Wednesday, 29 July 2020
Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
Alice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
There is an issue which I hope we can address. My colleague spoke about the fact that currently the requirement for the working family payment, which is a vital subsidy for many people, is that they would be working 38 hours in a fortnight, that is, 19 hours in a week. That has long been a problem in respect of one sector, namely, childcare, whereby most people are on 15 hour contracts. The fact that childcare is only for 15 hours means that those who are reliant on that childcare, in many cases, can only work for 15 hours, but it also means that many people who work in the childcare sector only have 15-hour contracts. We have had a long-standing anomaly whereby a lot of people caring for children, who themselves are on very low wages, are effectively banned from the working family supplement that they might very much need.
We know there has been an issue with people leaving the childcare sector, with a loss of people working in the sector. That issue, which I have been raising for many years, is now exacerbated by Covid and the fact, as was eloquently described by my colleague earlier, that a lot of people are coming back and they do not know the hours. The hours will be a little bit unpredictable. People who may have had a very long-established schedule, that totally placed them over the 19 hours, as normal, may have aberrations or weeks and months in which their schedule becomes more unpredictable. The amendment was to ask the Minister to give them an assurance that their working family payment would not be in jeopardy, and perhaps to lower the threshold. However, it has been ruled out of order so the Minister does not need to address it for now, but I hope we can address it in advance of the social welfare Bill. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs could be part of the conversation in terms of trying to ensure the sustainability of the childcare sector in Ireland.