Illness benefit is a short-term payment made to insured people who are unable to work due to illness. The payment is funded by the social insurance fund (SIF) through the payment of PRSI contributions by workers and employers and, in the event of a shortfall between contributions received and benefits paid, the Exchequer. The fund is central to Ireland’s system of social protection and the Government needs to ensure that it can provide adequate and sustainable social insurance pensions and benefits for a growing and ageing population.
Current arrangements provide that payment of illness benefit begins from the seventh day of the illness. No payment is made for the first six days, known as “waiting days”. Waiting days have been a long-standing feature of the social insurance system and are a feature of similar social security schemes in many other countries. When the current waiting day arrangements for illness benefit were changed in 2014 to six days from the previous three, the then projected full-year annual savings of extending the number of waiting days was €22 million per year.
In the many instances where occupational sick pay arrangements were in place, employees in effect continued to receive their income from employers. For those who did not have access to this but needed financial support during waiting days because they had no other income, they could claim supplementary welfare allowance from my Department.
My Department regularly reviews its supports and payments schemes to ensure that they continue to meet their objectives. Given the cost implications, any change to the current arrangements would have to be considered in a budgetary context.