Wednesday, 12 December 2007
Social Welfare Bill 2007: Second Stage (Resumed).
Kieran O'Donnell (Limerick East, Fine Gael)
Many of the issues have been touched on already. The key point for me is that the contributory and non-contributory old age pensions have increased by 6%. On the face of it, that appears fine. However, when one views this in the context of inflation on food and heating, which is as much as 17%, it is grossly inadequate.
There has been no increase in the living alone allowance since 1997. People living on their own, be they unmarried or widowed, are one of the most vulnerable sectors in society. If a spouse passes away, the person who remains faces a significant loss of social welfare income. The living alone allowance must be increased.
The carer's allowance has only increased by €14 and the disability allowance has increased by €12. The costed disability payment, which was sought by Inclusion Ireland, was not given even though many costs are associated with having a disability.
The Government made a commitment to raise the income limits for medical cards to double the limit for parents with children under the age of six and also to treble the income limit for parents of children with a disability under the age of 18. We must put more resources into the area of disabilities.
The next issue is one I raised previously in the House. I refer to a change that could be introduced without great difficulty. When a person reaches 65 years, he or she is entitled to a contributory old age pension and at the age of 66 a person is entitled to a non-contributory old age pension. People should be given prior notice approximately nine months in advance of retirement age, as it is taking five or six months to process these claims. In the case of late applications, no arrears are paid on non-contributory pensions. In the case of contributory pensions, one year's full payment is paid in arrears but otherwise the payment is made on a pro rata basis. We should be able to link with PPS numbers so that a person coming up to retirement age is notified. The increase in social welfare pensions is not high enough but if there were a linked system at least people would get paid from the date on which they are entitled to receive the payments. I feel strongly about this issue.
We should find a way to ensure that everybody who is entitled to FIS claims it. This is about delivery of service, which harks back to public sector reform. A proper delivery of service is required for people who are entitled to benefits. These are the keys points I wish to make. Obviously there are other areas to which I would like to refer but time is limited.