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Covid-19 Pandemic

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 3 December 2020

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Ceisteanna (6)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

6. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Social Protection the examinations being undertaken in relation to the instances of Covid-19 compared with the Pobal areas of deprivation throughout the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39849/20]

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Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Social)

On the social protection examinations that been undertaken since Covid-19 and the areas of deprivation that go along with that, it is no surprise that the areas of highest incidence of Covid-19 are also the areas of highest deprivation and dependence on social welfare payments, together with low pay. Has the Minister's Department looked at and has it got any figures on that issue?

Analysis of the instances of Covid-19 throughout the country does not fall within the remit of my Department as it is more proper to the Department of Health. However, my Department has made enquiries with the Department of Health, which has provided the following information. Since the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, met for the first time, a commitment was given to collect and publish as much relevant data as possible while ensuring individual patient confidentiality is always maintained. While the nature and scale of the Covid-19 pandemic has been unprecedented, the collection of timely and comprehensive data has been instrumental in developing the health service response to Covid-19 and to the advice provided by NPHET and the Department of Health to assist Government decision-making in the wider response to the disease in Ireland. Comprehensive national statistics, information and data about Covid-19, including a timeline of confirmed cases by date, is published daily on the Department of Health website and on the Covid-19 data hub and dashboards. Links to this data can be found on the gov.ie website.

The published data are based on official figures provided by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, HPSC, and the Health Service Executive. All datasets, charts and maps are updated on an ongoing basis and in line with newly published data. I am also aware that the Covid-19 data hub now offers regularly updated local electoral area, LEA, data. However, as mentioned, care is required to ensure patient confidentiality is preserved and no potential identification of individual cases arises. As a result, the data relating to confirmed cases by LEA are published weekly on a Thursday, reflecting new cases notified in each LEA for the 14-day period up to midnight on the previous Monday. The Deputy may also wish to note that a range of data on the epidemiology of Covid-19 in Ireland, including data on county incidence levels and trends in transmission, are published in the daily report by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre and is available on its website along with a daily report on the last 14 days in cases.

In the Department of Social Protection, 2,363 people were in receipt of the enhanced illness benefit as of 23 November. To date, more than 89,000 people have been medically certified for receipt of a Covid-19-related illness benefit payment.

I thank the Minister of State for the information which is, nevertheless, widely available. Has the Department looked at this issue? As the Department of Social Protection, it should be looking at how people are surviving, and Covid-19 is the main event that is taking place. It is not enough for the Department of Health only to be looking at this. The Department of Social Protection should also be looking at this.

I take it from the Minister of State's response that his Department has not taken a look at this. Will he rectify this position because this is vitally important? There are clear links between poverty and Covid-19 outbreaks. The fact that people share accommodation and have to work in jobs that put them at risk and are low paid has huge implications for the Department of Social Protection in our fight against Covid-19.

On the Deputy's question on the Pobal HP deprivation index, this is Ireland's primary social gradient tool used by numerous State agencies for the identification of disadvantage to target resources towards communities most in need. The index is recognised as a robust and reliable tool for the identification of relative levels of affluence or disadvantage across geographic areas by using existing data from the national census. The index allows for an objective regional and local assessment of relative disadvantage and affluence at the small area level which can be used both for targeting resources as well as measuring change over time.

There are currently no examinations being undertaken to map the incidence of Covid-19 to the Pobal HP deprivation index that Pobal is aware of. The Pobal HP deprivation index is freely available for researchers and policymakers to use from the Pobal website. While Pobal had initially intended to undertake such an examination itself, the necessary level of granular geographic incidence rate is currently not available to Pobal for such an examination to take place.

Does the Department of Social Protection not consider that it is something it should be interested in, because I believe it has a direct bearing on people? I ask the Department to look at it and see. I do not think that is too much to ask.

I chair an interdepartmental group which monitors the implementation of the social inclusion roadmap. We monitor poverty levels. The Deputy will be aware of the at-risk poverty rate, which is the percentage of people with an equivalised disposable income below 60% of the national equivalised median rate. We also monitor the basic deprivation rate and key in all of that is the consistent poverty rate, which is the percentage of the population that is both at risk of poverty and experiencing basic deprivation. It was 5.5% in 2019 compared with a 2018 rate 5.6%.

I also chaired the first interdepartmental group three to four weeks ago and I specifically raised this issue with the various Departments. I said that they needed to keep an eye out for the people using their services and how they were going to be adversely impacted by Covid-19, particularly those on the margins. I will be following that up at the next interdepartmental meeting.

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