Poverty-reduction measures ‘fall short’

A LOT more could have been done in the Budget to make a real difference to the lives of Ireland’s poorest children and pensioners, campaign groups claimed last night.Social Affairs Minister Seamus Brennan said his €1.4 billion budget package — €300 million more than last year — was focused on eliminating child poverty and increasing pensioners’ incomes.

Mr Brennan said all child dependent allowance rates would be increased to a new maximum rate of €22 per child per week from January, and child benefit would be increased by €10 a month from April.

Mr Brennan said he was also delivering on the Government commitment to bring State pensions to €200 a week, with the contributory pension increasing to €209.30, an increase of 16 and the non-contributory pension increasing to €200, up €18.

St Vincent De Paul (SVP) said that while moves made by Mr Brennan to tackle poverty were welcome, it believes he could have done more to help the country’s poorest families.

“A more targeted approach could have been taken to assist those most in need, particularly those on social welfare and low paid employment,” said SVP vice president Prof John Monaghan.

Ireland’s largest children’s charity, Barnardos, welcomed the €10 increase in child benefit, along with the changes in child dependence allowance, but felt the minister could have gone further to make a real difference to the lives of 100,000 children living in consistent poverty.

“Overall, we would give this budget six out of 10, with the additional remark ‘could have done better’,” said Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay.

The national organisation for one-parent families, One Family, were disappointed with the dismal increase in the top-up payment targeted at those with children dependent on social welfare — it was the first such increase in 12 years.

“The nature of the increase means that children in one-parent families, who are the poorest family type, will only receive a paltry €2.70 increase in child dependent allowance (CDA) per week,” said One Family’s policy manager Candy Murphy.

Age Action said it was concerned that the Government had decided not to do more to help Ireland’s poorest pensioners at a time when the State’s coffers were bulging.

But Combat Poverty director Helen Johnston said measures they had recommended had been delivered on and believed the Government was moving in the right direction in terms of tackling child poverty.

Ms Johnston said Combat Poverty had calculated that the increases in CDA, child benefit and the 50% increase in the back to school clothing and footwear allowance meant that a child in a family in receipt of social welfare would get an additional €9 per week.

But SIPTU said the Budget would be seen as “miserly to mothers and children” because of the Government’s failure to adequately increase child benefit, extend it to all families or raise the amount paid to women on maternity leave.

Source: BudgetForum.com

Pressure groups give mixed reaction to Budget measures

Pressure groups working in a range of areas have given a mixed reaction to the Budget measures announced by Minister for Finance Brian Cowen yesterday.

The National Women’s Council and the One Family support group for single parents both say they are unhappy with the lack of measures to make childcare more affordable.

Elsewhere, groups representing the elderly say they are disappointed with the increase in the old-age pension.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul has welcomed the pension increases, but says it is unhappy with the €4 increase in the fuel allowance for older people and low-income families.

The housing organisation Threshold has said an increase of €30 per year in the tax allowance for people renting their home is derisory and insulting given the high rents across the country.

The Irish Patients Association has also criticised the 25% increase in the cost of staying in a public hospital bed, saying it will push up insurance premiums by 5% to 6%.

The Irish Farmers Association says changes to stamp duty on farm land and support for bio-fuel crop growers make this year’s Budget a positive one for its members.

The Irish Medical Organisation has welcomed the increase of 50c in the price of 20 cigarettes and the removal of cigarettes from the Consumer Price Index.

Elsewhere, business groups say they are worried that the significant increase in government spending runs the risk of fuelling inflation and the lack of measures to tackle energy costs.

However, they have welcomed provisions to encourage private investment in small businesses and changes in research and development tax credits.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, meanwhile, has welcomed moves to remove people on the minimum wage from the tax net, but says Mr Cowen should have done more to adjust tax credits and tax bands instead of reducing the higher rate of tax.

Tax experts say the changes that were introduced favour higher income earners and people on the average industrial wage will not be much better off as a result of the Budget.

Source: BudgetForum.com

3 month wait for pension is forcing elderly into penury – Phelan

Getting new credit card takes 24 hours – getting payment for lifetime’s work takes 14 weeks

Older people applying for their pension are being forced to wait 14 weeks for their first payment, which Fine Gael Seanad Finance Spokesman Senator John Paul Phelan has described as disgraceful.

“A number of people coming up to retirement age have reported significant problems in obtaining their first pension payment. Some pensioners have had to wait more than three months before they received their entitlement.

“One gentleman applied for his pension two months before his retirement age, but was told he would still have to wait 14 weeks before he received his first payment. There was no possibility of an early payment and he was advised not to contact the Department of Social Affairs.

“This is just one of many cases which have been reported to my office. It is a disgrace to think that the Government should treat the elderly in this manner. It takes just 24 hours to successfully apply for a credit card, yet the State expects them to wait 14 weeks to receive payment for a lifetime’s work.

“The Department is advising new pensioners to apply for their pension at least three months before they reach retirement age, which shows a callous disregard for the rights of the elderly to their State pension. Although they can apply to the Community Welfare Office if they run into difficulties, the application process is long and strenuous. There is a danger that some will be left in serious financial difficulties.

“No-one should have to wait three months to receive a new State pension, especially in this day and age. Social Affairs Minister Seamus Brennan must immediately set about rectifying this disgraceful situation.”