Pensioners escape social welfare cuts
OLDER people have escaped Budget cuts with no changes to their social welfare payments and other benefits such as free travel.
Around 490,000 pensioners will benefit from the decision to ringfence their payments while all others are slashed.
The 'silver voters' shook the Government severely two years ago when they mobilised their numbers to force a climbdown on plans to take away their medical cards.
The Government also announced yesterday they would pay an extra €40 to those in receipt of fuel allowance in view of the harsh weather conditions experienced in recent weeks.
The state pension, widow's pension, invalidity pension, transitional payment and carer's allowance for those aged 66 and over all escaped the Budgetary axe.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said the state pension had been significantly increased over the last 10 years.
And he added: "It is the Government's view that the security this brought to older people should be preserved".
A raft of additional benefits including free travel, free TV license, telephone and electricity/gas allowance have also been preserved at current levels, although administrative charges for passports will be introduced.
Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuiv said that they hoped to get savings by negotiating with suppliers of these fuel and other services, and were ringfencing payments to RTE and CIE for these free schemes at current levels even as the number of pensioners increased.
He said extra payments of €40 to those in receipt of fuel allowance would also be processed in the next few weeks and paid out in early January. The total cost of this is €14m.
Mr O Cuiv said payments were being kept at these levels because many older people were solely dependent on the state pension, though wealthier pensioners would be asked to contribute more through changes to the taxation system.
Age Action Ireland welcomed the decision not to cut the state pension, as they said one in 10 older people were at risk of poverty and many more hovered around the poverty line.
They also welcomed the extra €40 towards fuel costs but said it did not come close to compensating for the impact of the carbon tax.
Older & Bolder said the fact the state pension escaped a direct cut was a tribute to the 40,000 people who had signed their petition to defend it.