How officials justified welfare cuts in the budget

Advisers argued that some cuts were overly generous

One of the welfare cuts which was among the most controversial was the axing of the bereavement grant, a €850 PRSI-based payment aimed at subsiding funeral costs.

One of the welfare cuts which was among the most controversial was the axing of the bereavement grant, a €850 PRSI-based payment aimed at subsiding funeral costs.

Mon, Feb 3, 2014, 01:00

The cuts dug deep for many in the end – but they were nowhere near as bad as they might have been.

When negotiations on Budget 2014 began, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton was initially requested to make expenditure reductions of €440 million.

Across-the-board cuts to social welfare rates or steep reductions in child benefit payments were privately flagged by Burton’s officials in light of the scale of savings being sought.

In the end, the expenditure reduction sought of her department was just over half the initial amount.

Yet again, she had won out in the elaborate game of political poker that surrounds budget negotiations. But this was of little consolation to those hit hardest as a result of welfare spending cuts – the young, the old and mothers-to-be.

Internal documents prepared by her officials reveal how these cuts were justified by her officials and ultimately signed off by Government.

In some cases, benefits were regarded as very generous by comparison with other EU payments, or unnecessary in light of other forms of social supports.

One of the welfare cuts which was among the most controversial was the axing of the bereavement grant, a €850 PRSI-based payment aimed at subsiding funeral costs.

It was justified largely on the basis of public ignorance over the payment and claims that some undertakers were factoring the grant into their overall bills.

“While the grant was useful at the time of bereavement, there is limited public awareness of it otherwise,” an internal briefing note reads.

“As with any subsidy/grant, the bereavement grant may have influenced a higher price. Undertakers are very much aware of the grant and advise families of it. Individual undertakers have also written to the department requesting that the grant be paid direct to undertakers, rather than to families; the department has rejected such suggestions.”

More vulnerable families unable to pay for a funeral would still be able to apply for an exceptional needs payment from the Department of Social Protection.

In the end, the grant – which would have benefitted about 20,000 people this year – was axed entirely with savings of €17 million this year.

Cuts to the maternity benefit also proved highly unpopular.

This measure, a reduction of €32 per week, combined with the taxation of the maternity benefit – introduced in the previous budget – meant the income for many mothers of newborns has fallen from almost €7,000 to just over €3,500.

The justification for these cuts was largely on the basis Ireland has “one of the highest birth rates in Europe and high participation by women in the labour force”.

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