Dáil debates

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

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


5:00 pm

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)

I welcome many aspects of the Bill. Changes have been made to rent supplement which allow people to work up to a point where they can earn €200 and still claim 50% of the rent allowance. That is very important because we have been pointing out that this created a poverty trap. I hope additional improvements will be made, as this measure does not go far enough. Local authorities have readily admitted that they cannot house people in the same numbers as they did before the Government came to power. There is now a far greater reliance on the private sector. We cannot penalise people who find themselves in private rented accommodation at hugely inflated rates by telling them they cannot go to work because they will lose their rent allowance. Such persons could end up homeless or back in the family home. I welcome the improvement but it does not go far enough.

The difficulty with family income supplement is that it is not advertised widely enough and it is not clear enough for people who should be in receipt of it. Departmental officials know that these people need to be reached. The delays in assessing applications are unnecessary. There is even an eight week delay in the renewal of the family income supplement. We must make the assumption that people are honest and that they will give information on the increase in their income. They did it in the first place. Therefore, why would they not do so again? The situation does not arise where someone pays €400 per week one year and €1,000 the next, yet loses his or her job. A certain category will be in the low income bracket, which should be assumed. The renewal should be automatic.

The Minister and I have had a number of conversations about overpayments to lone parents. I have made several appeals since last speaking to him and have been successful in each one. It is a huge waste of time and resources to have appeals heard before deciding officers who recognise that the people concerned would not be before them if they had decided to stay at home and simply accept lone parent allowance. These are young women who went out to work to improve their circumstances. There were only 3,000 two years ago. Therefore, there cannot be that many now. I appeal to the Minister to take a serious look at the issue and introduce an amnesty. He would not have to do the same for another group at a later stage, as amnesties have always been ring-fenced. They are usually for persons who owe the State a vast amount of tax and deliberately decided not to pay. In this case, we are not talking about deliberate fraud, but something that was simply overlooked.

Ageism works against the young as well as the old. People who are widowed and under 65 years with family responsibilities should receive secondary benefits. It is virtually impossible to live in the circumstances in which they find themselves without these benefits. This should happen as quickly as possible.

It will be a dire mistake for the Department of Social and Family Affairs to take community welfare officers under its umbrella. Those officers are front-line staff who are doing what departmental officials cannot do. They meet people face-to-face and take all of their circumstances into consideration, with the flexibility that is necessary. I ask the Minister to take a second look at this measure and not to go ahead with it.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.