Wednesday, 12 December 2007
Social Welfare Bill 2007: Second Stage (Resumed).
Cyprian Brady (Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Social Welfare Bill. I would like to discuss the benefits of budget 2008 in terms of social welfare contributions to senior citizens and those who dedicate their lives to caring for people who are ill or infirm. We can never do too much for senior citizens who have played a very important role in making this country the pride of Europe. They have served our communities for many years as neighbours, employers, workers and parents. When times were tough, it was our senior citizens who made sacrifices. It was they who laid the foundations of the economy through hard work. They made sure that their children, the workforce and the leaders of society today, got a decent education. As a member of Fianna Fáil, I take very seriously the responsibility of looking after senior citizens. Our commitment to deliver for them has always been apparent. We have consistently refined and improved the services and payments for them. We will continue to improve benefits because we owe it to them, Ireland's parents and grandparents, to provide them with a decent quality of life. I am very proud of what we have achieved in the past decade which is continued in the budget. The welfare package of €900 million will benefit more than 1.5 million people. It will bring the total welfare spend by the Department of Social and Family Affairs in 2008 to a record €17 billion.
I commend the Minister, Deputy Cullen, for including in the budget a special provision for the spouse or partner of a person receiving the weekly contributory pension. The weekly payment to the spouse or partner, defined in the Department of Social and Family Affairs as qualified adult dependant of contributory pensioner, will increase in 2008 by up to €27. This will bring the qualified adult rate for those aged 66 years or over to €200 per week. The spouse or partner will now receive a substantial special increase where he or she is aged 66 years or over. It will be of special benefit to women who do not have an entitlement to a contributory pension in their own right because of home responsibilities. This gives due recognition to the work that has been done and continues to be done by women working in the home. When these payments are combined with the increase in the personal pension rate, the impact of this measure means that more than 42,000 pensioner couples will see their household income increase by up to €41 a week or nearly 11%.
I am honoured to be part of a Government providing a €336 million package of supports specifically for older people which will benefit almost 420,000. Next month pensioners will receive an increase of €14 per week to €223.30 in the State contributory pension and an increase of €12 per week to €212 in the non-contributory pension. Since 2002, the level of the State contributory pension has increased by more than 50% from €147.30 to €223.30 after the budget. Fianna Fáil continues to deliver on its commitment to improving the living standards of older people enabling them to face the future with a greater sense of security.
I would like to highlight the important role carers play in society. As a public representative, visiting households in Dublin Central, I see the work these unsung heroes carry out quietly every day of the week. There are no headlines, or radio and television coverage. They are the son or daughter, neighbour or relative who devotes his or her time to looking after a person with a disability, an illness or a senior citizen requiring assistance due to old age. It is fitting, therefore, for the Government to continue to support these carers and increase payments in order that all carers will directly benefit from budget 2008. I thank the Minister for increasing the rate of carer's allowance by €14. This will bring the rate for carers over the age of 66 years to €232 per week and the payment for carers under 66 years to €214 per week. I am also glad to see that the rate of carer's benefit will also increase by €14 per week. These increases represent a continuation of the Government's commitment to improving the lot of carers. Last year the important respite care grant increased from €1,200 to €1,500; this year the Minister has included a further €200 increase, bringing the grant to €1,700. I see the benefit of the grant every day. Sometimes the person being cared for benefits just as much as the carer. Some 48,000 carers will benefit from this payment and it is a positive step towards our commitment to increase the respite care grant to €3,000 per year over the lifetime of the Government.
The Minister also announced an increase in the level of the income disregards for carer's allowance to €332.50 per week for a single person and €665 per week for a couple. This is very important, as it will ensure all those on average industrial earnings will continue to qualify for a full carer's allowance.
Although we can never do enough for senior citizens and carers, the Government has genuinely contributed to improving their quality of life. The welfare improvements announced in budget 2008 must not be seen in isolation. The budget focuses on improving health services, roads and public transport, security, education and training. Investment in these key elements also contributes to the well-being of senior citizens and other vulnerable sections of society. Our ability to manage and maintain a strong, growing economy means that we can continue to improve and develop the supports put in place for all senior citizens and carers.