‘Minister for Social Protection’, Labour’s Joan Burton, has been widely condemned after she suggested that social welfare is becoming a “lifestyle choice”.
The Minister today again warned of cuts of around 25% in welfare payments for those who fail to take up retraining or minimum wage jobs.
Meanwhile, charities representing the poor and elderly have warned that previously announced cuts to fuel, electricity and phone allowances for social welfare recipients, amounting to 65 million euro annually, will have a major detrimental effect on vulnerable and older people.
“What we are getting at the moment is people who come into the system straight after school as a lifestyle choice. This is not acceptable, everyone should be expected to contribute and work,” Ms Burton told the Sunday Independent.
“I think as a country we have a lot of thinking to do about the fact that we have so many of our people, very good people, now only able to get income support from social welfare,” she later told RTE state-run radio.
Sinn Fein’s Aengus O Snodaigh said listening to Minister Burton over the weekend was like listening to Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s.
“It is particularly galling to hear these comments at a time when the government has not filled even one of its promised additional 15,000 positions in training, work experience and educational opportunities for the unemployed. This was confirmed to me just last month in response to parliamentary questions that I put to the minister.
“The fact of the matter is that there are no jobs out there. The best way to lower the social welfare bill is to create jobs. This is where the government’s focus should be rather than on further punishing those who are dependent on social welfare.”
Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party, said Ms Burton’s “arrogant and gratuitous insult to a generation cruelly betrayed by the current economic system” served as a cover for coalition’s failure to create jobs.
“The reality is that young people are desperately anxious to find employment but with 440,000 ahead of them in the queue, it is near impossible for many of them.
Mr Higgins accused Ms Burton of clumsily attempting to justify further cuts in social welfare and to distract attention from the government’s failure to create more jobs.
Meanwhile, the coalition on Tuesday approved cuts in fuel allowance and household benefits schemes affecting more than 630,000 people in receipt of social welfare, in a move she says will bring about annual savings of 65 million.
The Minister said that while her Fine Gael/Labour government wished to protect basic social welfare payments, “regrettably there is an ongoing necessity to achieve savings due to our commitments with the IMF/EU/ECB troika”.
Allowances will return to 2007 levels, meaning those in receipt of these contributions will receive 8 euro less towards electricity a month and 8 euro less towards their monthly gas allowance. Those in receipt of a fuel allowance will have the extra 3.90 euro weekly allowance they receive abolished, while rhe telephone allowance will be reduced to 22 euro a month.
Both St Vincent de Paul and Age Action said the cuts will cause major problems for those in receipt of long-term social welfare payments, many of whom are vulnerable elderly people.
“This will contribute to increasing fuel poverty,” John Mark McCafferty, head of social justice and policy with St Vincent de Paul said. “There will be more people having to make the decision between whether to heat or whether to eat.”
The Enough Campaign organised a major street protest against the EU/IMF imposed austerity cuts in Dublin on Saturday.
Several hundred people attended the protest march, which was supported by trade unions, TDs, political organisations and groups seeking to maintain services in their areas.
The protest began at 2.30pm when marchers walked from the Garden of Remembrance to the Central Bank before forming a sit-down ‘people’s assembly’ outside the GPO.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett, an organiser of the march, said the campaign was about mobilising mass opposition to the austerity programme and bringing the spirit of Greek, Spanish and Egyptian-style resistance to Ireland.
“This day, it’s not just going to be about speeches - we have had too much of that stuff where it is a few speeches and everybody goes home and that’s the end of it,” he told protesters. “This has to be the beginning of building a movement.
Another protest involving about 700 people against cuts to the number of assistants for children with special needs took place last Wednesday outside parliament.