Social Welfare Offices

Ceisteanna (647)

Imelda Munster

Ceist:

647. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the plans in train to provide new social welfare services for the mid County Louth area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11632/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Department of Employment Affairs seeks to provide comprehensive income and employment support services to residents in County Louth, though our Intreo Centres in Dundalk and Drogheda, and the Branch Office in Ardee. Some concern has been expressed about the future delivery of community welfare services in Ardee following the retirement of the community welfare officer. I canassure the public that arrangements have been made to ensure the continuation of the service.

I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Disability Allowance Applications Waiting Times

Ceisteanna (648)

Ruth Coppinger

Ceist:

648. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the processing times for disability allowance applications; and the work being done to reduce this processing time. [11633/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

My Department is committed to making decisions on entitlement as quickly as possible.

In general, social welfare schemes with a number of complex qualifying conditions can take longer to process. Before a decision can be made on entitlement to disability allowance (DA), evidence must be provided in respect of the person’s medical condition, the extent to which it restricts them from taking up employment, their means and their habitual residency.

In January 2019, the average waiting time for new DA applications was 14 weeks. The claim processing target for DA is to process 75% of claims within 12 weeks. Staff are being redeployed within the DA area to assist with claims processing.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Community Employment Schemes Operation

Ceisteanna (649)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

649. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if a project (details supplied) will be reviewed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11644/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Community Employment (CE) is an active labour market programme with the emphasis on progression into employment and/or further education and training. It is designed to break the cycle of unemployment and maintain work readiness, thereby improving a person’s opportunities of returning to the open labour market. On an annual basis, my Department contracts with the local sponsoring organisations and agrees participant numbers and funding arrangements.

In cases where a sponsor organisation is not able to fill their agreed contract places, they may consider a merger with another scheme in order to ensure viability. My Department will facilitate these mergers and work with sponsor organisations. In the case referred to by the Deputy, the project is unable to fill the agreed participant places. This issue has been raised with the sponsor organisation.

As the current contract is not being honoured and the project is no longer viable, my Department are not is a position to renew the contract at the end of March. I am very cognisant of the valuable community and voluntary services delivered in these local communities and the need to protect these services and the participant placements into the future. In that context, it is hoped that the sponsor organisation will continue to engage with my Department to reach a positive outcome.

I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Schemes Data

Ceisteanna (650, 651, 652)

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

650. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will address concerns that those engaged with the services provided by Turas Nua and who are employed in part-time work are being pressured to leave their part-time employment and pursue unsuitable or full-time employment at great distance or expense from the location they reside and thus nullifying an income gain; if she will consider limiting the mandatory engagement with Turas Nua to those who are full-time unemployed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11645/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

651. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of part-time or casual workers required to attend Turas Nua in each of the past three years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11647/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

652. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of those who have transitioned to full-time work from part-time or casual work through engaging with the services provided by Turas Nua; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11648/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 650 to 652, inclusive, together.

All jobseekers including those who are working part time and in receipt of Jobseeker payments from my Department are required to be actively seeking and available for full time employment and to engage with my Department's activation services

JobPath provides an intensive personal activation service, which focuses on the skills and experience of each person. In the case of people already in part-time employment, this may focus on options or opportunities in their current job to increase their level of employment. Alternatively, this could also entail looking at possibilities in other areas, which may require some training but could provide a more sustainable income and a move away requiring a jobseekers payment. It is important therefore that these jobseekers continue to engage with their JobPath provider.

Jobseekers referred to JobPath who are also working part-time will have all activities including meetings with their personal advisor scheduled around their work commitments and the JobPath contractors are required to be flexible in the provision of the service in that respect.

Often a lack of adequate and affordable transport is a barrier to people returning to employment. Turas Nua works to help their clients put solutions in place not only for their appointments but also to prepare them for the reality of returning to full-time work. Personal Advisers work with clients on their barriers to employment to ensure that when a suitable employment opportunity presents itself that they have a potential solution in place.

When a person is considering applying for a particular position, the Personal Adviser, where appropriate will discuss the journey time to the job and the person's available transport options. The financial implications of returning to work are also discussed and information is given on payments such as the Working Family Payment and the Back to Work Family Dividend. Turas Nua provide a Job Start Information Pack for their clients containing relevant information on returning to work and also provide in- work support for up to 52 weeks after the person commences employment over 30 hours per week.

From the beginning of 2016 to the end of 2018 approximately 12,700 part-time or casual workers have been referred to Turas Nua, of which over 4,000 have commenced full-time work to date, as set out in table 1 below.

It should be noted that many of these clients are currently still engaged with JobPath, are still in the first phase of the service and thus will not have had sufficient time with the service to have gained employment. Performance will improve over time as more clients complete their engagement with the service.

Table 1

Year

Casual/Part time jobseekers engaged by Turas Nua

Commenced full time employment

2016

799

312

2017

7008

2746

2018

4955

1337

Totals

12762

4395

I trust this clarifies matters for the Deputy.

Carer's Allowance Eligibility

Ceisteanna (653)

John McGuinness

Ceist:

653. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if carer's allowance or benefit will continue to issue to a person (details supplied); the other financial supports available to the person; if the history of the benefit paid will be provided; and the reason benefit was not continued. [11662/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Carer's Allowance (CA) is a means-tested social assistance payment while Carer's benefit (CARB) is a social insurance payment made to full-time employees who leave the workforce.

Both payments may be payable to persons who are providing full-time care and attention to a child or an adult who has such a disability that they require that level of care, provided that they satisfy the qualifying conditions.

The person concerned was in receipt of CA from 28 June 2007 to 18 October 2017 in respect of her daughter.

However, following a review of her claim in October 2017, her entitlement to CA ceased, as her means were determined to exceed the statutory limit.

The person concerned re-applied for CA on 7 December 2017.

The application for CA was disallowed as her means were determined to still exceed the statutory limit.

The person concerned was notified on 18 April 2018 of this decision the reason for it and her right of review and appeal.

The person concerned applied for CARB on 16/11/2018. This application was disallowed because the person concerned failed to show that she was working a minimum of 16 hours per week in 8 weeks out of the 26 week period before her claim was due to start.

The person concerned was notified on 26 February 2019 of this decision, the reason for it and her right of review and appeal.

No request for a review or appeal was received from the person concerned in relation to CA or CARB.

Domiciliary Care Allowance (DCA) is a monthly payment for a child aged under 16 with a severe disability, who requires on-going care and attention, substantially over and above the care and attention usually required by a child of the same age. It is not means tested. The person concerned is in receipt of DCA in respect of her daughter.

The Carer's Support Grant (CSG) is an annual payment made to carers by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

Carers can use the grant in whatever way they wish. In June of each year (usually on the first Thursday of the month), the Department pays the grant automatically to carers getting CA, CARB, or DCA. Only one CSG can be paid for each person getting care.

It can also be paid to certain other carers providing full-time care who do not qualify for CA, CARB or DCA.

The person concerned has qualified for the CSG each year since 2008.

Individuals who are caring and who do not qualify for CA may qualify for the homemaker’s scheme. The homemaker’s scheme is designed to help homemakers and carers qualify for the SPC, and applies to homemaking periods since 6 April 1994. It equally applies to both men and women.

The scheme provides that years spent working in the home while caring on a full-time basis for a child up to 12 years of age or an incapacitated person age 12 or over will be disregarded in calculating a person's yearly average number of contributions for the purposes of determining the rate of their entitlement to SPC. In this way the homemaker’s scheme ensures that an individual’s entitlement to SPC is protected during periods spent caring.

Accordingly I have arranged for a statement of payments to issue to the person concerned in respect to the period she was in receipt of CA.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Illness Benefit Payments

Ceisteanna (654)

Kevin O'Keeffe

Ceist:

654. Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will arrange for details in the case of a person (details supplied) to be sent to the illness benefit section from a local branch of her Department; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the information has been sought from the branch on two occasions by email but no response has issued and a person that claimed illness benefit cannot receive payment of same until the information sought has been received; and if her attention has been further drawn to the fact that the information was first sought in November 2018. [11672/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Illness Benefit claim from the person concerned has been processed and all arrears owing to her have been issued.

The person concerned was a qualified adult on her partner's Jobseeker's Allowance claim. This means that her partner was in receipt of a qualified adult allowance in respect of her.

The monetary difference between this allowance and her Illness Benefit entitlement had to be calculated before her Illness Benefit payment could be made to her. This has now been completed.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Community Employment Schemes Supervisors

Ceisteanna (655)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

655. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of community employment supervisors (details supplied); if further discussions have taken place with unions on this matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11693/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I am acutely aware of the valuable and dedicated service that Community Employment, CE, sponsor organisations provide in running CE Schemes all over the country. CE supervisors, as employees of these organisations, are an integral part of that good work.

However, it is important to emphasise the fact that CE scheme supervisors are employees of private companies in the community and voluntary sector that receive public funding. They are not employees of my Department or public servants, and as such were not subject to pay reductions, pension contributions or the Pension-related Deduction, PRD, under the provisions of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest, FEMPI, which only applied to public servants.

The State is not responsible for funding pension arrangements for employees of private companies, even where the companies in question are reliant on State funding. Pension arrangements are a matter to be agreed between employees and their employers. All employers, including CE sponsoring organisations, are legally obliged to offer access to at least one Standard Personal Retirement Savings Account, PRSA, under the Pension (Amendment) Act 2002.

The issue was examined by a Community Sector High Level Forum, chaired by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. A number of Departments including my own Department were represented on this group, as were the unions and Pobal.

Exchequer funded pension entitlements for CE supervisors presents very significant issues for the Exchequer. These supervisors comprise just one small group within the wider Community and Voluntary sector. Nevertheless, on foot of the Labour Court recommendation, a detailed scoping exercise was carried out with input from the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service, IGEES, on the potential costs of providing Exchequer support for the establishment of such a pension scheme for employees across the Community and Voluntary sector in Ireland. This exercise estimated a potential cost to the State of between €188 million per annum and €347 million depending on the numbers involved, which is hard to establish. This excludes any provision for immediate ex-gratia lump sum payment of pension as sought, which could entail a further Exchequer cost of up to €318 million.

CE supervisors may qualify for the State Pension (Contributory) if they have accrued sufficient PRSI contributions. The State Pension (Contributory) is not means-tested. This pension has a maximum personal rate payable of €12,695 per annum, increasing to €12,956 in March 2019.

The entitlement to an occupational pension is not a matter for this Department. It would therefore be proper for the Deputy to raise this matter with my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

Social Welfare Rates

Ceisteanna (656)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

656. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated full-year cost if the island allowance of €12.70 per week was increased to €15.50 per week; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11731/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The increase for living on a specified island (Island Increase) is an increase to certain weekly payments from this Department to people who are ordinarily resident on an island off the coast of Ireland. The objective of the scheme is to compensate for the additional costs of living on these specified islands when compared to people resident on the mainland.

The full year cost of raising the Island Increase by €2.80, from €12.70 per week to €15.50 per week, would be approximately €81,000.

Public Services Card Authentication

Ceisteanna (657, 658, 663)

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

657. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to a recent opinion of the European Data Protection Supervisor (details supplied) in the context of the ongoing controversy in relation to the roll-out of the public services card; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11733/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

658. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will address matters relating to the General Data Protection Regulation (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11738/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

663. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will address matters (details supplied) in relation to SAFE II; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11859/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 657, 658 and 663 together.

Completion of registration to SAFE Level 2 - which is the process used by my Department to establish and verify a person’s identity to a substantial level of assurance - is the minimum requirement for a Public Services Card (PSC) to issue.

The Department uses facial image matching software to strengthen the SAFE registration process. A standard photograph is captured during this process and is inputted into and stored in the facial image matching software. It is then searched against the Department’s photo database to ensure that the person in the photograph has not already been registered using a different identity.

While the PSC does store a person’s photograph, it does not store the biometric or arithmetic template of that photograph. The collection and printing of a simple JPEG image on the PSC does not, therefore, constitute the collection or processing of special category data, as set out in the GDPR.

To be clear, the photograph in addition to being printed on the PSC, is processed, in a separate process, via facial imaging software to create an arithmetic template which is used to detect potential identity fraud. This arithmetic template is not stored on the PSC, does not form part of the public service identity set and is not shared with any other third party.

My Department’s position is, therefore, that the SAFE2/PSC photo is not itself biometric in nature – it is simply a photograph. My Department is also clear that it does not collect or share biometric data but that it does create such data for its own use, to enable it to carry out its functions in relation to the PSC, as set out in the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005. In this context, the Department also acts in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018 and Article 9 of the GDPR.

Article 9(1) of the GDPR prohibits the processing of special categories of personal data, including biometric data. However, recital (51) of the GDPR provides that the ‘processing of photographs should not systematically be considered to be processing of special categories of personal data as they are covered by the definition of biometric data only when processed through a specific technical means allowing the unique identification or authentication of a natural person’.

Article 9 (2) of the GDPR sets out exceptions to the prohibition on processing in Article 9(1). These exceptions are further transposed into Irish law by way of the Data Protection Act 2018 and in particular Part 3, Chapter 2 and Part 5 of that Act.

Where the Department makes considerable efforts to authenticate identity, in part through facial matching, this should be regarded as a positive measure which protects an individual’s identity.

It is the Department’s firm view that these measures are necessary, prudential and of benefit to individuals by protecting against identity fraud and theft and that this processing is proportionate to the outcome in ensuring personal data is appropriately protected.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) Opinion 7/2018 - referred to by the Deputy - relates to the Proposal for a Regulation strengthening the security of identity cards of Union citizens and other documents. The EDPS is an independent institution of the EU for advising Community institutions, bodies and data subjects on all matters concerning the processing of personal data. The Commission is required - when adopting a legislative Proposal relating to the protection of individuals’ rights and freedoms with regard to the processing of personal data - to consult the EDPS.

In summary, this opinion paper supports the objective of the European Commission to enhance the security standards applicable to identity cards and residence documents. At the same time, the EDPS considers that the Proposal does not sufficiently justify the need to process two types of biometric data (facial image and fingerprints), while the stated purposes could be achieved by a less intrusive approach. It specifically states that "The EDPS understands that using biometric data might be considered as a legitimate anti-fraud measure, but the Proposal does not justify the need to store two types of biometric data for the purposes foreseen in it.

The opinion paper refers on numerous occasions to dactyloscopic/dactyloscopy which is identification by comparison of fingerprints. The Deputy should note that my Department does not collect or store fingerprints.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Invalidity Pension Applications

Ceisteanna (659)

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

659. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when a decision will be made on an invalidity pension application by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11742/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Invalidity pension (IP) is a payment for people who are permanently incapable of work because of illness or incapacity and who satisfy the pay related social insurance (PRSI) contribution conditions.

The department received a claim for IP for the gentleman concerned on 13 December 2018. This claim was disallowed on the grounds that the medical conditions for the scheme were not satisfied . He was notified on 06 March 2019 of this decision, the reasons for it and of his right of review and appeal.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Disability Allowance Applications

Ceisteanna (660)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

660. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when a disability allowance application by a person (details supplied) will be reviewed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11777/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Following the submission of further medical evidence by the person concerned, their case has been reviewed and they have been awarded disability allowance with effect from 31 October 2018. The first payment will be made on 27 March 2019.

Arrears of payment due will issue as soon as possible once any necessary adjustment is calculated and applied in respect of any overlapping payments.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Carer's Support Grant

Ceisteanna (661)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

661. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated full-year cost if the carer's support grant was increased from €1,700 to €2,000. [11817/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Carer’s Support Grant is an annual payment made by my Department to carers. It is paid automatically to carers who are in receipt of Carer’s Allowance, Carer’s Benefit or Domiciliary Care Allowance.

The estimated full year cost of increasing the Carer's Support Grant from €1,700 to €2,000 is €35.2 million.

Invalidity Pension Applications

Question No. 663 answered with Question No. 657.

Ceisteanna (662)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

662. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the reason it has taken over three months to review an invalidity pension application by a person (details supplied); when a decision will be made on the review; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11845/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Invalidity pension (IP) is a payment for people who are permanently incapable of work because of illness or incapacity and who satisfy the pay related social insurance (PRSI) contribution conditions.

The department received a claim for IP for this lady on 27 September 2018. Her claim was disallowed on the grounds that the medical conditions for the scheme were not satisfied. She was notified on 19 November 2018 of this decision, the reasons for it and of her right of review or appeal.

She requested a review and appeal of this decision and submitted further medical evidence on 03 December 2018 in support of her request. Following a review of all the information available it has been decided that there is no change to the original decision and a submission is being prepared by the department and will be forwarded to the Social Welfare Appeals Office (SWAO) for determination. She was notified on 08 March 2019 of the outcome of the review.

The SWAO will be in touch with her directly in relation to the progress of her appeal.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Question No. 663 answered with Question No. 657.

Public Services Card Provision

Ceisteanna (664)

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

664. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the way in which a person (details supplied) in County Cork can obtain a public services card while the person's original passport is being held by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11887/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Public Services Card (PSC) enables individuals to gain access to public services more efficiently and with a minimum of duplication of effort, while at the same time preserving their privacy to the maximum extent possible. A PSC is currently issued following a registration process which involves the verification of the person's identity, the capture of an individual’s photograph and signature and the verification of data already held by the Department.

The document requirements to prove identity depend on the nationality of the person concerned. EEA nationals must provide a current valid National ID card or passport. Persons from outside the EEA must provide a current valid passport. More information is available on the Department's website here:

http://www.welfare.ie/en/Pages/Public-Services-Card_holder.aspx

My Department understands that the passport for the person concerned is currently held by the Repatriation Unit of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service while her continued presence in the State is being considered under section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999, as amended. As soon as she is in a position to produce her passport as proof of identity, the allocation of a PSC to her can be considered.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Departmental Programmes

Ceisteanna (665)

John Brady

Ceist:

665. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the stage at which the national action plan for social inclusion 2019 to 2025 is at; the reason it is not yet published; the date it will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11913/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

My department is currently finalising the new Social Inclusion Strategy for the period 2019 – 2025. It will have a ‘whole of government’ approach which recognises the shared responsibility across Government to achieve improved outcomes for the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society.

The most up to date poverty data from the 2017 Survey on Income and Living Conditions was released by CSO in mid-December 2018. This data was examined and is being incorporated into the draft document which is now the subject of consultations with other departments. The data showed that the consistent poverty rate had decreased to 6.7% in, from 8.2% in 2016. The percentage of the population experiencing deprivation also significantly decreased, falling to 18.8% from the 2016 figure of 21%. These figures demonstrate that the Government’s approach to tackling poverty through the provision of income supports, access to quality services and supports for people in taking up employment is working.

My department is currently in discussions with other Government departments to agree the final text of the new strategy. It is my intention that it will be published at the earliest opportunity, most likely in Q2 2019.

One-Parent Family Payment Eligibility

Ceisteanna (666)

John Brady

Ceist:

666. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to increase the cut-off age of seven years for lone parents in receipt of the one-parent family payment in order to revert back to making it payable for a child up to 18 or up to 22 years of age for those in full-time education; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11914/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

My Department spent over €500 million on the one-parent family payment (OFP) scheme in 2018. The scheme currently supports over 39,000 recipients and almost 73,000 children.

The OFP scheme has played an important role in providing income support to lone parents since its introduction in 1997.

Research shows that being at work reduces the at-risk-of-poverty rate for lone parents by three-quarters, compared to those who do not work. This highlights that the best way to tackle poverty among lone parents is to assist them into employment. Access to activation supports is vital to achieve this objective and it is therefore imperative that my Department continues to engage with lone parents to assist them into employment.

The lack of conditionality on the OFP payment, which was unique in Europe, coupled with its very long duration, has, over time, contributed to long-term social welfare dependency and associated poverty among many lone parents and their children. The reforms to the OFP scheme were introduced to address this issue. The reforms provide enhanced access to the Department’s Intreo service to lone parents once their youngest child turns 7 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 2019 contained a number of measures to support lone parents, including working lone parents. There was an increase in the weekly rates of payment for OFP. The income disregard for one-parent family payment and jobseeker’s transition payment recipients will increase to €150 per week with effect from the week commencing 25/03/19 (the highest income disregard level to date). The weekly rates of the Increase for Qualified Children (IQC) in 2019 will also increase the same week by €2.20 per week (from €31.80 to €34) for children under 12, and by €5.20 per week (from €31.80 to €37) for children aged 12 and over. This measure will benefit over 370,000 children and will help to tackle child poverty.

Any change to the OFP as mentioned by the Deputy would have to be considered in the overall budgetary context.

Jobseeker's Transitional Payment

Ceisteanna (667)

John Brady

Ceist:

667. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated full-year cost of extending the cut-off age for the jobseeker's transition payment until the youngest child reaches 18 years of age; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11915/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The cost of increasing the age limit for a qualified child for the jobseeker's transitional payment (JST) to when the youngest child turns 18 years of age is not easily estimated.

There are significant barriers to undertaking such an exercise. For example, customers may no longer be within the welfare system, while others could seek to move from alternative payments such as Jobseekers Allowance (JA), the Working Family Payment (WFP) and the Back to Work Family Dividend (BTWFD) back to JST. It would be difficult for my Department to estimate the magnitude of this flow into and between schemes with any degree of accuracy.

As these unknown factors are critical to providing a reliable costing my Department is not in a position to provide the costing requested.

Working Family Payment Eligibility

Ceisteanna (668)

John Brady

Ceist:

668. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if consideration has been given to reducing the number of hours necessary to qualify for the working family payment from 19 to 15 hours per week in order to support more workers engaged in low hour and low paid work and their families; the additional costs involved in such a change; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11916/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The Working Family Payment (WFP) is an in-work support which provides an income top-up for employees on low earnings with children. WFP is designed to prevent in-work poverty for low paid workers with child dependants and to offer a financial incentive to take-up employment. Estimated expenditure on WFP in 2018 is approximately €430 million and it is currently paid to almost 54,000 families in respect of some 122,000 children.

To qualify for WFP, a person must be engaged in full-time insurable employment which is expected to last for at least 3 months and be working for a minimum of 38 hours per fortnight or 19 hours per week. A couple may combine their hours of employment to meet the qualification criteria. The applicant must also have at least one qualified child who normally resides with them or is supported by them. Furthermore, the average family income must be below a specified amount which varies according to the number of qualified children in the family.

The “hours worked” eligibility criterion has been reduced significantly since the introduction of the scheme in 1984, from 30 hours per week to 19 hours per week in 1996. Indeed, a recent review of in-work supports found that the current range of supports works very well for the vast majority of families and facilitates an element of choice which allows them to select the option which best suits their needs.

For low income workers with less than the minimum hours of employment for WFP and working on a casual basis up to and including 3 days per week, jobseeker’s schemes provide in-work income support through daily disregards and tapered withdrawal of payments.

Further reducing the “hours worked” requirement would have potentially significant expenditure implications which are difficult to quantify. The number of families working between 15-18 hours and are earning below the relevant WFP thresholds is currently unknown. Also, reducing the numbers of hours worked required to access WFP from 19 to 15 could have a number of behavioural effects the increased cost of which would be difficult to predict. These effects include:

- reducing the incentive to increase part-time hours, resulting in recipients on the minimum 19 hours threshold reducing their hours of work;

- attracting new recipients currently on higher wages above the WFP threshold, who might decide to reduce their hours in order to qualify.

It is crucially important that WFP does not inadvertently subsidise unsustainably low earnings or encourage employers to offer minimal hours of employment. The longer term goal of WFP, as an incentive to take up and remain in work, could be compromised if the nature of the work taken up is not ultimately sustainable without ever-increasing and perhaps ultimately unsustainable levels of subvention.

Any plans to reduce the WFP hours-worked threshold below 19 hours would have to be considered in the overall budgetary context.

One-Parent Family Payment

Ceisteanna (669)

John Brady

Ceist:

669. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to a report by an organisation (details supplied) into the employment and living conditions of one-parent families here; if so, her views on same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11917/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I note the report referred to by the Deputy.

The policy goal of the changes to the One-Parent Family Payment (OFP) scheme were to tackle long-term social welfare dependency - and its associated poverty risks - through a tapering of income supports and a more active engagement process offering enhanced educational, training and employment supports for lone parents via the Department’s Intreo service.

Budget 2019 raised the weekly rates of payment for working age schemes and also increased the income disregard for one-parent family payment and jobseeker’s transition payment recipients to €150 per week with effect from 25/03/19 (the highest disregard level to date). The weekly rates of the IQC in 2019 will also increase: by €2.20 per week (from €31.80 to €34) for children under 12; and by €5.20 per week (from €31.80 to €37) for children 12 and over. This measure will benefit over 370,000 children and will help to tackle child poverty.

With regard to increases introduced in Budget 2019 alone, for example, a lone parent working 15 hours per week at the National Minimum Wage is now better off by almost €1,000 per year.

The Department’s social impact assessments of Budgets 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 are an indicator of the improvements over that time for lone parents. These show a cumulative increase of €43.75 in the average weekly household income of employed lone parents (and €45.00 for unemployed lone parents). This compares favourably with a weekly increase of €39.25 for the average household.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is in the final stages of drafting the new Poverty and Social Inclusion Strategy which will assemble in one place the range of policy measures across government departments that are designed to address the different aspects of poverty and social exclusion. It is intended that it will include targeted actions to improve supports that allow lone parents to take up education, training and employment opportunities. The new strategy will include a programme of work to identify the actions and services that have the most significant impact on reducing poverty and deprivation for different groups, including children.