Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

When I introduced the Social Welfare Bill 2014 in this House last November, I told Deputies that my aim was to begin the process of restoring living standards for families, older people and low and middle-income workers. I was pleased to be able to provide for modest increases in child benefit and the living alone allowance from the beginning of this year. They were the first increases in social welfare payments to be provided for since the beginning of 2009. In this Bill, I am providing further help for welfare-dependent families by introducing a new support to help them to return to work. The new back to work family dividend, which will be payable for two years, will help jobseekers with families and lone parents to return to work or to increase the number of hours worked. I am also enhancing support for lone parents with children between the ages of seven and 15 through an extension of eligibility for the jobseeker's allowance transitional arrangements and changes in eligibility for the one-parent family payment.

All of these improvements are possible as a result of the many sacrifices made by the Irish people and the difficult choices made by this Government to successfully tackle the unprecedented economic and banking crisis. These decisions have delivered an economic recovery that is gaining real momentum, as we saw this afternoon when the Exchequer figures for February were published. We are now seeing the benefits of that recovery. When the quarterly national household survey was published last week, it showed that 3,300 new jobs were created every month in 2014. Unemployment decreased by more than 15% over the course of 2014. The number of people in work has increased by 90,000 since we introduced our strategies to create jobs and reduce unemployment. However, unemployment remains too high and we still have much work to do. The February weekly reductions in the number of unemployed people were extremely positive. I anticipate that when the CSO produces the live register figures tomorrow, the rate of unemployment will be just over 10%.

The household national survey figures that were published last week clearly demonstrate the continuing success of the Government's twin-track approach to creating jobs and helping people to return to work. Pathways to Work is ensuring through the provision of return-to-work supports, training and education that those on the live register are ready to avail of the 3,300 new jobs that are being created every month. The action plan for jobs is helping to accelerate the transition to a sustainable, jobs-rich economy. Under the pathways strategy, this Bill provides for the introduction of a further employment support, namely the back to work family dividend.

One of my main priorities since becoming Minister has been to transform the Department of Social Protection from the passive benefits provider of old to a Department that focuses on assisting jobseekers to return to work. The Department continually reviews its supports for jobseekers to ensure they do not act as a disincentive to work. My Department's work in this area clearly demonstrates that the great majority of social welfare recipients have a strong financial incentive to take up employment. Our experience on the ground is that people are very eager to do so. These findings are supported by the work of the Economic and Social Research Institute, which has confirmed that work pays more than welfare for almost six out of seven unemployed people. These findings hold true even when in-work costs, such as child care and travel to work, are taken into account. This evidence clearly shows that if we can create jobs, people will leave the welfare system to take up work. They want to do so.

It is reasonable that people who have been struggling while out of work for long periods will be concerned about the potential implications of moving from welfare to work, particularly if they have children. This is where the back to work family dividend comes in. This scheme will allow people in a family who are returning to work to retain the child-related element of their welfare payment, known as the qualified child increase, for two years. The dividend will be paid at a standard weekly rate of €29.80 per child, subject to a maximum overall weekly payment of €119.20 per week in the first year. The rate payable in the second year will be half of the rate payable in the first year, subject to a maximum overall weekly payment of €59.60. Over the two-year payment period, the dividend will be worth €2,324 in the case of a one-child family, €4,649 in the case of a two-child family, €6,973 in the case of a three-child family and €9,298 in the case of a family with four or more children. This will mean, for example, that with the support provided through the family income supplement and the back to work family dividend, a person with a partner and four children who gets a job paying the minimum wage will be better off by €304 a week, or €15,790 a year, after moving from jobseeker's allowance into employment. Every Member of the House should welcome this highly progressive policy. The back to work family dividend scheme will operate during the period of economic recovery and will cease to operate with effect from 1 April 2021. The dividend will be tax-free and will be payable in addition to any family income supplement entitlement the person may have.

I would like to inform Deputies that I intend to propose a Committee Stage amendment to extend entitlement to the one-parent family payment to lone parents who are also eligible for the half-rate carer's allowance payment until their youngest child reaches the age of 16.

I have had the privilege of meeting many lone parents since I became Minister for Social Protection, some of whom are also carers. The measure that I am proposing acknowledges the special situation of lone parents who are caring and, in particular, acknowledges the commitment of lone parents who are caring for people other than their own child, such as a parent or sibling who requires full-time care and attention.

The one-parent family payment scheme already provides for lone parents who are caring for children under 16 years of age and who are in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance. The entitlement is not affected by the ongoing changes to the one-parent family payment scheme. The amendment I am now proposing will mean the same level of support will be provided to those caring for someone other than their own child. These measures are expected to positively impact approximately 1,800 people, including the 800 individuals who were due to lose entitlement to one-parent family payment and half-rate carers allowance from 2 July this year. The balance is made up of those who have lost entitlement since July 2013, as well as lone parents who will qualify for one-parent family payment for the first time when their youngest child is seven years of age or older and who are in receipt of carer's allowance.

I want to speak about the one-parent family payment and the changes to the system introduced in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2012. Despite significant levels of investment, the one-parent family payment scheme has not been successful in preventing lone parents being significantly more at risk of consistent poverty compared to the population as a whole. In 2004, lone parents were more than four and a half times more at risk of consistent poverty when compared with the population as a whole. That was at a time when the economy was doing well. A significant reason for this was the passive nature of the scheme up to the introduction of these changes. Prior to the reforms, lone parents could have been on the scheme until their youngest child turned 18 years of age, or 22 years if they were in full-time education. Essentially, therefore, society was saying to lone parents that it saw nothing more than welfare for them until the youngest child reaches adulthood. We can do much better than this for the parents and for their children. I have always believed the best protector against poverty is fairly-paid work and that welfare is not a long-term solution for anybody of working age.

Ireland's supports for lone parents have been out of line with what has been happening internationally, where there has been a movement away from long-term and non-conditional support towards a more active engagement approach where education, training and work experience supports are tapered based on the age of the youngest child. In New Zealand, the Netherlands and the UK, including the north of Ireland, the equivalent lone parent supports finish when the youngest child reaches the age of five years. The purpose of the phased one-parent family scheme changes is to reduce long-term social welfare dependency by ending the expectation that lone parents will remain outside of the workforce indefinitely. These reforms aim to provide the necessary supports to lone parents to help them to access the Department's range of education, training, and employment programmes, to develop their skills set and, ultimately, to secure employment and financial independence.

The reforms commenced in July 2013 and since that date in excess of 11,000 lone parents have made the transition from one-parent family payment onto another social welfare payment. Those customers who have moved to a jobseeker's payment are now also being included for activation, giving them access to education, training and employment programmes. I spend a lot of my time visiting community employment schemes and community education and visiting colleges and organisations like An Cosán, which has a huge programme on encouraging lone parents or people who finished education early back into educational opportunities. The demand is there for lone parents to upskill their education and training with the view, ultimately as their children become less dependent, to being able to take part in work on a full-time or part-time basis.

The final phase of the one-parent family payment scheme age change reforms will be taking place on 2 July 2015, when the maximum age limit of the youngest child at which the payment to one-parent family payment recipients will cease will be reduced to seven years for all recipients. It is anticipated that approximately 30,200 recipients will transition out of the one-parent family payment scheme on 2 July 2015. Departmental officials have made extensive contact with families and lone parents who may be affected. I have already mentioned the 800 or so who will see their one-parent family payment eligibility extended if they are also eligible for the half-rate carer's allowance payment. Another 20,000 lone parents will experience no income changes or will gain after the transition, from between €10 to €150. Of the remaining 10,000, who are in employment, the majority will have an immediate incentive to increase the number of hours worked each week to 19. Should they do so, they will be in a position to claim family income supplement and the back to work family dividend. These individuals will then be financially better off than their current position.

I would like to make one further point about this issue. Child care is an issue for lone parents and I recognise that. It is why we specifically introduced the jobseeker's allowance transition scheme from June 2013 to support lone parents with young children affected by the reforms. Parents who have a youngest child aged under 14 years, and who continue to parent alone, are entitled to the jobseeker's allowance transition payment. These customers are exempt from the jobseeker's allowance conditions that require them to be available for, and genuinely seeking, full-time employment. They can instead work part-time without restrictions and still receive the jobseeker's allowance transitional payment, subject to a means test. They also have access to the Department's Intreo services and to related supports to enable them to become job-ready and to find employment.

We have the experience in the Department of dealing with the 11,000 people who, over the past three years, have made the transition. We can say that there is a huge desire among lone parents who are given information about what is available and given one-to-one interviews with one of our officials to make an ambitious plan, working with the staff in the Department, about what they want to do, their goals, the kind of employment they would like and how they will go about acquiring that employment on a full-time or part-time basis.

I am in the happy position of having been able to meet lone parents who took the opportunity to return to education, to go to college to pursue FETAC-certified courses, and who, as a consequence, are now in a position to obtain jobs which are better paid than those which they would have obtained if they did not possess any qualification.

The revised structure is infinitely better than the passive scheme we had in place before. It will help lone parents to return to work and build a better financial future for themselves and their families over time. Those to whom I refer will be assisted by my Department throughout the process. Again, this is something every Deputy should support. There are those who argue lone parents should be left on lone parent allowance for up to 18 years or even longer. We are referring to people who are in the prime of their lives. In that context, there are interventions which take place when their children are seven years old and in first class in primary school and again when they reach 14 years of age and more than likely be in secondary school. Said interventions include a range of options relating to education, training and work experience. We want to help those to whom I refer to avail of these options and put themselves in a position to obtain well paid employment. That is the objective.

What I have outlined offers a very important avenue of opportunity for lone parents. It runs contrary to saying to them that if they have babies when they are 22 or 25 years old and they are parenting on their own, our vision for them is that they will remain in receipt of social welfare payments and become dependent on them until their children reach adulthood. As a woman, I simply do not understand why that would be a more attractive option than becoming involved in education or training. It must be remembered that approximately half of the 30,000 people in the country who are parenting on their own are full-time homemakers. There will be absolutely no changes whatsoever to their payments. All that is being offered is an opportunity to take part, if they so desire and as their children grow older, in education or training. They can do this when their children are established in primary school and again when they go to secondary school.

In addition to the changes to entitlement to the one-parent family payment in the case of lone parents who are also eligible for the half-rate carer's allowance payment, I will also be proposing a further Committee Stage amendment to clarify the role of my Department's medical assessors in the social welfare decision-making process. It will also enable external medical practitioners to be authorised to provide medical opinions for social welfare decision-making purposes.

I will now outline the various provisions contained in the Bill. Section 1 provides for the Short Title and its construction and collective citation with the Social Welfare Acts.

Section 2 provides for the definition of the term "Principal Act" for the purposes of Part 2 of the Bill as meaning the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005.

Section 3 clarifies certain legislative provisions applying to the carer's benefit, carer's allowance and respite care grant schemes to bring them into line with the operation of these schemes. It also clarifies that eligibility for these schemes is determined by a deciding officer on the basis of all of the information provided to support the applicant's claim.

Section 4 provides for an extension of the jobseeker's allowance transitional arrangements which were introduced in July 2013.

Sections 5, 6,11 and 13 and the Schedule to the Bill deal with the introduction of the new back to work family dividend and consequential matters.

Section 5 provides for the discontinuance of the existing scheme of continued payments for qualified children. The scheme provides that the increases in jobseeker's benefit and jobseeker's allowance payable in respect of qualified children can continue for up to 13 weeks after the person takes up full-time employment which is expected to last for at least four weeks. The scheme will be discontinued on the introduction of the back to work family dividend. As stated, the latter will be 100% of the qualified child increase for the first year and 50% for the second.

Section 6 provides the legislative basis for the back to work family dividend by inserting a new Part 7A into the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005.

Section 7 strengthens the legislative provisions relating to the authentication of the identity of a person presenting at a post office for a social welfare payment on his or her own behalf or, where a person has been appointed to act as an agent on behalf of a social welfare beneficiary, the authentication of the identity of that agent. In addition, the section allows the Minister for Social Protection to make special arrangements for specific categories of persons for the furnishing of identifying information directly to the post office where the payment is to be made. These arrangements will be put in place for members of certain vulnerable groups such as homeless persons who may have difficulty in retaining identity documentation.

Section 8 clarifies the application of certain provisions relating to the recovery of social welfare payments that have been obtained fraudulently.

Section 9 provides for a number of amendments to the operation of the provisions relating to the recovery of the value of certain illness-related social welfare payments from compensation awards which were provided for in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2013 and which came into operation in August 2014.

Section 10 provides for the inclusion of the Pyrite Resolution Board in the list of bodies specified in Schedule 5 to the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005. Bodies specified for the purposes of Schedule 5 are authorised to use personal public service, PPS, numbers and the public services card for the purposes of carrying out transactions with members of the public, sharing personal data and information for the purposes of carrying out relevant transactions and exchanging data for the purposes of controlling social welfare schemes and other schemes and services administered by specified bodies. The Pyrite Resolution Board is responsible for the implementation of the pyrite remediation scheme.

Section 11 and the Schedule provide for a range of consequential amendments to the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 arising from the introduction of the back to work family dividend scheme.

Section 12 provides for a number of amendments to the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 to delete or update obsolete references to a number of schemes contained in the Act and to correct a minor typographical error.

Section 13 amends the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 to provide for the exemption of income received under the back to work family dividend scheme for the purposes of liability for income tax.

Section 14 amends section 38 of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003 which relates to the enforceability of assessments made in accordance with the Act and provides that an order to pay issued by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board shall state the respondent to whom it is issued is liable to pay the Minister for Social Protection the amount of recoverable benefits specified in a statement of recoverable benefits, if any.

The main purpose of the Bill is to provide for the introduction of the back to work family dividend to help jobseekers with families and lone parents to return to work or to increase the number of hours worked. Taken together with all of the other employment support and activation measures introduced in recent years, this will ensure people who have been on the live register for prolonged periods will be in a much better position to benefit from the recovery in the labour market. As stated, the fall in the numbers on the live register for February appears extremely positive and I anticipate that the figure will stand at just above 10%. As Deputies are aware, the fall in unemployment means that employers are hiring. In addition, lots of people are becoming self-employed and either contracting or subcontracting. I take the opportunity to point out that an individual going to work in a self-employed capacity in the construction industry will qualify for the back to work family dividend.

I am conscious that a huge number of men lost their jobs when construction died from the beginning of 2008 onwards. The back-to-work family dividend will be worth just under €90 per week to a man with three children who goes back into construction either as a traditional employee or a self-employed person. It is meant to tide the individual over when he or she returns to work either as an employee or on a self-employed basis. People can be very nervous about what is going to happen to their takings or income flows. This will cushion people during their first two years of returning to employment.

In terms of the live register, I am conscious that much remains to be done even as we fall below the European average. The live register indicates that long-term unemployment is falling and, happily, the level of youth unemployment is also falling. I am determined to ensure our activation policies make a real difference to the many people who are still unemployed notwithstanding their best efforts to secure a job. One consequence of the recession is that such people have been frustrated by the lack of opportunities to match their ambitions with their talents. The people who are currently out of work in Ireland constitute a potentially powerful and fantastic pool of talent. It is our job as legislators to help them along the road back from unemployment. They became unemployed often through no fault of their own. Their employment may have collapsed or their firm closed down. Particularly in respect of those parenting on their own, we need to offer them opportunities to gain valuable training, education, qualifications and skills which will allow them to earn a decent income that will help to improve living conditions for themselves and their families. Regardless of how generous any welfare system may be, at the end of the day it cannot compare to the improvement in individuals' incomes once they return to work. That is the way to improve people's lives.

The intention of section 6 of the Bill, which introduces the so-called family dividend, is to create an incentive to move from welfare to work by attempting to widen the gap between an individual's disposable income when working, as opposed to what it was while he or she was on welfare. I welcome that provision in principle but we must dispel the myth that poverty is a lifestyle choice for most Irish people. The people in this country who are below the poverty line or at risk of poverty include a substantial number who are in low wage employment. The phenomenon called the replacement rate describes the percentage of one's disposable income from social welfare as opposed to work income. When the replacement rate exceeds 70%, people tend to be increasingly disincentivised to work. Statistics from Ireland indicate that replacement rates of 70% or higher only apply to approximately 20% of the population. At the height of the boom, long-term unemployment dropped to 1.3%. That clearly shows that most Irish people want to work and that a majority of them have an incentive to do so.

If I understand the Bill correctly, there is a fundamental contradiction at its heart. On the one hand we are introducing the family dividend to make it more profitable for people to work while, on the other, we are making lone parents less well off if they enter education or work. Section 4 provides for a transitional jobseeker's allowance for lone parents of children aged seven to 14 years. On the face of it, the provision offers an incentive because it means that lone parents with children turning seven years old after 2 July who move to the jobseeker category will not have to fulfil all the requirements that jobseekers must meet in the normal course of events. The most important of these is that they will not have to prove they are available for or actively seeking work. This is understandable given that they are looking after children who are just over the age of seven years. However, the reason the section is in the Bill is because the Minister intends to trigger a change on 2 July that will remove all lone parents with children over the age of seven years from the category of lone parent. Despite what she has said this evening, in respect of which she advanced no figures or examples to support her assertions, this change will have devastating consequences for the 30,000 or more people who are transitioning. All one has to do is speak to them, read their e-mails or listen to what they are saying. When they came before the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection two weeks ago, we had the opportunity to meet them and hear their stories. None of them would agree with a word of what the Minister has said about their positions being improved as a result of the changes she introduced since she took office, including those changes she is proposing to make on 2 July.

If one set out to target a section of the population for further cuts and deprivations, the last group any reasonable person would focus on are lone parents. The latest CSO figures show that the consistent poverty rate among one-parent families has increased to 23% from 17.4% in 2012. That is a staggering increase. Other figures show that the deprivation rate has increased to a staggering 63.2%. We can bandy around sociological terms like deprivation rates but, to put it in plain English, a person who suffers from deprivation is going without two or more of the basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing or heating. The CSO statistics show that two out of three lone parents are going without at least two of these three basic necessities.

The changes that the Minister proposes to make on 2 July will entrench lone parents in an underclass. All of the organisations representing lone parents, as well as individuals who have offered to help them on a voluntary basis, have outlined to us figures that take into account the effect of the family dividend. As the Minister will be aware, most lone parents can only work part-time because they cannot afford child care.

However, those figures show that universally lone parents working fewer than 19 hours per week who are not entitled to FIS and who are earning the princely sum in addition to the lone parent's allowance of €150 per week will lose an additional €24 per week on 2 July. It might not be significant to any of us here, but it is quite significant to them. It doubles the punitive loss they are suffering from the changes introduced since the Minister took office to €54 per week. The figures also show that lone parents working for more than 19 hours per week who are entitled to FIS will lose an average of €60 to €70 per week. It is easy to work it out. They may get FIS if they are not on it already, but if they are on FIS, that will increase while they will lose their lone parent's allowance. Because of the way the FIS system operates, the compensation factor will be 60%. They will lose the lone parent's allowance and get back 60% of it. It does not require mathematical genius to work out the implications of that.

I welcome the change the Minister announced she will make on Committee Stage regarding carers. It was an obvious travesty. Many carers have approached me, quite a few in my own constituency, to say that people in that position suffered great anxiety and distress for a long time while we pounded the Minister with representations to make this change. While it is better late than never, those people should not have been put through that.

The changes the Minister proposes specifically on 2 July do not just relate to the incomes of lone parents. The Minister said in her speech that her objective is to encourage lone parents to work and to encourage them to enter the education system to better themselves. Let us look at what will happen to someone who has a child over the age of seven. The position will be that lone parents with children over the age of seven may transfer to the back to education allowance, but that is not guaranteed. They will have to be assessed. However, if a person transfers to the back to education allowance, he or she will lose the fuel allowance and the student maintenance grant. The fuel allowance is €520 per annum while the student maintenance grant for a person living within 45 km of his or her place of education is €2,375 per annum. That results in a weekly loss of €55.67 per week. A particular aspect of this which has not sufficiently been focused on in the debate surrounding the introduction of the Bill to date is that this will affect those in midstream. I refer to those who came into the system and had an expectation, budgeting accordingly, that the entitlements they had would last during the course of their education or training. Suddenly, it is being whipped away midstream. Many of these people are communicating with me to tell me that they have no choice but to pull out. I am talking about people who are within 45 km of their places of education. If one is more than 45 km away, which is to talk about those in remote rural areas, the loss will be a staggering €123 per week. How could a person in that situation afford to stay in the education system?

I will go through a sample of those who have contacted us about the issue. One lady contacted me from Tullamore. She says:

Until the changes, a single parent could return to full-time education, retain her single parent allowance and receive the maintenance grant. Such parents took on their courses on the basis of the supports existing at that time. They had worked out that the grant would make it possible to cover the costs relating to their return to education, such as travel, books, accommodation and child care. They had a legitimate expectation that these supports would not be pulled once the course had started. Under the changes being proposed by the Minister, single parents already in full-time education whose child is seven or older in July 2015 must change their single parent allowance to the back to education allowance, the same amount, but they can no longer receive the student grant, or they can keep the grant but lose their other payment. I became aware of this accidentally from a visit to my local citizens' information centre. I will lose my grant after July 2015. Subsequently, it was suggested to me on the telephone by a local social welfare official that the way to retain my payments was to have another child as I would then have a child under the age of seven and not be affected by the new rules.

It is disgraceful behaviour from any official from any Department, including one in the Department of Social Protection. I received another e-mail from a lady outlining a variant of this situation. She says:

I am at the end of my tether. I have no way to make up the difference in income. If I try to get a pay rise or go back to court for more maintenance, any increase will be deducted from my FIS making very little impact on the enormity of the cut. It is affecting my dignity as a person and my inadequacy as a mother. I truly hope something can be done as quickly as possible to restore the situation before its loss bankrupts me and my child.

That e-mail was from a lady who occupies the same parish as her local Deputy, who is none other than the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny. I could go on quoting correspondence all evening, but time does not permit it.

We received a document from FLAC this morning which suggests that a social impact assessment should have been done to work out the impact of these changes on lone parents in different situations. Of course, that has not been done. What we are left with is a lot of baloney about people being better off if they increase their hours of work. It is self evident that if one gets a job, one will be better off. We are told that if one increases one's hours of work, one could be better off as if someone can click his or her fingers and suddenly get more work. It is to suggest that someone can bring about a situation where he or she can take on more work notwithstanding his or her child care responsibilities. This change is being introduced despite a promise made by the Minister in the House on 18 April 2012 that she would not trigger the change until we had a Scandinavian-style child care system. She knows better than I do that we do not have a Scandinavian child care system in this country. She is flagrantly and blatantly going back on her promise not to trigger these pernicious changes without that system being in place. What is happening here is a cruel, callous, cynical and, while one might hesitate to say it, sadistic assault on one of the most deprived and vulnerable groups in our society. I urge the Minister not to proceed with that change. She can show us she will not by dropping section 4 of the Bill, as it will not then be needed.

In so far as the family dividend aspect of the Bill is concerned, it only kicks in when somebody gives up social welfare and takes up work after 5 January 2015. Is that correct? This gives rise to a problem. A former lone parent or someone from the general community of the unemployed with the same family circumstances could end up working side by side with the same incomes. One will be entitled to social welfare while the other will not, simply because the former entered the workplace after 5 January whereas the other was unlucky enough to have got work between Christmas and 5 January. I do not know financially what the solution to that problem is, but it is undesirable. One could also have two people in that position where the less well-off person is not entitled to social welfare whereas someone with a higher wage might be able to continue to draw social welfare in the shape of child allowance for a year, with 50% for the subsequent year.

Section 5 provides that for jobseekers the right to receive the child dependant allowance for 13 weeks is being discontinued, which I can understand.

For those who come into that category the effect of the incentive is reduced by about 25%. I note that this Bill does not provide for a means test. I can understand that many people who move from welfare to work would be moving into a relatively low paid job and it is only right that they should be encouraged. However, there are examples of high-fliers who, unfortunately, were casualties during the recession and have now found employment. Such a person could become a manager of a factory or managing director of a company or chief executive on from €70,000 to €90,000 a year and still be entitled to the child dependant allowance. I do not think that is a reasonable proposition.

Entitlement to the family dividend will cease if the spouse, civil partner or cohabitant - which is not defined, incidentally - is in receipt of a social welfare payment or participates in an education or training course, the exception being the 36 day illness or injury benefit claim which can be made. For example, if a person qualifies for the dividend and his or her partner has a low paid employment and that partner gets sick for a period in excess of 36 days, as a consequence, the dividend is automatically withdrawn, even though the illness benefit which the partner is drawing could be less than what he or she was earning while able to work. The circumstances could have disimproved but yet, the incentive is withdrawn. This will need to be re-examined on Committee Stage. Apparently, the family dividend payment will also be withdrawn if the child participates in an education, training or work placement scheme. Surely this is a disincentive if the child wishes to improve his or her prospects. If the child starts to receive social welfare payment in his or her own right, the family income dividend incentive is withdrawn. I do not understand why this is so.

I understand the economics of why these payments can only be given for a limited period but in my conversations with a number of lone parents in recent weeks, one or two parents who have one child said to me that they would not bother their barney availing of it, even though they are working, the reason being that it is a temporary measure, they would become used to having €30 extra per week and after a year that would be reduced to €15 and reduced to nothing after a further year. That is one of the unexpected downside consequences.

I welcome the change that the Minister has flagged with regard to carers. In my view, persons who have spent a good part of their time as carers and who are transitioning to work should be given some assistance in that transition. The family dividend should apply to carers in such cases.

I note the change relating to entitlement to carer's allowance. The Minister has flagged that she will introduce further changes on Committee Stage. However, if I read it correctly, section 3(1)(a) states, "For the purposes of the definition of 'relevant person' in this Chapter, a person shall not be regarded as requiring full-time care and attention unless...". In my view that seems to create a presumption that a person is not entitled to carer's allowance, a presumption which the person has to discharge. In my experience, this is the first time in social welfare law that a benefit is given together with a presumption that the person who is applying for it is not entitled to it unless he or she meets conditions as stipulated. I ask the Minister to look carefully at the wording of that section of the Bill.

I recently dealt with an applicant for carer's allowance, an experience familiar to many of my colleagues but perhaps not as dramatic as this case. A chap applied for carer's allowance for looking after his elderly mother in a housing estate in Limerick. The predictable reply from the Department was that she was not bad enough or sick enough and that she did not warrant carer's allowance. Unfortunately, the poor woman died ten days later. Last week a lady in a wheelchair was brought to my clinic. She is unable to walk and barely able to talk or to breathe. She was brandishing a letter from the Department of Social Protection which stated that she was not bad enough to qualify for carer's allowance. The letter was written by someone who had never seen the woman and who did not have the opportunity to examine her medically. As it was, there would have been no need for a medical examination because the sight of her would be sufficient.

The point I make to the Minister is that it is difficult enough to get carer's allowance without including legislative presumptions that people are not entitled to the allowance in the first place. I refer to the submission from FLAC to my party which recommended that section 342A of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 which is modified or changed somewhat in this legislation should be repealed. I agree with that view. This section provides that a person is entitled to a repayment from the Department because he or she has been underpaid but if, on the other hand, the person owes the Department more money, he or she cannot offset what is owed to him or her against what he or she owes the Department, if the overpayment results from fraud. I have no objection to that provision in principle but I have always assumed that a person is not guilty of fraud, which is a serious criminal offence in this country, until he or she has been found guilty by the courts process. The change being introduced in this Bill means that this will apply to a person who, in the opinion of an official of the Department of Social Protection, has committed a fraud. In my view this is bordering on the unconstitutional, particularly in view of the fact that many people who are notified of an overpayment do not bother to appeal it. They try to make some arrangement to pay it over a period of time. In many cases they are not aware that the Department has determined that the overpayment arose due to fraud because this is not stated specifically in the letter which simply refers to a section of a certain Act, which is double Dutch to most of the recipients. This provision should be changed.

The FLAC submission also makes a very good recommendation which we will include in an amendment. The debt recovery system in the Department of Social Protection should be changed to ensure that a family income does not fall below the basic rate of supplementary welfare allowance for the family in question. In my view this is a very reasonable proposition.

We are dealing with incentives and disincentives. The system is riddled with poverty traps. There have been one or two attempts to tackle some of these traps. I refer to the changeover from rent supplement to HAP as an example but HAP is effectively the differential rent scheme operated by the local authorities, therefore, extra income means the payment of extra rent. Therefore, an element of disincentive remains in that system.

The three-day rule for payment of jobseeker's benefit is a powerful disincentive to those wishing to take up employment and it leads to an anomalous situation where two people with comparable needs, working the same number of hours, can find themselves in very different situations, depending on their work patterns. For example, a person working 15 hours per week over three days, might receive a fairly significant jobseeker's payment whereas another person who is working 15 hours over five days, is entitled to nothing. The system should be replaced as it is outdated and outmoded, to be replaced by a system based simply on earnings, in order, if nothing else, to recognise the reality of the modern labour market. The FIS is a good scheme and it will be discussed at more length tomorrow at the committee's Estimates meeting. I will have a few questions which I will ask the Minister tomorrow. The FIS scheme contains disincentives. For example, in order to qualify for FIS, a person must work at least 38 hours per fortnight. Therefore, a person working 100 hours per week under the FIS threshold for his or her family size, will receive an income support payment of €60 per week, which is 60% of the difference between his or her income and the threshold if beneath it. However, a person in exactly the same family circumstances and with a smaller income, and therefore with greater need for income support, working 37 and a half hours per fortnight, will be entitled to nothing.

That is a serious anomaly in the provisions of this legislation.

As I said at the outset, I welcome any move to make work pay. That has always been my philosophy. However, the scheme the Minister has introduced is hedged in by some very serious restrictions. There are important questions in that regard which will have to be teased out on Committee Stage. My principal objection to the Bill is the contradiction at its heart whereby a family dividend is being introduced to encourage people to work by making it worth their while to do so, but, in the case of lone parents, the form that encouragement takes is by penalising them. That is a contradiction I would to see the Minister give an undertaking to resolve before Committee Stage. The best way to do so would be to agree, at the very minimum, to postpone the proposed change on 2 July pending an impact assessment on the effect it will have on single-parent families from one end of this country to the other. The claim in the Minister's opening statement that thousands of lone parents will be better off as a result of the change is absolute nonsense and totally discounted by the figures.

The primary purpose of the Bill before us today is to make provision for the new back to work family dividend. Cuirim fáilte roimh an méid sin. In ainneoin cad a deireann an tAire, táimse sásta glacadh le cinntí dearfacha agus tacú leo. Tá sé sin déanta agam thar na blianta, ní hamháin i gcás an Rialtais seo ach i gcás Rialtas eile chomh maith. Is rud dearfach é go bhfuil, ar deireadh thiar thall, an Rialtas ag bogadh bealach éigin i dtreo íocaíocht a aithníonn an cruachás ina bhfuil a lán daoine sa tír seo. Táim i gcónaí sásta glacadh le cinntí dearfacha. Nuair a fheictear stair an Rialtais seo, áfach, tá i bhfad Éireann níos mó cinntí diúltacha ná cinntí dearfacha glactha ag an Aire sa chórais leasa shóisialta. Tá sé thar am déanamh cinnte de go bhfuil na cinntí atá á nglacadh anois go huile is go hiomlán dearfach. Níl sé sin fíor faoi gach rud sa Bhille seo. Tá an cinneadh seo maidir le híocaíocht do theaghlaigh ag filleadh ar obair dhearfach.

After four years of wielding the stick of harsh social welfare cuts in an effort to beat jobseekers into non-existent jobs, the Government is finally, in a small way, acknowledging the cost of engaging in work and the extremely poor quality and low-paying nature of the jobs whose creation it has overseen. The provision is welcome but it will not address fully the poverty and deprivation among those who have been in work prior to 5 January and who, despite their employment, are struggling to make ends meet. There is a long way to go and this measure is one very small step in addressing the issues. The Government continues to oversee the creation of in-work poverty and a greater need for in-work social welfare as a result of the jobs that have been created. If it continues to encourage people into low-paid employment, short or zero-hour contracts and part-time work, it is merely perpetuating in-work poverty and will force the State to be obliged to subsidise that work on an ongoing basis. The State should work to ensure work pays. It must ensure those who are in work have proper contracts and proper hours and take home wages that ensure their families are not living in poverty.

Ireland has the highest rates of low-paid employment in Europe. The numbers in part-time work continue to increase, with 13% more workers employed on that basis now than there were in 2007. This figure shows the trend that has been happening. The increasing use of zero-hour contracts, too, is adding to job insecurity and the precarious nature of incomes. That is an issue with which not only this House but also the trade union movement must grapple in the future. We cannot build an economy and society based on precarious work and precarious incomes. In such a scenario, more and more workers will become dependent on supports such as family income supplement and back to work dividends. That is not the way forward. A lot more work needs to be done, not just by the Department of Social Protection but also the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, which has a particular role in this regard. We must have a Government-led process. If Cabinet decisions are driving down the quality of jobs, then Ministers are responsible for what comes of that.

More than one third of workers in Ireland will earn less than €20,000 this year. Very little action has been taken to tackle this prevalence of low-paid work. Ireland has the third highest rate of underemployment in the EU 28. That figure is key because we are talking here about people who want to work. As well as those who are in receipt of one-parent family allowance, there are many single people who want to work a full week and take home pay that is appropriate to that work. If this issue is not tackled, we are laying the basis for extreme poverty into the future. Although it has not proved itself in the four years since it came to office, I am calling on the Government to ensure quality jobs are created in the future. We want to see decent pay for decent work. The very first thing the Government needs to do at this stage is to stop displacing paid employment and driving down wages. I have always rejected, under this and previous Governments, the yellow pack approach to activation, which compounds underemployment and drives down wages. We need to provide jobseekers with meaningful activation opportunities leading to secure and properly paid jobs.

JobBridge, a central plank of the Government's jobs strategy, has served to displace what should have been apprenticeships or entry-level jobs and also has a wider knock-on effects in terms of pay in the economy. It provides a pool of free labour for employers. The Minister likes to refer to Indecon reports whenever I raise questions about JobBridge. One of Indecon's key findings in a recent survey was that almost 30% of employers who used a JobBridge intern said that in the absence of the scheme, they would have taken a person on in paid employment. This speaks volumes about the displacement that has taken place.

Moreover, one should not forget this was 30% who admitted it. Of those surveyed, how many more lacked the gumption to admit they would use or were using JobBridge to displace work because they could get nine months free employment out of someone in what is called a JobBridge internship? In addition, if one again considers the Indecon report, those who have gone on to gain paid employment have done so on wages that are a fraction of the average. The Indecon figures show that many of those who found employment were on a lower rate than their colleagues sitting across from them. Each time employers use free labour from JobBridge, their competitors who may wish to pay fair wages are at a disadvantage and come under significant pressure to reduce their payroll costs.

In contrast, JobsPlus is a scheme that involves real jobs with real pay, terms and conditions. While it probably could be improved, I have welcomed that scheme from the time it was initiated. I have asked the Minister in this Chamber a number of times why has there been greater concentration on a pool of free labour than on creating real jobs. Even though it entails the State subsidising jobs, it is better and more cost-effective and will provide a benefit to the employers, the employees and to the State. This is because the JobsPlus scheme saves the Exchequer money because the value of the combined PRSI contributions generated from the job and the moneys saved from the participants' social welfare payments mean the benefits are significantly greater than from schemes such as JobBridge or others. It involves the creation of a job, which is a sustainable job. JobsPlus is biased in favour of those who are longer-term unemployed and I welcome that because as I stated at the outset, I am willing to welcome positive initiatives. In the period between its launch in July 2013 and June 2014, JobsPlus has supported 2,694 jobseekers in full-time employment with 2,007 employers statewide. In contrast, in a statistic that shows the bias within the Department, there have been 37,000 JobBridge participants since its inception and that constitutes a blatant abuse of jobseekers. As I stated, despite the win-win nature of the JobsPlus scheme, Department of Social Protection officials have not pushed it with employers with the same degree of enthusiasm. I believe this must change and if necessary may mean the transfer of additional staff to ensure that those who previously had availed of or benefited from JobBridge should be switching at this stage to use JobsPlus fully. Moreover, others who are contemplating the creation of employment in the State should use this scheme to encourage them to set up jobs that would benefit the long-term unemployed.

Another scheme I have criticised is JobPath, which thankfully still is not in place. However, when it is in place, it will have a negative effect because I believe it also will drive down the terms and conditions of the labour market as a consequence of its establishment. The private companies that have been contracted by the Government to deliver social welfare services under JobPath will have a vested interest, and in some cases a pressing financial need, to push people quickly into jobs, no matter how poor-quality or low-paid those jobs might be. If the jobseekers object, the Department may cut or withdraw their income support payment. This is a recipe for a further downward spiral in pay and conditions in the labour market as employers will exploit the labour activation schemes.

The Government should be recruiting in the public sector with a priority of shoring up the now-decimated public services, as well as setting standards of decent pay and conditions. While the embargo has been lifted, I have not seen recruitment to fill the jobs that are needed. In fact, it is the opposite as a new scheme, Gateway, is being pushed on local authorities to give them a pool of low-paid or no-paid workers, instead of filling the vacancies that have existed for a number of years in areas such as the parks departments or elsewhere in the public service and local authorities, with fully-paid jobs. Again, this must be addressed and once again this constitutes job displacement.

As for the present Bill, when I saw its Title, namely, the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, I hoped it would start to address issues such as job displacement and the failings of the State's job activation measures. However, it has not done so. On examining the Bill, I concluded it is another missed opportunity by the Government to try to start addressing some of the problems. As I stated, I have welcomed the back-to-work family dividends and the logic underpinning that measure. However, the problem is that the logic underpinning it flies in the face of myriad nasty cuts to the lone-parent payment over which the Government has presided since it came to power. In budget after budget, from the moment the Tánaiste took office, she has targeted lone-parent families. She has disallowed lone parents on community employment schemes from retaining a partial payment from their one-parent family payment scheme. She eliminated the half-rate payments lone parents had been able to receive on certain social insurance schemes. She abolished the six-months transitional one-parent family payment. She ended the disregard for income from hours as a home help, which was work in which many lone parents were engaged. Moreover, she cut the earnings disregard for lone parents in low-paid employment from €146.50 to €90. Like other social welfare recipients, lone parents obviously were hit by the cuts to the fuel allowance, the hike in the contribution required towards rent supplement and the cuts to the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance and to child benefit.

The Tánaiste has repeatedly dropped the cut-off age for the one-parent family payment scheme and intends to drop it to seven years next July. The impact of the reduction in the cut-off age to seven years is that almost 12,000 parents will suffer a financial loss of up to €86 per week. At the time of its announcement, 6,400 lone parents were to lose up to €36.50 per week, 4,500 lone parents were to lose €57 per week and lone parents who also were carers were to lose a staggering €86 per week. While the Tánaiste has seen sense in respect of that last measure, she has not seen sense on the other two categories. Why not? Has she not read her own responses to parliamentary questions I tabled? She stated earlier that they will not be affected negatively but yet, in a reply given on 21 January to a parliamentary question I tabled, she stated that of this group, 4,500 customers whose family income supplement, FIS, will be re-rated will lose between 50 cent and €57 per week. She stated that with FIS and the back-to-work dividend, they will not be affected negatively. A further 1,000 parents whose FIS will be re-rated, will gain between €2 and €42 per week and "4,100 may become new FIS recipients and will gain between €20 and €160 per week". While that is to be welcomed, it still is the case that a proportion of those who will be affected on 2 July will be affected negatively.

These are people in work and in receipt of one-parent family payments who should not be negatively affected. According to the Minister, the whole idea is that a Scandinavian model of child care would be put in place to offset the hugely negative costs of child care in the State, an issue that has never been addressed and will not be for some time. Those lone parents affected will not be able to afford to stay in work. These are the very people the Minister wants to stay in work and who should not be negatively affected by this measure. We need to ensure they do not suffer an immediate financial loss from this move.

The Minister has met quite a number of the parents involved over recent months and has been lobbied, like we have, on this. Maybe she listened to the presentation at the social protection committee last week from several groups which outlined exactly the negative financial effects of this measure on families who are the most deprived in our State.

Should Members from the Government's ranks attempt to deny they have ruthlessly and relentlessly targeted lone parents, they cannot dispute the evidence contained in the latest report from the Central Statistics Office survey on income and living conditions, SILC. While 30% of the population experiences deprivation, more than twice that number of lone-parent households suffer deprivation and are forced to go without the basics. They simply cannot afford to heat their homes, buy clothing for their children or, in many cases, put food on the table for every single mealtime. Those figures should cause everyone to sit up and look again at the implications of what is contained in this legislation, as well as the legislation which predates it, which will take effect on 2 July. This legislation does not contain the row back which should have been required. The Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection stood in this Chamber and repeated several times that she would not proceed with the cuts to the lone-parent allowance from 12 years to seven years of age unless a Scandinavian model for child care was in place. She still has the opportunity to live up to this promise. However, given the Government has made many promises to the people that it has not honoured, I do not have much faith that she will row back in this legislation.

Lone parents in education, as Deputy O’Dea earlier mentioned, will also lose the maintenance proportion of their SUSI, Student Universal Support Ireland, grant of €2,375 per year. Even those in paid employment will take a substantial hit. This comes to €46 week being taken out of the pockets of lone parents who are trying to better themselves by going back to education. What is the Government's response? It is to hit them where it hurts financially.

This legislation, despite promises, or the previous legislation related to it, has not had a regulatory impact assessment, or a poverty or equality impact assessment. The only people who know exactly how it impacts are those who will be affected in their pockets. It seems it does not matter to the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection. By identifying this group out of all of those who will be affected by the change on 2 July, she has said they are better than the others and deserve to have their cut reversed. I am sorry to point out that every one of those who are in work but will be negatively affected by the change on 2 July deserve the recognition they are not getting. Despite the fact the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection said she would make a change on Committee Stage, I hope she will take the opportunity over the next several days to reflect once more and not only reverse the decision on lone parents in receipt of the half rate carer’s allowance but for all lone parents who will be negatively affected and have their full payment restored. That means the cut is put on hold until the Tánaiste or a future Government delivers on the promise of a Scandinavian child care model. That was a recognition that one-parent families have a greater burden on them with the cost of child care than other families. I am not denying other families do not have a burden of child care costs but only one person earning in a household, even if it is part-time, makes meeting child care costs more difficult. Every family in low pay also has the burden of child care costs, a challenge not only to this Government but to future Governments to address.

There are other provisions in this Bill of which I am dubious. I am particularly concerned about the effect of section 3 on family carers. It has been presented as some type of benign change of a technical nature. It will have to be teased out on Committee Stage. I received a submission, as other Members did today, from the Free Legal Advice Centres and Community Law and Mediation Centre which have called for the deletion of the section, arguing it does nothing but makes it more difficult for carers to access income supports. These carers are willing to take on the care the State should actually be providing. Anything that makes it more difficult or bureaucratic for those who are actually saving the State a fortune to claim their rightful allowances should be set aside. The two bodies have described section 3 as negative law-making, introducing a presumption of ineligibility for the payment which the applicant will have to overcome rather than a presumption of eligibility which it was in the past. Whereas at present the applicant must demonstrate their entitlement and the deciding officer must make a reasonable decision from a position of neutrality and objectivity, the submission notes the outworkings of the change will see more eligible applications having to go to the appeals officer to secure more entitlements with lengthy waits and the hardship that involves. We have seen the time it takes for carer’s allowance appeals and the number of them that are subsequently overturned because the system has been loaded against them. This means there is a problem at the basic initial level which needs to be addressed.

It means more care, more reviews, the simple phone call to say an application is missing this or that. That needs to be addressed rather than the hardship, stress and strain and, believe it or not, the cost to the State of delayed payment in terms of social welfare officers' time and social welfare appeals.

I am not opposed to the legislation but a lot more could have been included. Every year, Sinn Féin produces an alternative budget outlining how we would approach many of these issues and none of that is captured here. I will be tabling amendments which I hope will be used by the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, to try and recoup money that should be paid to the State. So far, every time I have brought up PRSI payments, the Labour Court findings and so on, she has said she will address these issues at another stage. This miscellaneous provisions Bill is the legislation to capture those positive changes that would benefit the State most of all.

The last appeal I will make is that the time between Second Stage and Committee Stage is used to reflect and to ensure the negative changes to the social welfare code in respect of one-parent families, which come into effect on 2 July, are set aside in an amendment coming from the Minister.

I call Deputy Boyd Barrett, who is sharing time with Deputies Collins and Pringle.

Much of the background context of this Bill was debated in the Dáil in the Private Members' Bill I put forward last week. This context is a staggering and unacceptable increase in the levels of deprivation, poverty and hardship for some of our most vulnerable citizens, who have suffered the cruel injustice and hardship of austerity cuts since 2008. The crisis period from 2008 to 2015 seems to have gone on forever. There are also the people who lost their jobs during that time and who have been plunged into a situation of forced dependency on State benefits of one kind or another.

The last Government and the current one have hammered the innocent victims of the economic crisis from every quarter, to the point that deprivation and poverty levels have increased to a shocking point, particularly when we look at children and lone parents, but also more generally. That is a shameful indictment of our society and it is worth underlining that, while the whole world has suffered a recession, not all countries have let poverty, child poverty and deprivation increase and some have insulated children, the vulnerable and the less well off to a large degree. Other countries have failed to do so, and we are one of those countries. We have unloaded the cost onto people who could not afford it and are already suffering and struggling. We made the choice to attack them.

Sometimes, when these points are made to her, the Minister says things like she wants to activate people; that she does not want people dependent on social welfare; that she believes people are better than that and she wants to create a social welfare system that incentivises them and gives them an opportunity to get out of social welfare traps. Although we can argue the toss on some things, I do not believe a case can be made on that basis for cutting respite care grants, child benefit, fuel allowance, telephone allowance, or the household benefits package, or for prescription charges going up. All those things are just cruel and unfair and hit the people who are vulnerable. I say this in passing. Obviously, cuts in the area of rent allowance have been extraordinarily damaging and are helping to generate one of the worst housing crises in the history of the State. There is nothing in this Bill about that, by the way.

I mentioned this last week but am going to keep banging on about it so I mention it in passing again today: jobseeker's allowance for those under 26 has been cut in half and it is disgraceful. It is one thing if people under 26 are in a position to live at home but if they are not - there are many reasons why they might not be - they are by definition consigned to homelessness. They cannot put a roof over their heads on that sort of money combined with the rent allowance cuts. All of that cruelty has been inflicted, and then this Bill comes along and the Government Deputies say they are going to try and give people a bit of an incentive to get back to work.

I just came from the launch of a book, Complex Inequality and 'Working Mothers' by Clare O'Hagan, an academic in the University of Limerick. I noticed one of the Ministers was over there having a read. I told Dr. O'Hagan I was about to go over to the Dáil to speak on precisely those matters, poverty traps, lone parents and so on and the changes being proposed in the social welfare system. She immediately said that what we need is a child care system like they have in Iceland or Denmark. Those are the two examples she has used in her book. That is what we need. We also need to get rid of low pay.

If the Government wants to do something about poverty traps, it should not impose cuts - sometimes they are packaged as reforms but in reality they are just cuts - in a situation where there is intersectionality, to use another academic term. Intersectionality is the crisscrossing of vulnerable groups who are oppressed and discriminated against and are hit multiply, on the double and the treble. People are hit for being a child, for being a lone parent, for being disabled, for being working class and, for some families, because of all of those things. Some families are only hit with three forms of discrimination and others are hit with two. The social welfare system is trying to cope with this and it just cannot work. This can be resolved by having a universal system of State-provided free or very cheap child care and by getting rid of low pay. If the Government does those things it will do 90% of the job. In fact, we are moving in the opposite direction.

Think about the 30,000 public sector jobs that are gone and have been replaced with Gateway schemes. Where people would have been employed by local authorities on full wages, they are now getting their dole plus 20 quid. Some people are happy to do that because they are desperate to be doing something but, in fact, they are being exploited. That is displacing properly paid jobs, and the Government should address it. We need to address low pay, jack up the minimum wage and get rid of scams like JobBridge.

The number taking up JobBridge as against JobsPlus is 2,000 versus 36,000. As I said to the Minister last week, if someone asks an employer about JobsPlus, the employer will say they must be joking and ask why they would take somebody on JobsPlus as they can take them on JobBridge. It is a no-brainer. That is shown by the contrast in the figures.

I will move on to the specifics. I refer to section 3 on the carer's allowance. This change, in terms of criteria for qualification for carer's allowance, is half described as a technical measure and is justifying the unfair practices which are currently leading people to be denied carer's allowance. It is a regressive cut and not a technical measure, justifying current unfairness. How the hell can a non-medical bureaucrat - I do not mean to be unfair to the people doing the job – second-guess GPs as to who needs care and who does not? It is outrageous and it is happening all the time. People are constantly coming to me to say they have given a GP's letter and told the Department they need care but they are told a GP's letter is not good enough and that they need a consultant's letter. We are essentially legitimising and reinforcing that by saying a non-medical person can second-guess or does not have to take the word of a GP in terms of deciding.

It has also introduced a 12 month qualification, which was not in the primary legislation. If one gets cancer, undergoes treatment and needs care, although one might not have cancer for the rest of one's life because one could be cured, does that mean one cannot get care on a short-term basis? That is what the legislation seems to say.

The Minister has not come back to us on the issue of lone parents. The back to work measure will help some but lone parents working part-time will lose. The Minister simply has not addressed that. The Bill is doing the exact opposite of what she said it would do and we have had no real response from her on that score.

This Bill is like the continuation of a battering ram in regard to lone parents and access to social welfare for people. The Minister has continuously said how good the Irish social welfare system is and how it protects the most vulnerable. Other Deputies have said social welfare payments protected people because otherwise the gap between rich and poor would be much bigger.

This Bill is a continuous attack on those people who can least afford it. Section 3 relates to carer's benefit, carer's allowance and the respite care grant. Why do we have to include a line stating that "a person shall not be regarded as requiring full-time care and attention unless" when the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005 sets out the conditions whereby a person, who is the relevant person, can receive support through a carer's payment? I do not understand that and I did not hear an explanation from the Minister as to why this is needed. As FLAC pointed out very clearly, it is a negative law-making measure. It actually puts the requirement on the person applying for the carer's allowance for the person who needs it to prove it. The person making the decision looks at that first line and the rest of it is secondary. That is what they will be working from. Will the Minister explain why she deems it necessary to include that? It does not make sense and I fully support FLAC's recommendation that it should be deleted from the Bill.

The one-parent family payment has been crucial for lone parents for the past two decades. One Family, which has been very supportive of the one-parent family payment and of lone parents, has said that 53% of lone parents are already in the labour market. The figure was 35% two years ago but it has increased over the past two years. Lone parents are not a group of people who do not want to work. They do not need incentives to work; they need supports, better access to back to education and better access to employment which allows them to carry out their responsibilities to their children. They are a one-parent family and not a couple who, even at the best of times, find it difficult to balance the family care with their work responsibilities.

Some 53% of lone parents are already in the labour market and most are working poor. What is on offer today for the majority of people parenting alone is low wages or insecure or zero hour contracts, combined with no child care. This will not take one-parent families out of poverty.

Some 63% of lone parents suffer deprivation. The deprivation rate for lone parents is 230% higher than for the general population and 33% higher than for those who are unemployed. Some 53% of this cohort of people are in the workplace but they suffer the highest deprivation rate in Ireland.

We have been given a breakdown of the impact on lone parents of losing the one-parent family allowance. Perhaps on Committee Stage the Minister will provide her analysis of how the cut in the one-parent family allowance, the family income supplement, FIS, and the back to work family dividend impacts on income. According to the information a number of us have, a lone parent working 20 hours per week on the minimum wage of €8.65 with FIS and the fuel allowance receives approximately €453. If working 35 hours per week, it comes to approximately €479 per week. In July 2015 after this cut is implemented, a person working 20 hours per week will earn approximately €402 which is a loss of €50 because the wages will be €173, there will be no one-parent family payment, FIS will be €199.80, there will be no fuel allowance and the back to work family dividend will be €29.80. A person working 35 hours per week will have €454.50, which is a cut of €25. That increases as we move to 2016 when the back to work family dividend will be cut again to €14.90. In 2017, when there will be no back to work family dividend, the cut will be even greater.

The Minister is creating a situation where there will be no incentive to go back to work if one is earning less than what is currently being earned. As we know, this does not affect lone parents who are not in the workplace.

I welcome the fact the Minister said she is removing the 800 lone parents getting the carer's half allowance. However, lone parents in back to education are being badly affected. I refer to an e-mail I received because people can explain best themselves how these things impact on them. The e-mail stated that while challenged by the toxic narratives employed by the Department of Social Protection in regard to lone parents, there is no such thing as a lone parent who is unemployed. It stated that Ms Burton's Department and the Government have set about systematically dismantling the supports in place for them and are calling it progressive. The e-mail further stated that an example of the Minister's stated commitment to education is the removal of non-adjacent maintenance grant entitlement, the removal of the maintenance grant for postgraduate studies, the removal of entitlement to claim the back to education allowance, the cap on the child care assistance grant and the increase in the distance for the non-adjacent grant from 36 km to 45 km and a variety of other changes.

This lone parent is saying that her MA, which she was going on to do, will become impossible for her. She will not be able to do it. We are creating another situation that discourages people from going into education and educating themselves further. The Tánaiste must reassess this. I fully agree with FLAC when it says this should be reversed. The one-parent family payment should be fully restored. FLAC further recommends that a social impact assessment of the changes to the one-parent family payment be carried out in order to determine the extent to which the changes to the scheme have had a detrimental impact on one-parent family households.

The elephant in the room is the Tánaiste's emphatic statement in 2012, when we on this side of the House persisted to get an absolute commitment from her on child care. The Tánaiste was emphatic when she stated:

That is why I am undertaking tonight that I will only proceed with the measures to reduce the upper age limit to seven years in the event that I get a credible and bankable commitment on the delivery of such a system of child care by the time of this year’s budget. If this is not forthcoming, the measure will not proceed.

That is in the record of this House. The Tánaiste should stand over it. She should stand over her commitment to lone parents, abandon this change in the age limit and reintroduce the one-parent family payment. People have referred to the Minister as "the butcher of benefits" and "the ice queen" because of her approach to this. If the issue of lone parents is not dealt with, the Tánaiste will be branded with these names for the rest of her days and into history.

This Bill sets out to change how the entitlements of lone parents will be dealt with after 2 July. I will deal with that in the second part of my contribution. I will focus on what are presented by the Department as technical changes relating to carer's allowance and benefit. We often see Bills coming through with technical issues in them, but they must be looked at in detail to ensure that we tease out their potential negative impacts on people on the ground. When social welfare Bills come through this House, it can often take months or even years for the full consequences of the changes made to be realised. At that stage, it is far too late for people and it is not possible to revisit the decisions made a year or two before. It is vital that we look at the technical amendments to ensure they do not impact negatively on people.

Section 3 contains the two clarifications about dealing with carer's benefit, carer's allowance and the respite care grant, as has been mentioned by other Members. One of the clarifications is to set out the circumstances under which a person will be considered to require full-time care and attention. It seems to be a shift in definition to "full-time care and attention" from the current requirement for "continual supervision and frequent assistance". It might seem like a technical arrangement but it is a subtle change that will make a significant difference in how applications are considered by deciding officers within the Department. That is something that needs to be teased out on Committee Stage and looked at very seriously.

The other change is that the Bill clarifies that a deciding officer can take into consideration the evidence provided by the medical assessor and by the certified medical practitioner of the applicant. That seems to be another change to the emphasis. In my dealings with carer's allowance and interactions with constituents on the matter, there was the means assessment and the medical assessment and if the medical assessor approved the application and the means were okay, the application was accepted. It seems the changes will allow the deciding officer to override the medical assessor's decision on applications. As has been said, that is someone without a medical qualification who only has to take regard of the medical assessor's decision, rather than taking it onboard and acting on it. That is a very dangerous development that will lead to more refusals. It also allows for a subtle change to take place within the Department, maybe an unwritten policy. This is a policy that has been implemented over the last few years. There is a presumption of refusal when an application arrives in the Department, on the basis that people are unlikely to appeal that decision. That is an emphasis within the Department. It leaves thousands of citizens without the supports to which they are entitled.

There is a great deal of work for somebody who wants to access the carer's allowance. The medical assessment form in the application process is difficult to navigate and it is difficult to get a full medical report from a GP to ensure the application is as strong as possible. Some arbitrary decisions appear to be made within the process itself and then applicants must go further, getting psychiatric evaluations, school reports, reports from consultants, and so on, incurring costs in the process. The deciding officers are getting additional responsibility and decision-making powers over the medical assessors in the Department. That is something we have to look at seriously. I agree with FLAC that this provision should be removed completely from the Bill. This may be designed to speed up decision-making in the Department but there will be more wrong decisions as a result. In 2013 there were 56,000 applications to the Department of Social Protection that required a medical assessment, while at any one time there were only 21.8 medical assessors assessing applications. That works out at around 2,500 applications per assessor per year, which is a huge burden to place on them. That is what is slowing down the decision-making process, rather than a need to make these changes to allow deciding officers to overrule medical assessors. We need to recruit more medical assessors to ensure the proper decisions are being taken.

If one is working from a presumption of refusal at the start, one does not want to employ more medical assessors; one wants to make the technical changes included in the Bill. This is highlighted particularly by the fact that in the first ten months of 2013, 8,917 applications for carer's allowance were refused. Of those, only 3,426 were appealed. There is a success rate of over 32% on appeals regarding carer's allowance and carer's benefit. That shows there is something wrong with the decision-making process within the Department. There is no way that so many applications should be successful on appeal. Based on the success rates of the appeals in 2013, almost 2,000 citizens did not get what they were entitled to from an application they made to the Department in respect of carer's benefit and carer's allowance alone. The overall figures in 2013 were that 55% of appeals were successful and the Department's decision was overturned. That shows there is something wrong in the Department. If the application system is working properly in the first instance, no appeals system should have a 55% success rate. It does not make sense.

This is something that needs to be looked at seriously. It shows that the presumption is, as has been shown in this Bill, negative at the start of the process and people must prove their entitlement on that basis. That is a shift that has taken place. If one looks even at the number of appeals and how the social welfare appeals office workload has increased significantly over the last four or five years, with the volume of appeals probably tripling, it shows that change has taken place. Now we are going to enshrine it in legislation.

Regarding lone parent and jobseeker's transitional payments, what will happen on 2 July has been outlined succinctly by a number of Members. My reading of the situation is that only lone parents who are at work will be penalised. Lone parents who do not have jobs will be just as well off after July. I listened to the Taoiseach on Leaders' Questions last week referring to a readjustment in figures and payments. It showed that he did not have a clue about what would happen in respect of lone parents in July.

Turning to the Tánaiste, the impression has been given that people are making the lifestyle choice to join and stay on social welfare and not to bother with work. As Deputy Joan Collins outlined, however, 53% of lone parents are already in the workplace. They are the ones who will be impacted by these changes after July. In most cases, they will lose the price of their child care, which means that the changes will have the reverse effect. The Tánaiste claimed that they would encourage people into work, but they will actually put them out of work. People will not be able to afford to stay in work. What will come to pass will match the Opposition's analysis: lone parents' payments will be reduced, they will suffer under extra child care costs and they will be forced out of work.

It is sickening that, when these issues were highlighted by this side of the House in budget 2012, the now Tánaiste made the sweeping statement that the changes would not be implemented until we had a Scandinavian-type child care system. We are a long way off that, yet we will create Irish-style unemployment for lone parents by forcing them out of work through changes to the system instead of making it easier for them to stay in work by providing them with proper child care and supports within the system.

Debate adjourned.