Thursday, 1 December 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
35. Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the social issues which lead to dependence on welfare; the action he is taking, or intends to take, to address these issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37266/05]
The causes of poverty and its effects are multi-faceted and require an integrated, multi-policy response for application at national, regional and local levels. The Government’s strategic approach to tackling poverty was initially provided through the national anti-poverty strategy, NAPS, which was introduced in 1997. This strategy has now been subsumed into the National Action Plan against Poverty and Social Exclusion, NAP-inclusion. Ireland has produced two NAP-inclusion covering the periods 2001-03 and 2003-05 respectively, as part of the EU open method of co-ordination aimed at making “a decisive impact on poverty” by 2010. The third NAP-inclusion, to cover the period 2006-08, is scheduled to be introduced in September next year.
The current NAP-inclusion contains a series of commitments across the relevant policy areas accompanied, where appropriate, by targets, including targets to increase participation in employment, to improve levels of educational attainment, to improve access to services and good quality housing. A recent review of implementation of the NAP-inclusion has shown that some 51 of its 58 targets and commitments had either been met or were in the process of being met.
As Minister for Social and Family Affairs, I have lead responsibility for driving this process, working closely with my ministerial colleagues through the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion. The Office for Social Inclusion, OSI, in my Department co-ordinates the process at official level through ongoing liaison with individual Departments, its own management group of Assistant Secretaries, the senior officials group on social inclusion, chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach, and the social inclusion consultative group, composed of representatives of the social partners and the community and voluntary sector.
To prepare for the third plan, OSI is currently engaged in a process of consultation with all relevant stakeholders — those who are experiencing poverty and social exclusion and those who work to support them either directly or indirectly. Initially written submissions from interested parties were invited and a total of 76 submissions have been received.
Over the last two weeks, a series of direct regional consultations have taken place in Dublin, Carlow, Cork, Limerick, Mullingar, Carrick-on-Shannon and Donegal. These public consultations provide those who attend with an opportunity to contribute their views and experiences. This consultation process will culminate with the Social Inclusion Forum, which is to be held in Dublin in early 2006.
This Government remains strongly committed to tackling poverty. One way of ameliorating the effects of poverty is through welfare payments and without such payments the ‘at risk of poverty rate’ would be about 17.5% higher. The Government’s track record in this regard is a clear testimony to our continued commitment to tackling poverty. In my own area of social welfare, spending has more than doubled from €5.7 billion in 1997 to €12.25 billion in 2005, providing very significant real increases in payments during this period. As a result, in the period 2001 to 2005, the lowest social welfare rates increased by 40% while the consumer price index increased by just over 13%. Child benefit rates increased by 65% over the same period, while from 2002 to 2005, pensioners received increases of €44.71 per week.
In drawing attention to these increases, I am not complacent about the current situation. Much more remains to be done to tackle the problems of poverty and exclusion experienced by persons in the most vulnerable groups and areas. Our work must continue. I am determined, therefore, through vigorous implementation and development of the strategic process, in full consultation with all the stakeholders at national, regional and local levels, to continue to build and improve on our achievements so far. I am also examining specific targeted measures that could be introduced to address areas of particular concern such as child poverty and pensioner poverty.
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