Unemployment Data

Ceisteanna (880)

John Brady

Ceist:

880. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the current unemployment rate in County Wicklow by town or local welfare office; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23571/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The latest publication of the Labour Force Survey was released on 21 May 2019 and is the official measure of unemployment. The most recent data shows that the national unemployment rate fell from a peak of 15% in 2012 to 4.8% by Q1 2019. Unemployment decreased by 18,500 (13.9%) in the year to Q1 2019 bringing the total number of persons unemployed to 114,400.

Within the Mid-East region, which includes County Wicklow, unemployment has fallen from a peak of 17% in 2013 to 4.1% by Quarter 1 2019 with numbers in employment increasing from 272,400 in Q4 2013 to 341,300 by Q1 2019.

While data from the Labour Force Survey is not available at the county level, trends in the Live Register can give an indication of underlying trends in local employment.

Overall, the live register in Wicklow has fallen by 51.5% in the 5 years to April 2019, from 11,412 to 5,533. In the year to April 2019, the live register in Wicklow has fallen by just over 13%, in line with national trends.

Government policy to reduce unemployment is twofold. The polices set out in the Action Plan for Jobs have created an environment in which business can succeed and has led to the creation of almost 400,000 jobs in Ireland since the economic low point of 2012. Secondly, through the Pathways to Work strategy, my Department ensures that as many new jobs as possible are filled by people taken from the live register, particularly the long-term unemployed.

Currently there are 8 case officers in the Intreo service in Wicklow. A total of 2,883 customer engagements have taken place in 2019 between January and end May. The Bray Local Employment Service has also carried out 1,399 customer engagements in the same period.

Additionally, my Department has organised events for Jobseekers in County Wicklow. For example, during Jobs Week in March of this year, 16 employers and 13 service providers participated in the Jobs, Careers and Training Fair in Bray Institute of Further Education, which was attended by approximately 1,500 jobseekers.

To date the policies being pursued under the Action Plan for Jobs and under Pathways to Work have been effective in reducing unemployment, both nationally and in Wicklow.

Invalidity Pension Appeals

Ceisteanna (881)

Peter Burke

Ceist:

881. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if an appeal for invalidity pension can be reviewed for a person (details supplied). [23580/19]

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 2017. The claim was disallowed on the grounds that the medical conditions for the scheme were not satisfied and the gentleman concerned was engaged in farming. He was notified on 02 July 2018 of this decision, the reasons for it and of his right of review and appeal.

Following a review of his application by a deciding officer, the decision to disallow IP was upheld. The gentleman appealed the decision to the independent Social Welfare Appeals Office. An appeals officer (AO), having taken all available information into account, upheld the department’s decision and disallowed the appeal. He was notified of the decision of the AO on 09 January 2019. Following the submission of additional documentation by the gentleman in question, the case was reviewed by an AO and the decision to disallow the appeal was upheld. He was notified of the outcome of the review by the AO on 17 April 2019. The decision of an AO is final and conclusive in the absence of additional relevant evidence not available at the time of the appeal.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Illness Benefit Applications

Ceisteanna (882)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

882. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if a decision on an illness benefit claim can be expedited for a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [23588/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Payment of Illness Benefit to the person concerned was disallowed by a deciding officer following an examination by a Medical Assessor of the Department who expressed the opinion that she was capable of work.

A letter issued to the person concerned on the 17th April 2019 informing her of the decision and that her Illness Benefit payment would cease from 26th April.

At the request of the person concerned, a deciding officer reviewed the decision taking into account further medical evidence supplied. However, the original decision was upheld.

An appeal was lodged with the Social Welfare Appeals Office on 29th May and the case was sent for medical review on 5th June.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Disability Activation Projects

Ceisteanna (883)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

883. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of companies that have availed of the disability awareness training support scheme in each year since its inception; the amount spent on the scheme in each such year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23589/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

My Department provides a range of grants and supports to assist both jobseekers with disabilities and employers (in the private sector) to take appropriate measures to enable either a potential employee or existing employee with disabilities to obtain or retain employment. These include the:

- Disability Awareness Support Scheme (DASS)

- Reasonable Accommodation Fund (RAF), which encompasses the following:

- Employee Retention Grant

- Workplace Equipment / Adaptation Grant

- Personal Reader Grant

- Job Interview Interpreter Grant

(These schemes transferred from FÁS into the Department in 2012).

The Disability Awareness Support Scheme (DASS) provides funding so that private sector employers can fund Disability Awareness Training for their employees. The purpose of the training is to deliver clear and accurate information about disability and to address questions that employers and employees may have. It is intended the training will cover, for example, general and specific information on disabilities, perceptual awareness and disability etiquette.

It is important to note that the DASS is a demand-led scheme and that funding is provided by the Department in response to the number of applications received.

Table 1: DASS – number of companies/employers and funding provided:

Year

Number of Companies / Employers

Disability Awareness Support Scheme funding provided

2012

1

€2,430

2013

1

€834

2014

3

€3,760

2015

5

€12,964

2016

2

€9,270

2017

11

€62,275

2018

5

€20,214

2019*

1

€1,418

*Up to April 2019

State Pension (Contributory)

Ceisteanna (884)

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

884. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if a person (details supplied) will be included in the contributory pension review; if so, when they will be contacted; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23624/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Since late September 2018, my Department has been examining the social insurance records of approximately 90,000 pensioners, born on or after 1 September 1946, who have a reduced rate State pension contributory entitlement based on post-Budget 2012 rate-bands. These payments are being reviewed under a new Total Contributions Approach (TCA) to pension calculation which includes provision for homecaring periods.

The person concerned applied for and was awarded a reduced rate State pension (contributory) in 2017. However as they were already in receipt of a Widow's, widower's or Surviving Civil Partner's (contributory) pension at a more beneficial rate, the State pension (contributory) was withdrawn.

The person concerned has 818 reckonable paid contributions, which, combined with the maximum permissible number of HomeCaring periods and reckonable credits (1,040, as set out in legislation), results in a payment rate of 89.33% of the maximum rate of pension. Their current payment is equivalent to 95.73% of the maximum rate of State pension (contributory) so they continue to be better off on their current Widow's, widower's or surviving civil partner's (contributory) pension payment.

A review outcome letter has issued to the person concerned which includes a copy of their social insurance contribution record used in this decision.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Employment Support Services

Ceisteanna (885)

Louise O'Reilly

Ceist:

885. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to the closure of a jobs club (details supplied); if there are alternative sources of funding that can be utilised to keep the jobs club open; if there are alternative organisations that can offer this service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23637/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

On 20th February 2019 my Department received formal notice from Balbriggan Enterprise Development Group Ltd that Balbriggan Jobs Club Contract ceased on 14th February 2019. The Jobs Club had not operated since the end of January 2019.

There are a number of Employment Support services provided in the area including Intreo Activation Team, Balbriggan LES, Empower, CE and TUS.  With the total provision in the area measured against the Live Register we are satisfied that current provision is adequate. My Department will continue to monitor the levels of employment supports to ensure they are adequate for the demand.

Social Welfare Benefits Data

Ceisteanna (886, 887, 888, 890)

Mary Butler

Ceist:

886. Deputy Mary Butler asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated cost of increasing the weekly State pension by €9 per week to build towards achieving the commitment in the national pensions framework of a State pension set at 35% of average weekly earnings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23639/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mary Butler

Ceist:

887. Deputy Mary Butler asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated cost of increasing the living alone allowance by €3 per week to current recipients; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23640/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mary Butler

Ceist:

888. Deputy Mary Butler asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated cost of increasing the over 80s allowance by €2 per week to current recipients; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23641/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mary Butler

Ceist:

890. Deputy Mary Butler asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated cost of restoring the fuel allowance to 32 weeks, up from 27 weeks, to those eligible; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23643/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 886 to 888, inclusive, and 890 together.

The Roadmap for Pensions 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. The Department is currently considering options to implement this commitment, having examined previous studies on benchmarking and indexation, international experience and examination of a range of potential benchmarks and indices.

The cost of increasing the state pension contributory by €9 per week, including proportionate increases for qualified adults and those on reduced rates, is estimated at €176.3 million. The cost of increasing all pension rates by €9 per week, including proportionate increases for qualified adults and those on reduced rates, is estimated at €297.2 million.

The Living Alone Increase is a supplementary payment for people on certain social welfare payments who are living alone. The estimated cost of raising the Living Alone Increase by €3 per week, from €9 to €12, is €32.6 million.

Those in receipt of a social welfare pension automatically receive an increase when they reach 80 years of age. The cost of increasing the Over 80 Allowance by €2 per week, from €10 to €12, is €17.5 million.

The fuel allowance is a payment of €22.50 per week from October to April to over 373,000 low-income households, at an estimated cost of €235 million in 2019. The purpose of this payment is to assist these households with their energy costs. The estimated cost of increasing the fuel allowance to 32 weeks from 28 weeks to those eligible is €33.6 million.

Any changes to the above schemes would have to be considered in an overall budgetary context. It should also be noted that the costs above are subject to change in the context of emerging trends and associated revision of the estimated numbers of beneficiaries.

Bereavement Grant

Question No. 890 answered with Question No. 886.

Ceisteanna (889)

Mary Butler

Ceist:

889. Deputy Mary Butler asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated cost of restoring the bereavement grant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23642/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

During the economic downturn, my Department focused on protecting primary social welfare rates.  In recent years, as the economy has been recovering, the Government has concentrated resources in improving the core rates of payments, particularly for pensioners, resulting in considerable increases in these rates.

The Bereavement Grant was a payment of €850 made where the deceased or his/her surviving partner was an insured contributor to the social insurance fund.  Any decision to reinstate it would have to be considered in the context of overall budgetary negotiations.

The number of bereavement grant claims in 2013 was 23,716, and this represented an increase of approximately 4% on 2012.  Based on a similar yearly increase each year since 2013, it is estimated that the number of bereavement grant claims that might arise in 2020, were the scheme to be reintroduced, would be in the region of 31,200, and the number would be expected to increase in future years.  Accordingly, if there were 31,200 such grants made in 2019, at a rate of €850 each, the cost would be approx. €26.5 million.

It’s worth noting that there are a range of supports available for people following bereavement which provide more significant support than the grant.  These include weekly-paid widow's, widower's or surviving civil partner’s (contributory and non-contributory) pensions, which are based on contributions or a means test, and a once-off widowed or surviving civil partner grant of €6,000 where there is a dependent child.  A number of social welfare payments, including State pension, continue in payment for six weeks following a death.  In Budget 2016, the Government increased the payment after death period to 12 weeks for carer’s allowance.  Guardian payments are available where someone cares for an orphaned child.  A special funeral grant of €850 is paid where a person dies because of an accident at work or occupational disease.

Under the Supplementary Allowance scheme, the Department may make a single exceptional needs payment (ENP) to help meet essential, once-off expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet from their weekly income, which may include help with funeral and burial expenses.  This is a more targeted and efficient manner of assisting people with bereavement expenses. In 2018 ENPs were made in respect of 2,812 funerals at a cost of €5.317m and 69 burial expenses at a cost of €140,674.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Question No. 890 answered with Question No. 886.

Social Welfare Schemes Expenditure

Ceisteanna (891)

Mary Butler

Ceist:

891. Deputy Mary Butler asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the estimated cost of removing income barriers to older persons getting online by creating a digital support allowance of €5 per week for all persons in receipt of the State pension; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23644/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

The introduction of a digital support allowance of €5 per week for all persons in receipt of the State pension as the Deputy has suggested would in practice be an effective increase in weekly rate. The estimated yearly cost of the increase in payment, taking into account there are approximately 512,000 recipients of the State Pension Contributory and the State Pension Non-Contributory, would be in the region of €135m. The costs would increase further if this was extended to recipients of other payments made to people of pension age, e.g. Widows Contributory Pensions, and Increases for Qualified Adults where the recipient is aged 66 or over.

Any decision to introduce a new digital support allowance for all persons in receipt of the State Pension would have significant budgetary consequences and would have to be considered in the overall policy and budgetary context.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Public Services Card

Ceisteanna (892, 898)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

892. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of persons who had a social protection payment withheld and-or suspended for failure to produce and-or apply for a public services card since the card was introduced; the number of persons who appealed the payment suspension and won; the number of persons suspended from receiving payment for the reason of not holding a card; if such persons will have their payments reinstated; the rationale for withholding or suspending payments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23648/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

898. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the number of persons who had a public service withheld, suspended and-or refused for failure to produce and-or apply for a public services card since the card was introduced; the number of persons who appealed the decision not to provide the public service sought; the rationale for withholding or suspending payments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23708/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 892 and 898 together.

Social welfare legislation provides that a person who is applying for a Personal Public Services Number (PPSN) or a social welfare payment, or who is already in receipt of a social welfare payment, can be required to authenticate their identity. Where a person has authenticated their identity to a substantial level of assurance, they are issued a Public Services Card (PSC).

This legislation also allows for the disallowance or disqualification from receipt of social welfare payments in the event that a person does not authenticate their identity. As my Department spends over €19bn annually on supports and services, the Deputy will appreciate that it is essential that all steps are taken to ensure the people who access our services are the people who are entitled to receive them. I consider it reasonable, therefore, to ask people to authenticate their identity in this manner.

Data is not collected on the number of individuals who have had their payments stopped because they have failed to authenticate their identity.

Once a person has authenticated their identity and been issued with a PSC, other public service bodies accept the PSC as evidence that the person has authenticated their identity.  This removes the need for the person to repeatedly register their identity details with different public bodies when accessing services.

Earlier this year, my Department published the findings of a customer survey on the PSC. The results of the survey were very positive and showed strong support for the PSC and very high levels of customer satisfaction with the information provided and the processes involved in applying for a PSC. The results also showed that people welcome and support the sharing of identity information between public bodies because it makes their life easier when they are applying for public services.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Domiciliary Care Allowance Applications

Ceisteanna (893)

Eamon Scanlon

Ceist:

893. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of a domiciliary care allowance application by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23650/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

An application for domiciliary care allowance (DCA) was received from this lady on the 20th May 2019. Applications received in early April 2019 are currently being finalised. The application will be considered by a deciding officer in due course and the decision notified to her as soon as possible.

I hope this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Rates

Ceisteanna (894)

John Brady

Ceist:

894. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of her engagement with stakeholders, as required under section 19 of the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Act 2018, on the issue of examining ways in which social welfare rates are determined; the stakeholders she has met; if the findings of same will be provided; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23654/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

Section 19 of the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Act 2018 provides that "The Minister shall consult with stakeholders on examining ways in which social welfare rates are increased with the aim of ensuring adequacy for all recipients and shall do so in quarter 1 of 2019”. My Department has met with interested stakeholders to hear their views and comments on how the adoption of a benchmark, and a system of indexation, might work. This has involved bilateral meetings with certain stakeholders and roundtable meetings with a range of groups. The organisations consulted included the community and voluntary pillar, ICTU, IBEC, NESC, the ESRI and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

In addition, I intend that the issue will be considered further at my Department's Pre-Budget Forum in July. I would also welcome views from all political parties who are interested in this area and submissions should be made to my office.

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. This would include taking account of stakeholder views, as well as considerations of cost, work incentives, poverty alleviation, policy alignment and the administration of any proposed system.

Carer's Allowance Applications

Ceisteanna (895)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

895. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the status of an application for carer's allowance by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23671/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Employment)

An application for carer's allowance (CA) was received from the person concerned on 6 February 2019.

It is a condition for receipt of a CA that the person being cared for must have such disability that they require full-time care and attention.

This is defined as requiring from another person continual supervision and frequent assistance throughout the day in connection with normal bodily functions or continual supervision in order to avoid danger to himself or herself and likely to require that level of care for at least twelve months.

The evidence submitted in support of this application was examined and the deciding officer decided that this evidence did not indicate that the requirement for full-time care was satisfied.

The person concerned was notified on 16 May 2019 of this decision, the reason for it and of his right of review and appeal.