Fianna Fáil has hit out at the denial of the emergency Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment to people aged over 66 who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis.
The exclusion of this group was branded as "blatantly discriminatory" by social protection spokesman Willie O'Dea.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week poured cold water on demands that people aged over 66 who lose their jobs should receive the €350-per-week payment.
He said he could understand why they would wish to be included, but that the point of the payment was to help towards the cost of bills, not to ensure everyone had the same income as before.
Mr Varadkar said those who are over 66 should be in receipt of the State pension.
However, the pension is just €250 a week and Opposition politicians have argued that older people who work into their late 60s do so because they need the additional income to meet household spending.
Independent TD Denis Naughten was the first to raise the issue, saying the situation is "totally unacceptable".
Now Fianna Fáil has weighed in, calling for the scheme to be extended to the over-66s.
Mr O'Dea last night said the situation is "blatantly discriminatory".
He warned that equality legislation prohibits discriminating against people on the grounds of age and the Government may find itself with an "unexpected bill to pay out" if anyone challenges the decision.
He said that the exclusion affects a small cohort of people but it has a harsh effect on those individuals and he has come across cases of "real hardship".
Mr O'Dea said the cost would be a "drop in the ocean" in terms of the welfare supports to help those whose livelihoods have been affected by Covid-19.
And he pointed out that other people in receipt of benefits, like the working family payment, keep that and still get the Covid-19 payment.
Mr Naughten last night said that since he raised the issue last week, and Mr Varadkar made his remarks, he has been "inundated" with calls from self-employed people over 66 who have seen their income fall substantially.
"While I fully accept that any support system introduced in haste will create anomalies, I have to say that I'm disappointed that since this matter has been brought to the attention of Government, it has not moved to address this problem," he added.
Mr Naughten said the current treatment of over-66s is "unfair" and anyone working who has lost their job "should be entitled to some financial support".
He said many self-employed people over 66 have fixed repayments and commitments associated with their business, and added: "Now the State is asking them to meet these commitments along with day-to-day living costs solely from €248.30 in a State pension."
The Department of Social Protection last night indicated no shift in its position on the matter.
It said that people over 66 who get the State pension are eligible for the separate temporary wage subsidy scheme.
This allows employers to pay their employees during the current pandemic while being refunded up to 70pc of an employee's wages up to a level of €410.
However, not all businesses are able to take part in the scheme.
The spokesperson said that pensioners also have automatic access to a range of other income supports not available to unemployed people.
These include the free fuel allowance, the living alone allowance, free travel and the free TV licence.
People in receipt of the means-assessed pension who are also in receipt of an employment income can have their pension payment increased if they lose that job or their income is reduced.
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