Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Social Protection Willie O’Dea says the Government’s regressive budget and tax policies are plunging more people into poverty in Ireland. The latest statistics from Social Justice Ireland reveal that more than 750,000 people are now living in poverty. People trapped in low paid employment make up 16% of those living below the poverty line.
Deputy O’Dea commented, “A series of tough and unfair budgets brought in by this Government have seen the number of people in poverty rise dramatically since the recession began. Over the past three years Minister Burton and her Cabinet colleagues have continually targeted the most vulnerable in society, slashing one parent family entitlements, the household benefits package, child benefit and the respite care grant. Combined with those cuts, the Minister has reduced the Jobseekers’ Benefit from a 6 day week to a five day week and has cut Jobseekers Allowance to €100 for young people under the age of 25. All of these measures have reduced the amount of income that individuals and families have in their pockets.
“The report itself notes that social welfare is of critical importance in addressing poverty, yet this Government has cut benefits at every opportunity. Currently the Department of Social Protection is reviewing the Free Travel Pass, a move that targets pensioners and older people. If any changes to the pass are introduced it will have a significant impact on their independence and mobility. The review, which comes on foot of the Government’s botched handling of the medical card fiasco, has created a real sense of fear among older people, especially those who live in rural areas and depend on their travel pass for everyday tasks like shopping and attending doctor’s appointments.
“Older people aren’t the only section of society feeling the pinch. The Fine Gael – Labour coalition has brought in policies which directly attack younger people too. Increases in third level registration fees were introduced By Minister Ruairi Quinn only months after he’d signed a USI pledge to reduce the cost of college. He’s also overseen the reduction of grants for CES, Back to Education and Jobs Initiative schemes. Dole payments for under 25s have been cut to €100 a week and rent supplement has been slashed.
“Income inequality is becoming more pronounced, with the richest 10% of households holding almost a quarter of all disposable income in the country, while the poorest 10% only have 3%. Social Justice Ireland proposes a system of refundable tax credits to address the divide. Fianna Fáil has been examining a similar proposal with certain restrictions. Individuals must be over 23, be in paid employment and accrue a minimum of 40 PRSI contributions in the year. Earning limits would also be applied. An examination of the scheme should be carried out to assess the possible benefits.
“The Government has done nothing to reduce the financial burden on low income earners and social welfare recipients. Minister Burton has in fact introduced some of the most regressive social welfare measures over her last three budgets. Poverty figures will continue to worsen unless urgent action is taken”.