I am delighted to have a brief opportunity to comment on the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2018. There are welcome features in the Bill, including the increased maternity, adoptive and paternity benefits; the increases and proportionate increases in social protection payments; and the measures to address the budget 2012 pension anomaly, to which my colleague has referred. In my pre-budget submission to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, which I entitled A Budget For All Our People, I asked for at least a general rise of €7 per week, which the Department costed for me at €485.94 million, which is nearly €500 million, among other general increases, some of which I will touch on later. It is regrettable that the increases provided for in the Bill will not take effect until March 2019. Households will be under extreme pressure during the Christmas and New Year period and the March provision, as in 2018, is simply to push necessary Exchequer expenditure into the future.
I wish to ask the Minister about another anomaly, namely, the Labour Court Recommendation No. 19293 of July 2008, in respect of pensions for the 1,250 CE supervisors and assistant supervisors who manage 25,000 staff who are carrying out wonderful work in parishes and communities throughout the island. Several commitments have been made that we would address this other anomaly but the Minister has done nothing to date.
There were more than 21,000 landlords receiving Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) for almost 37,800 tenancies around the country at the end of Quarter 2 2018. Funding for HAP, which accommodates people with a social housing need in the private rented sector, jumped by €149 million to €301 million in 2018. There are a further 19,388 Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) tenancies with funding of €134 million. Almost 10,000 people are now in emergency homeless accommodation across the state and we know that there has been some massaging of figures for them to appear lower. The true rate of homelessness, which includes hidden homeless, those in Direct Provision and domestic violence refuges is far higher than the official Government data.
I know the Minister spoke at length on this issue earlier. This morning a group of civic society bodies, including Age Action, the National Women’s Council of Ireland, the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, Fórsa, SIPTU, Active Retirement Ireland and Pensioners for Equality are all demanding that the Minister take urgent action. Unfortunately, the Minister was not present for Report Stage when I got an opportunity to try to amend the recent Social Welfare Bill so that this would be addressed in 2018. I ask her to expand on what she is now preparing to do on foot of a Cabinet decision.
It was another busy week in Dáil Éireann and Dublin Bay North. On Monday morning, I attended a Board Meeting of the Coolock Development Council, of which I am a founding member. On Tuesday morning, I attended a briefing with the excellent Kilbarrack Coast Community Programme (KCCP) on Greendale Road and it was great to meet members of KCCP staff providing vital service to our community. That evening, I held a meeting with a group of friends and supporters from Dublin Bay North in Leinster House about my current Dáil and constituency work and plans for 2018. It was an opportunity for active members of communities around Dublin Bay North to highlight areas of importance to them such as Housing, Health, Pensions and Employment.
In February of this year, Deputy Broughan questioned then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny on the Age Action report ‘Towards a Fair State Pension for Women Pensioners’ by Maureen Bassett MSc which examined the changes to the State Contributory Pension introduced in Budget 2012. At that time, the PRSI Contribution bands were expanded from four to six and these changes have negatively impacted tens of thousands of pensioners since September 2012. Almost two-thirds of those losing money each week (approximately between €19 and €30 per week) are women meaning that those who took time out of the workforce to raise their children are being disproportionately penalised.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly on the Social Welfare Bill 2017 before us today. There are some welcome measures in the Bill which will give legislative effect to the changes announced in budget 2018 and in order to effect those changes the Social Welfare Acts, the Maternity Protection Act 1994 and the National Training Fund Act 2000 will be amended and extended. The Government decided to continue with its partial restoration of social protection payments for next year with €5 increases across most payments. Disappointingly, and in keeping with last year, these partial restorations will not come into effect until the end of March 2018.
It is incredibly and totally farcical that Fianna Fáil has brought this motion before the House just a mere ten days after it signed off on budget 2018 with its coalition partners, Fine Gael. Where were Fianna Fáil’s concerns when negotiations were ongoing or, indeed, in the run-up to the 2017 budget? Where was Fianna Fáil then? We on this side of the House cannot help but wonder if this was an agreed publicity stunt between the two conservative parties that are running the country and hoping to swap partners and continue to run it after the general election. The Minister for Finance called the situation “bonkers” on air and then Fianna Fáil came to the rescue with a motion that will surely pass in the Dáil. Of course, Fianna Fáil also supported all of the economic decisions of the last austerity Government.
This evening, Deputy Broughan has blasted Fianna Fáil for bringing forward a motion on ‘Correcting Pension Inequities’ just 10days since they signed off on Budget 2018 with their coalition partners Fine Gael. Where was Fianna Fáil’s concern when negotiations were ongoing for Budget 2018? One can’t help but wonder if this was an agreed publicity stunt between the two right wing parties prior to Budget Day last week – let the Finance Minister call the situation ‘bonkers’ on air and then Fianna Fáil can swoop in to the rescue with a motion that will surely pass in the Dáil. It is, of course, the second such budget that Fianna Fáil has facilitated in the 32nd Dáil and yet neither have addressed the PRSI contribution band changes introduced in Budget 2012.
Last Wednesday, my colleague, Deputy Daly, hosted a briefing by members of the Aer Lingus supplementary pension scheme, known as the second scheme, to discuss the serious issues that have emerged relating to the wind-up of the scheme. I attended the briefing. I understand that up to 2,500 workers and pensioners are entitled to a share of the €106 million pension fund, known as Pot B or the Second Scheme, that is currently being wound up.
Members of the scheme raised concerns when they began receiving letters detailing their allocations. They soon realised that there did not appear to be any rhyme or reason to the method of distribution of funds. The distribution had been decided without consultation by the trustees, Irish Pensions Trust.