Foreword from the Minister
As Minister for Social Protection, it gives me great pleasure to publish this Report on the desirability and feasibility of introducing a single social assistance payment for people of working age. While major developments have occurred over the decades, the basic infrastructure remains unchanged. It is my view that the social welfare system needs to be capable of responding better to the significant societal, demographic, labour market and economic changes that occur and it needs to be flexible enough to ensure that people who are reliant on it are adequately supported in order to achieve better outcomes for themselves and their families, be it through returning to work or availing of training, education or re-skilling.
People of working age make up most of the population and, in recent years, the working age population has also grown. Trends in the social welfare population of working age indicate persistent welfare dependency and poor outcomes for some people and this is so despite an earlier sustained period of economic growth. It is, therefore, timely to consider the extent to which the structure of the social welfare system contributes to this situation and, more importantly, if a reconfigured social assistance system based on a single payment could improve the outcomes for people of working age.
A commitment in the Department‟s Strategy Statement (2008-2010) to provide a range of initiatives to ensure that all people of working age have sufficient income and opportunity to participate as fully as possible in economic and social life provides the context for the review. Work carried out by NESC in this area and reflected in their report – The Developmental Welfare State (2005) highlights the need for greater interaction between services, income support and activist measures that are developmental for families, communities and the economy. A recurring theme in the NESC report is that the current contingency based payments to people of working age can operate to confirm a person‟s status as a person outside of the workforce rather than as an unemployed member of it. The report, therefore, also advocates the need for rationalisation of the social assistance schemes into a single payment. A single payment is also very much in line with best practice in EU and OECD countries.
The vision for such a payment is in the short term to develop an overarching framework for all people of working age including those who would currently be classified under a contingency approach as unemployed, sick, disabled, or parenting alone. The principle of a single working age payment is based on the policy that people are given or directed to the support and services they need in order to return to or take up work or other training or educational opportunities, matched by a requirement that they avail of that support i.e. there is a right and a matching responsibility. It is also based on the rationale that the outcomes for people from a poverty and social inclusion point of view must be improved, and also that any changes to the current system must "make work pay". Such an approach would ensure that people are not further distanced from the labour market, especially in the current economic climate, and encourages people to maximise their potential. The development of supports and services is central to the vision for a single social assistance payment.
The decision to merge functions from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht, FÁS and the Community Welfare Service of the HSE with the functions of the Department facilitates such an approach.
The essential purpose of this report is to stimulate debate and to allow stakeholders to contribute to shaping a framework for a single social assistance payment that will provide the necessary support for people of working age to achieve their full potential.
Éamon Ó Cuív, T.D.
Minister for Social Protection
Click here to download the report of the consultation seminar on the findings of this report.