Benefits bill to hit €20bn

Ireland will pay out €20bn euro in benefits next year as tens of thousands flock to dole queues, the Government predicted today.

Social Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin said joblessness will soar by almost 50,000, leaving many of them dependent on welfare payments.

And in an echo of Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s grim remarks this week, she urged the entire country to pull together to cope with the bleak economic times ahead.

“Unfortunately next year we think that there will be 290,000 people who lose their jobs and they and their families are now facing unemployment,” she said.

“My department is there to support them and the social welfare bill for next year will be €19.6bn.

“My budgets have to keep going up but at the same time I will ensure that we put strict controls on it so that we can make savings where possible.”

The number of people drawing benefits in September rose by a record 49.5% from the same month the previous year, according to recent official figures.

Ms Hanafin also revealed the disability allowance to teenagers could be replaced with an education and training benefit.

It is one option being considered after the Government scrapped plans yesterday to abolish the payments to 16 and 17-year-olds.

“The disability allowance is under review with the Government anyway,” she said.

“There’s also an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report being published next month looking at Ireland amongst other countries because it’s a very big issue worldwide about the number of people who are on disability.

“It was the right thing to do on principle not to pay social welfare payments to 16-year-olds, not to label them unfit for work at this age.

“But the families of people with disabilities had come to depend on it and it was for that reason we decided not to implement it.

“It’s about thinking of what is the best way we can meet the needs of young people with disabilities and their families.”

She also said the Government had to take tough decisions in order to bring the country out of recession.

“The overall message is asking employers, employees and Irish society to work with us in partnership through this economic crisis.

“We appreciate how difficult it is but hopefully by making these difficult decisions, we won’t still be making them in three or four years' time.”

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