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Burton attempts to alleviate fears over Budget

Austerity budgets harming older people, says support group

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton speaking to reporters at this morning’s Pre-Budget Forum for Voluntary and Community Groups in Dublin Castle. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

CONOR POPE and JASON KENNEDY

The Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has denied that widespread social welfare cuts will inevitably form a major part of October’s budget as the Government seeks to reduce her department’s spending by over €400m.

Speaking on the way into a pre-Budget forum in Dublin Castle which was attend by more than 30 voluntary and community groups she said ministerial negotiations had yet to begin but she expressed the hope the core services would be protected as savings were made through improved efficiency in the Department and a concerted campaign aimed at tackling social welfare fraud.

She pointed out that the €20.24 billion which was channelled through her department was ultimately spent by social welfare recipients in their local communities and was key to economic recovery and she claimed her department was more focussed on creating employment than making cuts.

The pre-Budget forum was arranged by the Department of Social Protection to allow the voluntary and community sector air their views on the budget process

“The necessity to reduce overall Government current expenditure must be balanced against the primary redistributive role of the social protection system,” she said adding that the “options chosen to reduce overall expenditure can only be considered having regard to potential poverty impacts and the effect on demand in the wider economy.”

At the forum, Focus Ireland called for a new Housing Assistance Payment Scheme to be fast-tracked to help prevent a growing homeless crisis from developing. Speaking at today’s Its director of Advocacy Mike Allen said that over the last year there had been an increase from “eight to approximately 16 families a month becoming homeless in Dublin during which is highly worrying.”

He said that the number of people who are homeless or at risk of losing their home seeking support from the charity has increased by nearly 25 per cent over two years and he warned that more people are now at risk due to the continued impact of the recession and additional factors including a feared increase in the number of family homes being repossessed due to the new Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears.

Age Action spokesman Eamon Timmins warned that that many older people were at “ breaking point” due to cuts in income supports and key services and rising costs from multiple austerity budgets. He said older people had been telling the charity “they were going to bed in the early evening to stay warm, using hot water bottles to stay warm rather than turning on their heating, or seriously considering the option of getting rid of their pet cat because they could no longer afford to feed it,” he said.

In response Ms Burton said that the level of State support offered to older people in the Republic was substantially higher than the EU average with lower numbers living in poverty here than in other countries in the EU.