Thursday, 16 December 2021
Social Welfare Bill 2021: Second Stage
The Minister is very welcome. The Bill is about putting into place what was already described in budget 2022. There are a few important points to note. The first is that the Bill has been deemed by independent analysis to be progressive. Second, I and my Green Party colleagues very much want to ensure that the carbon tax is used in a way that will promote this progressive agenda and go towards helping those who are most at risk and in need. That is exactly what the Bill does and what the budget did overall. Third, our priority is to ensure children and families are top of the list when it comes to increases. We recognise that children and young families have in many ways borne the brunt of the pandemic because Covid had a major disruptive effect on social lives, employment prospects in the short term and children's schooling.Putting the next generation first will help to mitigate some of the worst aspects of Covid-19 and put children and young people in a better position to take advantage of a world we hope we will soon be entering. We can see from all the increases outlined that the Minister has emphasised the needs of children and families in this Bill. I believe the same can be seen across Departments.
Regarding this being a progressive budget, Dr. Barra Roantree of the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, stated: "Budget 2022 announced some well-targeted reforms with clear policy objectives, such as the above-inflation increases in welfare supplements for those with dependants and those living alone, which will slightly reduce poverty." That is what we can hope to do over the course of this Government's budgets. This is the largest amount of money ever allocated to social welfare and it has happened under the watch of this Minister. It has also happened, however, under the watch of three parties working together to ensure that we have a fair society. That is what we have done. We have stepped up to the plate to do that. Of course, some people will ask why we did not get more money, but the money must come from somewhere. That is the beginning and end of it.
Some of that money, albeit only a small amount, comes from carbon taxes. We must ensure we incentivise people to do the right things and disincentivise doing the wrong things. In the context of the Minister’s Department, the carbon taxes have paid for an increase to the qualified child payment of €2 per week for children aged under 12 and of €3 per week for children aged over 12, an increase in the living alone allowance of €3 per week, an increase to the fuel allowance of €5 per week and an increase in the income threshold for the working family payment of €10 per week.
Broadly, carbon taxes pay for three things. We ensured when we negotiated the programme for Government, as three parties working together, that the revenue derived from carbon taxes would all be used for energy efficiency measures, assisting farmers to address climate change challenges, particularly small farmers and especially those across the west who face challenges, and tackling fuel poverty and ensuring a just transition, which is where the Department comes into play. All those measures announced in this regard are being funded from moneys coming from carbon taxes.
We can all shy away from the conversation around carbon tax, but it is important. Tax is a nasty word, but in this instance the revenue generated is being ring-fenced for good and to help those people suffering the most in our society. Overall, these proposals are positive and I thank the Minister for coming to the House to outline them. I look forward to her closing statement and to hearing from my colleagues.