Wednesday, 29 January 1997
Dáil Éireann Debate
152. Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Social Welfare whether it is intended to make survivor's benefits payable to dependants following the death of a person as a result of an accident at work or occupational disease so that they are treated the same as widows and widowers, in view of the commitments on equality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1091/97]
Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): I am pleased to let the Deputy know that, not only have I provided for equality of treatment as between men and women in the area of survivor's benefits payable under the occupational injuries benefits scheme in this year's budget, I have now completed, once and for all, the process of implementing equal treatment for men and women throughout the social welfare code. This means two changes: (a) a new widower's (non-contributory) pension is being introduced from next October, which will be available to widowers on the same basis as currently applies to widows; and (b) the more restrictive conditions which  apply to the benefits available under the occupational injuries benefit scheme for both widows and widowers are being amended so as to apply on the same basis as currently apply to the schemes for widows and widowers generally. In short, this involves the alignment of the qualifying conditions applying to the widow's and widower's pension schemes available under the occupational injuries benefit scheme with all other social welfare schemes for widows and widowers. These changes will take effect from April next.
Last year's budget also provided for the introduction of a new one-parent family payment, which came into effect earlier this month and has replaced the lone parent's allowance and deserted wife's benefit schemes. The new payment covers both men and women equally, irrespective of whether they are married, separated, widowed or divorced; or the reason for lone parenthood. I am particularly pleased to have introduced equal treatment in this area and to have also removed the requirement to prove desertion, as this requirement was not only difficult and degrading for many women, but tended to perpetuate notions of victimisation and dependency that should belong to a long past era by now.
These changes, coupled with the fact that we have cleared up the arrears of equal treatment payments owing to 70,000 married women amounting to £300 million, which arose from the late and faulty implementation of EC Directive 79/7 by previous administrations, clearly demonstrates the present Government's commitment in the area of equal treatment for men and women, irrespective of whether and when European law requires us to implement particular changes.
153. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Social Welfare if his attention has been drawn to the fact that senior citizens living in rural areas of County Dublin are subject to the same restrictions on travel time with Bus Átha Cliath as senior citizens in city areas and are therefore prevented from visiting hospitals as journey times are longer; and whether he will consider abolishing time restrictions for old age pensioners from the county areas in view of the fact that commuters generally use much earlier buses when travelling longer distances into Dublin city. [1094/97]
Minister for Social Welfare (Proinsias De Rossa): The purpose of my Department's free travel scheme is to encourage elderly people to remain active in the community by giving them access to spare capacity on the various public transport systems.
Time restrictions have been a feature of the free travel scheme since its inception. They are necessary on city and provincial bus routes because the transport services concerned are under severe pressure from commuters travelling to or from work or school in the morning and evening and they would be unable to cope with  the additional volume of passengers arising if the restrictions did not apply. It should be noted, however, that time restrictions do not apply in the case of mentally-handicapped people, people attending long-term rehabilitation courses and certain other disabled or blind people.
Time restrictions apply generally from 7.00 a.m. to 9.45 a.m. and from 4.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m., Monday to Friday, inclusive, and on Bus Éireann long distance buses from 4.00 p.m. to 7.00 p.m. on Fridays for up to 20 miles out from Dublin, Cork or Limerick. The removal of these restrictions would have significant cost implications for the transport companies involved who in turn would seek compensation from my Department.
In relation specifically to Bus Átha Cliath and Bus Éireann, I understand that neither company would be prepared to lift the current time restrictions, even if appropriate compensation was offered, because of the major passenger capacity constraints operating in their case at those peak times of the day.
154. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Social Welfare the percentage increase of child dependant payments in his 1997 social welfare budget package for recipients of widows, widowers and deserted wives' benefit. [2420/97]
155. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Social Welfare the percentage increase of child dependant payments in his 1997 social welfare budget package for recipients of retirement/old age contributory pensions. [2421/97]
The policy direction of this Government has been to concentrate resources for child income support on child benefit and this has been continued in the 1997 budget package. This approach involves increasing child benefit as part of a planned strategy of moving towards a more integrated child income support system. However, it is recognised that there are substantial costs involved in moving towards a more universal system of income support for children.
Accordingly, priority has been given in this year's budget to assisting 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 — 14.7 per cent — and in addition, increasing the lower rate of child benefit, payable in respect of the first and second child by £1 — 3.4 per cent. When taken together with  the substantial increase of £7 for each child provided for in 1995 and £2 for each child provided for in 1996, this represents 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 other children since this Government came to office.
In addition, in the context of reducing disincentives to work, priority is being given to the family income supplement (FIS) as a means of increasing the net return from work to families with children. Accordingly, FIS is being 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, this year's budget provides that FIS will be calculated on the basis of gross earnings less any PRSI contributions and levies payable, 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.
As announced in the budget, an additional payment of 50 per cent of the existing personal rate is being made to recipients of the carer's allowance who are providing full-time care and attention to more than one person in recognition of the particular difficulties faced by carers in that situation. A qualifying recipient will now receive a new maximum rate of £105.75 a week.
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