Hanafin accused of 'kicking the unemployed when they are down'


MINISTER FOR Social and Family Affairs was accused of "kicking the unemployed when they are down" in proposals in the Social Welfare Bill, introduced in the Dáil by Mary Hanafin.

The Bill will implement improvements worth €515 million announced in the Budget, Ms Hanafin said. But an Opposition attempt to prevent the Bill going forward because of "savage cuts" was defeated by 68 votes to 60.

Labour spokeswoman Róisín Shortall objected to it because "it provides for savage cuts on the most vulnerable people in our society, and it deliberately targets the poor, the unemployed, children and people with disabilities".

Fine Gael spokeswoman Olwyn Enright also objected because of the cuts and the Minister's intention "to bring in amendments on Committee Stage two days after the Bill's publication", to abolish the Combat Poverty Agency.

The Bill also provides for the the MABS budgeting advice service to be a "separate and distinct service" within the Citizens Information Board.

Ms Shortall accused the Minister of "kicking the unemployed when they are down. They expect to look to her for assistance to help them cope with the traumatic circumstances in which they find themselves as they try to provide for their families at a difficult stage in their lives but she is kicking them when they are down, which is reprehensible on her part.

"One can contrast that treatment with the Government's treatment of the banks in recent weeks. The Government parties been generous by stepping in to provide them with a safety net at huge expense to taxpayers, yet all they can do is show the cold shoulder to those who find themselves unemployed and target them with cutbacks," she said.

"In very difficult economic circumstances this package will bring total expenditure on social welfare in 2009 to €19.6 billion, which is an increase of €2.6 billion or 15.5 per cent over the Estimates allocation for 2008," the Minister said.

The Bill also doubles the number of weekly contributions from 52 to 104 required for jobseekers benefit, illness benefit and safety benefit. The Minister said it was a "disincentive to employment" for some people who previously worked part-time to receive a higher rate of payment from such schemes than what they were actually earning while at work, so earning thresholds would be increased.

But Ms Enright said it was disingenuous of the Minister to pretend her changes were ending a dependency culture. "They are far more to do with making cuts which will alter the lives of many very vulnerable people." She added that "the Government has tried to make a virtue of taking tough decisions and sought the patriotic support of the public to do this. The reality is that it has made harsh decisions which will not solve the economic problems and will hurt those least able to cope with them."