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Gnáthamharc

Thursday, 25 Nov 2021

Written Answers Nos. 1-31

Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, answered orally.

Social Welfare Benefits

Questions Nos. 5 to 12, inclusive, answered orally.

Ceisteanna (4)

Carol Nolan

Ceist:

4. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of carer’s allowance and carer’s benefit applications made to her Department, by county, from 1 January 2019 to date, in tabular form; the number of applications that were refused over the same period; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58216/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

My Department provides a range of supports to carers including Carer's Allowance and Carer's Benefit. These payments support individuals who provide care to people in need of full-time care and attention. Carer's Allowance (CA) is a means tested payment and Carer's Benefit (CARB) is a payment to insured people who leave the workforce or reduce their working hours. Historic information on applications received on a county basis, based on where a person lived at the time of their application, is not readily available. I have asked officials to collate the information sought to the extent possible and to forward it to the Deputy as quickly as possible. There are 90,478 people currently in receipt of CA. The number of people in receipt of CA has increased by 75% in the past 10 years, from 51,666 in 2011. In 2020 expenditure on Carer's Allowance income supports was €926 million and it is expected to exceed €954 million in 2021. There are 3,344 people currently in receipt of Carer’s Benefit. The number of people in receipt of CARB has increased by 104% in the past 10 years, from 1,637 in 2011. In 2020 expenditure on Carers Benefit income supports was €49 million and it is expected to exceed €47 million in 2021. It will be clear to the Deputy that the trajectory of CA payments - both in terms of successful applications and expenditure - is in one direction only, reflecting the Government's sustained commitment to and appreciation of the crucial work undertaken by carers. Significant improvements in new claim decision making has been achieved over recent years for Carer’s Allowance and Carer’s Benefit. This has been maintained by my Department throughout the period of the pandemic. The average time to award Carer’s Allowance and Carer's Benefit in 2021 is 4 weeks compared to an average of 12 weeks in 2019. As part of Budget 2022, I was pleased to able to announce additional measures which will allow carers to have a higher weekly household income and a higher level of savings, and still qualify for a Carer’s Allowance payment. These significant changes will mean more Carers will now qualify for the payment while those in receipt of a reduced payment will also see increases. From next June, the amount of weekly income disregarded in the means test for Carer’s Allowance will increase from €332.50 to €350 for a single person, and from €665 to €750 for a couple. In addition, the amount of capital or savings disregarded in the means test will be increased from €20,000 to €50,000. These are the first changes to the Carer’s Allowance means test in some 14 years and will ensure that thousands more people will now qualify for the payment. In addition, many Carer’s who are currently on a reduced payment rate due to means will move to a higher payment.

Questions Nos. 5 to 12, inclusive, answered orally.

Social Welfare Eligibility

Ceisteanna (13)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

13. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to reform the criteria for the fuel allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57448/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

Fuel Allowance criteria are designed in a way that directs the resources available to my Department in as targeted a manner as possible. This ensures that the fuel allowance payment goes to those who are more vulnerable to fuel poverty including those reliant on social protection payments for longer periods and those who are unlikely to have additional resources of their own.

We made a number of considerable reforms to the fuel allowance scheme in Budget 2022, including:

- An increase in the weekly rate of fuel allowance by €5 with immediate effect from budget night bringing it to €33.

- A €20 increase in the weekly income threshold. While it was originally intended to introduce this from the 1st January 2022, I asked my officials to prioritise this work. I am happy to inform the Deputy that this work will now be completed at the end of this week with the effective date for the implementation of the revised means test now backdated to Budget day.

The combined cost of both of these measures is in the region of €60million and we estimate that approximately 400,000 households will benefit from Fuel Allowance next year. In addition, the qualifying period for Jobseeker’s and Supplementary Welfare Allowance recipients will be reduced from 15 to 12 months with effect from September 2022 ahead of the start of the next Fuel season.

Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, my Department provides discretionary exceptional needs payments, where appropriate, to people who face difficulties in meeting fuel bills. These payments are not ring-fenced or budget limited as they would be if they were drawn from an earmarked fund, but rather are demand led.

Social Welfare Eligibility

Ceisteanna (14)

Joan Collins

Ceist:

14. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason that a person in receipt of the carer’s allowance cannot get the over 65 benefit payment and retain the half-rate carer’s allowance given that when a person reaches 66 years of age they can claim the State pension and retain the half-rate carer’s allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58051/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Benefit Payment for 65 Year Olds is a recently introduced scheme to provide an income support to people who are 65, who were in employment and who are required to, or who choose to, retire at age 65, but who do not qualify for the State Pension until they reach age 66. This scheme has been introduced as a new measure to address a specific concern raised on behalf of people in this very defined circumstance. My view is that the scheme meets the needs of people in this situation and is adequate to address to issue raised. The half-rate Carer’s Allowance can be paid to any recipient or qualified adult dependent of an illness, disability or pensions payment where they are also providing full-time care to another person. Individuals in full-time employment do not qualify for a carer's payment nor do people in receipt of a Jobseeker’s payment qualify for a half-rate carer’s allowance. Similarly, as initiated, the benefit payment for 65 year olds, being intended to provide a payment to people who would otherwise be in employment, does not provide for entitlement to concurrent payments such as half-rate carers. However, I note the point raised by the Deputy, thank her for raising it and agree that it is a change that warrants consideration. In saying this it is important to note that the Benefit Payment for 65 Year Old scheme may itself change as we proceed to take account of the recommendations of the pensions commission. The Government is committed to responding to the commission recommendations by March of next year and in doing so I can assure the Deputy that we will keep an open mind with respect to the issue that she has raised.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Question No. 16 answered with Question No. 9.

Ceisteanna (15)

Mick Barry

Ceist:

15. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will ensure that the full pandemic unemployment payment is made available for workers losing work as a result of recent Covid-19 restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57936/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Pandemic Unemployment Payment, or PUP as it is referred to, was introduced as an emergency response to an almost complete economic shutdown. The Government mandated public health restrictions meant that most sectors throughout the economy were closed with the hundreds of thousands of employees and self-employed did not have alternative employment options.

In those circumstances the Government supported workers throughout the pandemic with expenditure on PUP and EWSS/TWSS combined now exceeding €16Bn. We have also carefully calibrated the transition from PUP to standard jobseeker terms over a prolonged period until next February. I have no plans to change this position at this time.

Since then the number of PUP recipients has fallen dramatically by 90% from a peak of 600,000 last year to just over 57,000 this week. The numbers are continuing to fall with a reduction of over 3,300 within the last week. This shows that people are continuing to avail of employment opportunities.

The measures announced by Government last week, including the introduction of an earlier closing time limit in the night time industry, do not represent an economic shutdown along the lines of those previously in place.

Many employers in the sector have adapted their trading hours to meet the new closing time requirement and they can also avail of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme to retain workers on their payrolls.

It is also the case that while employment opportunities were very limited under the wider restrictions of previous lockdowns, many business are, this time around, struggling to find staff and some are having to limit their own opening hours due to non-availability of staff.

Taking all of these factors into consideration, I do not propose to reintroduce PUP as a consequence of the measures announced last week.

I would encourage employers to avail of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme to retain staff on their payroll. Where this may not be possible, there are a range of income supports available from my Department for people who lose their employment, under the Jobseeker's schemes.

The situation remains under close review by Government as we continue to monitor the impacts of the Covid-19 virus on our health services over the coming weeks.

Question No. 16 answered with Question No. 9.

Social Welfare Appeals

Ceisteanna (17)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

17. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection when oral hearings as part the social welfare appeals process will be reintroduced to facilitate a more forensic evaluation of disputed decisions affecting payments to various applicants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57921/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions in relation to social welfare entitlements.

When an appeal is assigned to an Appeals Officer for consideration the Appeals Officer makes a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if necessary, holds an oral hearing. The use of an oral hearing is at the discretion of the Appeals Officer.

I am advised that oral hearings are not suspended. However, due to the public health restrictions arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, in-person hearings were suspended in March 2020 and have remained suspended since then, with the exception of a small number of weeks in August and September 2020.

Oral hearings have been successfully conducted online or by telephone since October 2020 and these types of hearings will continue. This remote hearing approach has proven to be an effective way, during the pandemic, of facilitating an oral hearing previously achieved via the holding of an in-person hearing.

During this period, Appeals Officers have also made make greater use of telephone contact and correspondence to gather additional information or seek clarification which might otherwise have been ascertained in the course of an oral hearing. This has reduced the need to conduct oral hearings.

I am also advised that the reliance on remote hearings and greater use of correspondence has enabled a greater number of appeals to be concluded and reduced overall processing times.

I am therefore satisfied that the use of online and telephone based oral hearings and the use of a greater level of contact by phone or written correspondence has been beneficial in enabling appeals to proceed during a period of significant public health restrictions.

Oral hearing arrangements will continue to be kept under regular review.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Payments

Ceisteanna (18)

John Paul Phelan

Ceist:

18. Deputy John Paul Phelan asked the Minister for Social Protection the status of the Christmas bonus; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57543/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

I was pleased to announce on Budget Day that a 100% Christmas Bonus will be paid in early December this year benefitting over 1.4 million people in recipient of long-term social welfare payments. The payment of the Bonus this year will cost €313 million. As we know, this payment is an additional help to people as we enter the Christmas period and much of this is spent locally, supporting local economies throughout the country. The Bonus includes payments to pensioners, people with disabilities, carers, lone parents and the long-term unemployed in recognition of their long-term financial dependence on their social welfare payment for all, or most, of their income. Generally, jobseekers receive the Christmas Bonus after 15 months of unemployment. This year, however, I am reducing that period to 12 months. Those in receipt of a jobseeker payment, or the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, for 12 months or more will receive the Bonus. Periods spent on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment can be combined with a jobseeker payment in order to satisfy the 12 month duration requirement.

Social Welfare Benefits

Ceisteanna (19)

Joan Collins

Ceist:

19. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will implement the increase in the means test for the fuel allowance with immediate effect as of midnight of Budget 2022. [57548/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Fuel Allowance is a payment of €33.00 per week for 28 weeks (a total of €924 each year) from October to April, to 369,000 low income households, at an estimated cost of €300 million in 2021. The purpose of this payment is to assist these households with their energy costs. The allowance represents a contribution towards the energy costs of a household. It is not intended to meet those costs in full. Only one allowance is paid per household.

We made a number of considerable reforms to the fuel allowance scheme in Budget 2022, including:

- An increase in the weekly rate of fuel allowance by €5 with immediate effect from Budget night was also introduced bringing it to €33. This benefited 398,000 households immediately with a full year cost in 2022 of just under €55.8 million.

- The qualifying period for Jobseeker’s and Supplementary Welfare Allowance recipients was reduced from 15 to 12 months with effect from September 2022. This is expected to benefit some 3,300 households.

- The original intention was to introduce the revised means test for the Free Fuel Allowance on 1st January 2022, increasing the weekly threshold by €20 to €120 representing a 20% increase enabling more people to qualify for this support. Cognisant of rising fuel costs, I asked my officials to prioritise the work required so that this change could be implemented at the same time as the increase in the Fuel Allowance in October 2021. I am happy to tell the Deputy that this work will be completed at the end of this week with the effective date for the implementation of the revised means test now backdated to the Budget.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Benefits

Ceisteanna (20)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Ceist:

20. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will engage with the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to find a solution to the situation in which parents in education are seeing a substantial loss of income in cases in which they are moved from the jobseeker's transitional payment to the back to education allowance when their child turns 14 years of age due to the impact it has on SUSI support; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57970/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

I understand that the issue raised refers to the fact that applicants approved for the Back to Education Allowance, including those transferring from the Jobseeker's Transition scheme, are not eligible for a maintenance grant from SUSI. Whereas the Jobseeker's Allowance Transition payment is an eligible payment for the special rate of maintenance grant. The rules around the eligibility for the SUSI grant are a matter for the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. The Programme for Government contains commitments to review SUSI eligibility criteria, adjacency rates and postgraduate grant supports. A Steering Committee has been established to provide direction for the external consultants undertaking the review which contains representation from my Department. I understand that this review is at an advanced stage and it is expected that the final Report will be brought to Government for approval once approved by that Minister. Apart from the Student Grant Scheme, students in third-level institutions experiencing exceptional financial need can apply for support under the Student Assistance Fund. While supports for students are not the primary responsibility for my Department, I should also advise the Deputy of the availability of the Cost of Education Allowance paid by my Department which provides €500 per academic year to back to education recipients who have a dependent child or children, which assists lone parents accessing education. I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Payments

Ceisteanna (21)

Joe Flaherty

Ceist:

21. Deputy Joe Flaherty asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of those availing of urgent needs and exceptional needs payments, by the main reason, from 2018 to 2020 and to date in 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58017/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

Under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance (SWA) scheme, my Department can make a single Exceptional Needs Payment (ENP) to help meet essential, once-off expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of their weekly income. An urgent needs payment (UNP) may be made to persons who may not normally qualify for supplementary welfare allowance but who have an urgent need which they cannot meet from their own resources or where an alternative is not available at that time. Government has provided €46.02 million for the exceptional and urgent needs schemes in 2021.

Approximately 112,500 payments were made in 2018, 92,200 payments in 2019, and 67,600 payments in 2020. To date in 2021, 46,000 payments have been made. The categories with the largest number of payments within the ENP scheme are the housing category, which includes payments for necessary items including bedding, flooring, furniture, household appliances and rent deposits; and the general category, which includes support for travel costs, heating costs and the clothing category.

Table 1 shows the number of ENPs and UNPs paid by category in 2018, 2019, 2020 and to the end of October 2021.

I would encourage any person who considers they may have an entitlement to an exceptional or urgent needs payment to contact their local Intreo Centre. There is a national Income Support Helpline in place - 0818-800024 - which will direct callers to the appropriate office.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Table 1 - Number of ENPs paid by county for 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021(end of October)

Category

2018

2019

2020

2021

Bills

3,007

2,932

2,000

1,387

Child Related

3,537

3,215

2,324

1,733

Clothing

17,172

16,238

12,105

6,954

Funeral

2,881

2,905

2,778

2,085

General

48,416

35,411

19,686

11,077

Housing

26,498

27,584

26,077

21,373

Illness

2,670

2,207

1,507

1,088

Urgent Needs Payment

8,333

1,706

1,112

259

Total

112,514

92,198

67,589

45,956

Social Welfare Benefits

Ceisteanna (22, 60, 79, 84)

Neale Richmond

Ceist:

22. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans for the further expansion of parent’s benefit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57823/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Alan Dillon

Ceist:

60. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to extend parent’s benefit, announced as part of budget 2022; the efforts being made to ensure they take effect as planned; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57702/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joe McHugh

Ceist:

79. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Social Protection the status of the plans to extend parents' benefit. [57914/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

84. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Social Protection the status of plans to extend parent’s benefit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57541/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 22, 60, 79 and 84 together.

Parent's Leave and Benefit are currently available to all eligible parents of children born or adopted from 1 November 2019 for five weeks and must be used within the first two years of the child’s life or adoption. The Parent’s Benefit scheme is family-friendly and flexible, allowing parents to take one week of leave at a time or for a consecutive period. Provision was made in Budget 2022 to increase the number of weeks of Parent's Leave and Benefit available to eligible parents from five weeks to seven weeks from July 2021. The additional two weeks leave and benefit will apply to parents of children who are under age 2 in July 2022 or in the case of adoption, children who have been with their parents for fewer than two years at that point. The extension of Parent’s Leave and Benefit requires legislative change and changes to the Department of Social Protection's systems. This work is already underway, and my Department will be in a position to process and issue the additional two weeks benefit payments from July 2022. Parents with an entitlement to the existing five weeks of Parents Leave and Benefit prior to this can apply for and use it at their convenience. I trust this clarifies the position for the Deputies.

Departmental Schemes

Ceisteanna (23)

Marian Harkin

Ceist:

23. Deputy Marian Harkin asked the Minister for Social Protection the position with regard to staff currently employed in job clubs; and if they will be treated fairly and be eligible to redundancy payments when the new local employment services are established. [50098/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

My Department is now at an advanced stage in its first phase of procuring new employment services. This phase involves the procurement of regional employment services for seven counties in the Midlands and North-West across four lots, which aims to be operational from January 2022.

Procurement for the second phase, which will roll out services across the State, will commence shortly. This phase will see the commencement of new employment services in July 2022.

Two independent consultants’ reports commissioned by my Department recommended that Job Clubs and LES employment provision are combined into a single service provision in order to reduce duplication and to deliver a more efficient and effective employment service. The new Regional Employment Services has been developed in accordance with these recommendations and focuses on the provision of tailored employment services to those furthest from the labour market. The services currently provided by Job Clubs are included in the Phase one Regional Employment Service RFT that was published last May.

All Job Clubs have contracts in place until the end of 2021 and excluding the Job Clubs operating in the seven counties under phase one of the procurement process, all other Job Clubs have been offered contracts until the end of June 2022.

While several Job Club contract holders took part in bids for this new service in phase one, not all current contract holders in these counties either took part or were successful. In relation to the unsuccessful contract holders, it is my understanding that the successful bidders are engaging with these staff with a view to offering suitable employment with appropriate terms. My understanding is that discussions are ongoing and it would be inappropriate of me to make further comment in relation to the circumstances of the individuals concerned. However, this is a very positive development and will deliver the best possible option of retaining the expertise of those with long experience of engaging with the long-term unemployed.

In relation to Phase Two, my Department will continue to work to minimise barriers for existing service providers, including Job Clubs, in tendering for the new employment service model. However, existing contract holders are strongly encouraged to collaborate with other similar organisations to submit joint tenders under Phase Two. Should the possibility of redundancies arise the primary responsibility in this area rest with the employer. Should any affected employer require the services of my Department in respect of redundancy payments these services will be available. However, I would encourage existing providers to work together to submit high quality bids under the next phase of procurement for the Regional Employment Service.

Citizens Information Services

Ceisteanna (24)

John Brady

Ceist:

24. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Social Protection the details of plans to expand or decrease Citizens' Information services in County Wicklow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57744/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Citizens Information Board (CIB) is a statutory body under the aegis of my Department, which funds and supports the South Leinster Citizens Information Service company which in turn has responsibility for the provision of information, advice and advocacy services in its geographic area, which encompasses Co. Wicklow.

I have been informed by CIB that the Citizens Information Centres in Arklow and Bray have re-opened their offices and are now available for drop-in and appointment services for the public across county Wicklow. Arklow Citizen Information Centre is open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10am to 1pm and 1.30pm to 4.30pm. Bray Citizen Information Centre is open on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9.30am to 4.30pm. These services have been operating successfully throughout the pandemic, through phone, email and limited in-person services.

The Citizens Information Phone Service is a nationwide phone service that provides similar advice and information to that of Citizens Information Centres and again has operated successfully throughout the pandemic.

In addition, the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) offices in Arklow and Bray are available and open for the public across county Wicklow, while the MABS National Helpline is also available for individuals across county Wicklow and nationwide.

CIB are committed to the continued delivery of Citizen Information Services and Money Advice Budgetary Services in county Wicklow.

Community Employment Schemes

Ceisteanna (25)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

25. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will extend the amount of time a person can stay on community employment due to the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic over the past 18 months. [50125/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

Community Employment (CE) is an active labour market programme providing eligible long-term unemployed people and other disadvantaged persons with an opportunity to engage in useful work within their communities on a temporary, fixed term basis.

I am aware of the challenges caused by the Covid-19 public health restrictions and the resultant impact on many CE participants and schemes. As the Deputy may be aware, Minister Humphreys and I have taken a number of measures to support CE schemes and participants during the course of the pandemic.

CE and Tús participants’ contracts that were due to come to come to an end during the various levels of COVID related public health restrictions were extended on a number of occasions, going back to October 2020. At present, over 18,000 CE participants and 5,000 Tús participants will benefit from the latest contract extensions until 4th February 2022.

CE and Tús participants will begin to leave schemes on a coordinated and phased basis from February 2022 to January 2023. This will ensure that participants will be able to fully avail of the work experience and training opportunities available while enabling schemes maintain local community services.

Once normal CE and Tús operations return, it is important that these places are available to the newer cohort of long term unemployed, including those whose jobs are permanently lost due to the pandemic. Time spent on PUP will count towards eligibility for CE and Tús. My priority and the priority of the Department is to have all CE and Tús schemes back providing normal services and supports to their long-term unemployed participants while delivering valuable services to local communities. I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Insurance

Ceisteanna (26)

Michael Creed

Ceist:

26. Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Social Protection the outcome of the most recent actuarial review of the social insurance fund; when the next review is planned; the sustainability and eligibility issuesit raises given the current level of PRSI contributions to the fund; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57406/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

As Minister for Social Protection, I am required to have an actuarial review of the social insurance fund undertaken at five yearly intervals. The review takes account of the adequacy or otherwise of the contributions to the fund to support benefits and other payments as well as other matters relevant to the current and future financial condition of the fund.

The most recent actuarial review, which reflected the financial position of the fund at the end of 2015, was completed and published in 2017. Amongst the review’s projections were that the fund will be in increasing deficit from 2021 onwards as the aging of the population starts to impact. It also projected that in the absence of action to tackle the shortfall, the excess of expenditure over income will increase significantly over the medium and long term and that sizeable Exchequer subvention will be required to meet ongoing expenditure requirements in the absence of reductions in expenditure levels or increases in social insurance income.

The recently published report of the Pensions Commission includes an update on certain projections of the last review. These updated projections predict an annual shortfall in the fund of over €2.3 billion in 2030, €13 billion by 2050 with anticipated annual shortfalls steadily increasing to some €21 billion in 2070.

Preparations for the next actuarial review of the fund, to reflect the position at the end of 2020, are underway with a view to its completion and publication in 2022. The projections of that review, in addition to the recommendations of the Pensions Commission on the sustainability of the social insurance fund and any related recommendations arising from the ongoing work of the Commission on Taxation and Welfare will be considered by Government in developing proposals to address the significant sustainability challenges ahead for the social insurance fund.

I trust that this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Social Welfare Benefits

Ceisteanna (27)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

27. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Social Protection if she plans to introduce further reform to the means testing regime under various social welfare schemes in the forthcoming Social Welfare Bill 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [56744/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

I was pleased to announce a number of changes to the means testing of social welfare schemes as part of Budget 2022. While some of these measures will be brought forward in the Social Welfare Bill, others will be implemented by way of statutory instrument and others relate to non-statutory schemes.

These measures include:

- In recognition of the vital role carers play in society, I am increasing the general weekly income disregard on Carer's Allowance from €332.50 to €350 for a single person, and from €665 to €750 for a couple. This will enable more carers with modest incomes to become eligible for the scheme, and those currently in receipt of a reduced payment may now receive a higher payment.

- I am also increasing the capital disregard from €20,000 to €50,000 for Carer’s Allowance. This will allow carers who have accumulated relatively modest savings, often to provide care for a loved one, without it impacting upon their carer's payment.

- For those with means on Disability Allowance I am increasing the general weekly means disregard from €2.50 to €7.60 which will increase the weekly rate of payment by up to €5 per week, in addition to the general €5 weekly increase in payment rates.

- Currently, Disability Allowance and Blind Pension recipients who are working see the first €140 of weekly earnings fully disregarded, with the remainder between €140 and €350 assessed at 50% and at 100% above €350. I am raising the limit assessed at 50% to €375.

- The income thresholds for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance (BSCFA) for two parent households will be applied to lone parents. This measure will enable a greater number of lone parent households to access the BSCFA which assists families with the costs of returning to school.

- Part of the qualification criteria for Fuel Allowance is a means test. The amount of means allowed to qualify is the current maximum rate of State Pension (Contributory) applicable to the household size, plus €100. I am increasing this to €120.

- I am also increasing the income threshold by €10 for Working Family Payment for all families.

- Earlier this year, I introduced a disregard on Disability Allowance that would allow people who were pursing Doctorates to receive scholarship income (to a maximum of €20,000 per year) without it affecting their payment. I am introducing a similar disregard for Blind Pension to allow for equitable treatment of people with disabilities and encourage their educational progression.

- I am also extending the list of agri-environmental schemes that attract a specific disregard on the Farm Assist scheme.

My Department will continue to monitor and review the means assessments for social protection schemes.

School Meals Programme

Ceisteanna (28, 89, 102)

David Stanton

Ceist:

28. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Social Protection the details of plans for the extension of the hot school meals programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57546/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Colm Burke

Ceist:

89. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to extend the hot school meals programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57476/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Ceist:

102. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Social Protection the status of the implementation of the hot school meals programme; her plans to extend the programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58009/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 28, 89 and 102 together.

The school meals programme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,506 schools and organisations benefitting 230,000 children. The objective of the programme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of good quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided to them. The programme is an important component of policies to encourage school attendance and extra educational achievement.

A budget of €65.1 million has been provided for the scheme in 2021.

As part of Budget 2019, funding was provided for a pilot scheme from September 2019, providing hot school meals in primary schools at a cost of €1m for 2019 and €2.5m in 2020. The pilot involved 37 schools benefitting 6,744 students for the 2019/2020 academic year and was aimed primarily at schools with no onsite cooking facilities.

Budget 2021 provided an additional €5.5m to extend the provision of hot school meals to an additional 35,000 primary school children, currently receiving the cold lunch option. Invitations for expressions of interest were issued to 705 primary schools (612 DEIS and 93 non-DEIS) in November 2020. A total of 281 (256 DEIS and 25 non-DEIS) expressions of interest were received in respect of 52,148 children.

The 35,000 places were allocated to each local authority area based on the number of children applied by local authority as a percentage of the total number. A minimum of one School for each Local Authority area was selected. Thereafter, a process of random selection was used for each area.

Budget 2022 is providing for the hot school meals to be extended from January 2022 to the 81 DEIS schools that submitted an expression of interest but were not selected in the extension to 35,000.

A list of the 81 schools is contained in the attached tabular statement.

I am committed to continuing to grow the hot school meals element of the school meals programme and building further on the significant extension announced as part of Budget 2022.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Tabular Statement: The 81 DEIS Schools being invited to participate in the Hot Meals Scheme from January 2022

Identifier

Organisation Name

County

01356U

Kilnaleck Mixed National School

CAVAN

03220F

Mercy Primary School

OFFALY

03633H

Scoil Náisiúnta Bhantiarna Lourdes

WEXFORD

03928D

Mullach National School

CLARE

04809A

Scoil An Aingil Choimheadai

DONEGAL

05348S

Tahilla Community National School

KERRY

05513H

Castlepollard Mixed National School

WESTMEATH

06959G

Clonroche National School

Wexford

06998Q

St Patrick's National School

Cavan

08143P

S N Mhuire

CAVAN

08221J

St Senan's National School

Wexford

09932B

Stanhope St Convent

DUBLIN 7

11470B

Slieveardagh National School

TIPPERARY

11986N

Convent Of Mercy

WEXFORD

13271F

Fairgreen National School

CAVAN

13611D

Presentation Primary School

DUBLIN

13696O

St Vincent’s Convent National School

CORK

14704P

Murroe National School

Donegal

14873P

Dookinella National School

MAYO

15027E

S N Na Heaglaise

GALWAY

15253N

St Patrick's Girls National School

Dublin 4

15362S

S N Michil Naofa

TIPPERARY

16054M

St Patrick's National School

DONEGAL

16108J

Scoil Naomh Treasa C

DONEGAL

16202B

Castleblayney Convent National School

MONAGHAN

16713D

Scoil Na Mbraithre

Limerick

16836T

Naomh Bridhid

DONEGAL

16880W

Scoil Naomh Colmchille

Donegal

17105I

Muire Gan Smal C

Cork

17356K

Muire Na Dea Coirle Inf

DUBLIN 12

17498H

S N Naomh Sheosamh

Tipperary

17606H

Naomh Micheal N S

Westmeath

17665A

S N Gleann Guail

TIPPERARY

17737W

Our Lady Queen Of Peace School

Limerick

17743R

Naomh Muire National School

WESTMEATH

18086M

Dunfanaghy National School

Donegal

18343G

S N Chaoimhghin

TIPPERARY

18371L

Scoil Mhuire

DONEGAL

18406E

S N Phroinsiais Naofa

OFFALY

18414D

S N Gleann Beithe

KERRY

18605K

Scoil Naomh Padraig Boys

DONEGAL

18737E

Scoil Bhride

DONEGAL

18786R

Scoil Iosagain

CORK

18968A

St Malachy's B N S

DUBLIN 5

19352M

Sc Nais Realta Na Mara

WEXFORD

19438W

Scoil Colmcille Senior

Co. Dublin

19515O

Sn Naomh Treasa

Dublin

19577N

Scoil Iosa

DUBLIN 24

19582G

Tallaght C N S

Dublin

19605P

Scoil Nais Mhuire Sois

Dublin 15

19642V

St Peter Apostle Sen National School

Dublin

19662E

St Michael's National School

DUBLIN 10

19663G

St Raphael's National School

DUBLIN 10

19694R

Scoil Mhuire Sin

DUBLIN 15

19743E

St Bernadette's Junior National School

Dublin 22

19747M

Scoil Bhride National School

LAOIS

19764M

Our Lady Of Wayside National School

DUBLIN 12

19785U

St Bernadette's Senior National School

Dublin 22

19809I

Abbeycarton National School

ROSCOMMON

19830W

Corpus Christi National School

LIMERICK

19840C

Holy Family School

Co. Dublin

19909M

Gaelscoil Peig Sayers

CORK

19929S

St Brigid's Senior Girls

DUBLIN 11

19933J

Scoil Treasa Naofa

Dublin 8

19935N

Scoil Eoin

Dublin 5

19946S

Rutland National School

DUBLIN 1

19977G

Bandon Boys National School

Cork

20036J

North Presentation Primary School

CORK

20091R

St Peters National School

DUBLIN

20124G

St Mary's National School

LONGFORD

20163Q

S N Eoin Baiste

LOUTH

20173T

St Anne's Primary School

DUBLIN 24

20219R

St Paul's B N S

WATERFORD

20220C

Gaelscoil Ui Earcain

Dublin

20275E

Scoil Íosa

MAYO

20295K

Carlow Educate Together National School

CARLOW

20303G

Lucan East Educate Together National School

DUBLIN

20389T

Scoil Maria Assumpta

Cork

20405O

St Mary's National School

Limerick

20467N

St Ailbe's National School

Tipperary

20468P

St Dominic's National School

Dublin

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Ceisteanna (29, 34, 37, 71, 77, 82, 86, 103, 106, 108, 116)

Cathal Crowe

Ceist:

29. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will restart the pandemic unemployment payment in view of the continued impact the Covid-19 pandemic is having on employment. [57695/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pa Daly

Ceist:

34. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Social Protection her views on the Budget 2022 allocation to her Department in view of the potential need for further pandemic unemployment payments given the changes to night-time hospitality restrictions recently announced. [57964/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

37. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the extent to which further changes in social welfare supports are needed to address issues arising from the increased incidence of Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57920/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mark Ward

Ceist:

71. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for Social Protection if persons who work in the night-time economy who can no longer work due to the new restrictions will be entitled to the pandemic unemployment payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57550/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

77. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will reopen the pandemic unemployment payment to new applicants in view of the fourth wave of the pandemic. [57928/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

82. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will restore the pandemic unemployment payment to its original rate in view of the fourth wave of the pandemic. [57927/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

86. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will halt further reductions in the pandemic unemployment payment in view of the situation regarding Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57929/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Rose Conway-Walsh

Ceist:

103. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will reverse the cuts to the pandemic unemployment payment particularly for workers in sectors that continue to be subject to Covid-19-related restrictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57969/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joan Collins

Ceist:

106. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will reinstate the pandemic unemployment payment for those workers who are affected by the restrictions of closure at midnight to the level the payment was at in March 2020. [57547/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Ceist:

108. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Social Protection the actions taken to ensure Covid-19-related supports are in place and can be processed quickly and effectively for those who need them; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57833/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

James O'Connor

Ceist:

116. Deputy James O'Connor asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to extend the pandemic unemployment payment in view of recently announced Covid-19 measures; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58011/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 29, 34, 37, 71, 77, 82, 86, 103, 106, 108 and 116 together.

The Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) was introduced as an emergency response to an almost complete economic shutdown. The Government mandated public health restrictions meant that the hundreds of thousands of employees and self-employed did not have alternative employment options. Since then the number of PUP recipients has fallen dramatically from a peak of over 600,000 in May 2020 to just over 57,000 this week. The numbers are continuing to reduce and have fallen by over 3,300 within the last week.

The recent Government announcement does not provide for a re-imposition of business closures and represents a curfew in the night time industry. Employers are encouraged to avail of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme to retain staff on their payroll at this time. Other social welfare supports are also available, such as jobseeker's benefit.

The plan to exit from PUP on a graduated basis over time remains in place. The 2022 allocation for PUP is €75 million. The situation remains under close review by Government at this time.

I trust this clarifies the position.

Poverty Impact Assessment

Ceisteanna (30)

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

30. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection the next steps with regard to the findings of the Poverty Impact Assessment on jobseeker’s rates for young people; when she intends to lay the document before the Houses of the Oireachtas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57827/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

The Poverty Impact Assessment on reduced rates of jobseeker allowance for young jobseekers aged 18-24 years was carried out further to the requirement as set out in Part 2 Section 7 of The Social Welfare (No 2) Act 2019 which requires that it shall be presented to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

A copy of the report was provided for the attention of the Chairperson of the Committee on Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands on 21 July 2021. I also made arrangements for its publication on the Government website at the same time.

In terms of next steps at this time, my Department has introduced a series of targeted measures under the Government’s national employment strategy Pathways to Work, to help young people back into employment or find their first job.

This includes providing 4,000 places on the Work Placement Experience Programme for young jobseekers, 50,000 additional further education and training places and allocating at least 1,000 out of the 3,000 new Community Employment and Tús places for young people.

I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Pensions Reform

Ceisteanna (31, 35, 65, 70)

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Ceist:

31. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Social Protection the anticipated start date for the introduction of the pensions auto-enrolment system; her plans to communicate the changes to the general public; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58010/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Neasa Hourigan

Ceist:

35. Deputy Neasa Hourigan asked the Minister for Social Protection if progress has been made in relation to the establishment of a pensions auto-enrolment system, as committed to in the programme for Government; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57603/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joe Carey

Ceist:

65. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Social Protection the progress on plans to introduce an auto-enrolment system for pensions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57553/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Kieran O'Donnell

Ceist:

70. Deputy Kieran O'Donnell asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans for the introduction of an auto-enrolment system [57831/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 31, 35, 65 and 70 together.

The Programme for Government commits to introducing a pensions automatic enrolment (AE) system. The objective of this commitment is to address the low proportion of employees in Ireland with supplementary pension cover, which includes both occupational and personal pensions.

According to CSO figures, the rate of supplementary pension coverage is around 55% of the working population (Pension Coverage Survey 2020). It is estimated that this reduces to less than 35% when the private sector is considered in isolation. As a consequence of this low supplementary pension coverage rate, many retirees may suffer an unwanted reduction in living standards when they retire.

This Government, recognising the exceptional strain that both employers and employees are under as a result of the COVID-19 emergency, will seek to gradually deliver an AE system based on the following principles:

- There will be a phased roll-out, over a decade, of the contributions made by workers and employers.

- Matching contributions will be made by both workers and employers and the State will top up those contributions.

- There will be an opt-out provision for those who choose to opt out.

- Workers will have a range of retirement savings products to choose from.

- There will be a charges cap imposed on pension providers. My Department is currently working on finalising a proposal for Government on the overall design of the AE system. As set out in the Economic Recovery Plan 2021, it is hoped that the design can be completed by the end of this year. Thereafter, it is intended that the necessary legislative, organisational and process structures will follow over the course of 2022 and 2023.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputies.

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