Thursday 21 September 2017

Austerity cuts 'hitting pensioners'

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said budget cuts 'must be balanced against the primary redistributive role of the social protection system'
Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said budget cuts 'must be balanced against the primary redistributive role of the social protection system'

Cuts to income and services have left pensioners at breaking point, it is claimed.

Age Action warned the Government that the cumulative impact of multiple austerity budgets was having a severely damaging effect on the most vulnerable of older people.

Think tank Social Justice Ireland also called for the poorest pensioners to be given a rise in payments of five euro a week.

The groups were among 30 organisations presenting pre-budget submissions to Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, who has vowed to try to protect core social welfare rates.

Eamon Timmins, of Age Action, said: "The feedback we received during our national consultation process in March was shocking, with older people telling us how 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 wants the most vulnerable protected in October's budget and called for 32 recommendations to be considered including a reversal of the cuts to the household benefits package, a property tax exemption for households with an income of under 12,000 euro per annum, and the ring-fencing of all carbon tax revenue to address Ireland's fuel poverty situation.

Ms Burton said she wants to protect core social welfare rates despite her department's 20.24 billion budget facing a cut of up to 500 million euro and a rise in people on benefits. But she stressed that no decisions had been made in relation to measures for Budget 2014.

"The spend of my department puts money in the tills of almost every business and shop in the state in a very immediate way as our customers spend their benefits and pensions each week, thereby maintaining domestic employment and economic activity," she said. "The necessity to reduce overall Government current expenditure must be balanced against the primary redistributive role of the social protection system. It is my firm belief 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."

Active Retirement Ireland called on the minister to rule out any cuts to the state pension and free travel scheme. Chief executive Maureen Kavanagh claimed some transport operators in rural areas are not accepting pensioners' passes. "The state pension has remained unchanged at 2008 levels, while the free travel scheme is already being eroded for many rural older people, with some operators refusing to accept travel passes on many routes," she said.

The Irish Senior Citizens' Parliament called on the minister to use the budget to bring a message of hope and confidence. "State pension rates and their value to older people must be maintained," a spokeswoman said. "Older people no longer have any fallbacks - all nest eggs are gone." The group called for an increase of eight euros for older people living alone.

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