Dáil Éireann - Volume 434 - 13 October, 1993

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Social Welfare Cuts.

4. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Social Welfare the plans, if any, he has to reverse, as promised, the social welfare cuts introduced by his predecessor.

6. Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Social Welfare whether he proposes to remove the restrictions on eligibility for and payment of social welfare which were introduced by his immediate predecessor; and if so, when.

35. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Social Welfare if his attention has been drawn to the decision of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to seek the reversal of the social welfare cuts known as the dirty dozen, as a condition for entering negotiations on a new Programme for Economic and Social Progress; if he intends to reverse these cuts; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Dr. Woods: I propose to take Questions Nos. 4, 6 and 35 together.

Deputies will be aware that I spoke at length in this House during the budget debate and on the Social Welfare Bill earlier this year about the measures introduced last year and the initiatives I have taken to review them. Those initiatives include the following: the condition for disability benefit requiring at least 13 paid PRSI contributions in a recent contribution year has been revoked for people on long term unemployment assistance and pre-retirement allowance; [941] the condition for dental and optical benefits requiring at least 13 paid PRSI contributions in a recent contribution year has been revoked for people on disability benefit for more than 12 months, invalidity pension, long term unemployment assistance and pre-retirement allowance; dental and optical benefits have been restored to pensioners affected by the change in the contribution conditions requiring five years paid contributions; dental and optical benefits have also been restored to workers earnings up to £30,000 per annum and £60,000 per annum if the worker has a dependent spouse; the conditions for entitlement to unemployment benefit for part-time workers has been relaxed by reducing from two days to one day the loss of employment which a part-time worker must incur in order to be regarded as having sustained a substantial loss of employment — I am further reviewing these conditions in relation to their impact on particular categories of workers; the amount of daily earnings disregarded in assessing earnings from casual insurable employment for unemployment assistance purposes has been substantially increased to the daily rate of unemployment assistance plus an extra £15 for each day worked; and, as regards exceptional needs payments under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, arrangements are being introduced to help people on social welfare incomes who get into difficulty with fuel bills. The new arrangements involve the establishment of a code of practice which will integrate the help and advice available from the health boards and the fuel providers with a view to ensuring that clients who have problems in meeting bills receive all the assistance that is available.

I am satisfied that the overall effect of the initiatives I have taken has been to alleviate any particular difficulties identified as arising from the measures introduced last year. Deputies may be assured that the measures still in force will continue to be reviewed in the light of their impact on social welfare customers and any further necessary changes will be [942] made. In that context, account will be taken of the views of the social partners in the context of discussions on a new Programme for Economic and Social Progress.

Mr. Allen: The Minister has run a very slick misleading campaign in recent months on the “dirty dozen” cuts which were so much opposed by the Labour Party. Will the Minister agree that, apart from the treatment benefit, disability benefit and the means-testing of casual employment, the remaining nine cuts relating to maternity benefit, injury benefit, maintenance orders, redundancy payments, supplementary welfare rent allowances, deserted wife's benefit, part-time workers and so on are still in place? It was announced on television at 1 o'clock that the Taoiseach, and his Department, reached an agreement with the ICTU. Will the Minister inform the House of the terms of this agreement?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is bringing in extraneous matter to the debate. I have asked for brevity for obvious reasons.

Mr. Allen: Will the Minister inform the House of the changes announced today on television?

Mr. Currie: The “dirty nine” are still there.

Dr. Woods: I wish to make it clear that in relation to redundancy payments, an extra tax free sum was provided in that case, which was the preference of those involved.

Mr. Allen: What about the nine weeks?

Dr. Woods: The Deputy can go through the different headings——

Mr. Allen: We now have the “nasty nine”.

Dr. Woods: The Deputy is inclined to exaggerate.

[943] Mr. Allen: What agreement was made today with the ICTU?

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, I have allowed Deputy Allen a great deal of latitude but he does not seem to appreciate it.

Mr. Allen: The Minister is avoiding answering the questions.