Sunday 18 March 2018

Pensioners pleased but say package is only the start of restoring cuts

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Anne-Marie Walsh

Pensioners are happy but not "jumping up and down" over Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe's package to impress the grey vote, according to representatives of the elderly.

A €5 hike in the state pension and increases in fuel and telephone allowances were welcomed.

But the state pension increase did not get the same fanfare as it did in last year's budget.

One pensioner accused the government of "playing a game" with the elderly by delaying the €5 rise until next spring. Grainne Clune (80), from Galway, also said she was disappointed that the telephone allowance, which was abolished during the recession, is not being fully restored.

She said this was a particular blow to those living alone in isolated rural areas who rely heavily on their phones. Among the improvements are:

l A €5 increase in the contributory and non-contributory state pension, as well as widow's, widower's and surviving civil partner's and the disablement pension from the week beginning March 26 next year.

l A new weekly Telephone Support Allowance of €2.50 a week, which will be paid from June next year.

However, this will only be available to those who receive the Living Alone Allowance. The €2.50 per week telephone allowance is worth roughly €130 a year and will take the place of an allowance that was abolished in 2014 that was worth around €6 a week. Department sources said that those who qualify can spend the money on whatever they want, including mobile phone bills.

Minister Regina Doherty said that non-governmental organisations had argued that the abolition of the allowance limited access for the elderly to a 'Senior Alert Service' for use in emergencies.

A weekly fuel allowance of €22.50 will be paid for 27 weeks next year, extended from 26 weeks.

Head of Advocacy and Communications at Age Action, Justin Moran, said members were delighted with the partial restoration of the telephone allowance, while the pension increase was their top priority due to the rising cost of living and increased poverty.

However, he criticised the delay in the increase and the fact there was no reversal of cuts to pensions introduced in 2012 that meant those without full contributions got smaller pensions.

He said these cuts by the introduction of extra 'qualifying bands' hit women who had taken time out of the workforce particularly hard.

Mr Moran said there was nothing in Minister Donohoe's speech about boosting home help. "We would like to have seen less of an emphasis on tax cuts when the government is still trying to restore what people lost".

Meanwhile, Minister Doherty said that the reinstatement of the Bereavement Grant "was never on our list" and an Association of Undertakers in Ireland were the only ones to lobby for it.

Irish Independent

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