Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
75. Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to figures produced by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, showing that calls for help to its head office had more than doubled in the past year; the steps being taken to deal with the levels of want reflected in this huge increase in calls; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28943/03]
Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Mary Coughlan): I have been made aware of the figures released by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul which show that there has been a significant increase in the numbers of people making contact with the society. I am deeply conscious of the invaluable contribution which the society makes in alleviating the effects of poverty on the most vulnerable members of Irish society and the close contact society members maintain with the least well-off.
It is not clear from the society's statements what specifically occasioned this increase in the demand for its services, as the steady improvement in payment levels and in the services for the less well-off have been maintained. I understand that the society is making available in its annual report a more complete analysis of calls to the society and I will be interested to note to what the calls specifically relate. The policies pursued by the Government over recent years in combating unemployment and in reducing the level of consistent poverty have brought about a significant improvement, in real terms, in the situation of people on lower incomes.
The Government's ongoing priorities in this regard are reflected in the approach set out in the revised national anti-poverty strategy, NAPS, published in February 2002, and in the national action plan against poverty and social exclusion launched in July of this year. These contain ambitious targets across the range of policy areas which impact on poverty and social exclusion – including social welfare payments, education, health, employment, and housing and accommodation. Notably, they include a key target of raising the lowest social welfare rate to €150 in 2002 terms by 2007.
I believe that the delivery of the targets contained in the revised national anti-poverty strategy, NAPS, and in the national action plan against poverty and social exclusion, taken with the achievements to date in that regard, will help to create a more just and inclusive society. I am also concerned to ensure that the resources available are used in the most effective way to address the real needs of people and I will take on board any views of organisations such as the society, which deal with people in need on an ongoing basis, in formulating policies for the future development of the social welfare system.
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