Speaking in the Dáil, Dublin South West Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe said the Government’s social welfare budget plans will do nothing to address the inequality inherent in Irish society.
Mr Crowe shared information he received in a Freedom Of Information (FOI) request which detailed the staggering lengths of time people are waiting for their benefit claims to be processed and also called on the Minister for Social Protection to address the issue.
Deputy Crowe said:
“While some elements of the Social Welfare Bill are welcome, in its present form, it does not do anything to address the inequalities inherent in Irish society. It marginalises young people, lone parents and those who live alone, and it has no vision to move people from being dependent on social welfare payments towards education or meaningful jobs.
“Older people living alone are among the most vulnerable in society with many of them relying on the State pension. They face unique pressures because of their limited incomes. For instance, increased prescription charges are a huge burden, yet the Government and Fianna Fáil seem to think a simple pension increase of €5 per week will resolve the difficulties they face. These are the people who, in the majority of cases, worked all their lives to bring about and support the progressive society we have today.”
Mr Crowe also feels the Bill fails to address inconsistencies in the pension system with an added difficulty for those who reach 65 years of age as many have to retire at 65 but must be 66 to receive the pension.
This means many of them forced to sign on for job seekers till they reach 66, a scenario that Sean Crowe feels is not fair.
“It is undignified for those who have worked all their lives to be forced into doing this. Yet there has been no attempt to address this difficulty.
“Fuel poverty is a serious problem faced by many in the country today. I am acutely aware, as we go through a considerable cold spell, that 28% of households throughout the State experience fuel poverty. Ireland has one of the highest levels of excess winter mortality in Europe. People are literally dying from the cold, yet there was no attempt again in the budget to address this critical problem.”
Sean Crowe believes the Government had fairer options when it came to drawing up the Social Welfare Bill. In its alternative budget Sinn Féin proposed an older persons’ package which they say would have been worth more than €410 million and provided for a three week extension to the fuel allowance scheme, a €9.50 increase in the living alone allowance and the reinstatement of the transitional pension for those aged 65 years of age, as well as further measures to address the inconsistencies within the pension system.
Mr Crowe continued:
” Some constituents have to wait staggering lengths of time for benefit claims to be processed. One constituent had to wait more than eight months to be awarded carer’s allowance. She needed to give up work to look after her father who had bowel cancer and she faced severe financial difficulties as a result of the long delay. Another caller to my office had waited more than six months for a non-contributory pension claim to be assessed.
“A reply to a freedom of information request I submitted in September stated that the average waiting time for a carer’s allowance claim to be processed is 40 weeks. That is totally unacceptable. The reply also stated the overall waiting times for other benefits included 27 weeks for a non-contributory State pension claim to be processed and 21 weeks for an invalidity pension claim to be assessed.
“At a time when people are most in need and may be drained emotionally and, in many cases, financially, the State is failing them by their having to wait unreasonable lengths of time to receive their entitlements.
“I am calling on the Minister for Social Protection to instigate an investigation into the unacceptable delays and to increase resources in order that claims can be dealt with more efficiently and within a more acceptable timeframe.”