| 12.4°C Dublin

Gilmore defends cuts to disability payments

TANAISTE Minister Eamon Gilmore has insisted that young disabled people will still have access to the same services despite massive cuts to their allowance.

Disability payments have been slashed from €188 to €100 for 18-21-year-olds and from €188 to €144 for 22 to 24-year-olds.

But the Tanaiste said the intention was to standardise levels of social welfare payments across the board, bringing them in line with jobseeker's allowance.

"All the services that are available to people with disabilities, there are no cuts in these services," Mr Gilmore said.

"There are reforms in which payments are being made."

He insisted that he believed any spending cuts announced yesterday were made in the fairest possible way.

These cuts also included a complete cut in disability payments to 16 and 17-year-olds; also a payment which covers domiciliary care in the family home has been extended.

"Any reduction in payment or any cut is difficult," Mr Gilmore said.

"It's not something any of us want to be doing. These are changes that have to be made."

The Tanaiste said he was aware the Budget would impact individuals and families.

"None of us want to be doing that," he told RTE Radio.

"That's not something I want to be doing, that's not something Brendan Howlin wants to be doing.

"The reality of where we are in terms of our finances means we do have to reduce public expenditure and we have to do that in a fair way."

Mr Gilmore insisted that the Budget does not increase tax on workers, does not cut the basic rates of social welfare and child benefits, and maintains services for people with disabilities and children in schools.

Meanwhile, Health Minister James Reilly has rejected claims that cuts to his department's budget will lead to a massive hike in health insurance premiums.

Plans to end subsidies which see public hospitals cover the cost of private beds sparked fears that private health insurance could soar by anything from €500 up to €1,400 a year for the average family.

But Dr Reilly insisted that insurance premiums will not rise as much as expected.

"There is a huge amount of area within health insurance in relation to where savings can be made," he said.

"The costs that are there at the moment can be tackled to substantially reduce the cost to the insurer and thus to the insured.

"I accept utterly, however, that this will put pressure upward on premiums but I don't accept for one minute that it will lead to a 50pc increase."

The minister accepted that some insurance customers will be forced to drop their health insurance premiums as a result of more pressure on their personal finances. It is estimated about 100,000 left the market this year alone.

"I can't predict with any certainty how many people will decide to drop their health insurance," he said.

"Some are going to - there's no question about that - as people find it more difficult to cope.

"We do face an upward struggle but it's one I'm determined to succeed in."

Dr Reilly added that negotiations with consultants and hospitals will take place in the new year to reconsider their charges.

"Nobody's going to die because of health cuts. That's a certainty," he insisted.