All eyes on Labour backbenchers ahead of Social Welfare Bill vote
All eyes will be on Labour Party backbenchers in the Dáil today during critical votes on the controversial Social Welfare Bill, which is expected to complete all stages by 2pm.
The second or introductory stage was won by the Government late last night with a comfortable margin of 87 to 52 votes.
Just three hours remain today to debate a wide range of amendments on the committee stage of the controversial Bill, which gives effect to the most commented-on cut of €352 in the carer’s respite grant. It also gives effect to the cut in child benefit and the abolition of the PRSI allowance.
The Opposition has said it will force TDs to vote separately on each individual measure in the Bill, and while no Fine Gael backbenchers are expected to break ranks, there is still speculation about defections in Labour because of its pre-election pledges on social welfare.
Last night three votes were called at the end of the second stage, each of which the Government won, before the committee stage debate of the Bill commenced.
Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh noted the Minister for Social Protection’s intention to include an amendment that would mean Sunday, the traditional “day of rest”, would be included for assessment for jobseeker’s allowance.
The Opposition also questioned elements of the Bill including a provision whereby the department can increase up to €28 a week the amount of money it takes back weekly from people guilty of fraud or who have received overpayments.
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said the department was owed up to €300 million from recipients. She said even if half of it was paid back over a three to five-year period it would mean the pressure in relation to other areas of the social welfare would be eased. Ms Burton said she wanted to send out a message that if people owed money to the social welfare system, whether through overpayment or fraud, “they do have to pay it”.
She highlighted provisions in the Bill including opportunities for 20,000 unemployed people and 6,000 additional afterschool childcare places.
However, United Left Alliance TD Joan Collins highlighted the Minister’s pledge after controversy in last year’s budget not to implement the reduced age limit for the lone-parent payment until Ireland had a Scandinavian-style childcare system in place.
Ms Collins said last night while the delay in implementation of the staged age cut from 12 to seven was welcome, she said 6,000 childcare places for after-school care in the primary system “is not a Scandinavian-style childcare system”.