Burton rejects restoration of Christmas bonus payments

 Joan Burton: Need to control spending.

Joan Burton, the social protection minister, has rejected calls for the restoration of Christmas bonus payments for welfare recipients saying it was not possible as the Government needed to keep control of spending.

Yesterday a group comprising of TDs, unions, and civil society organisations said the double payment should be restored for hard-pressed families to help them buy presents for their children and keep preying moneylenders from their doors.

The group called for cross-party support for the payment, which was abolished by the Fianna Fáil/Green government in 2009. It claimed it would boost local economies all over the country. The group argued that politicians, including Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, had said that when Ireland exits the bailout programme on Dec 15, there would be some dividend for the less well off and now was a highly symbolic time to act on those promises.

Dublin West TD Patrick Nulty said the bonus would go to 1.3m recipients at a cost of €260m to the exchequer, but it is estimated the Government would receive up to 40% back in taxes as all of the monies received would be spent in the local economy.

Francis Byrne from OPEN, which represents lone parents, said studies had shown one-parent families had borne a disproportionate share of the burden of austerity and called for the payment of what she described as a “solidarity payment”.

“It’s important to allow families have some dignity at an important time. At the moment it’s a crushingly difficult time to be living in poverty and Christmas makes it worse. Parents feel the strain of having to provide for Santa and you can end up feeling like a failure,” she said.

Mike Allen from Focus Ireland said that over the past year there had been a doubling of the amount of families made homeless.

Last year, he said there were eight families becoming homeless every month and that figure has risen to 14 to 16 families, which meant 55 children every month lose their family home and end up using emergency accommodation.

He said the main reason why families lost their home was debt and the social welfare Christmas bonus was not to put an extra slice of turkey on the table, but “to keep a roof over people’s heads”.

He said the payment would remove the profound anxiety that some families feel over the Christmas period.

“The Tánaiste was talking about hope and turning the corner. If there was ever a symbol of hope ... a payment of this nature would be highly symbolic but also deeply meaningful for hard-pressed families.”

Robert Lynch of the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU) said the bonus was not being used to buy extravagant gifts but to meet the cost of living on a day-to-day basis.

Yesterday a spokesman for Ms Burton said, since coming to office, the Government had prioritised the protection of core weekly payments in recognition of their critical importance. He said payment of the 100% bonus would cost in the region of €261m and it would not be possible at this time.


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