Seanad debates

Thursday, 16 December 2021

Social Welfare Bill 2021: Second Stage


10:30 am

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister to the House. As I said on numerous occasions, social protection and social welfare are a safety net for people in the State when they need support. If Covid has taught people anything it is that those who thought they would never be reliant on core social welfare payments found themselves requiring support for themselves, their families or their businesses. This has to be recognised. It may put a different perspective in some people's minds on the importance of the social welfare budget. It affects every aspect of life. It is not just child benefit or pensions, which are universal payments, but all of the other payments that impact people across the spectrum. Covid has changed people's perspective on this. It is important the core payments are protected. The majority of additional spending the Minister announced in the budget does this. It is very welcome and I concur with others on the importance of the Christmas bonus and that it is back at 100%. People have received it.

The Minister mentioned carers. I am chair of the Fine Gael Party group on health and disability. We have had a series of meetings with carers. We recognise the importance of carers in every household impacted. We never know when we might need a family carer or when something very sudden might happen, such as a stroke or a fall, and a loved one needs support. It is important the State is there to provide assistance to family members to care for loved ones. The change the Minister has made will make it easier to qualify. As people get older it is something that will become more prominent. Nursing homes have done a tremendous job but caring for people at home must be the first port of call where it is possible. I appreciate that it is not always possible. It is easier for larger families. It is easier where there is a primary carer, such a husband or wife who is fit and healthy and able to assist or a sibling. It has an impact on the lives of family members and siblings who in many cases put their lives on hold to care for family members. Every support the Minister has provided and can provide in future should be done.

I welcome the changes and recognition that we have to keep pace with changes in the agricultural sector with regard to income disregard for environmental schemes. These schemes generally require an amount of investment. Whatever income is received should be disregarded and the Minister has looked at this.

It is important that we continue to keep schemes under review. When we increase the minimum wage or other supports people should not suddenly lose an additional support they badly need. It is important that all of these things are kept under review and there is an assessment based on inflationary pressures. Increases in one scheme should not result in people losing out under another scheme. It is a comprehensive budget and a comprehensive package. It is clear from the Minister's work on the budget and social protection that she understands the minutiae and workings of each of the schemes. She has practical experience in how they operate and she has tried to make them fairer and more accessible for people who need those supports.


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