Burton says job creation must be budget priority
Gilmore again insists budget adjustment of €3.1 billion is not necessary
Joan Burton and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore at the annual Labour think-in. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has said that next month’s budget must keep the trajectory of employment growth going and do nothing to harm the State’s economic recovery.
Speaking at the Labour think-in yesterday in Co Meath, Ms Burton said the number on the live register was down by 20,000 since last year, and further falls in unemployment would make it easier for her department, which may have to find savings of €440 million next year, to live within its means.
“The budget adjustment should be one that actually keeps the trajectory of employment growth going, does nothing to harm our recovery and actually assists that recovery, while at the same time maintaining our core standards in relation to social welfare, such as the standard weekly payments.”
Labour Ministers including Ms Burton, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin held a private briefing for party members on the budget at the think-in yesterday morning.
Afterwards Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore again insisted a budget adjustment of €3.1 billion was not necessary and Labour’s “purpose in Government” is to ensure whatever savings are sought are “done fairly”.
“Budgetary adjustment does involve very difficult decisions and what we are endeavouring is to ensure those are made fairly, and that we take into account the impact they have on households, communities and people.
“That has occupied a very large part of the discussions we have had here over these two days with colleagues about the choices and options available and how we should achieve what we have to achieve in the fairest way possible.”
Ms Burton yesterday made a presentation to her party in which she argued she had “implemented an unprecedented programme of policy reform and organisational change”.
The presentation said “major activation” reforms had been introduced to help people back to work and jobseekers who were refusing to engage with the State’s employment services were being punished.
Some 1,500 jobseekers have seen their payments docked by up to €44 per week for refusing training offers or failing to attend meetings, and those who refused to engage could now see their payment suspended for up to nine weeks.
“The message just has to go out that social welfare is a contract,” Ms Burton said. “Your fellow citizens support you, Irish society through the department supports you, but that’s coming from all the taxpayers in the country, and in return we want your positive co-operation to get back to work.”