I am aware of the Social Welfare Commission Bill 2018, sponsored by the Deputy, which seeks to, among other things, establish a Commission to monitor and make recommendations on social welfare rates at least once per year.
The Deputy will be aware that the issue of benchmarking and indexation of social welfare rates is not new. For example, previous studies were conducted by the Commission on Social Welfare in 1986 and the Social Welfare Benchmarking and Indexation Group in 2001.
The Roadmap for Pension Reform, published last year, commits the Government to examine and develop proposals to set a formal benchmark target of 34% of average earnings for the State Pension (Contributory) and to institute a process whereby future changes in pension rates of payment are explicitly linked to changes in consumer prices and average wages. My Department is currently considering options to progress this commitment.
I welcome the Deputy's engagement with the issue which we discussed during the passage of the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2018. In that context, Section 19 of the Act provides that I, as Minister, will arrange to "consult with stakeholders on examining ways in which social welfare rates are increased with the aim of ensuring adequacy for all recipients and will do so in quarter 1 of 2019". My Department will solicit the views of interested stakeholders and I look forward to seeing the outcome of these consultations.
As the Deputy is aware, any change to the current process of setting social welfare rates of payment would require Government approval and would have to be considered in the overall policy and budgetary context.