Thursday, 7 October 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
3. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will consider introducing a new payment scheme for bereaved parents following the death of a child; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [48969/21]
It is important, when we look at our social protection system, that we also look at potential gaps in it. I feel there is a gap around the statutory entitlement to paid leave for parents when they lose a child. That is probably the most horrific time in any parent's life. There is discretion to allow leave and it is up to the employer in all cases. Will the Minister consider this issue?
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. Of course, the death of a child is a tragedy and the difficulties that parents and families experience as a result cannot be overstated. Within the social welfare system, there are a number of supports for people who suffer a bereavement. In particular, there is an arrangement known as the six weeks' payment after death, which allows for certain payments to continue to be made after a person dies. If a person is in receipt of a primary social welfare payment that includes an increase for a qualified child and, tragically, that child dies, the qualified child payment will continue for six weeks after the child's death. In cases where an individual has been in receipt of a one-parent family payment and an increase for a qualified child, both payments will continue for six weeks after the death of that child.
In the case of carer's allowance, payment continues to be made for 12 weeks after the death of the person who was being cared for, including where that person was a child. Carer's benefit continues for six weeks. Domiciliary care allowance continues to be paid for three months after the death of the child being cared for. The working family payment and the back to work family dividend also remain in payment for up to six weeks after the death of a qualifying child. Eligibility may continue beyond those six weeks if there are other children associated with the claim.
Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, the Department may make an exceptional needs payment to help meet essential, once-off expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet from their weekly income. An application can be made under the essential needs payment scheme for assistance with funeral and burial expenses where there is an inability to pay these costs, in part or in full, by the family of the deceased person without causing hardship.
In 2020, approximately 2,800 exceptional needs payments, totalling €5.7 million, were made towards funeral and burial costs. In budget 2020, €60,000 was allocated to the Irish Hospice Foundation to carry out a research project into funeral poverty in Ireland, together with the wider economic impact of bereavement. The project is expected to be completed in the near future.
I thank the Minister for her reply. With respect to the continuation of payments for six weeks where a qualifying child payment is made, that applies when the people concerned, both the person who has, sadly, passed away and the parents, are already on social welfare and in the system. I am asking for a bereavement leave and benefit scheme to allow for the parents to take time off work, in a similar fashion to the parents' leave and benefit scheme, including two weeks' paid leave. England became the first country in the world to provide such a scheme two years ago and I think we should be following suit. I am proposing a payment in line with maternity benefit. It would be payable on stillbirth at 24 weeks up until the age of 18, at least initially, and that is a payment for workers who do not have the additional six weeks' payment after death. I am not talking about funeral costs either, which I understand are available to some degree as part of the exceptional needs payment.
I wanted to outline a number of existing reports in my initial reply, but I take on board the points the Deputy is making. She is talking about a different and new type of payment. I will look at the issue because there is merit in what the Deputy is saying.
Losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to a person. The heartbreak is unimaginable. People in those circumstances need time to grieve. Three days is in no way sufficient. I would like to think that the vast majority of employers would show compassion and flexibility in such cases but I appreciate that cannot be guaranteed. I am not sure what is already in place with regard to compassionate leave. It is probably important to say that if additional leave from work is required, it is likely that legislation to amend employment law would need to be passed. I will raise and explore that issue with the Tánaiste.
I welcome the Minister's comments. I am sure she has read the proposals I have made in respect of social protection in our alternative budget. One such proposal is that parental bereavement leave and benefit be introduced. This would be a two-week payment and would come at a very small cost. I looked at the number of stillbirths recorded by the HSE, which estimates that there are approximately 300 every year. I also looked at the number of deaths among those under 18 recorded by the Central Statistics Office, CSO. The cost would be small and this leave and benefit would provide great support to parents at a terrible and heartbreaking time. Parents should be allowed that bit of time, two weeks initially. I am not precious about age, time or anything like that but our social protection system is there to support. When is the need to support parents greater than at times such as these? I appreciate that legislation would be needed but it would be very similar to existing legislation such as that regarding parental leave and benefit. I look forward to raising this issue with the Minister again.
I thank the Deputy. There is certainly merit in what she is saying. Anyone who is unfortunate enough to lose a child deserves support at that time. Three days is a very short time in which to deal with such awful grief. Off the top of my head, I believe there may be a payment for bereaved parents in the UK. Under that system, the employer covers the cost of the leave. I believe the Deputy is suggesting that the State should cover the cost of this leave. Legislation in respect of employment law falls under the remit of the Tánaiste's Department but I am happy to raise the matter with him. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter.