Thursday, 3 February 2022
Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
38. To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the steps that her Department has taken to address the difficulties those suffering from long-Covid have in accessing social welfare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [59227/21]
My Department provides a suite of income supports for those who are unable to work due to an illness or disability. It is important to note that entitlement to these supports is generally not contingent on the nature of the illness or disability but on the extent to which a particular illness or disability impairs or restricts a person’s capacity to work.
My Department spent a total of €4.7 billion on illness, disability and caring payments in 2020.
In March 2020, under the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020 (No. 1) and subsequent regulations, the Government provided for entitlement to Illness Benefit for persons who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or are a probable source of infection with Covid-19.
The rate of payment of the enhanced Illness Benefit payment in respect of Covid-19 is higher than the normal maximum personal rate of illness benefit, for a limited period. The enhanced rate is €350, with additional payments in respect of dependent adults and children.
From March 2020 this enhanced benefit was payable for up to 2 weeks where a person was isolating as a probable source of infection of Covid-19, and up to 10 weeks where a person had been diagnosed with Covid-19. Expenditure on this payment was almost €106 million in 2021.
The duration of payment for those considered a probable risk was reduced to 7 days from 14 January 2022, in line with government guidelines. From that date, asymptomatic people who are close contacts and who have had their immunity boosted are not required to restrict their movements, and therefore Enhanced Illness Benefit will not be paid to these individuals. If, however, they start showing symptoms they should immediately self-isolate and, in this circumstance, may apply for the enhanced Illness Benefit payment.
In a case where a person continues to be ill beyond 10 weeks, standard Illness Benefit may be paid for an extended period, based on the person’s continued eligibility. Illness Benefit is the primary income support payment for people who are unable to attend work due to illness of any type and who are covered by Pay Related Social Insurance contributions. Illness Benefit is payable for up to two years, depending on satisfying the eligibility conditions.
Apart from these income supports, my Department also provides means tested supports under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme for people who are ill but who do not qualify for Illness Benefit. The Department may also make an exceptional needs payment to help meet essential, once-off expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet from their weekly income.
My Department keeps the range of income supports under review in order to make sure they meet their objectives. Any changes to the current system would need to be considered in an overall policy and budgetary context.
I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.