Dáil Éireann - Volume 525 - 09 November, 2000
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Payments.
Mr. Callely Mr. Callely
54. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will advise of social welfare allowance expenditure under exceptional needs payment and urgent needs payment for each of the past years 1998, 1999 and to date in 2000; the top seven items that are the most common payment under the exceptional needs payment-urgent needs payment schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25075/00]
Mr. D. Ahern Mr. D. Ahern
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): The legislation governing the supplementary welfare allowance scheme makes provision for a health board to make a single payment to help meet essential, once-off, exceptional expenditure, which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of their weekly income. These payments are known as exceptional needs payments.
There is no automatic entitlement to an exceptional needs payment. Eligible people would normally be in receipt of a social welfare or health board payment. Exceptional needs payment are payable at the discretion of the health board taking into account the requirements of the legislation and all the relevant circumstances of the case.
Urgent needs payments may be used to assist persons who would not normally qualify for supplementary welfare allowance.
For example, in the aftermath of a flood or a fire immediate needs such as food, clothing or household goods can be met where appropriate through the payment of urgent needs payments.
Total expenditure on exceptional needs payment was approximately £21.31 million in 1998, £21.86 million in 1999 and £18.88 million to date in 2000. Expenditure on urgent needs payments was £86,000 in 1998, £76,000 in 1999 and £71,000 to date in 2000. The top seven items of exceptional needs payments/urgent needs payments expenditure are as follows: household appliances, child clothing, rent deposits, furniture, adult clothing, funeral expenses and household bedding. A detailed analysis of expenditure in each of these years is contained in the attached tabular statements.
 Tabular Statement 1
Break down of ENP/UNP expenditure to date in the year 2000.
Tabular Statement 2
Break down of ENP/UNP expenditure for year ended 1999.
Tabular Statement 3
Break down of ENP/UNP expenditure for year ended 1998.
Proinsias De Rossa Proinsias De Rossa
55. Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs his response to the finding in the review of the one parent family payment that lone parents face a greater risk of poverty than most other families; and if he has any plans to increase the income disregards for working lone parents or to recommend a specific additional income disregard for each child. [24968/00]
Mr. D. Ahern Mr. D. Ahern
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): The review of the one-parent family payment published on 5 September  2000, is the first review of this scheme since it was introduced in January 1997. The review is one of a series being undertaken under the Department's expenditure review programme which was put in place as part of the strategic management initiative.
The main focus of the review was the OFP scheme and the extent to which it achieves its objectives. The review paid particular attention to the needs of lone parents and their children generally and to the desire for this group to avoid long-term dependency on the social welfare system. It also examined various other issues relating  to lone parenthood. The review provides valuable information which will form a basis for consideration of the future direction of OFP.
On foot of the proposals in the review, I intend to introduce a number of policy initiatives as follows. The first major action programme that is being prepared relates to employment and education opportunities. I am concerned at the continued high poverty rates for lone parents and their children and at the fact that long-term welfare dependency has become a reality for many of those on OFP.
In the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness we are committed to seeking reduction in poverty for children and women. Lone parenthood is a key issue for both and is one of the main contributors to the rates of consistent poverty which currently affect them.
I am encouraged by the significant growth in the number of lone parents at work with about 60% of OFP recipients now having some level of earnings. I believe that this is the best route out of poverty. On foot of the proposals in the review and following discussions with the relevant agencies, I have been considering a range of measures to overcome the barriers to employment which currently exist.
The pilot family services project which is currently under way in Cork, Waterford and Finglas, Dublin, has as its objective the provision of a high quality information service about the range of supports available to families from State and voluntary agencies, for example, in the areas of education, training and employment. This project is currently being reviewed and will be developed further in the light of this.
I recently launched an information campaign to ensure that all lone parents are fully aware of the various supports and options which are available. This involved the sending of a newsletter to all one-parent family payment clients outlining the existing work, training and education opportunities available to them. However, the information campaign is only the first strand in a planned and comprehensive programme of measures which will form my Department's strategy to motivate, encourage and support lone parents to join the active labour force. The next phase of the programme, which will get under way shortly, will involve individual interviews for selected categories of lone parents, for example, those who will shortly lose entitlement to OFP because they will no longer have a qualified child in their household attendance at these interviews will, of course, be voluntary.
The Department is developing plans for the localisation of the administration of the one parent family payment scheme. I believe that the devolvement of the administration of the OFP scheme to a local level will be an important step in helping to make the scheme itself and related services more accessible to lone parents.
On the issue of maintenance, I believe that support from the ‘absent' parent should play a much  more important role in providing support to lone parents and increasing their overall income. The review sets out a comprehensive analysis of the options in this area which I am considering in detail.
With regard to the income disregards which are a feature of the scheme and which are designed to help and encourage lone parents to consider training and employment as a viable option, I have no immediate plans to increase the level of these disregards. The review found that the disregards are adequate at present to support the level and nature of employment, much of which appears to be part-time, being undertaken by lone parents. The situation will be monitored and reviewed as appropriate.
Dáil Éireann 525 Written Answers. Social Welfare Payments.