Written Answers. - Social Welfare Commitments.

Wednesday, 10 June 1992

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 421 No. 1

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  26.  Mr. Sherlock  Information on Joe Sherlock  Zoom on Joe Sherlock   asked the Minister for Social Welfare  Information on Charlie McCreevy  Zoom on Charlie McCreevy   if he will outline the progress made to date in implementing the commitments on social welfare given in the Review of the Programme for Government.

Minister for Social Welfare (Mr. McCreevy): Information on Charlie McCreevy  Zoom on Charlie McCreevy  Considerable progress has been made to date in implementing the social welfare commitments contained in the Review of the Programme for Government 1989-1993. A full itemised list of achievements over the past few years would be quite lengthy and, accordingly, in the interests of brevity I propose to give a brief summary of the main achievements to date.

Firstly, there is an ongoing commitment to protecting the position of social welfare recipients. Over the last five years, the percentage increases in payment rates have either equalled or exceeded the prevailing rate of inflation. This year's budget improvements provided for a general increase of 4 per cent, which is once again ahead of inflation, and a further increase of 2 per cent (making 6 per cent in all) in the lowest rates of payment. This leaves us well placed in reaching the priority rates recommended by the Commission on Social Welfare by 1993.

Another commitment was to further develop support systems for families. Again, the budget improvements provided for an increase in the income limits for family income supplement which will, in effect, mean increases of between £9 and £11 for most recipients. Measures were also taken to protect the families of deserting husbands when legislation was introduced to impose a liability on a deserting spouse to contribute towards the maintenance of his family and empowering my Department to pursue defaulters through the courts.

Other developments may be summarised as follows:—

— Unique RSI Number — progress is being made towards the introduction of a single unique identifying number, based on the current RSI number, which a person would retain throughout his or her life and use as a means [108] of identification for social welfare, tax and other State payments. The function of allocating RSI numbers was transferred to my Department in 1991.

— Flexibility within payment schemes— a charge has often been laid that social welfare payments were very restrictive in terms of what the recipients could and could not do without jeopardising their payments. Over the past few years, a degree of flexibility was introduced to enable recipients of unemployment assistance to partake in educational and training programmes. There is also a facility whereby unemployed persons can work part-time while receiving a supplement from the Department. Under initiatives announced by the Taoiseach recently, payments equivalent to social welfare rates will be continued for up to 12 months to persons on long term unemployment who wish to engage in approved self-employment enterprises within 12 designated pilot areas. Participants will also retain any existing secondary benefits such as fuel allowance, butter vouchers, medical cards, differential rents, etc. These area-based initiatives also provide for the retention of these secondary entitlements for up to 12 months in cases where a person on long term unemployment enters paid employment.

— Broadening of the insurance base — Social insurance pension coverage was extended to self-employed persons from 1988. In 1991, part-time workers were brought in to the system when the Class A rate became payable in respect of earnings above £25. Part-time workers will from 1993 have access to short term benefits such as sickness and unemployment benefits on a pro-rata basis and to payments such as retirement and old age contributory pensions at the full rate.

— Delivery of services—through a process of restructuring and regionalisation, my Department is devolving [109] responsibility for the delivery of services to local level. In the future, local offices which traditionally dealt with unemployment payments only will be able to facilitate the needs of all social welfare claimants.

Progress is also being made in a number of other areas. The question of the relationship between social insurance cover and occupational pensions provisions will be considered in the light of the final report of the National Pensions Board which will be available shortly. Progress is also being made on developing links with the voluntary sector, including the preparation of a White Paper and Charter for Voluntary Organisations. Also, I am preparing proposals for a single means-test system for all social welfare assistance payments.

I will be happy to communicate directly with the Deputy in this regard and provide any more detailed information on the level of progress to date which he may require.

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