Wednesday, 28 November 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
A steering group was established in July 1997 to examine the basic income concept in fulfilment of a commitment made in Partnership 2000. Its role was to oversee a study which would take into account the work of the ESRI, CORI, the expert group on the integration of tax and social welfare and international research on the implications of introducing a basic income system.
The group was comprised of representatives of all four pillars of social partnership as well as relevant Departments including the Departments of Finance, Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Social, Community and Family Affairs. The group met on ten occasions and its report was published in March 2001. Copies have been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. It was not the role of the group to reach a conclusion or make recommendations about a specific detailed model of a basic income system. However, the work undertaken has advanced our understanding of the issues involved.
As the Deputies will be aware, the Government is committed to producing a Green Paper on basic income. The Green Paper will build on the report of the working group. My Department is currently preparing proposals in this regard and I hope to be in a position to publish a Green Paper early in the new Dáil session.
Mr. Sargent: Cuirim fáilte roimh freagra an Taoisigh ar an ábhar seo uair amháin eile. The issue of the guaranteed basic income and the date of the publication of the Green Paper has been raised in the House previously. It is now nine months since the report the Taoiseach referred to was issued. Can the Taoiseach explain why there has been a delay of nine months so far in the date of publication of the Green Paper? When does he foresee that it will be published? Will we be forced to ask the same question again or can the Taoiseach give us a definite publication date?
The Taoiseach: I know Deputy Sargent has repeatedly raised this issue through the various stages. I hoped to have it ready for Christmas. We have an individual working full-time to pull this together. I am told it will take about a month longer than that. It is complex enough just to get all the aspects gathered and to produce a Green Paper which will take into account all the work done in the past. The ESRI undertook phase one of the study. Professor Charles Clarke of John's University contributed. Phase two was undertaken by the ESRI led consortium. The official concerned is trying to get all the considerations and all the aspects into the Green Paper. There is no delay other than the delay of trying to get it together for presentation. I checked this last night. I am told it will tale until the end of January.
Mr. B. Hayes: Does the Taoiseach accept that as a first step towards the establishment of basic  income policy in this country the Government should now accept the recommendation of the PPF group on benchmarking? This group has recommended that by the year 2007, the lowest rate of social welfare should represent 27% of gross average industrial earnings.
I put it to the Taoiseach that there is now a deliberate policy at the heart of the Department of Finance and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, to scupper that report as both Ministers refuse to accept the recommendation of a limited benchmark of 27% by the year 2007.
The Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs has signed up to the recommendation. Will the Taoiseach give an indication to the House of his own personal view in respect of the commitment that has been made to the PPF in this report?
Mr. Sargent: —as a date for publication. It is in the programme for government so I assume he knows what he is talking about when he says that. Is the Taoiseach going to look at the response of the Dutch Government which has taken on the guaranteed basic income idea in its response to dealing with the downturn in the aviation industry as it affects KLM? They have put in place a payment to the workers who are availing of that shorter working week. In the spirit of implementing the guaranteed basic income, may I ask him to look at the implementation of that type of idea in relation to people in this country affected by the downturn in the aviation industry? Has he given any further thought to the implementation of the guaranteed basic income idea in the light of that example from another EU member state?
The Taoiseach: The study included an examination of the concepts and practice in other countries. The working group was established arising from the commitment in Partnership 2000 to examine basic income. That working group did not give any specific model on basic income but rather outlined the implications of a basic income approach. The John's University study looked at all areas and examined many methods. One of  the advantages of the Green Paper is to detail and facilitate a discussion on all those concepts and ideas. A range of issues, including taxes, direct and indirect, and other concepts, was examined. It is difficult to give a fair presentation when pulling all that together It is not a case of trying to bury the concept but of examining what is involved. It is a complex matter and I am sure Deputy Sargent will agree, the likely effects of introducing a basic income system have to be evaluated in detail and that is what we are doing in a comprehensive Green Paper.
No other country that was tracked in the studies has introduced a basic income. The issue may have been addressed in part by income adequacy, minimum pay or other such methods but the lack of an example has presented a problem for those working on this issue, including the social partners. They are working on something new and I am sure the Deputy would agree it will take some time to develop a Green Paper, but it is still worth the effort.
There has been considerable input from a large number of people and bodies from within and outside Government, such as the ESRI, CORI and the social partners, in examining this issue. Members of this House have spent much time examining the advantages and disadvantages of introducing a basic income. There are disadvantages but there are also advantages and they have to be weighed up in the Green Paper.
Mr. Noonan: Does the Taoiseach agree that while income is a very important component of living standards for persons who live below the poverty line, State services are equally important? If that is the case, how can he justify the announcement by the Minister for Health and Children today that the extension of limits for medical cards is to be deferred to 2003? The package of income plus services is what makes up living standards and that is particularly true for the poorest in our society, 20% of whom continue to live below the poverty line on £126 per week.
The Taoiseach: This has nothing to do with the Green Paper. In the last number of years, not alone has the Government given medical cards to everybody over 70 years of age, which is a very socially progressive measure, but it has also doubled the income threshold in the last three budgets to cater for people on low incomes. That has been very beneficial. In question this year is if the Minister is putting his resources into other areas.
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