Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Question 69: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to recent research undertaken by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, which indicates that many low-income family types are unable to meet basic living costs; her views on the findings of the report; and the way she will act upon it. [24771/08]
I welcome the recent research by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, which clearly demonstrates the considerable progress made by the Government since the publication of its original research entitled, Minimum Essential Budgets for Six Households, in late 2006. This is one of a number of research models and presents some useful information. The updated findings will be studied with interest by the Department. The recent update shows significant improvements in the position for most household types. In particular, pensioner couple households and lone parents or couples with younger children have seen their positions improve dramatically.
The decisive steps taken by the Government in the past two years on a wide range of fronts have addressed some of the problems and challenges identified in the 2006 report and in similar studies. Such actions include the introduction of the early child care supplement and increases in social welfare rates and the national minimum wage. Social welfare pensions have increased by €30 per week and basic welfare rates by €32 per week since 2006. These increases have been well in excess of both inflation and wage growth. Child benefit rates have increased by more than 10% in the same period while the qualified child allowance has been significantly restructured and enhanced. Other measures have included improvements in the means testing arrangements for a range of schemes, such as jobseekers allowance and disability allowance, which are designed to encourage recipients and their spouses or partners to work, thereby increasing total household income, changes in the upper earnings limit for one-parent family payment and improvements in the family income supplement focused on larger families.
The Government remains committed to improving the standard of living of welfare dependent and low-income households significantly and to implementing the national action plan on social inclusion, a key objective of which is the elimination of consistent poverty. We will continue to pursue these policies having regard to available resources.
I asked for the Minister's opinion on the research conducted by the partnership. We would all acknowledge the work of its constituent members in respect of poverty. What are the Minister's opinions on the partnership's findings? While the research established that there have been improvements in many sectors, the partnership's approach to measuring what is required to survive and make ends meet among various family types is a different approach from that taken by the Minister's Department. After the partnership examined 27 family types, it found that 15 types were making ends meet. The remain 12, however, were not.
What is the Minister's opinion on the research and its approach to measuring the adequacy of income? Has the Minister considered adopting that type of approach in her Department? Rates have been set in the Department for different categories of social welfare recipients. Annual increases in benefits tend to be made in line with inflation. The approach proposed in this respect is different; it takes account of the different types of family compositions and the costs involved. One of the key areas to which recognition is not given is the difference in the child care costs associated with children of different ages. For example, whether it be child dependant allowance or the child benefit payment, will the Minister accept there is a world of difference in the costs involved in rearing a two year old and a 16 or 18 year old? Does she consider that the approach taken by the Vincentian Partnership has some merit and might be adopted by her Department?
As I said initially, this is only one of a number of research models. Many models and figures were presented by the various groups I met in recent weeks. They each come up with different measures. One of them is the Vincentian minimum essential budget, which is only one such method. It proposes an income level of €265 per week for an unemployed single male. An alternative, which is frequently put forward, is that of 60% of the median income, which proposes an income level of €223. Another is the benchmark model which proposes an income level of 30% gross average industrial earnings. Different people use different models. Therefore, it is not correct to say that any one model is better than another.
No, therefore, there is no question of us simply adopting one model over the others.
The Government has already accepted that there are different cost implications for different groups. The early child care allowance was introduced in the first instance because of the particularly high child care costs involved in rearing very young children. That is why children under the age of six were particularly targeted in that respect. The child benefit payment targets families with children. The success of targeting pensioners has been indicated by the reduction to 2.2% of the number of people, particularly pensioners, living in consistent poverty. Therefore, the Government recognises that different people and groups need to be targeted in different ways, but our overall aim is to ensure the general rate of social welfare payments will continue to increase.
There is a time limit of six minutes for priority questions and the time allocated for this question has expired. Two minutes is allowed for the initial reply by the Minister and four minutes for subsequent questions and replies.