Weekly welfare rates should increase by €20 to tackle inflation - SVP

Charity’s pre-Budget submission argues for extension of fuel allowance payments

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The Government should increase social welfare rates by at least €20 a week to address the rising cost of living and inflation, the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) has said in a pre-budget submission.

The charity, which provides assistance to people facing poverty, also called for a €15 increase per week in the fuel allowance payment to help cover rising heating bills.

It is expected the Government will introduce a series of measures to help tackle the rapidly rising cost of living in the budget, which is to be announced in October.

In a pre-budget submission released on Wednesday, SVP called for a weekly increase of €20 in basic social welfare rates, which it said would cost an estimated €676 million.

It argued that the fuel allowance payment be paid for 32 weeks rather than the current 28, given households are facing rising home heating bills.

SVP said the allowance should also be extended to cover households in receipt of the working family payment, stating at present working low-income families got “no support for energy costs”.

The submission calls for more to be done to retrofit the homes of people on lower incomes. It said this should include extending free energy standard upgrades to the homes of tenants in receipt of the housing assistance payment (Hap), which is paid to landlords by the State to support lower income renters.

The document adds the number of local authority homes retrofitted each year should be increased by 10 per cent, which would reduce the cost of heating the properties.

The charity said the Government should put aside a further €450 million to increase the number of new homes planned to be built under its Housing for All strategy by 5,000 a year.

More should be done to avoid renters receiving Hap having to top-up payments made by the State to landlords in order to afford rising rents, the submission stated.

SVP called for more funding to tackle the cost of sending children to school, such as expanding a free schoolbooks pilot scheme on a nationwide basis.

Grants paid to third-level students should be increased by 15 per cent, and the grants should also be made available to part-time students, the document said.

More than 190,000 people sought assistance from the charity last year, from people who could not afford food, education costs, as well as those who were struggling to pay utility bills.

Dr Tricia Keilthy, SVP’s head of social justice, said the State needed to provide a social protection system that was “strong enough to keep people out of poverty while out of work, living with an illness or disability, caring for a loved one, on low pay or in retirement”.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times