Wednesday, 10 June 1992
Dáil Éireann Debate
4. Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Social Welfare the present position regarding the preservation of rights and social welfare regulation order for all recipients of social welfare under these regulations; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that many old age contributory pensioners and others will lose £6 per week from July if the regulation order is not extended; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. McCreevy: As part of arrangements made in 1986 for implementing EC Directive 79/7 on equal treatment between men and women in matters of social security, the then Government put in place a number of temporary alleviating payments. The purpose of these payments was to reduce the impact of losses arising where a spouse no longer qualified as an adult dependant.
These alleviating payments, initially £20 per week for a person whose spouse was receiving a social welfare payment in her own right and £10 per week, plus half rate increases for children, where the spouse has income of over £50 per week from employment, were made from November 1986 for a period of one year.
During 1987, the Government decided to continue the alleviating payments beyond the 12 month period set by the previous Government but they would be phased out over a period of time. Phasing out began in 1988 with the payments being gradually reduced each year to their present level of £12 and £6.
As announced in the context of this year's budget, the Government have approved the introduction of retrospective legislation arising from the delay by the then Government in implementing the 1979 Directive. Accordingly, married women who were affected by the delay will have equal treatment arrangements applied to them retrospectively from the deadline for implementation of the directive, December 1984, to the actual dates of implementation in May and November 1986. In 1992 £22 million has been provided for these payments which will be  made on a phased basis over the period 1992 to 1994.
However, arising from recent decisions of the European Court of Justice, it has emerged that the alleviating payments, which offset the effects of the equal treatment legislation, are themselves in conflict with the principle of equal treatment and cannot be continued. Therefore, these payments are being discontinued with effect from 30 July 1992, coinciding with the date of implementation of this year's budget increases. Many of the families affected by the discontinuance of these payments will be entitled to payments under the retrospective legislation.
The retrospective legislation which is being provided for by way of statutory instrument under the European Communities Act will be made within the next few days. Full details of the overall package will be announced at that time.
Mr. Connaughton: I have to point out that the information contained in the Minister's reply was not given in the course of the debate on the Social Welfare Bill. I want to place on record — arising from what the Minister said — that many old age contributory pensioners will be £6 per week worse off from 29 or 30 July next than they had anticipated. I should have thought that the Minister would have continued to phase the alleviating payments out by £1 per year until they were eliminated. Would he agree that what this means is that several old age contributory pensioners will lose approximately £750 over the next five years which is not fair to that category of people?
Mr. McCreevy: As the Deputy knows, this equal treatment legislation has caused the present Government, the preceding Government and the Government of which the Deputy's party was a member between 1982 and 1987 considerable disquiet. Indeed, the Deputy and I were Members of this House in 1986 when there were votes when different issues arose. This has had a long, chequered history. The alleviating payments  were meant to be just that and were not meant to obtain for ever. As announced in the budget, the Exchequer will be contributing £22 million to the retrospective element of this legislation. I have to take into account also the recent European Court of Justice decision that the alleviating payments themselves are in conflict with the legislation and are being done away with from July.
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