€65m cuts to social welfare criticised

 

CUTS TO fuel, electricity and phone allowances for social welfare recipients, amounting to €65 million annually, will have a major detrimental effect on vulnerable older people, charities representing the poor and elderly have said.

The Government yesterday approved cuts in fuel allowance and household benefits schemes affecting more than 630,000 people in receipt of social welfare in a move it says will bring about annual savings of €65 million.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said that while the Government wished to protect basic social welfare payments, “regrettably there is an ongoing necessity to achieve savings due to our commitments with the IMF/EU/ECB troika”.

Allowances will return to 2007 levels, meaning those in receipt of these contributions will receive €8 less towards electricity a month and €8 less towards their monthly gas allowance. Those in receipt of a smokeless fuel allowance will have the extra €3.90 weekly allowance they receive abolished.

The telephone allowance will be reduced to €22.22 a month except in the case of Eircom customers – the Government has negotiated a total saving of €26.86 off their bills each month.

Both St Vincent de Paul and Age Action said the cuts will cause major problems for those in receipt of long-term social welfare payments, many of whom are vulnerable elderly people.

“This will contribute to increasing fuel poverty,” John Mark McCafferty, head of social justice and policy with St Vincent de Paul said. “There will be more people having to make the decision between whether to heat or whether to eat.”

Spokesman for Age Action Eamon Timmins said the agency was particularly concerned at the reduction in gas and electricity units announced in the same week that Bord Gáis said it is set to increase electricity prices by more than 10 per cent and will apply for a gas price rise of more than 20 per cent.

“Each winter in Ireland we have up to 2,000 excess winter deaths, many of whom are older people dying of cold-related illnesses.

“While we have waited years for the publication of the Government’s fuel poverty strategy, we are left to contemplate even greater hardship this coming winter.” The contribution provided annually under electricity allowances is to be reduced from 2,400 to 1,800 units from September 1st.

The department said it will continue to provide for vulnerable people with special or additional heating needs through the heating supplement and exceptional needs payment scheme under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance plan, something St Vincent de Paul suggests those in need apply for.