Print FriendlyPrint This Article

1 Debates: Social welfare Bill

The Dail approved, on second stage, the Social welfare and pensions (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, 2013 (Dail Eireann, Debates, 30th May 2013, 733-799).  Introducing the legislation, the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, explained that its purpose was to bring in a range of changes to the social welfare code and to strengthen the campaign against social welfare fraud.  The minister spoke of how the comprehensive system of childcare that we needed was not yet in place, although she had secured an extra 6,000 childcare places for €14m.  She was therefore proposing reforms to the jobseeker’s allowance with a jobseeker’s transition which would require lone parents to seek part-time work rather than full-time work if that suited them better until their youngest child reached 14, but must engage with the department’s activation process.


Opening the debate for the opposition, Willie O’Dea (FF, Limerick City) described most of the changes as fairly uncontroversial, unexceptional and administrative fixes, but took issue with pensions changes.  Likewise, Aengus O Snodaigh (SF, Dublin SC) welcomed the positive changes in the Bill and where it tidied up anomalies.  The social welfare system, though, was not working as a safety net because the gap between the rich and poor in society was growing.  He attacked those who argued that social welfare payments in Ireland were too high, because they did not take into account purchasing power and the cost of living, which in Ireland was astronomical.  He had never seen any justification for social welfare cuts on the basis that the cost of living had been substantially reduced.  He cautioned against anti-fraud measures, which, because the level of deception was low compared to overpayments and error, could instead drive people further into poverty. 


The government was creating a picture of the deserving poor and present social provision as some kind of charity rather than an entitlement.  There were many people in extreme poverty for whom this Bill would not do anything.  A women had telephoned his office the other day to tell him that she had, when she had paid all her bills, €80 for herself and her partner to survive for three weeks and that was not uncommon.  She could apply to the Society of St Vincent de Paul, which was running out of money or the exceptional needs payment, but because her partner was working she would probably not get it.


Richard Boyd Barrett (PBP, Dun Laoghaire) quoted the government’s commitment that it would not waver in its commitment to remove a further €5bn from the economy in the next two years: ‘I shudder to think what that means’.  The cuts so far had been cruel, causing hurt and suffering.  He did not know how the government would find the savings without causing suffering to people who had suffered enough.  He did not see how this could be done without causing further job losses.  He criticized the minister for continuing to repeat the claim that core social welfare rates had not been touched because playing around with semantics about core rates was disingenuous.  Everyone who received a social welfare payment had taken a significant hit.  He criticized the department for reducing the welfare payments of claimants in distress who had been given loans by their children.


Seamus Healy (ind, Tipperary S) spoke of how poverty rates had been increasing month by month and year on year.  Poverty was the most noticeable effect of the austerity programme.  Social welfare recipients spent all their money in the economy, especially the local economy and if one walked down the main street of any town or city, one could see the amount of money taken out of the economy through cuts.  Shops and long-standing businesses had closed, resulting in further unemployment, while taking out more would create further job losses.


The Bill was supported by government deputies, who welcomed its provisions against fraud and defended the minister’s reforms against such a difficult economic environment.  Arthur Spring (Lab, Kerry N) drew attention to the effectiveness of the Irish social welfare system, compared to other countries, in reducing poverty.  For the opposition, John Browne (FF, Wexford) spoke of self-employed people who had lost their businesses but were crying in his office because they were unable to get social welfare payments.  Likewise, Mattie McGrath (ind, Tipperary S) said that they should not be made into paupers.  Luke Ming Flanagan (ind, Roscommon – Leitrim S), in speaking about poverty traps, recommended a re-visiting of the proposals made by Fr Sean Healy some years ago for a guaranteed basic income.


Tommy Broughan (ind, Dublin NE) spoke of the severe effects of the three budgets since 2011 on our most vulnerable citizens and expressed the hope that the minister would not countenance another set of ‘mean cutbacks’ in the 2014 social welfare budget which will be finalized by late July or early August.  She should have resigned last year, rather than present the 2013 budget and hoped she was now determined to end austerity for our vulnerable citizens.  We needed a solid and reliable social welfare system, but he met people with serious delays on appeals of over a year and even two and a half years.  The Bill was approved 65-21 and referred to committee.