Updated: 03/01/17 : 05:47:16
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Varadkar sets out 2017 priorities for Department of Social Protection

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has set out his priorities for 2017 including further reductions in unemployment and helping another 20,000 long-term unemployed back to work, the publication of an Action Plan for the Reform of Pensions, and further measures for the self-employed.

Minister Varadkar said: "In 2016 we were able to bring unemployment down to 7.3% and we exceeded our target to get 20,000 long-term unemployed into work. Other highlights were the successful introduction of Paternity Benefit with more than 3,500 fathers already availing, securing increases across the board in welfare payments for people with disabilities, carers, blind people, widows, one parent families, and jobseekers, as well as pensioners, and paying the Christmas bonus at 85%.

"In the year ahead my focus will be firmly on employment, pension reform, developing the Working Family Payment to reduce child poverty and ensure that no family is better off on welfare than in work, and further develop the New Deal for the Self-Employed.

"I intend to further extend benefits for all PRSI contributors, recalibrate labour activation programmes, further expand the school meals programme, and make further inroads in combating fraud."

Employment
Continue to make substantial progress towards the unemployment target of 5-6% and long term unemployment target of <2.5% and move another 20,000 people from welfare to work in 2017.  Publication of the Action Plan for Jobless Families allowing us to zero in on long-term and intergenerational unemployment.

Action Plan for Pension Reform

Develop, publish and commence the implementation of an Action Plan for the reform of pensions. This Action Plan will include a road map for the reform of the State pension, rationalisation and reform of the Defined Benefit pension landscape, transposition of the IORP2 directive and the introduction of auto-enrolment Defined Contribution pensions for all working people.

Working Family Payment
Develop and consult on options for the introduction of a working family payment with the twin aims of reducing child poverty and ensuring that no family is better off on welfare than in work.  This will enable us to put forward proposals for inclusion in Budget 2018.

New Deal for the Self-Employed

Develop proposals to extend more social insurance cover to the self-employed including a form of jobseekers benefit where a person's business fails or they can no longer continue working in their profession or trade.

Expansion of Social Insurance
Implement the extension of Treatment Benefit to the self-employed, restoration of dental and optical benefits to all eligible PRSI contributors in March and October as provided for in the Social Welfare Act 2016, and examine the extension of social insurance to cover new risks and contingencies.

Recalibrate Labour Activation Programmes

Reform and recalibrate local activation programmes like Community Employment, TÚS and Gateway to reflect the changes in the economy and labour market, and place a greater focus on social inclusion and those who find it hardest to secure and hold down a job.  Develop and launch a new work experience programme to replace JobBridge.

School Meals
Expand free school breakfasts to children in all DEIS schools and 35,000 children in non-DEIS schools from September.  The aim is to make the programme available to all schools that want to take part over time.

Tackle Fraud

Include in the Social Welfare spring or summer bill further reforms to reduce fraud allied to a public campaign against fraud and to encourage more reporting.