Burton defends welfare changes during Bill debate
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton defended the Social Welfare Bill as it was debated in the Dail tonight.
Ms Burton said she understood the disquiet felt by those protected. However a large number of social welfare payments had been preserved, she said.
Respite payments for carers were still ahead of 2006 levels while child benefit payments were higher than the UK, she said.
Sinn Féin social protection spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh urged Labour Party backbenchers to examine their consciences, see if they had any “backbone” left and vote against the Budget.
It was not too late to reverse the cut to the respite grant, Fianna Fáil spokesman on social protection Willie O’Dea said.
“The Government is fully aware how deeply unfair this cut is,” said Mr O’Dea.
“The various excuses offered by Government ministers over the last few days for cutting the grant are wholly unacceptable,” he said in a statement.
Earlier today around 200 people protested outside the Dáil to demand the cut to the carer's respite grant be reversed.
The grant was reduced by €325 per annum in last week's Budget.
The protest came ahead of tonight's Dáil debate on the Social Welfare Bill and key votes on the Budget tomorrow.
The Bill will give effect to cuts such as those in child benefit and respite care.
Among the TDs in attendance at the protest today were Willie O'Dea, Maureen O'Sullivan, Richard Boyd Barrett, Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, Joan Collins and Aengus Ó Snodaigh.
Earlier, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar ruled out any rowback on the decision to cut the carer’s respite grant.
Speaking on RTÉ radio this morning, Mr Varadkar said the alternative to cutting the grant was across the board cuts to social welfare and increases in income tax.
"We’ve one more tough budget to go...
I don’t see any point in tweaking something one year and impose it next year. The alternative is across the board cuts to sodial welfare and increases in income taxes. Cutting dole, cutting pension, increasing taxes," he said.
Mr Varadkar insisted no Budget decisions “were made easily”
"It’s extremely difficult. There are a lot of hard cases, that’s why it’s so hard. It’s not an easy decision to make. I know people think politicians live in a bubble but that’s not the case. 2000 people in my constituency will be affected. [These decisions are] made with a heavy heart."
"The Government does acknowledge the very important role that carers play. They work really hard for their benefits and they deserve the benefits that they get. And that’s why we have protected a huge amount of what they receive - the carer’s benefit, carers allowance, half carers payment and the DCA is protected too," he said.
"[However] We did have to make some savings in this area. There’s about €800 million that goes in supports to carers every year and the welfare bill is nearly 40 per cent of spending so we did have to make some savings. Payments are still as high as they were in 2007, the height of the boom, and since then incomes are back to where they were in 2003 and taxes are back to where they were in 2001."