Wednesday, 12 December 2007
Social Welfare Bill 2007: Second Stage (Resumed).
Andrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
That means three and three quarter minutes each. I will try to deal with as many points as I can quickly.
It is good to welcome all increases and nobody wants to be a killjoy in saying the increases announced in the social welfare package are not welcome. The qualifying adult entitlements which are long overdue give recognition at last to people such as mothers and women who have stayed at home just as the Family Home Protection Act granted them protection. For many years women were glorified slaves. I refer to Deputy Clune's point about allowing women to apply for benefit in their own right. This would complete the recognition of their rights as individuals.
The increases are based on a couple of basic principles announced by the Minister for Finance. He stated he would pin inflation next year to 2.4%, a halving of this year's rate of inflation which is 4.8%. From January to October 2007, the price of bread increased by 17.3%, milk and butter increased by 16.4% and eggs increased by 16.9%. That has already happened. We would be foolish not to acknowledge that this has a disproportionate effect on the poor and lower income families in society than on higher income families. I spoke to members of the local St. Vincent de Paul organisation who said that this year they are looking for food, not toys, in their collection. We collected food to send to Kosovo and other places but there is a need for this at home now. The increased cost of groceries is beginning to impact on poorer families.
Ireland has the sixth highest consumer debt ratio in the world at 154% of disposable income. That is an indication of the sticky wicket we are on. In announcing the social welfare package, the Minister referred to "below trend growth". That is an acknowledgement that things are slowing down. Approximately one third of people in or close to the poverty trap are from families where at least one person is at work.
Young carers sometimes take care of both parents. While these people are cost-effective for the State, they are not being rewarded. Approximately 40,000 people receive the carer's payment but it is estimated that 160,000 people provide over 3.5 million hours of work, which underlines the fact that the majority of carers are not paid.
Inclusion Ireland stated it is disappointed that the cost of disability is not related to people's needs, as opposed to their income. I asked a parliamentary question about the provision of medical cards to families with children with autism, to which the Minister replied on 5 December that she has no plans to provide for the granting of medical cards to any particular group as a whole, yet it was announced in the budget that the issue would be reviewed by the end of 2008.
An increase of €14 per week can be considered meagre in the context of inflation and other factors. I have more to say——