Thursday, 16 December 2021
Social Welfare Bill 2021: Second Stage
I thank the Minister for bringing this very important Bill before us. I commend her and the staff in her Department on the job they have done to date. It has been a very difficult time because so many people have been in and out of employment and there have been many ups and downs for many people. There have been many structural changes as well. People may have had to apply for payments when they may not have been on payments before. People may have been laid off temporarily or lost their jobs and many people have seen so many changes. The Minister and her Department have stepped in and been able to facilitate and help those people along the way.
I agree with the remarks of my colleague, Senator Buttimer, about the Irish Hotels Federation. There are 11,000 people affected because they cannot benefit from the employment wage subsidy scheme or the Covid restrictions support scheme. For various reasons, they may not have been working in 2019 or the hotels may not have been open. Perhaps the Minister could relay this point to the Minister for Finance because we did not get to debate it properly in the House the other evening. I would certainly like to put it on record that these people need our help. I support the comments about travel agents, many of whom have been contacting me as well.
Another sector I want to highlight is the bus and tour operators. I have been speaking to a tour operator who runs a private business bringing tourists into the country. They stay all over the country, using our hotels, and the bus operator takes people to different parts of the country. For the month of March next year, the operator had 15 different group bookings but it now has none. It is a similar picture for February. Many other businesses have similar stories. With the new variant, people are afraid to travel so these businesses are losing out. They need the support of the Government because although they are doing their best to operate, unfortunately people are still cancelling their trips.
I thank the Department and the Government for the support given to the hospitality industry and the entertainment sector. While I understand many people are very frustrated by these changes, unfortunately, we must live safely. Every day there are changes caused by the variant and we just do not know what we are facing. It is good the Government is coming out with guidance and suggestions on how we should live safely. It is important that the Government is there to give support because in some other countries businesses do not receive that support.
I will highlight another matter. Currently, many people with a disability may have had two or three weeks where they were not very well and able to work. There may be other weeks where they are in good form. If they are out of work, they get the equivalent of the jobseeker's allowance. There was a scheme where they were allowed to work a certain number of hours but if they are now out of work long term and they need to go on the payment, there is an impact. I ask that the Minister review this. There are some people who may be able to work for a couple of weeks and then they might be very ill for a while because of a debilitating illness. A family member may care for them and I know there is a means test involved. I welcome that the threshold has increased. These people feel if they could work for a certain number of hours when they are able to do so, they have much more to give. That is instead of losing out on a payment.
My description may be confusing the matter. When the people in question feel good, they can work, but when they are ill, they are not able to work. They end up going on the payment that is equivalent to the jobseeker's allowance. Perhaps a balance could be struck where they would have an easy way of opting in and out of the payment on the weeks they could work. Many employers are looking to employ people with a disability and willing to accept the fact there are weeks they may not be able to work. It is something that will have to be looked at in any event. I thank the Minister for her time.