Social Welfare Commission Bill 2018: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the establishment of a Commission to make recommendations and report annually on the adequacy of social welfare rates in the State; and to provide for related matters.

I am delighted to introduce the Social Welfare Commission Bill, honouring a commitment made by Sinn Féin as part of our manifesto in the previous general election. The Bill provides for the establishment of a social welfare commission. The principal function of the commission would be to examine the minimum income required by different household types in receipt of social welfare to develop a minimum essential standard of living for these citizens.

The commission would make associated annual recommendations to the Oireachtas for adjustments to social welfare rates ahead of budget time. The commission would build on the evidence-based consensus budgeting model developed by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice and its membership would include representation from those impacted by budgetary decisions.

The Bill also allows for the commission to recommend that any Department undertake a poverty impact assessment before implementing a specific policy measure. If this had been done, for example, on the policy that saw the age limit for payment of the one-parent family payment reduced, lone parents might not have been put in a situation where they were financially better off on welfare rather than at work.

The commission would be made up of members appointed by the Minister and the members would have a wide variety of expertise and knowledge. It would comprise four members from independent organisations involved in social justice; two members with particular knowledge in economics and statistics, employment law; and two members with an understanding or interest in particular issues faced by some or all of the following - lone parents, older people, pensioners, children, people with disabilities, the unemployed, young people and widows. The chairperson would be the ninth member and would also be appointed by the Minister. This structure is similar to that of the Low Pay Commission.

The commission, in its recommendations to the Oireachtas, will have the overall objective of ensuring that all household types receive a level of income that will allow them an acceptable standard of living. The commission will be free to invite submissions from various organisations to assist it in its annual report of recommendations.

The Bill will take the political football out of social welfare increases such as we see every year ahead of the budget around the State pension. It will ensure that all households in receipt of social welfare are protected from poverty and can attain an adequate standard of living whether they are rural or urban, one-parent or two, working or unemployed. Based on the annual budget made available to the Low Pay Commission of €480,000, Sinn Féin has allowed for this amount in our alternative budget launched this morning.

We believe that this is a practical and sensible step for the Government to take. The establishment of such a commission will assist us in reducing poverty and meeting our targets to reduce child poverty by lifting 95,000 children out of poverty by 2020.

I am proud to introduce this legislation and I urge all parties, particularly those in Government, not only to allow the legislation to proceed but to work to implement it as quickly as possible and remove it from being a political football every year as to whether pensioners and other recipients of social welfare payments are going to get them in the first place. It needs to be evidence-based, and establishing this commission will move us along that way.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.