Dáil debates

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

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


4:00 pm

Photo of Michael MoynihanMichael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill. I could raise many issues pertaining to social welfare. I compliment the Minister and the Government on their excellent work and the amount of good news, in terms of increases and additional money, that has been made available through the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill and the budget. Many long-standing issues have either been addressed or begun to be addressed in this Bill and some other Bills in recent years.

I wish to discuss carers and carer's allowance. The introduction of the carer's allowance some years ago has been of great benefit because it has recognised carers. Indeed, this year's increases have provided more recognition to carers. A number of developments have taken place in recent years. For example, weekly payments have increased greatly and qualifying conditions have been significantly eased. The aim in respect of the carer's allowance to get as close as possible to disregarding means tests completely, as this is one of the extant issues. An invaluable service is provided to the State and to the recipient by those who provide care in their own homes for their elderly relatives or family members who require 24-hour care. The nation should never be ashamed to give them credit for the amount of work they do.

A number of improvements have taken place in recent years. The introduction of carer's benefit was another great initiative, as was the recent introduction of the respite care grant. In addition, the increases in the respite care grant, from €1,000 to €1,200 and to €1,500 this year by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, are welcome. It gives those who provide full-time care a once-off opportunity to deal with necessary issues and is highly significant.

The carer's allowance has been a significant issue for some time. Some other related issues should also be addressed. I refer to better provision for people with intellectual or mental disabilities by means of a non-means tested payment. I know it is a small matter. They are on disability benefit but should be on invalidity benefit on a permanent basis. I come across this from time to time and the Minister should examine it.

The increases made during the past number of years in pensions were widely welcomed. People on non-contributory pensions can have insurable employment and still claim the full non-contributory pension or the State pension, which is welcome. A number of people on the pro-rata self-employment pension do not receive the full pension. Their numbers dwindle year by year. The possibility of people with eight or nine of the ten parts paid receiving the full pension should be considered.

Many elderly missionaries are returning from foreign lands after being domiciled in other countries for many years. They must wait a number of years before they can receive the State pension. I understand why the Department introduced the regulations. However, this should be examined and regulations should be introduced to address the situation. Many of them would return home if they could receive the State pension rather than living off their house or order which they would not like to do.

Every public representative meets people who, for 101 different reasons, do not pay PRSI. Through my information leaflets I encourage people to check their records and ensure when they reach the age of State pension that PRSI has been paid. People who joined the early farm retirement scheme in the mid-1990s and who had been paying tax and PRSI on their farms were advised they no longer needed to pay PRSI. They are in their mid-60s when they come off the farm retirement scheme after ten years and realise their mistake. As no PRSI was paid during that time they are not entitled to a State pension.

A number of people are affected by this and it behoves all of us as public representatives to make these points on pensions, PRSI and social welfare at public meetings. People who earned less than £2,500 did not have to pay PRSI. When one does not have to do so one will not. One person was deprived of a State pension because of an income of £2,497. The lack of knowledge about the benefits of PRSI should be addressed.

The Bill also addresses the issue of community welfare officers. They do a huge amount of work to provide a service throughout the country. The Minister will move them from one Department to another and consultation and discussion on this has gone on for quite some time. They are the State's arm for people in huge difficulty for one reason or another. They are at the coalface and continually deal with issues. They should be complimented for the work they do and supported in every way, shape and form by the State.

It is easy to be critical and it is always stated that people live off the State and receive money for nothing. Across the spectrum, people who depend on social welfare are at the lowest ebb. The increases provided by this Government ease the pain and difficulties they have. Through no fault of their own, people have major difficulties such as family circumstances or illness. As public representatives we meet these people regularly as do community welfare officers. They must be dealt with and it behoves us as a State to look after the less well-off.

We looked after State pensions for the elderly well during the past few years. The elderly survived here during more difficult times and ensured the Celtic tiger was dreamed of and fuelled. It is important we look after them. This will be a major issue. It is great to see people living out the latter years of their lives in the comfort they deserve. For far too long concern has been raised about pensions. An issue exists with regard to the State and the provision of private pensions, which is continually discussed by the Government and proposals are put forward. The Minister is also greatly concerned about this.

The farm assist scheme, which was first mooted in 1998 and 1999, is a great scheme. Its follow-on, the rural social scheme, has done great work for the less well-off. The main issues with which I am concerned are those schemes, the pro-rata pension, carer's allowance and carer's benefit. I implore the Minister to consider the entitlement of missionaries who are abroad and wish to return home to the State pension.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for providing me with the opportunity to speak on the debate.


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