Ministers defend budget cut to annual respite care grant


Senior Ministers have defended the decision to cut the respite care grant in Budget 2013 and said the decision will not be reversed.

The €325 cut in the €1,700 annual grant for respite care has emerged as one of the more politically controversial elements of the Budget and has led to a protest by carers outside Leinster House this afternoon.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said today the Budget was about “getting people back to work and about getting the economy back on its feet”.

She said the social welfare budget was under pressure but a decision had been made to maintain the core weekly payment rates to the disabled, pensioners, carers and the unemployed.

Ms Burton told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland the rate would now go back to 2006 levels. “I would like to be able to pay more but the fact is the Government must get the finances of the country and the economy of the country right,” she said.

The high number of unemployed people receiving welfare payments since the crash has put significant pressure on the social welfare budget, she said, adding that she had to go to the social protection committee on the morning of the Budget to get an extra €600 million for this year. “Next year we will spend more than €20 billion even after the reductions in expenditure.”

She added that Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin should achieve “very significant savings” when he looks at the areas of increments and allowances in the public service.

The most important tax structure reform is the decision to discontinue the “very generous” tax break arrangements to pensions for very high earners, she said.

Speaking at a jobs announcement in Bray, Co Wicklow by the US multi-national Nypro this morning, Richard Bruton said today the Budget had been decided by Government and “it is not going to be changed”.

When asked how he could justify cuts to respite care as fair, Mr Bruton responded: “We would prefer not to be making cuts in any areas. You could say that of any cut of any new tax that we are developing. There will always be challenges to it, but the truth is that we have to deliver a budget with difficult decisions across the board.

“At the core of our strategy we have to rebuild our economy and see strong enterprises and job growth. That is going to sort our public finances problem.”

When questioned by reporters as to whether or not the Labour Party will support the cut when it comes to the Social Welfare bill, he replied: “Absolutely, we have two parties that are determined to deal with the extraordinary economic mess that we have inherited."

Minister of State for Primary Care Alex White said he does not expect “there to be any changes in the Budget” and added that the cut in the respite allowance was “terribly regrettable”.

“It’s just not actually possible or conceivable that you could make the kind of adjustments that we have to make without affecting social protection , or without effecting health or education,” Mr White told reporters today.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the decisions taken in the Budget were in the long-term interests of Ireland.

Mr Kenny said “hard-pressed, middle-income earners” will never be able to get out of their difficulties unless opportunities are provided. “When we get over these current difficulties, there is higher ground and better days ahead.”

Mr Kenny and other Ministers have ruled out any row-back on the budget in the light of growing unease among backbench TDs in both Government parties about some of its harsher measures, including cuts in the respite care grant.

The new property tax, the €5 a week increase in PRSI and particularly the cuts in child benefit were also being viewed as potentially difficult issues.

Mr Kenny, while accepting that many of the budget changes made to achieve a €3.5 billion adjustment were “unpalatable”, nevertheless insisted yesterday that all of measures would be implemented.

After meeting US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in Government Buildings, Mr Kenny said: “The budget yesterday was and will be the toughest of this administration’s lifetime. None of the choices were easy; all of them were unpalatable.”

Asked if he would reverse any of the harsher measures, including the cuts to respite care, he responded: “The budget’s gone through yesterday. It is the intention of the Government to carry through the budget as put through the Dáil yesterday.”

Mr Gilmore also set himself against any U-turn. Asked about criticisms that the cut in respite grants was unfair, he said: “I think all of the cuts are very difficult.”

A small number of Labour Party TDs, including party chairman Colm Keaveney, have indicated their support may be conditional on changes in the Social Welfare Bill, which will come before the Dáil next week, to give effect to welfare cuts.

Clare TD Michael McNamara has also expressed misgivings. Two Dublin Labour TDs, Michael Conaghan and Eamon Maloney, attended meetings with senior officials of the Department of Social Protection yesterday to outline their concerns about cuts in child benefit and they will hold further meetings today.

Respite care was described by a number of TDs from both Government parties as having the potential to have the same impact as the cuts for disadvantaged schools and small schools in last year’s budget.

The Disability Federation of Ireland said the Budget had hit disabled people and their families particularly hard.

Chief executive John Dolan said the respite care grant cut, along with a tripling in prescription charges for medical card holders and reductions in the household benefit package, left them more vulnerable.

“People with disabilities expect to be able to pursue ordinary lives like everyone else, but the cumulative cutbacks on income and service supports over the last five years have instead severely curtailed their lives,” Mr Dolan said.

Additional reporting: PA

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