Tuesday, 17 May 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Social Welfare Schemes
72. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she will meet with an organisation (details supplied) to discuss the issues that are facing disabled artists particularly related to the recently launched basic income for the arts pilot scheme. [24938/22]
My question is to ask the Minister if she will meet with an organisation, Disabled Artists & Disabled Academics, to discuss the issues facing disabled artists in particular regarding the recently launched basic income for the arts pilot scheme. The Minister will be aware of the pilot scheme, which was launched by the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport, Gaeltacht and Media. It is a welcome move towards acknowledging the often unseen and unpaid work of artists trying to work in society, but there is a genuine concern among disabled artists that through participation in the scheme they will risk losing their social welfare payment or having it cut.
The pilot basic income scheme for artists, which the Government launched in April, is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport, Gaeltacht, and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin. Her Department is leading this project, including the associated stakeholder engagement, and any requests for meetings to discuss the pilot should be directed accordingly. Officials from my Department have met with the group concerned in that context and have dealt comprehensively with the issues raised. It is important to stress that a payment under the pilot basic income for artists is not a social protection or income support payment. Rather, it is a payment in recognition of the valuable contribution of the arts community and an incentive to encourage people to remain actively employed in the arts rather than seeking employment elsewhere.
Payments under the pilot scheme are income, and will therefore be reckonable as income for the purposes of taxation. I understand that recipients will be required to make annual self-employment returns to the Office of the Revenue Commissioners on that basis. Similarly, the Department of Social Protection will treat income from the scheme as income from self-employment for the purpose of its various means tests. The extent to which this income will have an impact on a person's social welfare payment will depend on the means test for the scheme and the person's individual circumstances. For an artist who is on disability allowance and has no other employment income, the payment of the basic income for the arts would result in a 113% increase in their income, without the loss of any secondary benefits.
Since my appointment as the Minister for Social Protection, supporting people with disabilities into employment has been a key priority for me. I want to assure the Deputy that there is full engagement with the disability sector on their issues of concern. Both my Department and I have regular dialogues with disability groups. My Department has a long-standing disability consultative forum, and it is a member of the national disability inclusion strategy steering group, which I addressed recently.
It is important to recognise from the beginning that while I appreciate that the minimum basic income for the arts is the responsibility of the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, this is a Government initiative and there is crossover, so I will address them both together. There is genuine concern that the scheme will not be worth the energy or the time required if it means that disabled artists will be under an increased level of scrutiny, having to repeatedly prove and prove again the existence of their disability to the Department of Social Protection. The Indecon report on the cost of disability showed that the average annual cost of living with a disability in Ireland is between €9,482 and €11,734. Although this is outside the Minister’s remit, it should be stated that it is hard to see how the additional financial costs because of a disability were not addressed within the basic income for the arts scheme. I know the Minister said that representatives from her Department are dealing comprehensively with this. She might go into the details of that level of comprehensiveness, into what they have established and into what they will seek to rectify.
The treatment of the income for artists with disabilities comes under the Minister's remit. An artist’s disability will not stop or disappear when they take part in this scheme. Why, therefore, should their social welfare payments and entitlements-----
I appreciate the point the Deputy is making. I will give him a few sums on this. As a result of the income disregards we have put in place, a person in receipt of a disability allowance payment of €208 who qualifies for the €325 basic income for the arts payment will end up with a combined income of €443. That is a 113% increase, which is more than double the €208 they had been receiving while on disability allowance.
I try to support the sector. We have put a range of supports in place during the pandemic. Indeed, the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland welcomed those supports. Almost 155,000 people are in receipt of disability allowance. That figure is made up of persons from all sorts of sectors and industries. The means test is there to ensure resources are targeted at the people who need them most. We always talk in this House about targeted measures. Let us look at it this way: if you are an artist, you can earn as much as you like, and we will not take account of it. However, if you are a person in wheelchair and you are working in a shop, the means test applies to you. That is not fair. That really is not fair. We have to be conscious of that.
I am conscious of it, but there are a couple of things we have to be conscious of in addition to that. An artist under the basic income for the arts scheme may be able to work 40 hours per week in applying themselves to the arts, but that may not be possible for an artist who has disability. They may only be able to apply themselves for ten hours a week, for example. That is very different. That should not mean they lose their blind pension or their disability payments. There is not one homogenous type of disability. We need to take into account that the basic income for the arts scheme for artists is a great thing, but when it is applied to a person with a disability we cannot apply the same standards.
I appreciate that representatives from the Minister’s Department are meeting with their counterparts in the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, but we need to find a solution for this. Its consequences have been that people with a disability are removing themselves from the scheme. That is the opposite of what we should be encouraging people with disabilities to do. There is clearly a lacuna here that needs to be addressed. The Minister’s Department has demonstrated some goodwill in getting in front of it, but we cannot stop there. It has consequences for people with disabilities, who are removing themselves from the scheme and being treated unfairly.
We need to look at this more widely to improve the situation for all people with disabilities. Of course I want to do more. As part of the cost of disability report, my Department is looking at the whole area of disability payments and at how we can make the system fairer. One of the recommendations in that report is to move away from the flat rate of €208 towards a tiered payment system. For example, somebody who has a profound disability and might never be able to work would get a higher payment than somebody with a moderate disability who is able to work. Some of the issues the Deputy is raising are best looked at in the broader piece of work around disability payments more generally. There is a fairer way to examine this, rather than saying we are going to treat one cohort of workers differently from another. That would be quite divisive.