Self-employed to get option of paying more PRSI in order to access more benefits
Self-employed workers are to get the option of paying an increased rate of PRSI in order to be able to access the dole and other social welfare benefits.
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar's plan to overhaul the welfare system would see farmers, builders, doctors and other workers pay more in return for more benefits, the Irish Independent can reveal.
A major study of 20,000 self-employed workers is to take place in the coming weeks to see if there is support for the reform ahead of the Budget in October.
Mr Varadkar wants to bring the system more into line with other countries in Europe, which have a more clearly defined link between the amounts paid to the State and the return for the employee.
The vast majority of this country's 325,000 self-employed workers are currently charged Pay-Related Social Insurance (PRSI) at a rate of 4pc - but they only receive very limited benefits when compared to private and public sector employees.
They do get access to a contributory state pension on retirement, but are not entitled to benefits for long-term illness, work-related injures, nor dental and optical treatments or a range of other unemployment benefits and allowances for time as a carer.
The Department of Social Protection survey, to be issued next week, asks people whether they would be willing to pay more PRSI in return for access to greater benefits, or whether they would prefer to maintain the status quo.
Mr Varadkar brought a memo on the issue to Government last month.
He said: "There is plenty of evidence that self-employed people are not dissatisfied with the extent of the benefits that they receive in return for paying PRSI.
"I want to find out what new benefits they would most like to receive, such as long-term illness, injury, jobseekers' and dental-treatment benefits or whether they would prefer to maintain the status quo," he said.
The survey will ask respondents to suggest a figure for how much they would be willing to pay for the full suite of benefits available to private and public sector workers.
The results will be fed into the negotiations for Budget 2017.
The 20,000 self-employed people being surveyed have been selected from a random sample of workers in the areas of agriculture, construction, wholesale and retail, hotels and restaurants, transport, storage and accommodation, financial and other business services, health and education.
Respondents will also be asked whether their business has any form of insurance cover for health issues, unemployment or time spent as a carer.
Fine Gael Senator Ray Butler, who recently presented a Private Members' Motion, welcomed the initiative.
He said: "I know that there is no one perfect fit when it comes to social protection and the self-employed, but we are the only country in industrialised Europe that doesn't have protection for these business people."
The chief statistician in the Statistics and Business Intelligence Unit of the Department of Social Protection is overseeing the survey, which needs to be returned by August 31.