reference to this matter being addressed under the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill is omitted from the "purpose of Bill" section of the legislative programme. I welcome the Minister's clarification in that regard and that the Bill will see the light of day shortly.

Youth Employment Initiative

Bernard Durkan


113. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection if she and her Department expect to make major inroads on youth unemployment in the current year, unilaterally or with the assistance of the appropriate EU support; if a particular effort will be made to target unemployment black spots; if emphasis will be placed on the provision of a minimum number of apprenticeships, with particular reference to sectors particularly affected with high levels of unemployment; if she is satisfied that the resources available to her Department in this regard are adequate to meet such requirements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3671/14]

Bernard Durkan


437. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the extent to which she expects to be in a position to make a serious impact on youth unemployment by way of various incentives in the course of the current year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4240/14]

To what extent does the Minister, with the assistance available through the European Union, propose to target unemployment black spots, with particular reference to youth unemployment?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 113 and 437 together.

Youth unemployment has fallen from a peak of over 31% to approximately 25% at the end of 2013. Given the measures being taken to support young people, I am confident that there will be further reductions in youth unemployment this year. In this regard youth unemployment is being specifically targeted through the youth guarantee initiative which I, with officials from the OECD and Minister for Education and Skills, published today. Elements of this initiative are already being piloted in the Ballymun area of Dublin. Following on from a recent meeting with the departmental officials, local employer and community groups involved in that pilot, I can report good progress. Expenditure on programmes providing employment, training and further education opportunities for young people will be in excess of €500 million in each of the years 2014 and 2015. It is expected that, in due course, up to €68 million of this expenditure will be recouped for each of these years from EU funds.

The Deputy will be aware that youth unemployment was a priority issue for Ireland during its recent Presidency of the European Council. One of the elements of the agreement reached at that time is that EU funding for countries with high levels of youth unemployment be front-loaded. This has now been agreed to by the Commission. I wish the funding from Europe, which amounts to €6 billion for some 28 countries, was greater. However, it marks the beginning of an important commitment by the Union to young people. Although Ireland's rate of youth unemployment has fallen to 25%, in some countries the rate is 60% or more, which is a tragedy.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply. Does she anticipate being in a position to make inroads into the provision of a serious number of apprenticeships, particularly in areas that have shown a deficit in this regard over the past couple of years?

The most important element that has been lacking in Ireland is that of participation by employers in offering employment opportunities at all levels to people in Ireland who are, unfortunately, unemployed. I welcome the publication of the review of apprenticeships commissioned by my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, which commits to the introduction of a revamped apprenticeship system which will offer education, in terms of technical aspects of apprenticeships, and vital work experience. My experience thus far as Minister has been that young people or others who have no work experience are, despite their having excellent educational and academic qualifications, finding it hardest to get work because employers want people with experience and who are work ready. The apprenticeship system, which collapsed with the collapse of the construction sector, offers a mixture of learning and experience of working in a real employment situation.

I welcome the emphasis on the return of apprenticeships to Ireland.