Core welfare protected but cuts will hurt young and old

Analysis: Little ‘good news’ for jobless young people, new mothers and pensioners

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton is keen to highlight that core weekly welfare payments and child benefit will be protected next year.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton is keen to highlight that core weekly welfare payments and child benefit will be protected next year.

 

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan had promised that people would be “astounded” with all the good news he would announce.

Try telling that to young people, new mothers and pensioners.

All have been hit with a range of cuts in entitlements, allowances and benefits.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton is keen to highlight that core weekly welfare payments and child benefit will be protected next year.

But the devil is, quite truly, 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 jobseekers’ rate of €188.

On one level, the idea behind the move - to encourage people into training or education - makes sense.

But funding available for a “youth guarantee” scheme - at just €14 million - and other training schemes will not go anywhere near meeting the real need out there.

Young people have over recent budgets taken a disproportionate hit as a result of austerity measures .

As a result, emigration, for many, will be an ever more appealing prospect.

The fact that young people have few strong advocates or lobby groups means they are unlikely to mobilise in 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 fewer over-70s will be entitled to a medical card. In addition, prescription charges and taxes on savings will take their toll.

The Government, in the process, risks a revolt from the so-called grey army.

Joan Burton’s department is, in total, making €226 million of expenditure reductions in the budget.

This is significantly less than the €440 million originally requested of it.

The Minister for Social Protection maintains that millions in savings will be made through enhanced fraud and control measures in 2014, while large sums will be saved through increased efficiencies and lower-than-expected demand on some schemes.

To her credit, this leeway has been used to ensure that supplementary benefits which many vulnerable people depend on - including fuel allowance, free travel, free TV licence and the respite care grant - will be protected.

But, as Albert Reynolds once said, it’s the small things that trip you up.

In this case, it’s mean-spirited cuts to older people’s entitlements - such as bereavement grants and narrower grounds for medical card entitlement - that have the greatest potential for trouble down the line.

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