Teeth cleaning and glasses repair ‘most popular welfare benefits’

‘Absolutely deadly’ that 450,000 self-employed have access, Doherty says

Teeth cleaning and glasses repair: more than 330,000 claims have been processed and paid in the three months from November to January, a fourfold increase over a year earlier. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

Teeth cleaning and glasses repair: more than 330,000 claims have been processed and paid in the three months from November to January, a fourfold increase over a year earlier. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

 

Teeth cleaning and glasses repair have become particularly popular social-welfare benefits since their introduction at the end of October, Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has said.

She described as “absolutely deadly” the addition of 450,000 self-employed people and their spouses to the free dental- and optical-treatment schemes.

More than 330,000 claims had been processed and paid in the three months from November to January, a fourfold increase on the same period a year earlier, she said.

Ms Doherty told her Fine Gael colleague Peter Fitzpatrick TD that free dental and eye examinations, as well as a contribution towards hearing aids, were extended to self-employed people from March 27th last year. Additional optical and dental treatments were added at the end of October.

Mr Fitzpatrick said the self-employed should be entitled to similar, if not the same, benefits as full-time employees. “It is a brave person who gets up in the morning, goes to the bank, gets a loan and starts his or her own business. These people must be looked after.”

He had asked how many self-employed had availed of the schemes. Ms Doherty said the department did not ask service users if they were self-employed, “but the increase in claim numbers around the period of extending these benefits is a good indicator of the interest in them from the self-employed community and their spouses”.

She added that a working group in her department was preparing a report that would be ready shortly on extending the jobseeker’s allowance and jobseeker’s benefit to the self-employed. Such a move “is very much dependent on the growth in the economy”.

Ms Doherty added: “The economy is in a good place at the moment, and if those trajectories keep going in the right direction, I anticipate that we will be able to do it within the lifetime of this Government, assuming that we have a full term.”