The union which represents the country’s community welfare officers has criticised a 60% drop in the amount paid out by the State in exceptional needs payments to those in financial difficulty.
Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme the Department of Social Protection makes exceptional needs payments (ENP) to help meet “essential, once-off and unforeseen expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of their weekly income”.
According to Eugene Quinn, assistant general secretary with the Public Service Executive Union, in 2008 the State provided €80m for ENPs to support people in the greatest economic poverty. However, by 2015, this figure had declined to €29m.
“Not surprisingly, the poorest people in this State have had to fall back on the provision by charities such as the St Vincent de Paul,” said Mr Quinn.
“Earlier this month the Cork branch of SVP has reported that its reserves have been heavily depleted in recent years.
“The blame for this disgraceful situation can be laid directly at the increased difficulty in accessing the exceptional needs payments.”
The Department of Social Protection said the ENP scheme is demand-led, which was why demand for the scheme had declined as the economy had recovered and unemployment had fallen from its high of 15% to 7.3% today.
It said a key objective of the transfer of the community welfare service (CWS) from the Health Service Executive to the Department in 2011 was to provide a streamlined and consistent service to the customer.
“Since the transfer, the department has developed the Intreo model of local service delivery, which provides a full range of services including the CWS in one location.
“The scheme is still available to help meet essential, once-off and unforeseen expenditure which is beyond a person’s means,” it said.
However, Mr Quinn said the Intreo centres’ primary purpose was for employment support. He said the department had closed drop-in clinics and forced those seeking assistance into the Intreo centres “where desperate people are forced to seek emergency funds in circumstances of little privacy”.
“It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the department is seeking to make access to the service more difficult,” he said.
“In effect, the decline in funding and the change in the administration of such funding has forced the transfer of responsibility from the State, to the poorest citizens, to solve their own problems.
“It is hardly surprising that there has been a growth in assistance being sought from money-lenders and there has been relentless pressure on charities.”
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