A new paid parental leave scheme, proving two weeks’ paid leave per parent in the first year of a child’s life, is among the surprises in Budget 2019’s social welfare package.
This will become available from November next year, to be increased to four weeks’ leave per parent in 2020, and to seven weeks each in 2021. It will equal the payment of maternity and paternity benefit – currently €245 a week – and employers will be legally obliged to allow employees take it.
Minister for Employment and Social Protection Regina Doherty said the new scheme would be restricted to the first year of a chid's life, as this was both the most beneficial time for the child to have a parent's full-time care, and because childcare was more expensive for babies.
Other welcome, and perhaps unexpected, measures are an increase in the daily expenses allowance – formerly known as the direct provision allowance – for asylum seekers, to €38.30 a week for adults and €29.80 for children; and a new “hot school meals” scheme to be piloted in some of the poorest schools.
The headline measures were widely anticipated – a €5 increase in all weekly welfare payments, including for young job seekers – and the full restoration of the Christmas bonus.All weekly welfare increases will take effect in March 2019.
The package has been broadly welcomed by civil society as a “step in the right direction” though several NGOs expressed disappointment that the payments differ according to age. From March, jobseekers aged 18 to 24 will get €112.70 and those aged 25 will get €157.80, while all others will get €203 a week.
Ms Doherty has said since her appointment that child poverty would be her overriding focus.
To this end, the monthly universal child benefit is not increasing, with the focus squarely on children in most need.
The qualified child increase – an allowance paid per child to parents dependent on social welfare – is going up by €2.20 to €34 per week for children up to age 11, and by €5.20 a week to €37 for children aged 12 to 18.
Both back-to-school clothing and footwear allowances are going up €25, bringing the annual payment, which is made during the summer, to €150 for children aged four to 11, and €275 for those aged 12 to 22.
Honing in on children in one-parent families – of whom some 21 per cent are in consistent poverty compared with 6 per cent of families with two parents – Ms Doherty said yesterday she was pleased she had now fully “undone” the cuts to lone parent welfare payments initiated in 2012.
The earnings’ disregard for lone parents in receipt of the one-parent family payment and the job-seekers’ transitional payment is increasing by €20 a week. This will mean such parents will be able to earn €150 per week and their welfare payment will not be affected.
A further measure, aimed at lone-parents in receipt of maintenance from a former partner, will see the Department disregard €95 a week of maintenance to be put towards housing costs, when calculating their means for the working family payment.
The national minimum wage is increasing from €9.55 and hour to €9.80.
The self-employed and are to be eligible for job-seekers’ benefit from October 2019.
Fuel allowance, of €22.50 a week, is to be extended for an extra week, to 28 weeks from October to April.