Social Protection Minister Joan Burton says she will be making every effort to protect core social welfare rates as she considers how new savings of €440m are to be achieved next year.
She said she was determined that those on social welfare payments would not be marginalised while ensuring that those at work and paying PRSI are better off working than claiming social welfare.
Ms Burton met more than 30 voluntary and community groups at a pre-budget forum in Dublin Castle yesterday. The half-day meeting allowed the organisations an opportunity to have input into the budget process
In her address, Ms Burton stressed that no decisions had been made in relation to measures for Budget 2014, and that the views heard at the forum would be conveyed to Government before any such decisions are taken.
Ms Burton said she had protected core rates in successive budgets in order to protect the most vulnerable in society.
“Protecting core weekly rates makes absolute sense, not alone from a poverty prevention perspective but also for the economy generally, at a time when we need to boost consumer confidence,” she said.
This year, her department will spend over €20bn on its entire range of schemes, services, and administration.
Ms Burton pointed out that since 2009 the department had implemented cost-saving measures that had cumulatively cut expenditure by over €3bn.
During the same period, the number of people in receipt of a weekly welfare payment increased from 1.2m at the end of 2008 to nearly 1.5m now.
“Although the country has suffered terrible economic shock from what happened in the banks, our pensions compare very favourably with other jurisdictions in the EU,” Ms Burton said.
“The level of social welfare payments to older retired people reduces the ‘at risk of poverty rate’ for them by about 60%. That is absolutely the best outcome in the whole of the EU.”
She said spending on retired older people this year would be around €7bn.
However, Age Action said older people were in a very difficult place as a result of the cumulative effect of previous budgets.
Spokesman Eamon Timmins said: “We are talking about people who are using water bottles rather than turning on their central heating and going to bed at 7pm at night because they can’t afford to heat their homes.”
Social Justice Ireland said the budget should give the poorest pensioners a 5% increase.
Its research and policy analyst, Michelle Murphy, said the increase would mean an €11 weekly increase for the poorest pensioners.
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