Dáil Éireann - Volume 527 - 05 December, 2000
Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits.
Mr. Howlin Mr. Howlin
305. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs his views on whether it is equitable that whereas the full married rate of unemployment assistance is payable where a claimant's spouse has net earnings of £70 for a full working week, a reduction of £8.50 in unemployment assistance entitlement is incurred where a claimant's spouse has net earnings of £77  for a full working week, that is, an excess of £7 over the earnings disregard incurs a loss to the claimant of £8.50; if he will take steps to remove such anomalies from the means test for unemployment assistance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28530/00]
Mr. D. Ahern Mr. D. Ahern
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): Regulations provide for the tapered withdrawal of the qualified adult allowance for claimants – QAA – of certain welfare payments, including unemployment assistance, where the spouse or partner of the claimant is earning between £70 and £135 per week.
In the case of unemployment assistance, the position is that where weekly gross earnings are between £70 and £90, the QAA is reduced by £2.50 for each additional £5 earned; between £90 and £135, the QAA is reduced by £3.50 for every £5 of earnings.
In addition, for the purpose of means-tested social assistance payments, including unemployment assistance, account is taken of the spouse's net earnings, that is, earnings net of income tax, PRSI, health insurance contributions, superannuation and union dues. Currently, an income disregard of £70, inclusive of travel costs, applies where such employment exceeds three days per week.
I share the Deputy's concern that the withdrawal of the QAA combined with the assessment of the spouse's earnings in the case of recipients of social assistance payments, can result in poverty traps. Indeed, it was in order to alleviate such effects that I increased the spouse income disregard from £45 to £70 per week and substantially improved the tapering arrangements in the 2000 budget. The revised arrangements substantially improve the situation, to the extent that poverty traps now only persist over small ranges of income, marginally above the income thresholds where different rates apply.
I will continue to explore the potential for addressing such traps where they arise. However, any further measures of this nature would have to take account of factors such as equity vis-à-vis other categories of people who combine work with receipt of a partial social welfare payment and avoid any disincentives to the claimant to take up employment.
Mr. Ring Mr. Ring
306. Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the rate of farm assist approved for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [28550/00]
Mr. D. Ahern Mr. D. Ahern
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): Following a recent review, the means of the person concerned were assessed at £76 per week derived from benefit from his spouse's earnings. He has not been assessed with any income from his farm.
This assessment gives the person concerned  entitlement to farm assist at the rate at £8.10 per week.
Under social welfare legislation decisions in relation to claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.
The person concerned has now made an appeal against this decision to the social welfare appeals office. The appeal will be referred for early consideration by an appeals officer.
Ms O'Sullivan Ms O'Sullivan
307. Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs if he will address the anomaly whereby persons over 18 year of age are not considered to be dependants of social welfare recipient parents when they are in third level education but are subject to means-testing of parents income when they subsequently apply for a social welfare payment themselves if living at home; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28568/00]
Mr. D. Ahern Mr. D. Ahern
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): In the case of long-term payments, such as pensions, child dependant allowances are payable where children are in full-time education up to the age of 22 years, or up to the end of the academic year after the 22nd birthday. At present, these arrangements do not apply to short-term payments such as disability benefit, unemployment benefit, short-term unemployment assistance and supplementary welfare allowance.
It is my intention that, in the lifetime of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, child dependant allowances will be extended to all social welfare recipients where the child is under 22 years and in full-time education. The timing of the introduction of measures implementing this commitment over the period will be determined in a budgetary context, having regard to Government priorities and the available resources.
I assume the Deputy is referring to the situation of persons who apply for unemployment assistance and are living at home. In assessing a person's means for unemployment assistance purposes, account is taken of any cash income the person may have together with the value of any capital or property. In addition, the value of any benefit of privilege enjoyed by an applicant, such
as that of free board and lodging in the family home, is assessed. The purpose of including this item in the assessment of means is to ensure that, by taking account of household circumstances, the available resources are targeted at those who are most in need.
Dáil Éireann 527 Written Answers. Social Welfare Benefits.