Social Welfare Bill passes second stage in the Seanad

Friday 27 April 2012 23.35
The Social Welfare and Pensions Bill debate continues on Monday
The Social Welfare and Pensions Bill debate continues on Monday

There have been more calls in the Seanad for Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton to remove the provision in the Social Welfare Bill on reducing the age threshold for receipt of Lone Parent allowance.

The Bill gives effect to changes in the one-parent family allowance.

The Bill passed the second stage by 25 votes to 14. 

Fianna Fáil Senator Thomas Byrne asked why the Seanad was prepared to sit outside the scheduled days when it was prepared to cut allowances and “shaft people”.

He said if there was legislation to help people, it was not deemed important enough to sit.

David Norris said there was a dearth of wellbeing in the legislation and it was far from “welfare”.

The minister, he said, was not protecting people with this legislation.

Sinn Féin's David Cullinane pointed out that the Labour Party had opposed the Fianna Fáil decision to reduce the age threshold for lone parents from 18 to 14; now it was proposing reducing it to seven.

Wrapping up the debate, Minister John Perry said the policy being introduced on lone parents was more in line with international practice.

The Government, he said, was moving away from a model of long-term passive income support towards one of activation.

Earlier, Fianna Fáil Senator Terry Leyden appealed to Minister Burton to accept amendments from senators.

Mr Leyden said it was not beyond the capabilities of the Dáil to reschedule the Bill and consider amendments from the upper house.

He told the minister that she had the power to remove the controversial aspect of the Bill that withdraws lone-parent allowance once children reach seven years of age.

Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy Eames agreed with the minister that the age limit for the one-parent allowance should be lowered.

However, Ms Healy Eames said it must be done in such a way as to empower the parent and not drive them into poverty.

She said the change must be monitored over time.

Senator Katherine Zappone said the claims by the minister that she hoped to get a ''bankable'' commitment from the Government on a Scandinavian-style childcare model to assist lone parents in getting back to work were not credible.

Ms Zappone pointed out that that ideal had not been achieved during the boom years and that the resources were simply not there in this era of austerity.

Fianna Fáil Senator Averil Power called on the minister to halt the measure reducing the age threshold for the lone-parent allowance and listen to proposals from groups representing lone parents.

Ms Power referred to the childcare measure as a "crazy" commitment that cannot be delivered upon.

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said one-parent groups supported in principle the progressive change to the allowance being proposed.

She accused Ms Power of misrepresenting the reforms being implemented.

Independent Senator Jillian Van Turnhout said the section on lone parents should be reconsidered and should not form part of the legislation, but she believed there was no intention to do this.

She described the measure as ''regressive, counter-productive and detrimental'' to the well-being of lone parents and their children.