Dáil Éireann - Volume 632 - 01 March, 2007

Written Answers. - Services for People with Disabilities.

Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will report on the progress of the arrangements that were put in place in 2004 further to the review of illness and disability schemes completed in that year which recommended that the infectious diseases maintenance allowance should be merged with the supplementary welfare allowance scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7929/07]

Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress to place the administration of the community welfare section of the Health Service Executive on a more permanent basis; the work that has been considered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7796/07]

Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the situation regarding the move of the community welfare service from the Health Service Executive to his Department; and if he has satisfied himself with the level of consultation with all stakeholders including the unions in this process. [8001/07]

Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will provide details of the move of the community welfare service to his Department; and the way this will affect disadvantaged communities and the specific role of community welfare officers. [8009/07]

Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he or his Department has been party to a review of Section 44 of the Health Act 1947 and the Social Welfare (Supplementary Welfare Allowances) Act 1975 in view of the Government’s intention to amalgamate the infectious diseases maintenance and supplementary welfare allowance schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7930/07]

Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position in regard to proposals that community welfare officers should be transferred from the Health Service Executive to his Department; if discussions have been initiated with the trade unions representing the CWOs; if a timetable has been set for implementation of [1612] the proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7892/07]

Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will change the terms of employment of community welfare officers if and when they become the responsibility of his Department. [8107/07]

  Mr. Brennan: I propose to take Questions Nos. 22, 24, 32, 53, 65, 70 and 165 together.

As part of the health service reform programme, the Government has decided to transfer certain functions, associated staff and other resources from the Health Service Executive to my Department. The functions to be transferred include the supplementary welfare allowance and infectious diseases maintenance allowance schemes, as well as certain other functions. The transfer of functions is a major project that has implications for important services and also affects, on a personal level, the staff delivering these services. Accordingly the programme to implement the transfer is being managed in a careful and comprehensive manner to ensure that the services and position of the staff involved are protected. The HSE and my Department are engaged in a comprehensive programme to collect information on all elements of the functions undertaken by the Community Welfare Service. This information is essential for the successful planning and implementation of the transfer process and to ensure that all aspects of the current service are fully taken into account. Throughout the implementation programme there will be direct and extensive consultation with the staff affected by the transfer of functions programme. A communications and consultation strategy has been devised that provides for ongoing dialogue with all stakeholders associated with the programme. In that regard, my Department met the entire cadre of superintendents on two occasions last year.

A series of regional briefings is being organised jointly by the HSE and my Department for all staff in the Community Welfare Service. These briefings will commence this month and will provide an opportunity for further constructive engagement and feedback on the implementation programme. My Department also holds regular meetings with the two trade unions representing Community welfare Officers (CWOs). The most recent meeting was on 8 February 2007 and there were three such meetings in 2006. The transfer programme was discussed at all of those meetings. The health sector National Joint Council (NJC) brings together the two trade unions, the HSE and the Department of Health and Children. The NJC meets regularly and it too has discussed the transfer of functions. To supplement this, a Joint Liaison Group involving the two trade unions, health sector management and my Department has been established. This group is [1613] due to hold its first meeting within a few weeks. In advance of this meeting a document outlining the joint high level proposals of the HSE, my Department and the Department of Health and Children is being sent to all the trade unions concerned, including trade unions representing staff within my Department. I am satisfied with this considerable level of consultation.

The SWA scheme is administered by some 700 CWOs and 59 superintendents and supporting clerical and other staff within the Community Welfare Service of the HSE. They provide a service that is flexible, responsive and outcome driven. The transfer of functions will not change this. There will be no loss of flexibility, discretion or personal service on the part of CWOs. The same staff will administer the schemes and provide the same personal service under the same legislation and guidelines as at present. The existing legislation governing the scheme will largely remain. All of the linkages to other services in the health sector and elsewhere will remain and indeed will be strengthened under the new arrangements. The transfer will harness co-operation in a more cohesive and a co-ordinated manner for the benefit of the disadvantaged in society.

In November 2006, my Department published the report of the working group on the Review of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Scheme. The working group carried out a fundamental review of all aspects of the SWA scheme. The report presents a number of recommendations relating to the future of the scheme and provides a valuable working template to support the transfer programme. My Department’s commitments in Towards 2016, the National Development Plan and the National Anti-Poverty strategy provide further underpinning for this enhanced approach. To enable this to happen, I have made proposals for legislative changes in the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill before the House. What is proposed is a technical change that will be needed when CWOs are no longer HSE staff. I have not set a firm date for the transfer pending further detailed consultations between the health sector and my Department. However, I hope it will be possible to complete the transfer this year. The implementation of the programme will be carefully managed to ensure that continuity of the SWA scheme and related services is maintained. The provisions in the Bill are subject to a Commencement Order and will not come into effect until the transfer takes place.

In addition to the SWA scheme administered by CWOs, a decision has been made to transfer income supports includes existing allowances and payments made to or in respect of persons with a disability, including domiciliary care allowance, mobility allowance, infectious diseases maintenance allowance and blind welfare allowance. In advance of their transfer a policy review of these schemes is under way, aimed at reviewing their original objectives and how those objectives will [1614] be met most effectively in the new environment. Any necessary legislative changes arising from the review will be introduced in 2008. While the report of the review of the illness and disability schemes undertaken in 2003 made some recommendations as regards the future of the Infectious Diseases Maintenance Allowance, this is being addressed in the wider context of the transfer of income supports from the HSE to my Department. The scheme is a small one, with only 69 persons receiving a weekly payment at present. The case for its integration within mainstream income support provision is, prima facie, a cogent one and this issue will be addressed in the context of the review. While acknowledging the concerns that those delivering the service may have regarding the transfer programme generally, I am satisfied this is the correct way forward. The SWA scheme is already funded by my Department and is part of the wider social welfare code. In recent years new types of payments, computer development and modernisation of services enable customers to confidently carry out their business with my Department. The transfer of functions will provide a platform from which to build on this and offers a challenge and an opportunity for all staff in the Community Welfare Service and my Department in developing a model system for supporting those most disadvantaged in society.

Question No. 23 answered with Question No. 7.

Question No. 24 answered with Question No. 22.