Seanad debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2024

Social Welfare and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2023: Second Stage


1:00 pm

Photo of Mark WallMark Wall (Labour) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister.We welcome the Bill and its attempts to reform the social welfare system with regard to maintenance. We are told the Bill is designed to give legislative effect to two changes in the previously mentioned social welfare system so that child welfare maintenance payments may no longer be assessed as means and the discontinuation of the liable relative provisions.

As other Members have already mentioned, I have sat in many clinics with completely stressed young women sitting in front of me. They have gone to great lengths to find details of the relevant fathers. As Senator Burke said, the Minister always strives to help such people. In all cases, as I have always said, the children are most important people in these situations. This is an important Bill from that point of view. I have attended too many clinics with such women sitting in front me having spent months, and sometimes years, chasing down those same fathers. They have been subject to verbal and, indeed, sometimes physical abuse in attempting to ensure that their payment and the money they were using to rear their children was not cut. It is important to state that and I welcome the fact the Government has recognised such situations and introduced this Bill. The previous circumstances were unfair and wrong. This Bill is to be welcomed from that point of view. As others have said, we hope we will not face the situation anymore where we are sitting in front of young mothers who are crying and telling us of the attempts they have had to make to identify the fathers of their children, etc. Those are, unfortunately, terrible circumstances that most us have come across in various advice clinics.

Another issue that arises at those clinics is mothers talking about getting a knock at the door from the social welfare inspector. I hope this Bill will change that and how it affects those young women. The social welfare inspector comes in and asks questions about who owns which clothes, etc. We have all heard of examples of that at various clinics and have been asked questions by particular mothers. It puts them under so much needless stress. In fairness, many groups, including SPARK and Women's Aid, have identified the fear that these young mothers feel in dealing with those calls and meetings. I hope this Bill will address social welfare inspectors and the need for them to go to those lengths. I hope that will change because it is wrong. The current system is outdated and I welcome the fact the Minister is now changing it. The emphasis on identifying the father and the blame have been placed on too many mothers in the State over many years.

I also welcome the provisions in the Bill that repeal the Department's responsibility for pursuing what are called "liable relatives" for maintenance. It is our understanding that the matter will now be dealt with by the Department of Justice. We will await further details in that regard.

We had a discussion with the Minister in this House on the social welfare Bill during which I raised the extension of child benefit to those up to the age of 18 and still in full-time education. That probably happened approximately two years ago. The Minister acknowledged on that day that she and her Department were working on it and I welcome the announcement that this payment will be in place from 1 May and will benefit some 60,000 18-year-olds who are in-----


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