Dáil debates

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Financial Resolutions 2020 - Financial Resolution No. 7: General (Resumed)

 

1:10 pm

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)

This week I presented my first budget as both Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Minister for Rural and Community Development. The budget of Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection for 2021 will be €25.1 billion. This is the largest ever annual allocation and is more than €4 billion larger than the Department's allocation in last year's budget. Much of that spending will be required to meet the ongoing costs of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and an increased volume of jobseeker's payments.

I am pleased, however, even in difficult times, to have been able to secure almost €300 million for a series of targeted measures that will protect some of the most vulnerable groups in our society. We have helped our most vulnerable older people with a €5 increase in the living alone allowance, a €3.50 increase in the fuel allowance and a 100% Christmas bonus for all pensioners, while the eligible age for the State pension will remain at 66 years, at a cost of €220 million. We have supported low-income families with a €5 increase in the qualified child payment for over-12s and a €2 increase for under-12s, benefiting some 420,000 children. There will be an additional €5.5 million for the hot school meals programme and we have made positive changes to income thresholds for the one-parent family payment and the working family payment.

We are supporting people with a disability with an increase in the earnings disregard on disability allowance from €120 per week to €140 per week. In addition, I am extending the training support grant of €1,000 to jobseekers with disabilities who are supported through the employability service. We have also increased the carer's support grant to €1,850, the highest ever rate, benefiting more than 130,000 carers throughout the country.

We have made changes to the PUP so that the self-employed can earn up to €480 per month without it impacting that payment. That change is effective immediately, so people on the PUP can avail of it today. I can confirm that the €480 relates to income from self-employment before tax but after business expenses have been deducted. We are also providing an additional €12 million for the €1,000 enterprise support grant for the self-employed. My Department is here to support and assist anybody who has lost his or her job. We have secured an additional €10 million on top of the €112 million secured as part of the July stimulus package to extend and enhance our suite of employment support measures and I will work alongside the Minister with responsibility for further and higher education, Deputy Harris, in that regard.

The Christmas bonus recognises the need of people who are long-term financially dependent on their social welfare payment. Jobseekers have to be on a payment for 15 months or longer before qualifying for the Christmas bonus. In recognition of these unprecedented times, I am reducing the eligibility period to four months for people on the PUP and jobseeker's payments. The total cost of the Christmas bonus this year is expected to be €350 million, which is far in excess of the €279 million paid last year.

As Minister for Rural and Community Development, I am pleased to have secured a record budget allocation of €341 million. This represents a €23 million or 7% increase in funding year-on-year. Funding has been increased for all our rural schemes across the board. I am particularly pleased to have secured an additional €5 million in funding for an enhanced town and village renewal scheme in 2021, which will see a major focus on the development of remote working facilities in our rural towns and villages.

We have much to do across Government and society in building our economy back up and providing people, businesses and communities across the country with the support they need to get through this pandemic. I believe the unprecedented scale of the budget package announced by Government this week is a strong statement of our intent in that regard.

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