Dáil Éireann - Volume 579 - 11 February, 2004

Written Answers - Social Welfare Expenditure.

  90. Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the benefits of economic prosperity have yet to be reinvested to help the economically disadvantaged in Irish society; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3869/04]

  Mary Coughlan:This Government is deeply [1543] committed to building a fairer and more inclusive society and our record in terms of investment in social spending provides the clearest evidence of this commitment.

The 2004 budget is a case in point as it included a social welfare package of €630 million, and the effect of this increase is that the total social welfare spend in 2004 will be almost double that of 1997. As a result, my Department now has an annual budget of over €11 billion to support those who are vulnerable, less well off or disadvantaged in our society. It will be the largest amount of money ever expended on social welfare payments in our history and will benefit approximately 1.5 million people or about four out of every ten people in the State.

I have every confidence that this sustained investment in social welfare together with investments being made in other key areas of social spending — employment supports, education, health and housing — will lead to further inroads being made into poverty levels in this country. Over the past few years substantial progress has already been made with the numbers of people experiencing consistent poverty falling from 9.7% in 1997 to 5.2% in 2001.

Our policy platform for continuing to achieve real reductions in the levels of consistent poverty is set out in the revised national anti-poverty strategy, NAPS, published in February 2002, and in the national action plan against poverty and social exclusion launched in July of last year. The key objectives of the revised NAPS are to reduce, and ideally eliminate, consistent poverty; build an inclusive society; and develop social capital, particularly for disadvantaged communities.

The revised NAPS contains a number of policy objectives and targets across key thematic areas such as income adequacy, employment and unemployment, education, health, housing and accommodation. It also targets particularly vulnerable groups such as children and young people, women, older people, Travellers, people with disabilities, migrants and members of ethnic minority groups.

By providing both a comprehensive policy framework and significant investment we will continue to make real progress in improving the lives of all of our people and bring about a fairer, more inclusive society.