Tuesday, 18 December 2018
Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 11, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:“(2) The Minister shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas, a report to include—(a) an estimation of the potential cost of calculating this scheme on the basis of 1,560 contributions rather than 2,080, and
(b) a comparison of the likely difference between a 1,560 contributory requirement and a 2,080 in terms of weekly income levels for those affected.”.
This amendment is in respect of the 2012 changes that were made relating to the pension payments and the ongoing issues that the averaging system has caused in disadvantaging people, especially women. This has resulted in many people being on a reduced rate despite high levels of contributions over the years. There was much to welcome in the new proposals in respect of the 2012 changes, and I have welcomed those, but my key concern is that while the proposals in the new scheme for those pensioners address the issue of the gap by offering a preview of a total contribution approach that could be taken, the gap is addressed but the goalposts are pushed out. While the system for calculating the contributions required may in fact prove to be fairer in many respects, and men and women who are affected can opt for previous ongoing system or for this new system, I am concerned at the decision to frame it not in terms of a 30-year contribution but in terms of a 40-year contribution. Currently it is the case that 20 years is required to deliver a full pension. We know that under the averaging system, it can be only ten-----
It is only ten. It can be accessed at ten years of credits but I had raised this issue previously with one of the Minister's officials and was told that technically it is 20, but it can be accessed at ten years of credits. In any case, the current situation means that we knew in 2010 and from the 2010 pension proposals that there was a plan to move towards a total contribution approach of 30 years, which would require a total of 30 years' contributions. In relation to this cohort we now have for the first time on the books a situation where people's pensions are calculated on the basis of 40 years' contribution. I recognise that within that people can count carer credits. I am concerned at the decision under this new scheme to set the bar at 40 years of contributions, rather than 30 years.I am worried about the signal that might send in terms of the intention in respect of the total contribution approach. As we have heard from officials, no final decision has been made in respect of what the total contribution approach will look like. The Minister will be aware that submissions from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and many others have expressed concern at any attempt to move beyond the expected 30 year contributory threshold. I am concerned about the example being set in going for 40 years in this instance. This report is to provide an estimation and an example for us to look back on to determine what the cost of the scheme would have been if it had been calculated on the basis of a 30 year requirement rather than a 40 year requirement. It would determine what the impact might have been on the women, primarily, who are affected, if it had been calculated on the basis of 30 rather than 40 years.
There were some concerns about the consultation over the summer. There are three or four areas of pension consultation under way at the moment and different approaches are being used in each. With the Strawman proposal in respect of the supplementary pension scheme, people were able to see what the proposals were. I had feedback from a number of people who tried to navigate the opt-in survey monkey system that was used during the summer for the total contribution approach. It was never made clear that the issue of the number of years of contributions would be there. It was quite a difficult consultation to navigate and that is why a number of NGOs ended up sending in supplementary documents in which they were able to unpack the issue in a way that the multiple-choice questionnaire did not allow for. There is wider concern. Is there scope simply to analyse what a 30 year option would have looked like on the 2012 changes? In general I very widely welcome them, especially the care credit aspect.
The Senator will have to excuse me for being confused. In my head, I am hearing two separate issues here which do not relate to each other. If I am answering the wrong one, I ask the Senator to give me the nod. On the public consultations on total contributions, not a single decision has been made, not one. If we arrive at 30 years with ten years' credits, it will be because we have deliberated on all the submissions that have been made and found that to be the best option. If we arrive at 40 years with 20 years' credits, it will be because the submissions have guided us. Not one submission has been read by me. Not one ounce of work has been done collectively in the Department to determine what the next generation of the total contributions model of pensions payments is going to look like. The purpose of the public consultation was to gather all the different opinions. The Senator has expressed hers and we have got hundreds of submissions under the public consultation. All that is to determine the best and fairest approach for the people. It will only apply to those who retire after 2020. The people who retired after 2012 are not affected by the proposed changes for 2020. They are being adjudicated under the current system, which is as fair as it potentially can be. It is the 30 years, not 40 years. It is the system with the ten years credit. Those who were adversely affected by the 2012 changes, which we have changed in this legislation, will be getting their payments next year. That is an interim model which will not determine what the new model will be and is not reflective of the old model. It is a bit of the old model and a bit of the new model, and people are happy with it. I think I told the House previously that approximately 70% of the people who were affected by the changes in the rates of 2012 will see their pension increase to a full pension come January, February or March of next year.
The Senator is asking me to do a report on the basis of an outcome that has not yet been reached. I do not wish to be disrespectful to her. We are in a deliberative process and have not completed it. We have not determined what the new model of total contributions is going to look like. The Senator obviously has decided in her head that we have determined what it is going to look like. On that basis she wants me to do a report so she can prove to me that it should be something other than what she thinks I think it is going to be.We have not decided whether it will be ten years credits, 20 years credits or 30 years for total contributions for a full pension, or 40 years for total contributions for a full pension. That deliberative process will be determined by the submissions that have been made. There were hundreds of them, but the issue has not been determined yet. Not only do I not have the money to do what the Senator is asking me to do, I do not have the staff to carry out an analysis that she believes will feed into something. I have not made a decision yet.
To clarify, the amendment specifically relates to the scheme up to 2020. It is significant, and the two issues are related, but I am not asking for something that does not exist yet. I am simply pointing out that a new precedent has been set. This scheme represents the first time that a threshold of 40 years has been set, which is significant. While I respect the fact that no decision has been made, and hope that the decision will take into account the many submissions received, it would not be appropriate if we ended up in a situation where there was a suggestion that there must be a trade off between recognising care or extending the gaps. A scheme should be provided that accommodates both, and it should take the form I have proposed. There will be different perspectives; the majority have suggested that it should fall within the 30-year threshold.
My amendment related specifically to the change in 2012. The Minister is correct that the 2012 people will not be affected by the total amount envisaged in this approach. However, the 40-year versus 30-year decision has relevance for 2020, which is why I sought that analysis. The Minister told us that 70% of persons would qualify for a full pension under the new change, and that is welcome. If there was a 30-year approach, would 85% or 90% have qualified?
And moved the requirement overall to 40 years. The Minister told us about some of the issues on the table that have not been decided yet in respect of the total contribution, but two of those ideas are being trialled in this case, which is why it might have been relevant to look at it as a cohort that might provide an example. With due respect, 2020 is only two years away, so it is significant. If the threshold was to move to 40 years, there will not be enough time for people to prepare in any way, to change their life course or magic up new credits from anywhere.
It is a concern, and this was an opportunity to address it. Next year is 2019, and the decision will clearly be made then. It was a suggestion that modelling be done. The Minister has said that 70% qualified when the requirement was for 2080 contributions. My question is, of that cohort, how many might have been expected to qualify using the same projection? The provision has not come in yet, so the 70% has been calculated on the basis of projection. I would like to know the projection of the percentage of people who qualify if the threshold was 1,560. I do not want to guess, which is why I hoped we could get the figure.
The Senator was looking for the report to satisfy herself as to who was going to be excluded from receiving a full pension on the basis of not having either 20 years work with 20 years caring or 30 years work with ten years caring. The difficulty I have with this is that it is not new. The move to this model was flagged back in 1994, and the reason we changed from 260 initial contributions to qualify, increasing to 520 in 2012 - which is the adversity people speak about, and the changes to rate bands that affected people - was because people's work practices over the years had changed. People had longer to apply for all of the years worked required to get a full pension. If I understand the Senator correctly, she is suggesting that something that is worth €300,000 to €400,000 should be achievable after only ten years of work. I am sorry, but I fundamentally and absolutely do not agree with her. We have made the changes and are moving to a total contributions model because there are people in this country who are in receipt of full pensions with only ten years work, while, at the same time, there are people living here for 30 or 40 years who have gaps in their work records because of caring and who are not in receipt of full pensions.First, the actuarial value is recognised in so far as one cannot expect the State to provide somebody with a pension package of €300,000 or €400,000 off the back of only ten years' work. That is the reason we are deliberating at the moment on whether it should be 30 years, inclusive of ten years caring credits, or 40 years, inclusive of 20 years of caring credits. The premise of the deliberations is to make sure that we capture the most people we can for the highest rate, but doing the report that is sought will not feed into those deliberations. If the report is looking for a backbone to stand down the fact that the minimum contributions should not be 520 but 260, then all of the previous Governments that have established the principles of the policy issues from 1994 to where we are today do not concur with the way the Senator is thinking.
It is important that we are clear for the record of the House, the previous proposals referred to a total contribution. The Minister is correct that the change has been very well flagged. I have read the original proposal which always envisaged 30 years.
With ten years' care credits. The question is whether we are recognising the contribution of carers because if the idea is to add ten years of additional care credit, if we push the goalposts out for everybody to 20 years we are not recognising more care, we are simply pushing the calculation out.
Thirty years has been well signalled. As the Minister said, the debate was happening in the 1990s and in 2010. People can see the signal there for a long time, but we are now at a point where we are one year away from the adoption of a total contribution approach. The idea of introducing a ten-year further contribution at this point clearly has been thought about. That is a concern and that is the reason I want a report. I accept that we might not be able to get it and that perhaps there are other ways to get the figures. We could go through parliamentary questions, for example, but we would need to know the calculations. We talked about changing work practices. Not many people in the State will fulfil the 40-year criterion given the broken work practices and periods that they have had and the unknown relationship in the future with the UK for those who travelled there and back. There are many reasons for gaps. I applaud some of the positive measures to address those gaps through a total contribution approach, but I am worried that the goalposts are being set too far out. I am happy to leave the topic. I am sure we will come back to it in the committee but I am concerned at the tone evident in the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection, which seems to be strongly pushing towards the further goalpost, and I believe many citizens will fall short of that.
I am sorry the Senator feels that way because I can genuinely tell her that we have not made any decisions. I have not started reading all of the propositions that have come in to us from the various people who have made their views known. I can say that categorically a week before Christmas. If we stay at 30 years, then we will limit the caring credit to ten years. If we move to 40 years, we will move the caring credit to 20.
We are not moving the goalposts. The only reason we would consider moving to 40 years is because people who will retire from 2020 onwards will have had the opportunity to have had 20 full years plus working, because they will be 66 or 67 at that stage. In addition, we are adding in the gaps for caring. We changed the caring credit. Historically, the homemaker's credit was only for women who stayed at home to mind their children but we recognise that families have changed in recent years and women do not just stay at home to mind their children any more. We stay at home to mind our grannies, brothers and other extended members of our family. That is the reason we changed the credit. No decision has been made on whether it will be 30 and 10 or 40 and 20 years.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 17, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 263 of Principal Act
27. Section 263 of the Principal Act is amended by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (3):"(3) A person shall produce his or her public service card or other appropriate form of identification at the request of a specified body for the purposes of a transaction. No specified body shall make possession of a public service card or presence on the single customer view dataset a mandatory requirement for the purposes of a transaction.”.”.
This amendment relates to another issue we debated previously, namely, the public services card. I tabled a number of amendments on the issue but I will not press all of them. We have heard the debate about the production of a card. It was rightly pointed out by the Minister that it might not be a case of possession of a card but it might be presence on the single customer view dataset.It may be that there is a number of ways in which persons can be identified as being on the single customer view dataset. That should not be made a requirement for any of the bodies specified under the social protection legislation, of which there is an extensive list. While they may be entitled to use the public services card, which I do not seek to block them from doing, they should not be able to make it mandatory for services due to a couple of issues: the data-sharing legislation, that is, the legal provision for the sharing of information, has not passed through the Dáil and there is an ongoing debate on the data-sharing commitment. The data-sharing legislation is clear that information that relates to special categories of personal information cannot be held.
On the debate about whether the new photographic database and the photographs which are now attached to the single customer view dataset are personal, I strongly believe they are personal data and a special category thereof. The Minister will be aware that this issue has been the source of some controversy and concern within the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, and it is a controversy which has deepened due to questions such as how "bio-metric" is defined or not defined. The issue of the independence of the data protection officer has also been raised as a concern in that regard.
I withdrew a number of amendments and I have not retabled all of them. I am suggesting that we should be clear that, notwithstanding the internal dynamics of the Department and its processes, while specified bodies may choose to accept a public services card as something that would qualify somebody to access a transaction or service, they should make it mandatory at a time when there serious question marks over how data are shared, which categories of data are shared or how the data are defined. We should not leave the State vulnerable to legal action on this matter. I welcome that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has recognised the legal concerns and indicated that a public services card will no longer be mandatory and that it will accept other forms of identification for those wishing to take the driver theory test, which was the correct decision.
I hope the Minister will be open to taking on board the amendment. It is the minimum to ensure we keep track of the specified bodies. It does not address the concerns I have with the internal dynamics of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, but I know the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection is considering the issue of public services cards on an ongoing basis. I am confident, therefore, that we will have other opportunities to address the matter as it relates to the internal affairs of the Department, but the amendment addresses the relationship between specified bodies and the Department.
I do not think the Senator will be surprised by what I tell her. She suggested that some people in the Department have concerns about the public services card but they do not. There are some people in Ireland who consistently express their concerns with the public services card, but they do not come from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, and the Senator and I both know who they are. We are aware of, and fully support, our SAFE 2 authentication process, the end result of which is the production of a public services card. I do not propose, therefore, to accept the amendment, although I will make some important points about the public services card.
It is not mandatory for anybody to apply for a public services card, which is subject to much attention. It is only the end result of the SAFE 2 registration process, which provides us with a substantial level of surety of a person's identity. All it has done is replace older documents that showed that somebody had an entitlement to a benefit, which might have been the old social welfare services card or a paper travel pass that people used to have for the bus. As was the case with those older documents, it is necessary to produce a public services card as proof of identity in certain types of transactions. It is certainly not mandatory for all transactions but rather in some types of transactions, such as collecting one's welfare payment at the post office in order that it can be guaranteed that I am Regina Doherty when I present to say I am.Where someone is getting on a bus, he or she shows his or her pass to demonstrate an entitlement to access free travel. It is exactly the same as when a person would have shown the bus pass previously with which no one had a problem. The SAFE 2 process was introduced to protect the high value services of this and other Departments. People will understand that the money we are talking about is taxpayers' money. It is not surplus money or a question of random lottery winners and careful consideration of how we spend it is required. With high value services, we must be assured that a person who presents seeking access to a scheme or service that costs a great deal of money is exactly who he or she says. The SAFE 2 process was introduced to ensure we had the highest level of verification for people's identities.
The SAFE standard has a number of levels. SAFE 0 is no assurance of identity. We do not have a clue who a person is. SAFE 1 provides an indication on the balance of probabilities with a minimum authentication level, namely, the allocation of a personal public service number. SAFE 2 provides substantial assurance and is the minimum authentication level to issue a PCS card. SAFE 3 is a beyond-doubt standard and typically involves using things like fingerprints or biometric data, about which we have spoken before. That is not on our books at the moment and it is not in our plans but it is one of the four levels of the SAFE process, of which we are currently at SAFE 2. We are implementing SAFE 2 on a phased basis with our customers and the customers of other public services which require identity verification to a substantial level of assurance. Until recently, many public services were provided to people who had been identified at a SAFE 1 level. For example, the Senator has alluded before to identify documents like passports and driver licences which were issued to people following SAFE 1 registration. Since the introduction of SAFE 2 registration in 2011, more services are moving their verification requirements to this level because it gives greater assurance that those to whom services or moneys are provided are exactly who they say they are.
I cannot speak for other Departments, but my Department's fraud control measures show that we are now capturing people who are providing different identities with the same face in different locations and claiming twice and three times in some cases. This assures us that one person with one identity can only get access to a scheme to which he or she is entitled. I disagree with the Senator again about this. I am not responsible for any other Department. I am not responsible for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport changing its mind or pulling back until it brings in further legislation. What I guarantee is that the SAFE 2 identity process adopted by my Department is underpinned by legislation and is the safest way for us to ensure that the vulnerable people who need or deserve, on foot of their social insurance contributions, the €20.5 billion we give out every year on behalf of the State are exactly the people they present as being. If they are not we catch them to ensure we do not distribute taxpayers' money to people who are not entitled to it.
It is important to be clear because people might get the impression there was large-scale fraud whereas the figures have shown it is, in fact, at a low level. In fact, according to the figures last year, the amount of money lost internally through error was been higher than the amount of money lost through fraud. It is important to be clear about that.
The public service card scheme has been very high and that has been an issue of concern for the Committee of Public Accounts in terms of excess. As such, I question whether there have been savings. It is also the case that the roll-out of public service cards was intensified during the period in which it was under review by the Data Protection Commissioner. There have been concerns about data protection and the section 10 investigation of the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has been ongoing. There were also concerns and complaints about changes around how "biometric" was defined. I am not suggesting the concerns are within the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, albeit they probably should be. I note that when we are in an area in which we are not legally robust, we open the State to litigation, which also costs money.That is why I have endeavoured to ensure that we try to take whatever steps we can to minimise the vulnerability of the State. The Minister is as attached as am I to Exchequer funding being there for what it is needed for. That is why I do not like to see us taking certain risks in the way this is being approached and rolled out.
I am aware that the Minister and I will not come to a point of agreement on this but this is not the same as previous arrangements. Previously, we did not have photographs within that system that could be scanned. Contracts have been given for software that can allow these photographs to be processed. That is a concern. If we have photographs that can be processed through biometric processing - I am not going to reopen that debate because we have had it many times - that is very different from previous information that was in place in respect of public service identity in the past. It is not the same. That is one reason there will be a need for different and separate storage mechanisms in the future for the different parts of the information that is currently in the single customer view data set. Differentiations may need to be made within that data set, which is probably where we will end up in the future.
The SAFE process has been cited here. This is a process that Ireland has but it is not an international standard that has been set up. There are many international measures and standards but lest people get the impression that there is an onus on us to get SAFE 1 or SAFE 2 or SAFE 3, these are names of a system that Ireland has put in place. While we should strive for best practice, when doing so we should try to bring the best practice for data protection along with us. We have not done that as yet. The Minister and I disagree on this and I am not going to press this amendment but I had to respond.
Sinn Féin also has raised some concerns around the public services card. We had called for the roll-out of the card to be suspended, in the main on foot of the grave concerns raised by the Data Protection Commissioner and we believe those concerns need to be dealt with. We are concerned, as others are, that it could be a move towards a national ID scheme. As others, albeit not in this House, have mentioned, these concerns have to be addressed.
I assure the Senator that there is no intention of anybody moving towards an ID scheme. If there was, it would be a fairly poor one given that one is not obliged to show one's public services card, PSC, card to anyone, so it certainly would not work.
I regret that it appears that I am always fighting with Senator Higgins, because I have huge respect for her, but I cannot allow her to say there are investigations because the Data Protection Commissioner has grave concerns over the PSC. She or her office does not. The last complaint the Senator alluded to was a complaint that was made by somebody that is being investigated. It has not been upheld or a finding made. The definition of what we hold our policy to be has to be and can only be determined by us. There is not an international body or organisation out there that tells us what definitions are. We hold the definitions within our Department and we are perfectly entitled to do that.
Furthermore, the investigation the Data Protection Commissioner is undertaking is not against the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. I cannot actually speak about it because she has asked me not to, but I cannot allow the Senator put on the record of this House that the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has grave concerns with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. It does not. That will be transparent when the Data Protection Commissioner issues her report.
We need to come back and focus. The SAFE authentication process is not some international standard that was robbed from New Zealand or Australia. We are actually world leaders in the authentication process ourselves. I believe that is great. The Senator is absolutely correct in saying that the level of fraud is low and, thankfully, dropping. This is happening because of this very verification process. We are catching people who were claiming two, three or four and multiples of times of that in different locations and because of this verification process, one cannot do that. One can present once, with one's facial image scanned to ensure that the person is the person with the two eyes, the nose, the freckle here or whatever it is that has been determined by that scan, and one cannot then present in a different location and pretend that one is somebody else.That is why we know that the bulk of the €20.5 billion spent by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is going to the people who are either entitled to it or deserve it because they need our help. On that basis, I fundamentally disagree that we should either stop, change, remove or withdraw this. It is a good policy and it is working. I stand behind the Department's support of it and will lend my support for as long as I am here. I disagree with the Senator.
I want to accept one point, which is that I am sorry if I used the words "grave concern" with regard to a body. It is a section 10 investigation on the issue but I would not want to quote or appear to be quoting somebody in respect of grave concerns. The grave concerns are perhaps mine. One thing which I think is important to be clear on is this being compulsory or mandatory. While we may say that people are not required to have this card or to produce it, for many people to access Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grants that may enable them to go back to college or for others, it may be misleading to suggest that it is not becoming a requirement. It is required to get a passport to leave the country.
It is not simply a voluntary measure. This has been made a requirement. That is why I focused on those other bodies. It has been made a requirement of engagement in society. A photograph is taken which is accessible by 40 or more specified bodies. There is very wide access to that database and I think we will end up returning to it in the future.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 22, after line 33, to insert the following:
“Report on jobseeker’s transitional payment supports
32.The Minister shall, within six months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before the Houses of the Oireachtas a report on employment, training and educational opportunities and supports for those on jobseeker’s transitional payment to include:(a) recommendations to improve casework and employment, training and educational opportunities for those on jobseeker’s transitional payment, including high-quality part-time opportunities;
(b) analysis of how childcare, transport and other public services may facilitate or support access to employment, education or training for those on jobseeker’s transitional payment;
(c) policy options around the extension of jobseeker’s transitional payment to include one parent families with a child up to eighteen years of age; and
(d) policy options around the extension of jobseeker’s transitional payment to include a foster parent of a child up to eighteen years of age.”.
I hope we can make further progress. There are areas of this in which we have had positive engagement. I know the Minister was interested in the issue of supports for one-parent families. We have engaged on that issue in the past. The Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection produced a report with a number of recommendations on supports for lone parents and one-parent families. I recognise that the Minister has taken some of those recommendations on board. It can be seen in the changes relating to partial restoration of income disregard and the increase in the qualified child payments in the budget. I welcome those in the Bill.
A key concern for me relates to a fundamental principle of equality between families. It is the current requirement for full-time availability of somebody who is parenting alone after his or her child reaches the age of 14. Many persons, even those still on one-parent family payment who may have a child of six months to two years, may choose to return to work which may be the right option for somebody parenting alone, and we generally recognise that there is a balancing of care and employment that is done in different ways. I believe there should be extended voluntary access to employment and education schemes for persons with children of any age. Our system recognises that when a parent has children between the ages of seven and 14, the parent has access to back to education schemes and employment options. I debated the question separately. I have not included it here, but subsection (a) relates to case work on employment, training and education opportunities for those on that payment in that crucial period when their child is between seven and 14, including a provision for high-quality part-time options.It is something we have discussed before. It should not be the case that because one is going to work part time it is assumed to be casual work. It should be a ladder to further engagement and a ladder in one's career. It is also crucial there are educational options on the table in that regard. Our system has been designed on the assumption of full-time availability. That is how our system was historically designed. The jobseeker's transitional payment is an interesting opportunity to pilot other approaches to helping people build attachment to the workplace or ladders back into education in a quality way.
I have also suggested integrated connection between issues of childcare, transport and other public services. While I accept that many issues of childcare are not within the remit of the Minister's Department, they are fundamental and crucial for those who are trying to build attachment to the workplace.
The proposals ask the Minister to look at ways we can make the jobseeker's transitional payment work better. That is one key aspect of it. The other key aspect is, as the Minister acknowledged with the increase to the qualified child payment, that teenagers are different. The costs associated with teenagers can be higher. All 14 year olds are not the same. For one parent who is parenting a 14 year old alone, returning to work full time might be absolutely a positive option but another parent may feel the years between 14 and 18 are the crucial years in which they need to know they can come home at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. and be there with their child in the evenings. It might be crucial for them. The system does not have the flexibility to respond to that because people are required to report full time for work and to be available full time for work while their children are between those ages.
I will suggest something that does not necessarily come with a high cost to the State. Income disregard might continue to apply but besides that cost, it does not come with a high cost to the State. It would simply allow the flexibility for an authentic engagement between case workers and lone parents, who are predominantly women, to ensure they do not find themselves on JobPath being told they have to consider a list of three full-time jobs when they know they cannot. Even since we did our report, we have had very strong testimony on other issues. People talked about how in the current system they saw themselves ending up taking a retail job, which would have been okay, but the jobseeker's transitional payment gave them time and scope and a chance for engagement with caseworkers and they ended up going back to college. They took a different route. We want to make sure that people find the best option which sets the best example for and provides the best support to their children. I think the Minister has the same goal. The system can be improved.
My final point is about the concern for foster parents of children up to 18 years of age. People who are foster parenting may have children of their own and may also be acting as foster parents. At present there is limbo with regard to where foster parents fall. Their own children may have reached the age of seven but they may be fostering children who are slightly below that age. Their own children might reach 14 but they may still be fostering an 11 or 12 year old. Children who are being fostered need that support. It is about looking at flexibility. Perhaps there are opportunities for us to engage on this.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach will be glad to hear I will be brief. I support the amendment. There is a need for specific measures to assist those in receipt of jobseeker's transitional payment when they are taken off the one-parent family payment when that is their wish. I do not need to tell the Minister we must consider the fact that lone parents raise their children without the support of a partner so we cannot push them into finding employment when caring duties are, understandably, their priority.This must be respected. I just wanted to add my voice to the amendment.
I am really glad that we are to finish on a positive note. I ask Senator Higgins to withdraw the amendment because very selfishly I will be unable to complete the passage of the Bill today if she does not. I share her views and concerns in the area.
In the coming days I will be able to furnish the Senator with a number of reports containing data of which she may not be already aware. With regard to the proposed section 32(a), our case-management and activation unit that we set up for JST at the end of 2016 has now had its second full year. I would like to provide the Senator with an analysis of how that case management has been effective in some areas and not effective in other areas so that we can learn what we need to change.
We will genuinely look at what is available to people. Different Departments have set policies that reach 98% of people's requirements but the last 2% does not allow something to be done because something needs to be accessed from a different Department. For example, our training model outlines a list of things that people can do on training. However, why can people not go back and do certain courses in NUI Maynooth, Trinity College or wherever just because they happen to be on Springboard or they happen to be from SUSI? There is no reason not to have cross-correlation.
I believe the Senator and I want the same thing which is that women - let us be honest that it is mainly women- during those years when their child is between seven and 14 are actually preparing for a career if that is what they want and not preparing to go and work for €9.55 an hour. I do not mean to diminish anybody who is working for €9.55 an hour. We need to ensure that they get continual training, support and employment opportunities to avail of €15 an hour or €55 an hour or whatever are their aspirations. While recognising that different families have different expectations, limitations, parameters, childminding services, all the wraparound services from a case-management perspective, support perspective and educational support perspective need to be determined within that seven- to 14-year age bracket, and it needs to be flexible. We are working on that.
On qualifying the data, the Senator knows Indecon prepared a report for us last year. It is a great report and cost an arm and a leg and I do not have any money to repeat it. However, I really think it would be valuable. We have asked Indecon to carry out a review. Its report looked at the changes made in 2012 and it went up to only 2016. I have asked it to do a review up to 2018, which gives us two more years of practice and the economy recovering. It also allows us to see the impact of the reversal of the cuts that were introduced at the same time as the policy was introduced in 2012 which made sure it could never be successful in its own right. I will give the Senator that report.
We should have that report by the end of quarter 2. As it is by Indecon it will be totally independent. It will take into account the changes in case management, the introduction of the disregards as in the reversal of the income disregards and hopefully the impact of QCI so that we can have a real reflective picture of what the aspirations of JST was to be in 2012 and what it could have looked like if we had not introduced all the cuts at the same time. I am doing that anyway.
Deputy Bríd smith brought my attention to the anomaly with foster carers. I do not know if the Senator spoke to her at about the same time. I need to look at this. If somebody is foster caring they cannot be presenting as a jobseeker because they already have a job looking after a child on behalf of the State. However, they should not be penalised from accessing the positive aspects of JST. We need to look at that and recognise that there are exceptions. There was another case of a lady whose child had grown up but she was fostering two young children on behalf of the State and we were penalising her.We need to look at foster carers as a separate group of service providers and very important people for the State. I will come back to the Senator six to eight weeks after Christmas with regard to the anomalies in foster care and what we can do to fix them.
With regard to the jobseeker's transitional payment, at the moment when the youngest child is 14 one moves from jobseeker's transitional payment to the live register and jobseeker's allowance. The problem is this does not deal with many of the issues of balancing care with the bureaucracy that comes with having a child for any family, but especially for a one-parent family given there is only one person to deal with all of that. To extend jobseeker's transitional payment from the age threshold of 14 to 18 would have a lot of merit. It would allow women or parents of children who are at what can be a vulnerable age to still have the system engage with them and recognise that balance of care, of work and of ambition the Minister mentioned. We agree very much on that.
There is currently a requirement for full-time availability for work. While many people may be available full time and wish to be available full time, there are those who are parenting alone who will not be available full time when their child is between the ages of 14 and 18, and they are in limbo within the system at present. That is why the potential shelter that is the jobseeker's transitional payment should be extended until the child is 18, with the cuts removed. It would not apply to everybody and it would not be needed by everybody. However, it would provide great reassurance for those with teenage children.
Of course, we want to ensure those teenage children have their potential recognised during those crucial years when the path may be set for the next generation. We do not want a parent who is torn between satisfying the conditions of jobseeker's allowance and the welfare of the child.
I cannot acquiesce to it. I can certainly look at the options in regard to positively allowing people to continue to engage with their Intreo office, with case managers and so on. However, from a policy perspective, what the Senator is asking me to acquiesce to is that it is okay to maintain lone parents on social welfare until their youngest child is 18. I genuinely cannot acquiesce to that as it would undermine the entire fundamentals of the policy. What we are trying to do is take women, when their children are in full-time education at age seven, albeit in primary school, and provide them with educational supports, activation and employment experience so they can be ready, if they want it, to move into either part-time or full-time education or work experience when their child is 14. To change the policy to allow them to stay on one-parent payments until the child is 18 totally undermines the policy.
Can we look at it again when we get the Indecon report in quarter 2? The data might say we do not need to do this. If the data tell me clearly we have a problem, let us work out what that problem is. However, if there is no problem, we should not undermine an entire policy. There will always be a small number of people whom it does not suit and we need to make sure we support them. Perhaps another payment needs to be looked at or maybe somebody is not available for work full time because of a particular family circumstance. Let us have a look at it.
The full-time availability waiver element could perhaps be taken forward or made an option. I believe it would help a large cohort of persons, including qualified adults, and encourage them onto the live register. That is something we can debate.
I thank the Acting Chairman for the latitude. My comment is relevant to a body of work that has been undertaken by the Minister. She may have mentioned it but I am not sure, as I had to attend another committee and only had one eye on the television screen broadcasting this debate. I refer to the total contributions approach. I compliment the Minister on the way that she grabbed the bull by the horns and the fact that she is in the process of implementing the approach to ensure some fairness for women.
Then I am spot on and thank the Minister.
First, I want to add to the cohort of people seeking equity. Unfortunately, the stamp or social insurance contributions made by farmers on a low income but in receipt of farm assist prior to 2007 are not recognised. That means that when they are assessed for a contributory old age pension, or part thereof, their contribution history prior to that is not recognised. I know of one man who needed to have made ten years of stamp payments prior to his 66th birthday and he had made contributions for more than ten years. However, he commenced making his contributions prior to 2007 and the years prior to 2007 were disregarded. Notwithstanding the fact that he paid his stamp, only nine years of his contributions have been recognised. He wants to know why he had to pay the stamp as it was never going to be recognised and he was in receipt of a farm assist payment.
Second, people who were self-employed but became PAYE workers did not have their K class stamp, if that is the correct stamp, recognised. I know of one gentleman who had a bakery and employed many people. Times changed and the large multiples took over. The man had to close his business. He paid the redundancies and paid the class K stamp, or relevant stamp, as a company executive for the entire period, and then he became an employee. The entire period for which he paid the class K stamp was not recognised. I appreciate that the Minister has not been given notice about this case and I know that she will get back to me about these two issues. Both cases relate to people who have paid into the system, in particular the latter individual who employed a considerable number of people. His former employees will receive a full pension yet he only receives a partial pension so it is no surprise that he feels hard done by. In the context of the total contributions approach, perhaps some of these matters could be considered in terms of the type of stamp to be paid by the farmer, the pharmacist and the self-employed company executive.
I had initially proposed amendments on this Stage and the previous Stage that attempted to clear up some typographical errors in the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. The errors were identified by the Minister and added to the long list of delays.
Sinn Féin recently called for these errors to be dealt with in stand-alone legislation that would remove any chance of those amendments being held up by unrelated matters. I welcome the fact that we received confirmation from the Minister, in correspondence she sent to my party leader, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, that she intends to provide for the technical amendments to Part 9 of the Children and Family Relationships Act, through a separate Bill and not on Committee Stage of the 2017 social welfare Bill, as originally indicated. We are keen to give our full support and to do anything we can to ensure that this legislation has a safe passage through the Houses. I am sure that the Minister understands the hurt and anxiety that has been caused to same-sex couples.