Social Welfare Bill 2014

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Dáil Éireann 11 November 2014

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this Bill.

There are many elements of this Bill that I would like to welcome, particularly the increase in child benefit and the living alone allowance. Other changes provided for in the Budget which do not require legislative change include the new water subsidy, the increase in Jobs Plus places, extra funding for Job Path and additional funding for the School Meals Programme.

Job creation is a core objective of this Government and creating the correct conditions for both employers and employees is at the heart of this. Helping jobseekers get a foothold on the employment ladder is an important element in terms of addressing unemployment, but so too is upskilling and re-skilling where necessary.

Providing jobseekers with a structured path back to work has proved successful to date in many instances and the newly created Intreo centres are key to this success, providing a one-stop-shop for jobseekers looking to re-enter the workforce.

While the idea of having a case worker for every jobseeker is laudable, the current practice means that case workers are simply overwhelmed with the number of jobseekers they are dealing with, and the experience in many cases is not a positive one for the jobseeker or the case worker. A ratio of case worker to jobseeker of 500 to one is unworkable. The plan to decrease the ratio to 200 to one is more workable, but it still leaves case workers in a difficult position, given the volume of people leaving and joining the live register on a monthly basis.

Hopefully the positive trend we have seen in recent months in terms of decreasing numbers on the live register will continue, which should result in a reduced workload for case workers and a more positive experience for job seekers.

I know that studies have been done in recent months on the financial impediments for people returning to work. The new Back to Work Family Dividend is a common sense approach to addressing this, providing €29.80 per week per child for 12 months after their return to work, reducing to 50% in the second year.

Job Plus is designed to help people who are unemployed long-term return to work, through providing incentives to employers and I know that three thousand people have benefited from this to date.

Young people seeking to access employment have experienced great difficulty in recent years, as while they may have had the necessary skills for the task, the required experience was not available. To this end, the youth guarantee initiatives are an important step in helping young people to access either further training or employment at a crucial time in their lives.

Many young school leavers are very willing and anxious to work and often the lack of some crucial skills, be it health and safety permits such as SafePass, ECDL qualifications or food hygiene certification, is prohibiting them from entering the workplace and it makes sense to provide them with the skillset needed for the jobs they are most interested in. Very often their parents are willing, but financially unable to help them access the additional courses or qualifications needed.

Helping families with young children through this most difficult time is a core objective of this government and that is why this Social Welfare Bill contains measures increasing child benefit and the provision for school meals.

Over 600,000 families will benefit from the increase in child benefit, while the increased allocation of €2 million for school meals will see approximately 6,000 children benefit. I note that ten percent of DEIS schools have not yet signed up to the scheme of free school meals and I would urge them to consult further with parents on this issue as I have seen to date a very positive reaction from parents whose children are already benefiting from this initiative.

In recent weeks I have spoken to many people who are living alone and finding it difficult to cope financially. These are elderly people living alone struggling to warm their homes and also younger people on allowances such as Disability Allowance who may have decreased mobility and a greater need for heat in their homes. The increase in the living alone allowance is welcome and while it is a small amount weekly, it is a step in the right direction and an acknowledgement of the difficulties faced in single person household, where costs cannot be pooled and home maintenance and other bills have to be borne by one person.

Overall the measures in this Social Welfare Bill build on this government’s work to date, continuing our commitment to help people of all ages access the world of work, while at the same time seeking to reduce child poverty and the poverty prevalent in single income households.

The number of people on the live register continues to be much too high, but each week now we are hearing increased job announcements and thankfully, an increasing number of those job announcements relate to areas outside our main cities. We have to ensure that as the country emerges from recession that the benefits are felt nationwide and I believe that the measures in this Social Welfare Bill seek to do just that.