Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Illness Benefit Applications

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

55. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the rationale for the changes to the illness benefit form; if her attention has been drawn to the difficulties and disruption this is causing for general practitioners and applicants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38895/18]

John Brady

Ceist:

56. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when the decision was made to change the forms for illness benefit; the consultations that took place prior to the changeover to new forms; the status of processing times for the payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39077/18]

As the Minister will be aware, a problem was created by the Department with regard to people applying for illness benefit, which caused a great deal of anxiety and stress for those people, not to mention the people expected to adjudicate on them, namely, the medical profession. How did this problem arise and has it been resolved?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 55 and 56 together, if that is okay with Deputy Brady.

My Department recently introduced redesigned claim and medical certificate forms for use in the illness and injury benefit schemes. The purpose of the redesign was to facilitate a new process within the Department whereby forms would be scanned rather than manually keyed into the new IT system. Claims received on the new forms and certificates are being processed into the payment system on the same day as they are received. That is a significant improvement on behalf or our clients. The introduction of the redesigned form was discussed with the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, in advance. The IMO advised its members, one month before its introduction, that they should co-operate with the use of the new forms.

The Department subsequently communicated directly with general practitioners, GPs, as is our responsibility, shortly before the introduction of the redesigned forms. Given the confusion that has arisen over the last couple of months, we have to accept that we should probably have communicated directly with the GPs more quickly than we did. We accept that and we apologise.

The majority of the certificates in the claim forms that are now being received each day by the Department are the new scannable versions. These claims are being processed without any delay. However, some GPs have continued to use the old forms after the changeover date. To facilitate the continued payment of the illness and injury benefits to our clients, my Department has, to date, considered to accept those old forms. While their continued use causes delays to our processing times, my Department is doing everything possible to ensure that customers are paid as quickly as possible. There is currently a backlog of two days in processing the old forms and certificates.

The introduction of these and other initiatives is the subject of ongoing discussions with the IMO. A framework and timetable have been agreed with the IMO, during which intensive discussions are planned. New processes will not be introduced until these discussions are concluded and advance notice, including details of any changes to payment arrangements, will be provided to the individual GPs directly from my Department. It is important to note that the Department has had a long and positive relationship with GPs for many years. We are committed to working hard to resolve any outstanding issues which cause concerns among our GP partners.

I would like to put on the record of the House my immense gratitude to the people in the illness benefit section of my Department. They worked tirelessly, including coming in at weekends, to ensure that the clients, who rely on the weekly payment and have no other form of income, did not have to wait due to a delay. We had to find a work-around IT system because had already moved to the new system and the old system was therefore not working. I say genuinely, and do not think it can be understated, that they worked their socks off to ensure the service we give to our clients is as good and reliable as it always is. I, for one, am exceptionally grateful for their commitment.

Since we are taking Questions Nos. 55 and 56 together, Deputies O'Dea and Brady have equal time, but their time is doubled, so they both have a fair crack at the whip.

I want to be associated with the Minister's remarks about the staff in the Department. The Minister said that the IMO was consulted. The Minister must be aware that the IMO only represents approximately 18%, fewer than one in five of practitioners who have to certify people for illness benefit. If I heard her correctly, the Minister also said that individual GPs were informed shortly before the new forms went out. My information is that the prescribing GP simply got all these new forms with a whole lot of different information and different questions from what had hitherto been the case and was simply told to get on with it without any consultation or discussion. I think the Minister has accepted that this is not a proper way to do business.

What percentage of GPs are using the new forms at present? Are there residual difficulties as a result of the fact that the full transition has not taken place?

I want to be associated with the Minister's comments about the staff dealing with the illness benefit forms. The reason they had to come in and work those extra hours, however, was the unmitigated disaster and mess that was created by the officials and by the Deputy herself, as Minister, in unilaterally introducing these new forms on 6 August without any proper consultation. It is interesting that she said that one month before the introduction, the IMO was consulted and informed that it should co-operate with the use of these forms. That is exactly what the Minister said, and that is certainly not consultation. I also heard her apologise to the GPs. That must be welcomed. She needs to extend that apology to the people. We are dealing with some of the sickest people in the State such as cancer patients and terminally ill people who, unfortunately, were caught up in this complete mess. The National Association of General Practitioners, NAGP, to which Deputy O'Dea alluded, representing the vast majority of GPs, has tried to engage with the Minister and the Department in this entire process and has been completely ignored. Has there been or will there be engagement? It is critically important that one of the organisations that represents the vast majority of GPs has not been consulted, negotiated with or simply spoken to.

I do not know whether Deputy O'Dea is aware of the long-standing relationship - it has existed for many years - between my Department and GPs. We rely on them not only for illness benefit, but also for carer's benefit and a variety of other schemes. They are an invaluable resource to both the people they serve and to the Department. We have never, ever told anyone to get on with anything, so I do not know who is giving Deputy O'Dea his information but it is not quite accurate. Our relationship with individual GPs is based on individual contracts. There are no representative bodies with which we negotiate or mediate. We deal directly with our GPs. However, out of respect for the long-standing framework that has existed in this country, of which Deputy O'Dea is well aware, and which was established by Fianna Fáil many years ago, and perhaps to flag potential issues we ourselves within the Department would not have seen, we did have discussions with the IMO. Those discussions were fruitful and, notwithstanding other issues and other new efficiencies that will be discussed over the coming months, the IMO instructed its GPs that they should move ahead with the new, more efficient process being enabled by the Department to ensure the efficiencies provided by the GPs and the Department result in expedited claims and payments for the clients who rely on them. This is exactly what happened for all the GPs who used the new forms that were scanned in. Normally one must wait a week and get paid a week in arrears on an illness payment. People are now getting paid on day two. There are huge efficiencies, and I am very grateful to all the GPs who have come on board. I apologise to the Acting Chairman for rabbiting on. To answer Deputy O'Dea's question, I do not have a percentage, but the vast majority of claims coming in to us daily are on the new scannable forms.

The Minister asked me whether I am aware of the relationship between her Department and the GPs - yes, I am - and who informed me that the GPs were told to get on with it - the GPs did. Given her Department has such a wonderful relationship with GPs, this is a pretty shoddy way to treat them, with respect. As Deputy Brady has said, there is an organisation that represents over 80% of GPs and has sought to consult directly with the Department, and for the life of me I cannot understand why the Department chooses to consult with an organisation representing 18% of GPs and refuses point-blank to consult with an organisation representing 82% of GPs. The Minister referred to "the vast majority" in response. The vast majority would be well over 50%. The information I got - and I got it in writing - is that, as of yesterday, 80% of GPs are still relying on the old forms and doing photocopies, etc.

That information is incorrect.

That is the information I have and I will communicate that correspondence to the Minister after this-----

Yes, but I assure the Deputy that it is incorrect-----

I will let Deputy Brady in and then I will let the Minister reply.

It was stated that the aim of introducing these new forms was to improve efficiency for GPs and the Department, but efficiency has gone out the window. It appears to me that the only reason these forms were introduced was to make the process more efficient for the Department, certainly not for patients. This is what we see. I mentioned cancer patients and terminally ill people who are being caught up in this complete debacle. It is not the first time the Department has made a complete mess of changeovers, of introducing new schemes and so on. We saw this last year with the dental examinations that were introduced without any consultation with dentists or any organisations and the mess this created at the time, and that is a fact. The Minister can shake her head.

The Deputy makes the facts up as he goes along.

I want to ask a couple of specific questions. How many people are still waiting on an illness benefit claim to come through because of this mess? What is the current processing time for new applications?

I thank both Deputies for their co-operation. I ask the Minister to conclude on this.

Public policy on discussions or consultations with professional organisations such as those representing GPs has, since about the mid-1970s, been to engage with one representative body rather than try to negotiate or communicate with multiple bodies claiming to hold the mandate for that particular group of people. The Deputy cannot say on the one hand that one organisation represents 80% of the people it represents when, on the other, another organisation claims more or less the same thing because both sets of details cannot be true. In the case of GPs, the representative body which is affiliated with ICTU and has been for many years is the IMO. The NAGP is a relatively new body which is not affiliated with ICTU, and the Department's understanding is that its membership is less than that of the IMO. Nevertheless, the Department is happy to take input from the NAGP and has had some contact with the organisation and will consider any input we receive from it regarding any efficiencies it might like to see in our system and our offering. We will, however, continue to hold substantive discussions with the IMO as it is the body that is recognised as holding the representative rights for all GPs.

If Deputy Brady wants to make stuff up as he goes along, that is his will, and it is probably a practice that is well engaged by Sinn Féin. The reality of the matter is that the new forms and the new system have brought far greater efficiencies than were ever there before. When we used to get an old form and it had to be manually inputted, people would have to wait perhaps five or six days for their illness payments. Now when the form comes in it is scanned in on the same day and the client gets the payment the following day. I do not know in what world Deputy Brady does not think that is a better system. In our world, however, we think that having efficiencies is a good thing, not only in the Department, which ultimately saves the Department money and allows us then to spend that money elsewhere. Perhaps in Deputy Brady's world it is not a good thing.

If implemented and consulted on, that is absolutely a good thing.

Improving services for our clients is also a very good thing, and that is what we will continue to do on both this scheme and across all schemes in which we can provide improvements and efficiencies.

I point out to the three people in the Chamber - the Minister and the two Deputies - that we have run seven minutes over time. They were entitled to double the time because there were two questions. I will not allow that to continue so I ask all Members to stick to the rules of the House. I am only implementing the rules. I ask Members to do their best. I know it is a very serious issue and I do not wish at all to block or stop people from trying to explain a point.

State Pension (Contributory) Eligibility

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

57. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the consultation that has taken place on the proposed changes to the qualifying criteria for the State pension (contributory); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38896/18]

In the spirit of the Acting Chairman's latest injunction, the question is self-explanatory.

The idea of a total contributions approach, or TCA, to State pensions dates back to 2007, when the then Government published the Green Paper on Pensions to stimulate debate on the challenges and the options for the future development of Ireland's pension system. This included the policy to introduce the TCA model. The consultation process was lengthy, thorough and inclusive and involved regional seminars, a national conference and consultation meetings with sectoral interests, as well as many written submissions. The consultation informed the development of the 2010 national pensions framework, which set out the policy to introduce the TCA, indeed by Deputy O'Dea's party, which was in government at that stage. This approach was subsequently endorsed by the OECD in its review of the Irish pension system in 2013.

As the Government intends to introduce the TCA from 2020, I launched a public consultation on its design on 28 May.

This consultation is not about the policy concept or rationale, which has been well thought out, but the design and implementation of the TCA. My Department invited a range of sectoral interest groups and the media to the formal launch at which we provided, I hope, an informative presentation. More important, we hosted a series of workshops on the various aspects of the proposed reform and there was also a separate briefing for Members of the Oireachtas and their staff. The consultation was hosted on the Department's website and it was open to everyone to submit responses and make submissions.

The consultation lasted for over three months and we received almost 300 responses by the time it closed on 3 September. These responses are being examined and considered and we will publish a summary of the outcomes on the Department's website when that work is completed, and I will also let the Deputy know the details. The initial analysis shows the main areas of concern to respondents include the number of contributions required to receive a full pension, the amount of credited contributions that will be available and whether there should be a phase-in period for its introduction.

I thank all those who made submissions. I was at pains to ensure we did not just get representative bodies replying in an official capacity, given that is their job. I was keen to hear from the people who will be affected by this. In the main, we have received a substantial number of submissions from them and I am grateful for their co-operation.

First, on the 40-year baseline, the S stamp for the self-employed first came into being in 1988, which will make it difficult for the self-employed people who are now applying for a pension, or who will apply in 2020 after the new system comes into place, to qualify for the full pension. How wedded is the Government to the 40-year baseline? The Minister will be aware the national pensions framework document envisaged a baseline of 30 years.

Second, the system in place at present requires 520 paid contributions for a person to be considered for a contributory pension. Has there been any feedback on that aspect? Does the Government intend to stick with that or is it open to change?

On the first point, the issue was raised in a number of submissions. I am a told a Deputy made a similar submission, although I am not sure if it was Deputy O'Dea. I am conscious it is one of the matters that has to be considered before we make the final decision. Forty years is the norm for many pensions and it is the number that will be required under the TCA 2012 model. When the legislation is passed in regard to those affected by the 2012 rate band changes, the Deputy will be aware that as the class S contributions were only introduced in 1988, it will be challenging for many self-employed people to qualify for a full pension by 2020 if the number of contributions at the time exceeds 32. The early analysis from the consultation shows that, for some of those who responded, a more transitional model is preferred, whereby those qualifying in 2020 would have a lower bar than those qualifying in the later years and would have the opportunity to catch up by, say, 2028, given that the latter would have had more access to PRSI contributions than the people who were there beforehand. The Deputy will appreciate that I cannot pre-empt any of the deliberations we will have on the outcome. However, the reason we ask for submissions is to consider them exceptionally carefully.

With regard to the Deputy's other point, the number of paid contributions to qualify for the contributory State pension has increased over the years. The most recent increase to 520 was agreed and passed in legislation by the Deputy's party in government in 1997 and implemented in 2012. This was also raised in a number of submissions, including that made by the Deputy on behalf of his party. Again, it is something that will be considered in the context of the new proposals. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

It is apparently the Minister's intention that if people reach the age of 66 before the total contributions system comes into full operation in 2020, and if they are better off under the old system than under TCA, they can opt for whichever system suits them better. How long will that option last? I take it that it will only apply to pensioners who become 66 before the TCA comes into operation.

There is a proposal for home caring credits to replace the current homemaker system. Will there be any difference? Will the same types of people be covered for credits under the new home carer system when compared to the homemaker system?

I cannot answer the first question as we have not made any decision yet. Again, it is not me who will be wedded to making the decision. It will be made mindful of all the submissions that are made. I want to ensure that when we introduce this next year or the year after in legislation, it will be with the agreement of all of us because we think it is the right thing to do for the generations to come, which might include myself and the Deputy. We will do it collectively and we will do what is in the best interest of pensioners going forward.

The homemaker's credit is outdated. Historically, it was only women who made homes and we all know that is not the reality of many people's lives today. It will be called a caring credit. It will not just be confined to children but will be extended to adults who may be looking after their parents or a sibling who might not be lucky enough to have good health. I want to ensure that people who are caring, and who are an invaluable resource not only to their families but to the State, are recognised and their contributions towards their State pension are fulfilled.

Unemployment Levels

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

58. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the measures she is taking to address the high levels of employment deprivation in County Tipperary, specifically Tipperary Town and its environs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39065/18]

As a result of the revised regional groupings, all of County Tipperary is now included in the mid-western region for CSO data collection purposes. Within this region, unemployment has fallen from a peak of 16.6% in 2012 to 5.8% at the end of July 2018. Numbers in employment in the region have increased from 153,700 to 214,200 over the same period. While data from the labour force survey are not available on a county-by-county level, trends in the live register can give an indication of underlying trends in local unemployment. I am pleased that they are positive for Tipperary. Overall, the live register in Tipperary has fallen by 46% in the five years to August 2018, which is close to the reduction of 48% nationally. If the Deputy is under the impression his area is lagging behind the rest of the country, I am pleased to tell him it is not. In the year to August 2018, the live register in Tipperary had fallen by 1,270 people, or 12%, again, closely in line with national trends. In Tipperary town, the live register has fallen from 1,840 in 2012 to 962 currently, that is, by almost half.

The Government's primary strategy to tackle unemployment is twofold. First, the Action Plan for Jobs, which was originally led by the former Minister for Jobs Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, and is now led by the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Heather Humphreys, sets out to create an environment in which businesses can succeed and create jobs. That success is evident and I wish continued success to all of those people. This policy now includes a specific regional action plan relating to the former south-east region, covering south Tipperary. The plan has resulted in more than 21,000 jobs being created in the region in the past three years. Successful implementation of the plan is targeted at the creation of 25,000 additional jobs in the region by 2020. The plan aims to achieve this through building on key sectors of potential for the region like technology, biopharma and tourism in the beautiful county of Tipperary.

The Minister will be aware that one of the most accurate indicators of deprivation according to population statistics comes from the national census of population, as represented by the Pobal HP deprivation index. Variables used in the compilation of the HP index include those related to demographic growth, dependency ratios, education levels, single parenthood, overcrowding, social class, occupation and unemployment.

Figures can be dressed up any way we like. However, Tipperary town and its environs are in a sad place. It has very proud people, wonderful entrepreneurs and a wonderful workforce but they are not getting the opportunity. The Minister can throw us into the mix of the whole mid-west region and come up with what figures she wants. However, according to the Pobal index, the overall male unemployment rate in north Tipperary stands at 14.5% while the figure is 14.2% in south Tipperary. In the south of the county, according to the latest data for semi-skilled and unskilled classes, unemployment for this group stands at 23.7%. Five years prior to that, in 2011, it stood at 23.9% so it reduced by just 0.2% in five years, no matter what way the Minister wants to dress up the figures.

We need serious efforts by IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and others to bring industry to Tipperary town and its environs. It is not fair to throw them into the mix, as the Minister did glowingly. I ask her to come to visit the town to see the situation at first hand.

It is not my job to dress up statistics. The facts are the facts. It is not my job to spin them as "A" or "B".

Well, the Minister did a good job of it.

My job is just to relay the information to the Deputy. The Deputy asked for information on the huge unemployment issues in Tipperary and I have explained to him how fortunate Tipperary has been in the past number of years to have enjoyed the recovery it has, but we are not done. I reassure the Deputy that every effort is being made to continue to create jobs, building on the good work of both international and local businesses in Tipperary in providing employment in both the town and the county. The Government's goal is to create 200,000 jobs nationally by 2020, of which 135,000 are to be created outside the capital, which includes Tipperary. The south-east regional Action Plan for Jobs was launched in September 2015 and it covers counties Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford. The plan will see employment increasing in the region at a rate of 10% to 15% over the years from now until 2020. That will result in the creation of 25,000 new jobs in the region, which will benefit the people of Tipperary town and county. The reality is that tens of thousands of jobs are being created and that Tipperary is benefitting to nearly the same extent as the rest of the country. Those are not my figures, it is just reality.

The Minister is looking at Tipperary through rose-tinted glasses. The real issue is in the Minister's last answer where she referred to the south-east region of Carlow, Kilkenny and Tipperary. In an earlier answer, she said we were in the mid-west region. That is the problem with Tipperary town. It is on the border of the mid-west and the south east. We are falling between all stools. We do not have the jobs in Tipperary town, we do not have the IDA bringing visitors down and we do not have the factories either. The Minister is looking through the figures and cosying them up to suit whatever she wants to say herself. I gave her figures. I gave her the deprivation indexes. Tipperary town and its environs have been left behind badly over 25 to 30 years and it has not got the industry. The Minister can quote figures from the mid-west or the south east, but I ask her to focus on west Tipperary, including Tipperary town. The jobs are not there. While we have thousands of foreign direct investment jobs in Clonmel and other parts of Tipperary, for which we are grateful, I am talking about west Tipperary, which is languishing behind. The town is not being supported at national level or at local level by the county council. We need support. We are crying out for it.

The Deputy might be right about my rose-tinted glasses when it comes to Tipperary given that both my father and father-in-law hail from his good county.

The Minister should come back down and look at it.

Progress reports on the south regional Action Plan for Jobs are published twice a year and they show that 1,500 new jobs were created in the south east during 2017. Of those 1,500 jobs, 1,200 were created by IDA Ireland. The authority, which the Deputy claims does not come to his county, was responsible for creating 1,200 or the 1,500 jobs.

I asked about Tipperary town.

If the Deputy wants to have a conversation about building jobs in every single town in every single part of his county, every single one of us would like that.

The question was specific.

However, the Deputy cannot ignore the fact that Tipperary is thriving. It is flourishing. IDA Ireland is paying attention to it and Enterprise Ireland has increased employment there by 16% since 2015.

It must be the water the Minister is on instead of the glasses.

The Deputy cannot come in here and make claims which are blatantly false and which misrepresent the reality for the people in Tipperary. I am sorry but I will not allow it.

One-Parent Family Payment

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

59. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if the reduction of eligibility for the single-parent allowance from 18 to seven years will be reversed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39078/18]

We are told that our economy is growing at a rate of 9%, that we are back to full employment and that our budget is back in balance. This is the time, therefore, to reverse what was the worst cut during the period of difficulty and crisis, namely the cut to the single parent's allowance from 18 to seven years, which was introduced four or five years ago. I am interested to know whether the Minister will do that and what policy approach she will take in that regard. Those parents and families are 230% worse off than the average. Their children are growing up in poverty. Lone parents make up two thirds of the homelessness figures and they are usually women. Will the Minister support them and will she reverse the policy? It needs to change now.

My Department will spend an estimated €502 million on the one-parent family payment scheme in 2018. The scheme currently supports more than 39,000 recipients and their almost 73,000 children and has played an important role in providing income support to lone parents since its introduction in 1997. However, income support for lone parents was passive in nature in the past and involved limited engagement by the State employment services with recipients. Research shows that being at work reduces the at-risk-of-poverty rate for lone parents by 75% compared to those who do not work. This highlights that the best way to tackle poverty among lone parents is to assist them into education and then employment or directly into employment. Access to activation supports is vital to achieve this objective and it is, therefore, imperative that the Department continues to engage with lone parents to assist them into good careers.

The unconditional nature of the payment, which was unique in Europe, coupled with its long duration, has, over time, contributed to long-term social welfare dependency and, as the Deputy rightly describes, associated poverty among many lone parents and their children. Reforms to the scheme were introduced to address the issue of poverty specifically. The reforms provide enhanced access to the Department's Intreo service for lone parents once the youngest child turns seven years of age. Access to the Department's range of education and employment support services is essential to facilitate lone parents to progress into sustainable employment and financial independence. Budget 2018 contained a number of measures to support lone parents, including working lone parents. For example, a lone parent on the jobseeker's transitional payment working 15 hours at the national minimum wage experienced an increase in his or her overall income of almost €1,000 per annum. The budget also increased the disregard and the qualified-child payment which changes saw some people being moved out of consistent poverty. While I agree with the Deputy that we have a long way to go, it is only by intensifying the supports we give to those 39,000 lone parents that we will achieve fruitful careers and financial independence for them for the rest of their lives.

I am honestly shocked that the words I hear the Minister speak today are the exact same words Senator Kevin Humphreys used when, as Minister of State with responsibility in this area, he introduced the cuts in a lone-parent's allowance when a child reached seven years. The facts belie the policy approach the Minister and her Department seem to be taking. I understand that the Indecon report, which reviewed the effect of the cuts, showed a 50% increase in poverty for those families. I disagree fundamentally with the basic premise that parenting is not work, does not count, is passive and does not matter, and that one has to get people into the workplace to tackle social inclusion. If the Taoiseach said after the recent abortion referendum that the key thing we had to do now was make Ireland the best place in the world to raise all families, what is being done with these most vulnerable families is wrong. It is an opinion which is formed on an economic analysis that caring does not matter and that lone parents are a problem who must be got out of the home and into the workplace at all costs. It is a fundamentally wrong approach and a tragedy that it is applying now, whatever about it applying in 2012 when we had no money. It is ideological and that is why I have a concern. Even at a time of full employment and increasing income, the Government wants to stop supporting parents for an ideological reason.

I do not have an ideological problem with any parent in this country and I ask the Deputy to be mindful of the comments or accusations he throws around. I have done nothing since I was appointed to this position in June 2017 but advocate as strongly and loudly as I can to destigmatise the issues around lone parenting and to support lone parents. I have made commitments to ensure I will continue to do that. The Deputy has conflated the cuts that were made in 2012 and 2013 with the changes in policy. I reiterate that the Indecon review on the one-parent family payment changes, which was worth every single penny we were charged, found that those changes resulted in an increase in employment among lone parents and a decrease in welfare dependency. I am the first person to stand here and admit to the Deputy that the cuts were harsh, targeted and unfair. That is why I am unravelling them. However, I ask him to please not conflate those cuts with introduction of a new policy that provides educational and activation supports with a pathway to employment. That policy has had a positive outcome, as borne out in the Indecon report. The cuts were harsh and they will be unravelled but the Deputy should not conflate one policy with a cut.

There is nothing personal in this. It is purely the policy that concerns me. We should not discriminate between one parent and another and, in particular, we should not discriminate against lone parents who are in most in need of the State's support. We should not say to them that the way to help them is always through the paid workforce.

It is right for us to leave the parents with the choice for that and, for those parents who do not enter the workforce, to provide the supports we gave as early as the 1970s that fundamentally transformed the experience of being a lone parent in this country. I believe the policy being applied by the Minister is having a deleterious effect on lone parents and their families. All the evidence in the homeless statistics show the poverty figures and the levels of consistent poverty among children of lone parents. This is not a huge budget issue with regard to numbers: I understand that the restoration might cost €40 million or €50 million. It is the policy of the Department; it is not the Minister's policy because it was also there with the Labour Ministers before. I fundamentally disagree with it and I ask the Minister to reconsider whether forcing people into the paid workforce is the best way of providing social protection.

If I am hearing the Deputy right, his ideology is that he is happy that lone parents are dependent on welfare-----

No. That is not true.

-----and that they would be financially dependent for the rest of their lives. I am sorry but that is not an ideology I subscribe to, even the tiniest bit. We want to provide financial independence for this group of people who are living in consistent poverty that rates far higher than the rest of the population, as are their children. If they want to stay at home then that is a choice but it will not improve their living standards. In the main these women want to work. I do not know how many of these people the Deputy knows-----

I know several, Minister.

-----but they do not want to stay at home and be financially dependent on the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

I know several who will be deeply disadvantaged with this cut.

They want to be independent and have fulfilling lives. They want to have active and participative lives. That is what we are going to do. We will ensure that whatever resources and services they need in order to fulfil their ambition, which is having a full life, will be available from my Department and from the Department of Education and Skills.