Varadkar publishes 2016 progress report on Social Protection & sets out key priorities for 2017


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Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has set out his key priorities for 2017 and also published a progress report on projects initiated or completed in 2016.

Highlights from 2016 include unemployment falling to 7.3% while exceeding the target to get 20,000 long-term unemployed into work; introducing Paternity Benefit with more than 3,500 fathers already availing; and securing a Budget package of €330 million with a further €221 million to pay the Christmas Bonus at 85%, a €5 per week increase in the State Pension, and the first increases since 2009 in weekly payments to people with disabilities, carers, blind people, widows, one parent families and jobseekers among others.

Minister Varadkar said:

“I have always believed that politics is about making a difference. It has been a real privilege to serve as Minister for Social Protection for the past seven months, in charge of the largest Government Department with the biggest budget, whose programmes and policies affect almost every household and individual from cradle to grave. I am looking forward to the New Year and making more changes for the better to ensure that the benefits of economic recovery are felt by every individual, household and region in the country through reduced unemployment, higher living standards and enhanced social protection.

“Ministers have a particular privilege to drive through reforms and make decisions that otherwise might not have been made, like linking the Luas lines in Dublin, bringing in free GP care for young children and senior citizens, or granting full independence to Shannon Airport.”

Progress achieved 2016 (May to December)

Employment
The unemployment rate fell to 7.3% in November with long-term unemployment down to 4.2%.  It is now less than half its peak in 2012.  We exceeded our target of moving 20,000 people from long-term unemployment to work and intend to achieve the same result next year, if not better. A large part of this fall in unemployment is due to the services provided or funded by my Department like Intreo, JobPath and the Local Employment Service, or schemes we fund to assist people back into work such as the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance, Back to Education, and Community Employment schemes. 

Paternity Benefit
Paid paternity benefit was introduced from September for fathers, adopters and same-sex partners.  The benefit is available to employees and the self-employed through the PRSI (social insurance) system.  So far paternity benefit has been availed of by 3,581 people.

Budget Package & Social Welfare Bill
I secured a budget package worth €330 million in 2017 (€468 million in a full year) and a further €221 million to pay the Christmas Bonus at 85% to 1.2 million people.  The budget package included a €5 per week increase in the State Pension and also the first increases in weekly payments for 800,000 adults not of pension age including people with disabilities, carers, blind people, widows, people on short-term and long-term illness payments, lone parents and the long-term unemployed.  The package also included special measures for lone parents to help them into work or education, young jobseekers moving into education and out of homelessness, and carers. The Social Welfare Bill, which had been contentious in recent years, passed through the Dáil and Seanad unopposed by any party.
The ERSI confirmed that the budget benefited everyone but those who benefited most were on the lowest incomes.

New Deal for the Self-employed
Legislative provision has been made to extend more PRSI (social insurance) benefits to over 200,000 self-employed people, by providing treatment benefit and long-term illness benefits.  This will be implemented across 2017.  Other measures included easier access to the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance, and the window in which one can make voluntary contributions has been widened from one year to five.

Rural Ireland
The total reversal of the cuts made to Farm Assist which will raise incomes for more than 8,000 families on small farms, and 500 additional places on the Rural Social Scheme.  The changes made in the New Deal for the Self-Employed will also benefit farmers.  37 JobPath offices were opened around the country, bringing the total to 84.  A directive was issued to staff affirming the option to have payments made through the post office rather than by electronic transfer should the customer wish it.

Abhaile – Mortgage Arrears
The establishment and formal launch of the Abhaile service to provide free legal and financial advice and support to people trying to resolve mortgage arrears on their home through the Money Advice and Budgeting (MABS) Service.  So far, 3,317 people have availed of the programme.  A publicity campaign to raise the profile and awareness of the service will be staged in 2017.

Low-cost loans
The ‘It makes sense’ scheme which makes low-cost small loans available to social welfare recipients including pensioners was moved from pilot to national implementation.  Over 90 credit unions now provide the service and it will be extended further in 2017.

Rent Supplement
Rent supplement limits were increased by an average of 15% and as much as 30% in areas of high rental inflation from July.  The transfer from rent supplement to the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) continued.

Priorities for 2017

Employment
Continue to make substantial progress towards the unemployment target of 5-6% and long term unemployment target of <2.5% and move another 20,000 people from welfare to work in 2017.  Publication of the Action Plan for Jobless Families allowing us to zero in on long-term and intergenerational unemployment.

Action Plan for Pension Reform
Develop, publish and commence the implementation of an Action Plan for the reform of pensions. This Action Plan will include a road map for the reform of the State pension, rationalisation and reform of the Defined Benefit pension landscape, transposition of the IORP2 directive and the introduction of auto-enrolment Defined Contribution pensions for all working people.

Working Family Payment
Develop and consult on options for the introduction of a working family payment with the twin aims of reducing child poverty and ensuring that no family is better off on welfare than in work.  This will enable us to put forward proposals for inclusion in Budget 2018.

New Deal for the Self-Employed
Develop proposals to extend more social insurance cover to the self-employed including a form of jobseekers benefit where a person’s business fails or they can no longer continue working in their profession or trade.

Expansion of Social Insurance
Implement the extension of Treatment Benefit to the self-employed, restoration of dental and optical benefits to all eligible PRSI contributors in March and October as provided for in the Social Welfare Act 2016, and examine the extension of social insurance to cover new risks and contingencies.

Recalibrate Labour Activation Programmes
Reform and recalibrate local activation programmes like Community Employment, TÚS and Gateway to reflect the changes in the economy and labour market, and place a greater focus on social inclusion and those who find it hardest to secure and hold down a job.  Develop and launch a new work experience programme to replace JobBridge.

School Meals
Expand free school breakfasts to children in all DEIS schools and 35,000 children in non-DEIS schools from September.  The aim is make the programme available to all schools that want to take part over time.

Tackle Fraud
Include in the Social Welfare spring or summer bill further reforms to reduce fraud allied to a public campaign against fraud and to encourage more reporting.

ENDS

Last modified:20/12/2016