Welfare cuts back on table despite election promises
SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton prepared the ground for a U-turn on social welfare rates last night by declaring that "everything must be reviewed".
There is a pledge in the Programme for Government that social welfare payments such as child benefit, old age pensions and jobseeker's allowance will be maintained.
But in the Dail yesterday, Ms Burton refused to give an assurance that social welfare rates would remain untouched in the forthcoming Budget.
"The appropriate level of overall expenditure by my department will be considered in the context of Budget 2012 and subsequent budgets," she said.
Last week, Finance Minister Michael Noonan was accused of making a U-turn by the Opposition after he declared that he could not rule out any tax hikes in December's Budget.
That was despite another pledge in the Programme for Government not to increase income tax rates or bands.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore are due to launch a progress report on the first 100 days of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition in government buildings today.
Ms Burton told the Dail yesterday that the social welfare budget would be examined in detail as part of the spending review under way in all government departments.
She said any changes to the "levels of welfare payments" would be considered alongside all the options identified by the report when it was finished in September.
"We want to ensure that money is spent in a way that is targeted and effective but that also provides options and opportunities that ensure people become active and activated," she said.
Fianna Fail social protection spokesman Barry Cowen was unable to get Ms Burton to give a definitive pledge to maintain social welfare rates yesterday.
"I worry when I hear the minister say 'in the context of the Budget', 'the most effective programmes', and so forth, because that may mean she is beginning to make choices in regard to rates," he said.
The Department of Social Protection said that Ms Burton was stating the Government's position that no decisions on any issues would be made until budget time.