Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on Social Protection Willie O’Dea is criticising the Government for continuing to slash funding for the exceptional needs payment (ENP). In reply to a Parliamentary Question, Minister Joan Burton confirmed that money allocated for the payment has been cut from €62.6m in 2011 to €36.7m in 2013.
Deputy O’Dea stated, “These figures are a clear indication that the Government is cutting back on the exceptional needs payment. The fund, which is used to help families meet essential, once off exceptional expenditure, has already been scaled back in recent years, and now it’s been revealed that the money to fund it has been slashed by almost €26m over the past three years.
“The criteria for the exceptional needs payment has been vastly curtailed under Minister Burton. In 2013, she removed the entitlement for Communion and Confirmation costs, causing increased hardship for thousands of families across the country. After she abolished the Bereavement Grant she claimed people could apply for the exceptional needs payment to help with funeral costs, but now we learn funding for that scheme has been drastically cut.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that this Government is reluctant to help low income families and this reduction in funding for the ENP will hit the families that need it most the hardest. The emergence of the funding cut comes following a raft of other diminutions imposed by this Minister. Over the past three years, we’ve seen substantial cuts to a range of social protection payments. The respite care grant has been slashed, child benefit has been reduced, age eligibility on the back to school allowance has been changed and the Household Benefits Package has been gutted.
“Recipients of these payments are already struggling to cope with these cuts, and are most likely to depend on the exceptional needs payment. However, I have grave concerns that there will not now be enough money in the pot to cater for the demand.
“Minister Burton cannot continue with her policy of cuts. They’re unfairly targeting the most vulnerable people in society and putting unnecessary pressure and stress on low income families across the country, and now the emergency fund that many would rely on for unforeseen events is being attacked. It is unfair, unwarranted and unnecessary”.