Thursday, 25 June 2009
Department of Social and Family Affairs
Social Welfare Benefits
Question 18: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on whether the free broadband for older people as set out in the programme for Government will proceed; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
(Minister, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
The Programme for Government includes a commitment to expand the current free telephone rental scheme by providing for free broadband for older people. The Department is examining how best to implement this commitment. As a first step it has been agreed that where people access the internet using a landline, the telephone allowance can be used to cover the cost of calls or internet usage up to the level of their allowance. In addition if a person wishes to subscribe to a bundled package for telephone and internet, the telephone allowance can be applied to this package.
The telephone allowance is a component of the household benefits package which also includes the electricity/gas allowance and free television license schemes. The package is generally available to people living in the State, aged 66 years or over who are in receipt of a social welfare payment or who satisfy a means test. It is also available to people aged under 66 who are in receipt of certain social welfare disability
payments or carer’s allowance. In 2008, over 370,000 people received the household benefits at a cost of €340 million.
The primary objective of the telephone allowance scheme is to ensure that vulnerable people have access to help in an emergency and to provide an element of security. A secondary objective is to encourage social contact and to assist in the prevention of social isolation for those living alone.
The Department will continue to keep this issue under review and consideration will be given to expanding access for older people to broadband as the opportunity arises.
Question 36: To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps she will take to ensure that ex-miners are compensated for the health problems they have suffered after years of exposure to coal; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
The welfare system makes provision for the needs of people, including people employed as miners, under the Occupational Injuries Benefit scheme. Miners who are unable to work due to an accident arising from their employment may be entitled to occupational injury benefit for the first 26 weeks of their claim. This scheme, operated by the Department, provides entitlement to benefit for people suffering from certain prescribed diseases which are listed in the legislation and where that person has contracted that disease in the course of their employment.
Benefits are payable where a person has contracted one of the diseases listed in the legislation, and they were employed in an occupation which is specifically prescribed in relation to that disease. In addition, benefits may be payable if the claimant can show that the disease was contracted through an employment not specifically prescribed in relation to that disease. If the incapacity extends beyond the 26 week period, claimants may receive illness benefit or invalidity pension, subject to meeting the qualifying conditions for these payments.
Miners may also be entitled to disablement benefit under the occupational injuries scheme. Disablement benefit is a compensation payment specifically for those who suffer a loss of physical or mental faculty as a result of an accident at work or a disease prescribed in legislation that they contracted at work. Medical assessments are undertaken in all such cases to determine the degree of disablement, which is calculated by comparison of the state of health of the applicant with the norm for a person of the same age and gender.
Question 224: To ask the Minister for Education and Science if, in view of the fact that there are nine children with special needs in a school (details supplied) in County Wicklow, he will ensure that the school’s application for a special needs class is granted; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Batt O Keeffe (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
I wish to advise the Deputy that my Department has considered the correspondence submitted by the school in question appealing the decision to suppress a class for pupils with a Mild General Learning Disability. My Department recently advised the school that the decision to suppress the class remains.
I understand that the school has subsequently written to my Department regarding the special class. This correspondence will be considered and a reply will issue to the school as quickly as possible.