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Social Welfare Benefits

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 7 November 2017

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Ceisteanna (54)

Mattie McGrath


54. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the supports she is putting in place to support self-employed persons if, for example, a business fails or closes due to unexpected sickness or ill health. [43366/17]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Employment)

I draw the attention of the Minister to the plight of the self-employed. We know how important they are in this country, especially in the recovery, in keeping employment going and keeping the coffers filled through the payment of taxes. Could the Minister outline what the Government is doing to support those very people when they get into difficulty, when they fall ill or get an injury? We made a lot of play of that in the talks prior to the agreement of a programme for Government but I do not see much happening and I ask the Minister to outline what is happening to support those people who are the movers and shakers, as far as I am concerned, especially employers who employ between one and ten people.

I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for raising this question. The question comes within the remit of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, but I will respond in his absence. It is a pity the Deputy cannot see anything happening because we are committed to enhancing the position of self-employed people through the provision of services based on the PRSI benefits that are available from what I hope will be a supportive tax regime going forward.

Since March 2017, class S contributions have enabled 300,000 self-employed people to access the treatment benefit scheme which then included a free eye test, a free dental examination and a contribution to the cost of hearing aids. I hope the Deputy is aware from all of our radio advertisements and our Facebook pages that we have been adding additional benefits to the scheme which would reintroduce the dental scale and polish and some extensive periodontal treatment for teeth and either a free pair of glasses arising from payments made into the social insurance scheme or a subsidy towards a more expensive pair of glasses. What is more significant is that the self-employed contributions will also cover invalidity benefits from the end of December 2017 and for the first time that will give self-employed people access to the safety net of the State's income supports if they become permanently incapable of work, which was never the case previously.

Self-employed workers may also access social welfare supports by establishing eligibility to assistance-based payments such as jobseeker's allowance and disability allowance, which was never the case previously. A person may quality for a means-tested jobseeker's allowance if their business ceases or they are on a low income as a result of the downturn in demand for their services, which we very much saw happening in recent years. Many people could not afford the services of self-employed people and as a result their income was drastically reduced.

I hope that is not all and that we will be able to do more. Depending again on how well the economy recovers I would like to see all the benefits that are enjoyed by employees to be extended to the self-employed. Deputy McGrath is aware the Taoiseach wanted to do that previously when he was in this Ministry.

There is a totally unlevel playing field. The recession brought that home to so many. The Minister mentioned people who were not able to continue to get work but many of them did work and could not get paid for it and their businesses folded as a result. Such people were great generators of employment and they had good employees. They were the only people who were left with nothing and they had Revenue and others hounding them and charging them interest and penalties. We must be fair if we want entrepreneurs to get going. I am talking about ordinary people who are in jobs and who could go into self-employment. People who come out of college who are highly educated and want to go into business need to be supported. They need to know they have a safety net so they can put food on the table for themselves and their families. The amount of sickness, trauma and stress-related illnesses were the result of people not being able to get a penny. The measures outlined by the Minister are very welcome. We fought hard for such measures in the programme for Government as optical benefit and dental benefit. Getting an extra pair of glasses does not really bother people. What is important is to be able to provide food for the family and for the Government to provide some recognition of the effort they have made and the taxes and PRSI they have paid for their employees. They had a relationship with their employees and often looked after them even after they had to let them go, as should be the case. Employers and employees become very close. Employers need more supports when businesses fail or they close down through the mercilessness of banks or other people not paying them.

Deputy McGrath has described a number of reasons that people either lost their own job or small businesses closed in recent years. Thankfully, that situation is being rectified and we have a significant increase in the number of companies that are being registered currently with the Companies Registration Office, CRO. That bodes well going forward. Again, we need to make sure that the safety net of the State is available to those people who are gutsy enough to take their own initiative to either provide a job for themselves or others should, God forbid, any other economic crisis hit us in the future.

We have introduced a number of benefits. The invalidity benefit will be particularly welcomed by that sector. However, until we have jobseeker's benefit, carer's benefit and all the services that are available to an employed person based on contributions made available on an equal basis in the self-employment realm we will not be happy. We have to keep going until we get there.

They say, tús maith, leath na h-oibre. However, we need to recognise and give more recognition to the people who have set up their own business, whether they are farmers, shopkeepers, undertakers, plasterer or plumbers. They are entitled to get some security. I honestly believe they would not mind paying a little extra in PRSI for some kind of insurance policy, because they have families, wives, dependants, partners and children to look after. Perhaps they have a good deal of debt incurred in loans for equipment or whatever else.

These are the real generators. I am not talking about the large multinationals, although they are important too. I am talking about our homegrown indigenous people, who have the skill-sets, gumption, wherewithal and vision, as the Minister has said.

Many of these people have been knocked back and get heavy treatment from Revenue, the banks and everyone else when they are unable to manage. It is not that they do not want to; they have done work and materials have been supplied but they cannot get paid for it. This has led to some awful situations.

The Minister referred to social welfare and other issues, including jobseeker's benefit and so on. It is difficult when everything goes "bang". I have met those affected - we have all met them. Some do not have enough food to feed the family.

I come from a self-employed background, and I have experienced some of the difficulties Deputy McGrath has described. I do not even need to meet anyone else to know about it. I have walked the walk and I know exactly what Deputy McGrath is talking about. Given the contribution that the self-employed already make to the Social Insurance Fund and society by providing their services or other jobs for other people as well as their own gumption, I am reluctant to charge them any more.

I am not asking the Minister to charge them.

I know what Deputy McGrath is saying. A report was issued – we probably all read it – that referred to an acceptance that these people might take up to 5.5%, but I do not believe we should ask them to pay any more. We should extend from the Social Insurance Fund the benefits that everyone else enjoys.

I hope Deputy McGrath will work with me on this. I believe that some employers are using the system and manufacturing a situation whereby they do not pay the 10% plus of employers' PRSI benefits. That is the cohort of people we need to go after. That will put us in a situation where we can extend the benefits that Deputy McGrath, I and all the other Deputies want to extend to self-employed people.