Social Welfare Bill 2011: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages

15.12.2011

http://debates.oireachtas.ie/seanad/2011/12/15/00010.asp

 

Senator Katherine Zappone

I stand very much in solidarity with my colleague in opposing the section. I do not need to go through the reasons as she has already spoken eloquently aboout them.

I have listened to the Minister and reviewed all of the debates, in particular on this Bill. I am impressed by the vision she has outlined. She has identified various aspects of the principles she espouses in trying to carry out the huge task of reforming the social protection system such as by not defining people by their relationship — one person or one payment — or the other ways by which she is trying to identify the categories which ought to be paid. Some of the comments made by Senator Paschal Mooney on philosophy are well made. It could be helpful to the House, as well as to those on whom the cuts will impact, if the Minister were to consider putting a paper together to identify her vision, principles and the direction in which she is going. That would be extremely helpful to us in our debate.

I am concerned about the decrease in child benefit for the third and fourth children and the effect it will have on one parent families in particular. The Minister expressed her concern about the fact that even with all of the payments made and amounts of money given, they do not seem to have impacted on poverty rates. The question is: why are people still poor? The Minister has identified the lack of parental education, the lack of access to education and training and child care issues. The people concerned are not necessarily still poor because of the money being given; therefore, cutting child benefit will not help.

The Minister has referred to the importance of the labour market activation fund of €20 million that will be made available. My question is whether lone parents, in particular, will benefit from the fund. Is it not correct to say lone parents cannot access the supports are available to job seekers on the live register? In that case, how will they benefit from the fund? The Minister for Public Enterprise and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has set out to a limited degree that the fund is primarily for the long-term unemployed. Will lone parents benefit from it and, if not, will measures be forthcoming to assist them in returning to education and training?

My final point relates to a suggestion made by Senator Darragh O’Brien about the acknowledgement and acceptance of a universal income for children, of which I am also in favour. If one does have to affect the payment for the third and fourth children, especially for families experiencing poverty, the free pre-school place for one year is critical. There is evidence to prove that if children from poorer backgrounds have access to early years education and care, they do better later in life. In the budget the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs reduced aspects of the free pre-school service by way of cutting the staff ratio and the capitation grant.

If the Minister is going to take some of the money in child benefit from larger families, could the money at least go towards maintaining the quality of the pre-school service currently provided free for one year?

Financial Justice
Financial Justice
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