Social Welfare Bill 2022

Social Welfare Bill 2022

Full Transcript: Before I address my substantive points, I note that one of the benefits of sharing the duties of chairing the House with the Ceann Comhairle is that one gets to listen to debates in depth. Much of the debate on the Bill has been good. I do not know whether anybody has eulogised the budget. All Members across the House have pointed to aspects they believe are good. Deputy O’Donnell acknowledged that no budget is perfect. I take issue with some of the language I have heard, with reference having been made to cruelty, systemic discrimination or it being an utter failure of a budget. I do not think all 160 Deputies are universally good people, but there are not very many cruel or bad people here. If there are such people, I am sure no particular party or side of the House has the monopoly on that. Most people are here to try to do a good job and represent their constituents as best they can. We have differences in terms of political philosophies when it comes to how that can be achieved, even within the coalition, and we acknowledge that, but most people are here to try to do the best they can by the constituents they represent.

This statement may be contested, but this is a progressive budget It is the third such progressive budget. It has been analysed and shown to be progressive. I acknowledge some of the points raised in respect of lone-parent groups, but in successive budgets we are making headway on this. Research commissioned from the ESRI by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O’Brien, considered that issue of poverty and found that the working family payment is possibly the most impactful tool in terms of tackling poverty within that cohort. In that context, we have to acknowledge the significant progress that has been made in the budget in respect of the working family payment. It will impact many people who are affected and in that poverty trap.

The Minister outlined the 11 lump sum payments. We know there are two elements to the budget. There is the element whereby we are trying to increase social welfare payments across the board, but there is also those one-off payments. We acknowledge that. The additional €12 on social welfare payments is a substantial increase but we have to acknowledge that it does not keep pace with inflation. The one-off payments are designed to help to fill that hole but I agree with some of my colleagues on the other side of the House that in the longer term we have to consider benchmarking those payments, possibly to the minimum essential standard of living, MESL, or looking at the income-smoothing approach outlined in the Pathways to Work document. That is something towards which we have to begin moving.

An issue that may not belong in the Bill but does belong in the Minister’s Department is the extension of the free travel pass to people who are precluded from driving. I was contacted by Epilepsy Ireland in that regard. It made a good and detailed pre-budget submission. When it factored in all of the people who suffer from epilepsy – not all of whom are precluded from driving at all times – it arrived at a figure that is not an enormous sum but could make a substantial difference to many people, particularly those in rural areas, such as the one represented by the Minister or the one that I represent. If a person living in a rural area is precluded from driving, that makes a difference to how he or she lives life and accesses services. That is something the Minister may be able to consider outside the parameters of the Bill.

As Deputy O’Donnell stated, no budget is perfect. This is a good one, however. It does its best to be kind and fair to those in society who need help from the State at this extremely challenging time.