Pensioners at ‘breaking point’ because of austerity budgets
CUTS to income and services have left pensioners at breaking point, it was claimed today.
Age Action warned 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 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 500m 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."
By the end of May, there were 1.476 million people receiving a weekly payment in respect of 2.283 million beneficiaries, as well as 614,000 families were in receipt of the monthly child benefit payment.
"I have protected core rates in successive budgets in order to protect the most vulnerable in society from the worst effects of the economic crisis," she added.
"Protecting core weekly rates makes absolute sense not alone from a poverty prevention perspective but also for the economy generally at a time when we need to boost consumer confidence."