The 2011 budget has been slammed as “anti-vulnerable” by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul who anticipate a huge surge in demand for help as a result of a devastating range of cutbacks announced by the government.
Prior to the budget, calls for assistance to SVdP in the wider Clonmel area were up 30% on last year and another significant increase is expected as the consequences of the budget hit home.
“It is inevitable that this budget will tip more and more people over the edge. The demand on us now is going to be just so much greater,” said Maire McMahon, Area Secretary for the seven VdP conferences in the Clonmel area.
Ms McMahon said that not only was the budget anti-family it was anti-vulnerable, targeting the disabled and the elderly in particular.
There is no doubt among SVdP volunteers now that their workload will increase given the extensive range of cutbacks that will have a harsh and immediate impact on so many people.
“On our call-out night last Tuesday in my conference in Clonmel, which only covers about one fifth of the area, we had to call out to eighteen homes to provide assistance. This time last year the number of call-outs was between ten and twelve,” she said.
This call-out rate will increase again following the budget as families, the elderly and the disabled struggle to cope.
Marie McMahon said that the cut in the fuel allowance season from thirty two weeks to twenty six stood out as one measure that would have a devastating impact on the elderly.
“We already have elderly people coming to us because they cannot get by on the fuel allowance they get and now that is going to be cut back. Basically it is going to be cut back by a bag of coal and a bag of blocks for six weeks,” she said..
She added that the budget was extremely harsh on what is being termed the ‘new poor’ and the level of cutbacks would amount to a massive blow to families who were struggling to cope on a weekly basis.
“These would be families who would not have a medical card. They are going to be hit with hikes in medical insurance, the monthly drug threshold has gone up, third level fees are gone up and maintenance grants are reduced, back to school allowances cut, school transport costs are going up, there will be a household tax and child benefit has been cut for the third and subsequent children. All of this and then the government is imposing a 2% VAT increase which will make everything dearer,” said the VdP member.
The Vincent de Paul in Clonmel area has spent almost €500,000 providing assistance to struggling families since the start of the year and another €200,000 providing assistance through a special education fund.
“Anybody on a fixed income is going to be hit. Families who had two incomes and now have only one are finding it very difficult to survive. Third level education has taken a hit and we are helping a lot of families who find it very difficult to continue to financially pay the costs of third level education for their children.
“The only way out of poverty is education yet more and more people in education are finding it difficult to finish off their degree because of the escalating costs”, said Maire.
The Society of Vincent de Paul launched their appeal in Clonmel last Thursday and this week a collection will be taken up prior to all masses in the area.
It is the most important fundraiser undertaken by the Society of Vincent de Paul every year and volunteers are hoping for a strong response.
“At Christmas the Society tries to ensure that each family has enough food to eat and for each child that Santa remembers to bring a present. The people of Clonmel have always been very generous to every appeal despite the economic climate and we need their help more than ever now because more people need help from us,” said Maire.
In a response to the budget, Deputy Seamus Healy said that despite all attempts at camouflage, the Government has announced a series of attacks on the poor and on public services on which the poor are most dependent.
“The Labour Party should hang its head in shame for reneging on its promise to protect the poor.
The six week cut to the fuel allowance on top of the reduction in free electricity and gas units applied in September is a savage attack on the elderly. These measures will give rise to unnecessary deaths this winter,” said Deputy Healy.
He said there was real concern about older people who live alone on low incomes in older and poorly insulated homes and who often have poor health or a physical disability.
“This contrasts sharply with the approval by the Taoiseach of a €35,000 rise for a government adviser.
The cut in Disability Allowance for young people aged 18 to 21 from €188 a week to €100 defies description. The same allowance for those aged 22 to 24 years of age is cut from €188 to €140
The cut in child benefit for the third and subsequent children attacks the families most at risk of poverty.
Those whose incomes have already fallen due to short-time working will suffer a further reduction courtesy of Minister Burton.
Eligibility for the widows pension is to be further restricted through a large increase in necessary contributions and working widows will also be deprived of sickness and unemployment benefit,” said Deputy Healy.
He said the effective pupil/ teacher ratio in second level schools was being raised by bringing career guidance teachers within quota. This will hit subject choice and damage programmes for the disadvantaged.
“Minister Quinn’s u-turn on election promises will increase the costs of keeping students at college with a registration fee increase and reduction in maintenance grants . The doubling of the school transport charge will hit those who have to travel to school,” he said.
“The vast bulk of the cuts will take income out of the pockets of the most disadvantaged in our society. Middle and low income families are being made to pay for a recession which Taoiseach Kenny said they had no hand act or part in creating. These cuts would be completely unnecessary if the assets and incomes of the super-rich were taxed,” said Deputy Healy.
The budget was an attack on the vulnerable, disabled and those trying to better themselves according to Deputy Mattie McGrath.
“How do they expect a young disabled man or woman to survive on €100 a week? This cut of €88 a week is quite simply disgraceful. These young adults who are disabled are the most vulnerable in society. Many have no option of employment or training as a result of their disabilities. They are not taking the easy option by choice. They would only love to live a normal life with a bit of dignity and the Government has removed their last remaining shred of dignity by this utterly shameful cut.” said Deputy McGrath.
“The cut of 6 weeks from the fuel allowance payment is a massive blow again to the elderly and most vulnerable. Fuel poverty is a real problem for so many who already cannot afford to heat their homes. This cut will just cost the Government more through illness and hospitalisation as a result of citizens living in freezing conditions.” he said.
Deputy McGrath also criticised the Government and the Minister for Education for breaking their pledge to the students of the country and for condemning those trying to better themselves.
“The rise by €250 in student fees and the reduction in the grant will be the difference for so many students who are just about making it to college. Many students simply won’t afford to progress into further education and will either end up on the dole queue or on a plane out of this country. The doubling of the School Transport fee is also a huge attack on families with young children.” he said.
Deputy McGrath stated that the first half of the budget was very badly thought out and left the high earners unscathed while attacking the most vulnerable in society.
“The Government made so much about not touching the primary weekly social welfare payments, which I welcome, but they have attacked the most vulnerable and those trying to better themselves through so many other measures. They may as well turn off the light at the end of the tunnel for so many families,” he said.