Wednesday, 12 December 2007
Social Welfare Bill 2007: Second Stage (Resumed).
Deirdre Clune (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
We all welcome measures in the Bill which increase payments to those who are dependent on social welfare. I wish to focus in my contribution on the areas of concern to me.
The old-age pension has been increased, with the contributory pension increased by €14 per week and the non-contributory pension by €12 per week and this is to be welcomed. However, anyone in contact with elderly people dependent on social welfare will be aware that much of that increase will be eaten up by food costs and inflation and fuel costs. I recognise the fuel allowance has been extended by one week but I do not believe the contribution matches the real cost of heating for those elderly people, many of whom are living in old houses that are not equipped to retain heat. I have raised this matter with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and will do so again.
I wish to raise the issue of qualified adults who should be entitled to claim their payments in their own right. Many of the 123,000 qualified adults are elderly women. If they wish their payments to be paid directly to them, this must be signed off by the adult on whom they are dependent. They are not really recognised as independent adults in their own right. It should be recognised in this day and age that many of these people are women who have been at home rearing their families or working in the community but they have not been in recognised employment. At this stage in their careers, it behoves us all to recognise them as individuals. The State should pay them directly, considering funding is being given in their name to another person. I have strong opinions on this issue and we should recognise that people deserve this form of recognition.
There is a very low take-up of family income supplement. It is a payment designed to support those in employment on low incomes with families to help them bridge a gap that may exist. According to the ESRI, there is a less than one in three take-up of this payment which I find amazing. I constantly encounter people looking for support from their community welfare officer who are not aware of this payment and who have not been made aware of it. There are ways and means of communicating with these people, particularly if they are in employment. Revenue knows what their income is and they probably pay a low rate of tax. We are living in an era of information technology and information is available on the system. I suggest some joined-up thinking should be used and people should be informed of their entitlements in this regard.
Lone parents are not necessarily women; they may be lone parents following a marriage break-up or they may be widows or widowers. Census 2006 showed 121,000 lone-parents with at least one child under the age of 20 years, making up 22% of all families. As one would expect, the breakdown of lone-parents show that 90% are female and 10% are male. This category of parent is more at risk of poverty. It is estimated that approximately 7% of the population is in consistent poverty. In households headed by a lone parent, figures show that approximately 27% are living in consistent poverty. This is an area which needs attention. Many negative comments are made about lone parents and not all such parents are young women. A total of 2% of lone parents are younger than 20 years of age and the majority are between 35 and 39 years of age. It is not necessarily a young person's issue. Lone parents need to be supported in education. I welcome the changes in the rental accommodation scheme that allows them to take up work. Funding for lone parents is an investment in their children and will ensure those children will break out of the poverty cycle while also facilitating the parent to develop themselves and to enter employment and so reduce their dependence on welfare. The issue of lone parenting needs to be addressed on a consistent basis.