Social Welfare Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 857 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Tom Fleming: Information on Tom Fleming Zoom on Tom Fleming] We are all well aware that every parish organisation is feeling the pinch, including sports teams. GAA, rugby and soccer clubs and all community groups are feeling the effect. If anything, it has accelerated the exodus of the youngest and more vibrant from their homeland. Those concerned cannot subsist on the pittance they receive given the rising cost of living. Many of them are caught in a poverty trap because, if they opt to leave the country, they do not have the necessary finance. In many cases, they cannot even choose to move abroad with their friends. Travel costs are beyond them in many cases and they do not have the money to survive for a couple of weeks when seeking work abroad.

There is a need to prioritise this cohort of unemployed youth and give them meaningful access to decent employment. This requires a number of steps. First, the focus must be on the creation and maintenance of decent jobs. It is not in the interest of the unemployed or country as a whole to have low salaries for very precarious work, which is happening at present. Second, every effort must be made to liaise with unemployed people in order that they can secure access to proper employment, including through the provision of good information and advice services. The work with employers undertaken by the Department of Social Protection and through the labour market council must be built on to create real access points, especially for the long-term unemployed. Third, a greater effort must be made to maximise the potential of employment programmes. Many are concerned about the effectiveness and appropriateness of many of the schemes. Many unemployed people have raised concerns with me that JobBridge is basically displacing those in paid employment and reducing people's chances of finding a meaningful job. Others are concerned about the low progression rate from schemes such as community employment schemes. We are well aware, however, that such schemes are very valuable and are underpinning many of the social services in communities. That said, there needs to be progression to more permanent employment when one is finished on a social employment scheme.

Child poverty is on the rise. Research has demonstrated that addressing this issue requires better income supports for families and also public services, including affordable and high-quality early child care and education services. The child benefit increase and the introduction of the back-to-work family dividend are welcome, certainly after a continual stream of austerity measures. The reality, however, is that the €5 increase will only offset in a minor way the series of cuts encountered over recent budgets. For instance, child benefit has been cut in recent years from a peak of €166 or €203 per month per child to the current rate of just €130.

The back-to-work family dividend will help families moving off social welfare into employment and will go some way towards making work pay. It will address the loss of benefit, but one must consider that the average weekly cost of a child care day place in a crèche is €167. Only €29 is provided under the back-to-work dividend scheme and it is making only a small contribution to those concerned. We should try to address this in the Finance Bill.

Deputy Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I am sharing my time with Deputies Paul Connaughton, John Paul Phelan and Tom Barry.

I welcome this Bill, which displays our progress as a society and country since the warranted departure of the last Fianna Fáil Government. This progress would not have been possible without the continued patience and co-operation of the people, who should be acknowledged and rewarded for enduring the effects of the severe measures introduced in recent years, which measures were necessary for recovery. Recover we will. The new schemes and support structures introduced, and in some cases reintroduced, in this Bill will provide monetary increases that will be felt in families’ pockets every single week. The Bill will provide confidence and hope in the road that lies ahead.

The introduction of the back-to-work family dividend, JobPath and JobsPlus, the increases pertaining to child benefit, funding for school meals, living alone allowances and household support packages, and the reintroduction of the Christmas bonuses signal a move in the right direction for parents, children and members of vulnerable groups in society. This progress is underpinned by the commitment and promise made by the Government to deliver better living and working standards.

It is clear to see there is a welcome shift in how this Government approaches issues of unemployment and poverty that Irish people face day to day. This contrasts with the approach of Fianna Fail in the past.

We have heard of circumstances where a mother or father is financially better off on the dole than in employment. This Bill fosters a route back into the workplace. In this regard, a family will be financially better off in employment. The structured incentive to go back to employment comes in many forms, including in the shape of the back-to-work family dividend, which allows families to retain 100% of their qualified child increase of €29.80 per week for the first year after their return to work, and 50% in the second year. The back-to-work family dividend will financially support families in that the continued payment of qualifying child allowance will supplement any child care expenditure required to allow the mother or father to re-enter the workplace. With approximately 612,000 families and a whopping 1.17 million children benefitting from this scheme in 2015 alone, it is indisputable that this Bill sees families better off in work than on the dole. It is all well and good to incentivise unemployed people to return to work but there is an onus on us to facilitate job creation to meet the employment needs of these jobseekers.

This Bill allows for the expansion of JobsPlus, which provides subsidies to those employers taking on long-term unemployed jobseekers. This is a vital facet in getting families back to work. As with the back-to-work family dividend, this measure is in tow with the commitments made by the Government in its statement of priorities in the summer of this year.

There exist vulnerable and marginalised social groups, including the elderly, who are at risk of poverty. This Bill introduces measures to ease the financial burden on those living alone, with an increase of €1.30 per week in the living alone allowance. While that might seem small, it is an increase of 17%. I welcome the increase as it provides an additional cushion of protection from poverty in the form of extra income to those over 66 living alone or those who are in receipt of disability, invalidity or incapacity supplements and allowances. It is these marginalised groups, who are living alone and do not have the option to pool resources to make ends meet, that we must help. This Bill does just that.

I have addressed a number of qualities and attributes of the Social Welfare Bill. The media have acknowledged in reporting on budget 2015 that we are progressing and recovering. We cannot just say there is recovery and expect families and the unemployed to believe us; we must prove it, and we are doing so. The Bill certainly demonstrates to unemployed families, who will see themselves back in employment and with more disposable cash, that we are well on the way to recovery.

Deputy Paul J. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this Bill. There are many elements of it that I welcome, particularly the increase in child benefit and the living alone allowance. Other changes provided for in the Bill that do not require legislative change include the new water subsidy, the increase in JobsPlus places, extra funding for JobPath and additional funding for the school meals programme.

Job creation is a core objective of the Government, and creating the correct conditions for both employers and employees is at the heart of this.

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