Seanad debates

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages


1:00 pm

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)

The Minister might have a chance to come back again. She has made the case very clearly. This is not an extension of a payment. This is a new payment that is being introduced. It is a new payment with a new requirement. It is going from being a supplementary welfare solidarity payment of income support into being a jobseeker's payment which requires the seeking of jobs. It is a new payment that people are being moved onto and not an extension. I am glad there is a payment that is continuing until April, but let us not call it the same payment.

The previous payment, the solidarity income-support payment, ensured that people maintained their incomes, minimised disruption to society and the economy kept going. We need to bear in mind that this income supplement is what keeps people paying their rent and other bills and doing whatever they need to do such as buying things in the supermarket or in the local shops. This income support was rightly a measure to ensure the economy and society kept functioning. That payment was due to continue until 10 August. It was due to track the same date as the opening up of the economy. There is a reason that the pandemic unemployment payment, as was, went until 10 August, that the redundancy law changed on 10 August and that the sectors of society were all going to open up on 10 August because they went together. However, this new different thing that we are bringing into law today is a jobseeker's payment and its coming in prematurely damages that entire picture - the big solidarity picture, the idea that we are all going to be in it together and every layer will kick back into action on 10 August - and it creates messiness.

The Minister talks about officials being practical, etc. It is not simply the opinion of an individual case worker that people are concerned about or whether a social worker or Intreo officer will be helpful or mean to them or will understand their situation, or if the individual will be in trouble. People care about their records and the records the State has about them. If the State will have a record that they were genuinely seeking but unable to obtain employment regardless of whether the Department or an individual social welfare or Intreo officer decides to apply some sanction on them in respect of it, that is where the practicality comes in. Practicality can deal with that sanction but this law deals with the description of the person. This law will describe that person as a person who is genuinely seeking but unable to obtain employment. They will be described as such potentially ad infinitum, but for a period of four to five days that takes them to 10 August when they may have been planning to get back into their job.

The Minister has not addressed that commencement issue. This is how she can take one big step towards bringing this into compatibility and deal with some of the concerns. I ask the Minister to give me an indication on that.


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