Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 28 September 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection Remit and Legislative Agenda: Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection
My first point concerns the gender pay gap. The Minister's refusal to look at this is disappointing when there has been so much talk of the gender pay gap. The changes introduced in 2012 are unacceptable and the impact that these have had on 40,000 people, most of them women, is disgraceful. A change in this situation will cost money, absolutely, but we in Sinn Féin have been able to find the money in our alternative budget to address this. I again ask the Minister to have a look at this matter. It is totally unacceptable that women, for the most part, will have to wait until 2020 before we move to the proposed total contributions system.
Still on pensions, the other cohort that is currently being discriminated against by the State are those who, due to the nature of their employment contracts, are forced to retire at 65 years of age. They are then forced onto a jobseekers' payment for 12 months before being able to claim the State pension at 66. These people are down approximately €40 a week. I ask the Minister to have a look at this matter. The State transition pension was done away with but needs to be looked at again. This is a discriminatory practice in the Department and needs to resolved.
I want to touch on a number of other areas briefly. The previous Minister told this committee here last year that he was unable to take on board proposals put forward both by myself and by Age Action to bring forward a bulk payment on the fuel allowance. I welcome the fact that the Department has now rolled these proposals out. Could the Minister give us some detail on this matter? How many applicants have come forward at this point? How is the scheme proceeding? It is a welcome development.
I also have questions on the live register and specifically on labour activation measures such as JobPath. More than 150,000 people have now been referred over to Turas Nua and to Community Training and Education and Education Centres, CTEC. Last week I asked the Minister about the nature of these contracts, with particular regard to the initial focus for the long-term unemployed. I have all of the evidence for this and I will give it to the Minister. I ask her again whether the contract is solely to deal with the long-term unemployed and what provisions are made for people engaged in part-time work, many of whom are also being hounded by Turas Nua and CTEC. This is particularly true of teachers who, by the nature of their employment, cannot get permanent contracts and have to sub instead. I would like some information on that.
There are a number of priorities that I would like to see included in this year's budget. The Minister referred to this committee's report on lone parents. She will also be aware that I got an amendment passed to the Social Welfare Act 2016. This amendment, which was welcomed, mandated the Department to carry out on independent report on the changes made to the lone parent payment in 2012 and the impact this has had on lone parents. The Taoiseach told me yesterday that that report has indeed been carried out and that the Department has it. I would have hoped that this committee would have had seen it by now as it was to have been in published in June, well in advance of the budget discussions. Where is that report now and when will we get to see it? We know that 26.2% of children growing up in lone parent families live in consistent poverty.
My next point concerns discriminatory practices in the Department. There is discrimination towards young jobseekers under the age of 26. The Minister was quoted at a conference yesterday as saying that she would find it very difficult to live on €193 a week. I think she meant-----