Dáil debates

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2007: Second Stage (Resumed)


4:00 pm

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. The improvements in the rates of social welfare are beyond dispute, but we should not lose the run of ourselves in estimating the sums available for people living on social welfare. When one counterbalances items like the increases in the cost of heat, light and foodstuffs, the social welfare increases will be quickly absorbed. The social partnership process identified inflation as the key issue and inflation could rapidly eat into the welcome increases in social welfare. We should acknowledge that there is still a great deal to be done in this area.

On the carer's allowance, I am dealing with a particular individual who was transferred from one benefit to another. I understood that a person would not be transferred to his or her detriment, but this individual has lost the fuel allowance and it makes quite a sizeable difference. If I give the Minister the details of that case, he might look at it. I have received replies to parliamentary questions on the matter, which affects a small group of people. I will pass on the details to the Minister because it is making a big difference to the individual to whom I refer. Even though the increases are welcome, such a predicament can have a major impact on a person's income and quality of life.

I welcome section 24 which is one of the most meaningful measures in the Bill. Almost daily I meet people on rent supplement who would really like to work but who for many years has been precluded from working because it would lead to losing rent support. The rental allowance scheme is slowly taking effect, but this measure will ease the way a little further for some.

It is also a socially progressive measure because many who might well have formed a family have been prevented from doing so because this would result in a major difference in income. We need to get to the point where people can form families where such exist. Many have not declared their position because it would place them in a poverty trap. The change to which I refer is meaningful and will make a big difference. Although I am not aware of the level of interest in the rent allowance scheme by landlords, it is certainly being pushed heavily by local authorities.

I was disappointed this year there was not further movement on the payment of €1,000 per child. Some of the child care providers increased the price of child care provision when that payment was introduced and it is disappointing the payment has not been kept in line with the cost of living. There is no doubt that there is an attempt to ensure the availability of an adequate number of places, but the cost of child care is still very substantial. We must get to grips with why it is so expensive. Commercial rates and VAT, for example, contribute to the cost. In this regard, one should bear in mind that child care providers do not earn a huge amount of money.

Has the Minister considered the new payment being made to those in residential care? Responsibility may well be transferred between one Department and the other. Under the Health (Amendment) Act 2005, people in nursing homes could be charged a certain sum every week. I do not know if it was intended to charge people with mental or physical disabilities in residential care when the legislation was first drafted. Those in receipt of a social welfare payment are now to have a significant proportion of the payment deducted. The method of extracting the money is mean and I do not believe it was the intention of the legislation. The Government may be legally right but I do not know if it is morally right.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.