Wednesday, 29 January 1997
Dáil Éireann Debate
26. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Social Welfare the plans, if any, he has to amend the Social Welfare Act, 1965, in view of the budget ignoring the plight of twins which are not recognised as multiple births under the Social Welfare Act, 1965, in child benefit payments. [2353/97]
Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): Child benefit is currently payable in respect of all children up to age 16 and continues to be paid in respect of children up to age 19 who are in full-time education or are physically or mentally challenged. Child benefit is payable at double the normal rate for each child where three or more children are born together.
In recognition of the significant additional costs involved for parents of twins, I made provision in last year's budget for increasing the grant in respect of the birth of twins from £200 to £500 and for the introduction of a new grant of £500 which is payable on the twins reaching the ages of four and 12 years of age. These improvements were backdated to apply to all twins born and those reaching the ages of four and 12 years respectively on or after 1 January 1996. Over 1,400 families have benefited from these improvements at an annual cost of almost £700,000.
In line with the recommendations contained in various reports, including the Expert Working Group on Integrating Tax and Social Welfare, the interim report of the Commission on the Family and the ESRI report on poverty in the 1990s, I have targeted this year's improvements in child income support to benefit low income families and, in particular, larger families. This has been achieved by increasing the higher rate of child benefit, payable in respect of third and subsequent children by £5 and in addition, increasing the lower rate of child benefit, payable in respect of the first and second child by £1. When taken together with the increases provided for in the 1995 and 1996 budgets, the new rates of £30 and £39 represent an increase of 50 per cent in the rate payable for the first two children and 56 per cent in the higher rate payable in respect of the third child onwards.
In the context of reducing disincentives to work, priority is being given to FIS as a means of increasing the net return from work to families with children. Accordingly, FIS will be reformed so as to be calculated on a net income basis, rather than on gross wages, as at present. This will significantly increase the supplements payable under the scheme, thereby increasing the rewards from work.
As a first step towards meeting the commitment in Partnership 2000, this year's budget provides that FIS will be calculated on the basis of gross earnings less PRSI contributions and levies,  with effect from June. Pension contributions will also be deductible. In addition, I have provided for an increase in the income thresholds governing entitlement to FIS by £10 at each point.
My priorities for the immediate future in relation to the development of child income support involve continuing the process of removing any disincentive effects arising under the current arrangements and working towards a basic income for children.
27. Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Social Welfare the number of lone parents in 1996 who availed of the child care deductions under the lone parent's allowance scheme; the average weekly cost of the deductions allowed per claimant; and the total cost to the State of this provision. [2361/97]
In calculating a person's means under the former lone parent's allowance, actual vouched child-minding and travelling to work expenses of a lone parent were excluded. The records of the Department are not compiled in such a way that indicates the number of clients to whom this specific exclusion applied and therefore it was not possible in the time available to estimate the costs requested by the Deputy. As soon as the information is compiled, it will be made available.
Under the new one parent family payment introduced this month, the system for assessing means for one parent families has been changed. Specific disregards for child care costs etc. have been replaced by a flat earnings disregard of £115.38 a week — £6,000 a year — for a lone parent in employment.
The policy is to facilitate a person parenting alone to take up employment and move away from dependency on social welfare income. Clearly, lone parents need support if they are to achieve this. The adoption of a universal weekly earnings disregard should make it easier for a lone parent to understand the position and assess their financial situation in relation to taking up employment.
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