Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Wednesday, 6 November 2002

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 556 No. 4

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[1193]

  233.  Mr. Wall  Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan   her plans to increase the hearing aid grant as requested by the Irish Senior Citizen Parliament; her plans to upgrade the present grant aid system, in view of the advances in technology in this phase of medical equipment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20767/02]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  Under the treatment benefits scheme insured persons and their dependent spouses can avail of benefit in respect of a certain range of dental, optical and aural services subject to satisfying certain PRSI contribution conditions. In the case of hearing aids, my Department pays half the cost subject to a maximum of €350 per hearing aid. The operation of the scheme is subject to ongoing monitoring by my Department.

An increase to the maximum payment available for hearing aids under the scheme would have financial implications and would be a matter for consideration within the constraints of budgetary policy.

  234.  Mr. Wall  Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan   if she will investigate the anomaly which exists in relation to class D stamps; if she will accept the proposal from the Irish Senior Citizens' Parliament to address this anomaly; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20787/02]

  235.  Mr. Wall  Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan   her plans to eliminate the anomaly which exists in relation to persons with D stamp contributions; and her views on the proposal from the Irish Senior Citizens' Parliament to rectify the anomaly; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20745/02]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  I propose to take Questions Nos. 234 and 235 together.

In general, pay related social insurance contributions are made by employers, employees and the self employed. The rate of contribution depends on the class of social insurance applicable which in turn determines the range of benefits to which contributors may, in due course, become entitled.

Permanent and pensionable public servants employed before April 1995 are liable for Class D contributions. Class D contributors are insured for a limited range of social insurance benefits and the level of benefits available broadly reflects the level of contribution paid. It does not include cover for contributory old age or retirement pension.

The issue revised by the Irish Senior Citizens' Parliament is that class D contributions paid in previous years should be reckonable on a limited basis for contributory pension in order to help in particular, people with a mixture of class A, full, and class D contributions to qualify for pension. A number of improvements have been made in the rules of entitlement to pension in recent years, including the introduction of pro rata pensions for people with mixed rate insurance records and the reduction in the yearly average [1194]of contributions required for a standard pension from 20 to ten.

The question of further concessions in this regard would have to be considered in a budgetary context

  236.  Mr. Wall  Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan   her plans to provide free travel passes for occupational disability pension recipients under 66 as requested by the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20746/02]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  The free travel scheme is available to all people living in the State aged 66 years, or over, to all carers in receipt of carer's allowance and to carers of people in receipt of constant attendance or prescribed relative's allowance.

The free travel scheme is also available to people under age 66 who are in receipt of certain disability type welfare payments, such as disability allowance, invalidity pension and blind person's pension. People who live in health board approved residential care who were previously receiving disability allowance from my Department or disabled person's maintenance allowance from a health board are also entitled to a free travel pass.

The free schemes, including the free travel scheme, are highly valued and there are ongoing demands to make them available to other categories of people.

Extending the schemes to people who are under 66 years of age and who do not have an attachment to a designated scheme within the social welfare system would have major implications for this set of schemes, the cost of which could only be considered in a budgetary context.

  237.  Mr. Wall  Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan   her plans to extend the living alone allowance criteria to include low income public service pensions and pensioners in receipt of low pension income from other countries as requested by the Irish Senior Citizens' Parliament; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20747/02]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  The living alone allowance is an additional payment of €7.70 per week, to people who are in receipt of certain social welfare type payments and who reside alone. It is not a payment in its own right but an allowance which can only be paid as a supplement to an Irish social welfare payment. As such, it cannot be paid to people without a social welfare entitlement or to those whose pension payments are made under the social security regimes of other countries.

Proposals by the Irish Senior Citizens' Parliament for increased payments and changes in eligibility conditions would have to be considered in a budgetary context.

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  238.  Mr. Wall  Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall   asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs  Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan   her plans to improve the financial income and educational prospects of surviving spouses as requested by the Irish Senior Citizens' Parliament; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20748/02]

Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  The Irish Senior Citizens' Parliament has made a wide ranging submission in relation to surviving spouses covering income tax, child care training and social welfare payments. The position in relation to social welfare support for the group in question is as follows.

The Government is committed to bringing the maximum rate of the widow-er's contributory pension for those over 66 years of age into line with that of the old age contributory pension, which now stands at €147.30 per week. Considerable progress has already been made in this regard over recent budgets. In the last budget, the widow-er's contributory pension rate for those aged over 66 was increased by €15.29 to €144.80 per week, i.e. €2.50 short of the target rate. Further developments in relation to payment rates for surviving spouses will be in line with overall targets contained in An Agreed Programme for Government for pensions and social welfare payments generally.

Widows and widowers over 70 years have also benefited from improvements in the area of the free schemes which have extended eligibility for the full range of the schemes to those over that [1196]age regardless of their means or household composition.

The recent increases in child benefit are also of benefit to surviving spouses with children. Monthly payments are now €117.60 for each of the first and second children and €147.30 for the third and subsequent children. In addition, those in receipt of a widow-er's contributory pension or the one-parent family payment receive a weekly child dependant allowance of between €19.30 and €21.60 per child. Also in the last budget the widowed parent grant, a once-off payment to a recently widowed person with dependent children, was almost doubled from €1,270 to €2,500.

This investment in child benefit is designed to strengthen the position of those who choose to work in the home and care for their children in that way, while simultaneously easing the burden for those who opt to go out to work and utilise child care facilities.

In general where a person is receiving social support only one income maintenance payment can be made. However, there are concessions in place for those in receipt of a widow(er)'s pension or a one-parent family payment. Subject to satisfying the relevant qualifying conditions recipients of these payments may also receive half-rate disability benefit or unemployment benefit for up to 15 months.

In An Agreed Programme for Government there is a commitment to implement improvements in the widow-widower's pension. This and other provisions for surviving spouses will be considered in the context of the forthcoming budget.


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