Welfare payments should be set at a level that lifts people above the poverty line to allow them to “live with dignity”, the Oireachtas Social Protection Committee has heard.
Issy Petrie, research and policy officer at the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SVP), said income adequacy for those in receipt of welfare must be targeted in Budget 2022, and fully achieved by 2025.
Social welfare that meets only very basic needs can contribute to locking people in a cycle of poverty without the adequate means to access opportunities or participate fully in society, Ms Petrie told the committee.
“Adequate social welfare helps people reconnect to the world of work and allows people to live in dignity,” she said, adding that recent budgets have not seen increases to “core” social welfare rates.
Payments should be benchmarked against the minimum standard-of-living costs as set by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, to which SVP contributes, she said.
The pandemic unemployment payment (PUP) and the work of the Department of Social Protection during the coronavirus crisis shows that a strong social security system is a “vital safety net and a public service we should be proud of”, Ms Petrie said.
Lone parents continue to be the people most at risk of falling below the poverty line, according to research by the society, and the social protection system must be “responsive” to the needs of lone parent families, Ms Petrie said. The society is also recommending that the job seekers transitional payment, which is currently aimed at lone parents of children up to 14 years, be extended until the youngest child turns 18.
Energy poverty is also an issue, with people facing high utility bills over the last year and 15 per cent of people unable to keep their homes warm, Ms Petrie said.The fuel allowance should be extended to people on working family payment and those on the jobseeker’s payment for less than a year.
Meanwhile, the cost of transport is also a “significant barrier” for rural households and a local rural transport system must be accessible and affordable for people across Ireland, she said.
There is a “significant mismatch” between the cost of living in Ireland today and the incomes of the least well off, Ms Petrie said. Prior to the public health crisis, over 400,000 adults and 200,000 children were living below the poverty line, with the pandemic having a more severe financial impact on those already on low incomes, she added.
Meanwhile, Catherine Cox from Family Carers Ireland called for Budget 2022 to facilitate a “core basket of services” for family carers regardless of their location. This would include respite, intensive one-to-one support for carers in crisis, training for family caregivers and targets to support networks in the local community.
There are more than 500,000 family carers across Ireland who save the State €20 billion each year. Family carers feel they have been “largely ignored and overlooked” during the pandemic, Ms Cox said. The “blanket withdrawal” of supports during the pandemic has contributed to many carers becoming “mentally and physically drained”.
“Not only are they caring without practical supports, they are also struggling financially and are seriously worried about what the future holds,” she said. That family carers were not prioritised for vaccinations was “probably the biggest upset”, she added.
The organisation is also calling for the introduction of a “lifetime carers pension”, which would be geared towards people who have been carers for more than 20 years.
“Rather than penalise this group of carers, we directly fund them,” Ms Cox added.