Dáil Éireann - Volume 483 - 26 November, 1997

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Policy.

49. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the priorities, if any, he has in relation to social welfare in the forthcoming budget. [20463/97]

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): The establishment of an inclusive society, where all citizens have the opportunity and the incentive to participate fully in the social and economic life of the country, is a fundamental objective of this Government. In formulating proposals for inclusion in the 1998 budget, therefore, the Government will be endeavouring to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are shared with the more vulnerable sections of our society.

The Government's programme, An Action Programme for the Millennium, contains a wide range of commitments relating to the areas for which I have responsibility, including the following commitments:

(a) to provide for substantial increases in social welfare payment rates, including increasing the old age pension to £100 per week over a five year period;

(b) to progressively relax the qualifying conditions for the carer's allowance to ensure that more carers can get the benefit and to increase the value of the allowance in real terms;

(c) to implement the report of the commission on the status of people with disabilities, including an overhaul of the means by which the State supports the incomes of people with disabilities;

(d) to refocus the tax and welfare system in favour of the family unity; and

(e) to establish a national mediation service.

In addition, Partnership 2000 provides, inter alia, for the following:

(1) the implementation of the minimum rates recommended by the Commission on Social Welfare before the end of the partnership;

(2) Family income supplement to be reformed so as to be calculated on a net income basis;

(3) the alleviation of the poverty trap created by the £60 spousal income limit for the purposes of entitlement to the qualified adult allowance and child dependant allowance; and

(4) the strengthening and expansion of the community development programme operated by my Department.

As part of the move by the Government to focus more effectively on specific areas of policy, my Department's policy focus is being strengthened and deepened in relation to the impact of State policies on family life. In this regard, the recommendations in the final report of the commission on the family, which is due shortly, will form the [1017] basis for the development of an integrated policy to support families for the future.

My priorities for the 1998 budget, therefore, will include making progress towards implementing the various programme commitments outlined above, having regard to the available resources.