Young and old end up paying the price for maintaining core welfare rates
Jobless young people seen as a ‘soft target’
For those aged 25 or under, the message increasingly seems to be that this is no country for young people. For those aged 25 or under, the message increasingly seems to be that this is no country for young people.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan had promised people would be astounded with all the good news he would announce on Budget Day.
Try telling that to young people, mothers and pensioners. All have been hit with a range of cuts in entitlements, allowances and benefits.
Core welfare payments
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton was keen to highlight the fact that core weekly welfare payments and child benefit have been protected. But the devil is in the detail.
For those aged 25 or under, the message increasingly seems to be that this is no country for young people.
For young jobseekers, a lower €100 dole rate will be extended to new entrants aged under 25 from next January. The rate previously applied only to those age under 22. In addition, those aged 25 will get a reduced rate of €144. Only those aged 26 and upwards will get the full rate of €188.
The idea behind the move – to direct savings into training, education and job creation – makes sense.
But organisations on the ground say funding available for a “youth guarantee” scheme – at just €14 million – and other training schemes will not go near meeting the real need.
“Young people are seen as a soft target, and these proposals threaten to hit hard those most in need of support,” said Mary Cunningham, director of the National Youth Council of Ireland.
“Due to cuts and lack of investment, there are not sufficient education and training places to meet the needs of young jobseekers. Young people can’t take up training and education opportunities if they don’t exist.”
The fact that young people tend not to be organised and have few strong advocates or lobby groups has always meant they are unlikely to protest.
Older people, however, are another prospect. After years of being politically untouchable, pensioners have been hit with a number of significant welfare spending cuts.
The telephone allowance is being axed, the bereavement grant scrapped, and up to 35,000 older people will lose their full medical cards. In addition, prescription charges and higher taxes on savings will take their toll.
The Government, in the process, risks a revolt from the so-called grey army. Alone, one of many support groups which criticised the move, said the cuts would end up “undermining the dignity of older people”.
Protecting young people
Other budget cuts seem to flatly contradict public policy measures about protecting young people. For example, the Government has made much of investing in children, providing free preschool and protecting child benefit payments.
Yet, cuts to maternity benefit will result in significant reductions in the weekly income of some 23,000 mothers of up to €32 per week.
Ms Burton’s explanation was that the duration of our maternity benefits compare well when set against child-friendly jurisdictions such as France. But they still lag well behind many EU countries.
To the Minister’s credit, she has maintained weekly welfare payments, child benefit and a range of supplementary benefits.
Given that she had faced cuts of up to €440 million at one stage, it is quite an achievement.