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Public sector workers turn to welfare for survival

Public servants are queuing up for social welfare.

Clerical officers and staff officers are applying in big numbers and qualifying for emergency social welfare assistance to meet their mortgage repayments and household bills.

"This is not at all unusual now, in fact it's quite common, everyone in the civil service knows about it. Even staff officers with kids are getting hand-outs from the social welfare. It's amazing what's going on and a bit strange that the Government are cutting wages and having to top them up with welfare payments. You would wonder sometimes, what's the real saving," said one Department of Education official.

There is a raft of social welfare entitlements for which low-paid civil servants -- earning an average of €450 a week -- can qualify.

The Department of Social Welfare, the Money and Budgeting Service (MABS) the money advice bureau and citizen advice centres confirm that they are over-run by families seeking assistance and applying for family income supplement, rent and mortgage allowances, school books and clothing subsidies and other emergency social welfare payments.

One local authority official told the Sunday Independent that some people in the public sector are struggling and are no longer hiding it. "At one staff meeting this week a colleague announced, 'I'm on family income supplement and I'm not afraid to say it. It's nothing I'm ashamed of.'

"These people have children, their partners are not working and they're under the threshold to qualify for social welfare. People are struggling, like lots of families are struggling, especially those who bought a house at the wrong time, they're scared and at their wits' end."

This is borne out by the latest data from MABS, whose end of year report for 2009 showed the number of people seeking help with debt and mortgage repayments more than doubled last year to 24,800. The bulk of new clients were married, aged 26 to 40 with children and a mortgage.

"We are seeing more and more people seeking advice and support from low-pay categories who are in difficulty with paying for utilities and other debts. We help people who are finding it hard to make ends meet whether they have a wage or not, we wouldn't know where they work as we don't collate that kind of information," explained MABS spokesman Michael Culloty.

Father Sean Healy of Social Justice Ireland this week called on the Government to recognise the problem of the "working poor" who account for 39.6 per cent of households, a total of 116,000, where the head of the family has a job.

Family Income Supplement is a weekly tax-free payment available to married and unmarried employees with children. It is designed to give extra financial support to people on low pay. The income threshold varies.

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