People on Social Welfare do not matter to this Government – BREEN.

December 10th, 2009 - Pat Breen

Speaking during the Debate on the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2009: Second Stage, Deputy Breen said “Yesterday morning I listened to “Today with Pat Kenny” and I heard the Minister for Finance say that the people hit by the cuts should live in the real world. That is a very strange statement for a Minister to make because the Minister and his colleagues in Government have no idea what it is like to live in the real world. The cuts they announced are savage. They are an attack on our children, on our young people, an attack on our carers, on people with disabilities, the very weakest and the most vulnerable in society. These cuts will drive people deeper into poverty and will consign another generation of our young people to emigration.

In the real world these welfare cuts will seriously impact on the many people who are dependent on these payments. The Government is picking the pockets of the most vulnerable in our society to help pay for the mistakes of the past. While social welfare rates are being reduced by 4.1% across the wide range of areas, there is no real plan to reform the system, no plan to make it fairer, no plan to make it equitable.

I refer to the decision to reduce the jobseeker’s allowance for those under 24 years to €150 a week. I was speaking to a young man in my constituency today who has lost his job. He is 22 years of age and he is living in rented accommodation in a rural part of County Clare. He has a car because he needed a car when he was working as there is no public transport in his area. He has a car loan with three years left on it. He asked me to tell him how he could live on €150 a week. He said he could not move back home and neither can he sell his car because nobody will buy it. He told me his only option was to get a ticket out of the country. As well as the reduction in the jobseeker’s allowance to €150 a week, I am also aware of a number of applicants who are in regular contact with my office and they have told me of the delays in processing the applications which is causing serious distress for people. Many young couples bought homes at inflated prices and they are now in negative equity through no fault of their own. In some cases both partners have lost their jobs and in other cases one partner is out of work. I spoke to a constituent who told me he was out of work and his wife had her own business but her take-home pay was €300 per week. I was helping him to claim jobseeker’s allowance. He eventually received a payment of just €39 a week while their mortgage is €1,300 a month. The current system is too rigid as it is based on income only and does not take into account situations such as I have described.

The 2006 census showed that one in ten people reported as having a disability. Disabled people are already under pressure and struggling to cope with extra heating and clothing bills. A constituent of mine had been waiting for three months for an assessment for disability allowance payments said he could wait no longer. Social welfare staff around the country are doing their best and working in very difficult conditions but they do not have sufficient resources to deal with the large number of applicants. I ask the Minister to address this problem. Applications must be processed as quickly as possible because people are struggling to pay their bills.

The decision to reduce the carer’s allowance is wrong and should be reversed. It is also wrong that the Bill will be guillotined and it is a disgrace that the weakest people in our communities are being forced to pay the biggest price for the Government’s mistakes. People on social welfare do not matter to the Government. The only people who matter are Independent Deputies whose votes are required to save the Government’s political skin. If the choice is one of protecting social welfare recipients or building a new hospital to secure the vote of an Independent Deputy, the Government will choose to save its political skin every time.”