Posted on November 5, 2015 3:15 PM   |   Permanent Link   

Speaking on the Social Welfare Bill 2015 in Dáil Eireann

I am very pleased to commend this Bill to the House, which gives effect to a number of social protection measures announced in Budget 2016. After the austerity years, Budget 2015 saw funding for social protection measures begin to increase in order to start bringing living standards and investment in our communities back up. Budget 2016 brings further increases for these social protection measures and brings increases to other measures after the austerity budgets of recent years.

With the welcome departure of the Troika and the improving global economic situation, the recovery that this Government has been driving is starting to bed down solidly, although the amount of money available to spend is still limited. Within that context, the priority of the Government is to make sure that every household benefits. As I have said, this process was started with Budget 2015. Budget 2016, of which this legislation is a key part is, is designed to particularly help low and middle-income families, retired people and vulnerable groups.

The social welfare package in the Budget has four main aims:
- to deliver welfare improvements for pensioners aged 66 and over;
- to strengthen supports for all families with children;
- to enhance incentives for employment and to make work pay; and
- to provide targeted assistance for vulnerable groups, such as carers and people with disabilities.

There will be an increase of €3 in the weekly pension for pensioners and carers aged 66 years and over. This is the first weekly rate increase for pensioners since 2009. In recent years, many pensioners have supported their adult children and their families throughout the very difficult times. They deserve to see their income in retirement increase now that we can do so.

Just over 1.2 million people will receive the Christmas Bonus this year at a cost of €197 million. I warmly welcome this. The Christmas Bonus will be fully spent within the local economy. It provides a boost not only for the individuals and families who receive it, but also for local businesses and the community and will boost the local economies and drive recovery.

I am very pleased, given that it was cut during a previous budget, that the Respite Care Grant is to be increased by €325 to €1,700. The title of the Respite Care Grant scheme is also to be changed to Carer's Support Grant. The Carer's Allowance will be paid for 12 weeks (currently 6 weeks) from January 2016, after the death of the person being cared for.

A new analysis of the Budget changes shows that households with children are the biggest beneficiaries from Budget 2016, in particular working lone parents.

There will also be an increase in the monthly rate of Child Benefit to €140 from January 2016, which sees further increases on top of increases in Budget 2015. The Family Income Supplement threshold is also being increased by €5 for each of the first two children per week from January.

This will give an additional €3 or €6 per week for low-income working families in receipt of this support. I am also pleased to see an increase in top-up payments for jobseekers availing of Community Employment, Rural Social Scheme, Job Initiative and other such schemes.

There are also Budget 2016 Items which do not require changes to legislation. They are:
- Increase in Fuel Allowance
- Increase in funding for the Free Travel Scheme
- Increase of €2.50 per week in top-up payments for Community Employment, Rural Social Scheme, Gateway, Job Initiative, Tús and JobBridge participants
- Increase in funding for the School Meals Scheme, to support school-going children in disadvantaged areas.

The Budget measures which require amendments to the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 are provided for in the Social Welfare Bill 2015.This Bill will implement the Budgetary changes which are, in the main, due to come into force in early 2016 and will also give effect to increases in pensions payable to persons aged 66 and over and their qualified adults, as well as increases to the rate of Child Benefit, Respite Care Grant and Family Income Supplement.

The new tapered PRSI Credit for Class A PRSI employees earning between €352.01 and €424 in a week will reduce the weekly PRSI bill for over 88,000 employees and will be in addition to the gains from the USC changes announced on Budget day. In addition the lower 8.5% Class A rate of employer PRSI will be extended to over 26,000 employers with the employer threshold being increased from €356 to €376.

I welcome these. After the years of sacrifice by the Irish people, they deserve to get something back. I want to see these increases be continued in the budgets in the years to come.

However, I am disappointed that there is not an increase for a section of the population who are under the age of 26. I feel it is discriminatory on the basis of age. I commend Labour Youth for lobbying on this issue, which I feel needs to reviewed in future budgets.

I support the Bill.