Dáil Éireann - Volume 497 - 26 November, 1998

Adjournment Debate. - Social Welfare Benefits.

Mr. Durkan: As a medical practitioner, the Minister of State present will have some knowledge of the subject I wish to raise. The case involves the most extraordinary decision ever made in terms of eligibility for unemployability supplement. While it is accepted that the individual concerned remains unfit for his original occupation as a labourer due to the loss of four fingers on his right hand, the opinion has been expressed that he is fit for certain types of work which does not require a fine grip. It appears that the residual functional capacity of his hand has improved since the first medical assessment was made. I do not know how anybody could come to that conclusion, although the wound has healed.

The Minister of State should contact his colleague in the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs and ask that the matter be looked at again. It should be acknowledged that the individual concerned was involved in a serious accident and that the limb cannot be replaced. I have no difficulty with somebody being told that they should look for work, that it would be therapeutic and helpful but it is wrong to reduce their social welfare payments by 50 per cent if they fail to do so. An employer would be held liable in the event of an accident.

The individual concerned has no difficulty in looking for work but he should not be forced to do so or have his social welfare payments [823] reduced. That is unacceptable. He will attempt to deal with the problem in his own way. Some people can overcome their disability readily, others cannot. We should ensure that in such circumstances there are options. The individual concerned should be encouraged to look for work through which he is able to improve his quality of life and general well-being. Under no circumstances should the rod of iron be brought down upon him.

I reject the argument put forward in this case and hope the Minister of State will not say that the Minister has no responsibility in the matter.

Dr. Moffatt: I am replying on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Deputy Ahern.

The matters which are the subject of debate are, as the Deputy is aware, determined by statutorily appointed deciding and appeals officers. The Minister has no function in the adjudication process which by law is initiated by the officers appointed for this purpose in accordance with the provisions of the Social Welfare Acts.

The person concerned sustained injuries in an occupational accident on 19 June 1995. He claimed occupational injury benefit in respect of incapacity for work and received payment for the maximum period of 26 weeks up to 16 December 1995. Thereafter he was paid disability benefit for the 12 months to 14 December 1996 followed by unemployability supplement in respect of his continuing incapacity for work up to 8 October 1998. Unemployability supplement is payable where a person who is incapacitated as a result of an occupational accident or disease does not meet the contribution conditions for continuing payment of disability benefit but is considered to be permanently incapable of work. For this purpose a person is regarded as permanently incapable of work if they are considered likely to be incapable of work for at least a further six months.

Persons in receipt of unemployability supplement, like everybody else in receipt of a payment in respect of incapacity for work, are liable to have their payments reviewed in light of up-to-date medical evidence. Disallowance of unemployability supplement in this case resulted from a routine examination by a medical assessor who expressed the view that the person concerned was capable of work. In making this assessment the medical assessor took into account the person's age and the alternative employment opportunities available to him.

In light of the medical assessor's report it was decided by a deciding officer that the person concerned was no longer entitled to payment of unemployability supplement on the grounds that he could no longer be regarded as permanently incapable of work. An appeal against this decision was recently lodged in the independent appeals office. In the context of preparing the case for appeal, arrangements have been made for a further [824] examination by another medical assessor by my Department on 21 December 1998. In the process the person's medical condition will be fully reviewed again and he will be afforded the opportunity to present any additional facts or evidence in support of his appeal.

The person concerned also claimed disability benefit, which is payable in respect of loss of faculty resulting from an occupational accident or disease. The Department medical assessor considered that he will suffer permanent loss of faculty from his injury. On the basis of this assessment he was awarded a disablement pension based on 40 per cent loss of faculty. This is payable for life.

Following the disallowance of his unemployability supplement the person concerned claimed unemployment assistance and he was awarded payment under that scheme at the rate of £136 per week in respect of himself, one qualified adult and two dependent children. This is payable in addition to his disablement pension of £37.70 per week. As soon as a decision has been made on his appeal against disallowance of his unemployability supplement claim he will be notified of the outcome without delay.