Ministers ‘failing to tackle poverty’

A PRE-ELECTION row yesterday erupted between the Government and Opposition parties over claims that ministers were failing to reduce poverty and unemployment.

Fine Gael and Labour both insisted that anti-poverty agencies have reported increased difficulties, especially following the Budget's "savage 16 cuts".

But Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Coughlan insisted that Government policies were working. "A strong economy means more jobs and that means less unemployment and a real assault on poverty," she said.

Fine Gael's Social and Family Affairs spokesman Michael Ring responded: "The Minister is not living in the real world."

Ms Coughlan said the downward trend in the numbers on the Live Register suggested that the Government's policies and the relatively buoyant labour market were taking effect.

She added that over 200,000 people have been lifted out of poverty because of job creation and a rise in direct support.

The minister also said the Government's social welfare budget for this year is over €11 billion its highest-ever level.

"This is more than double the amount provided by the Opposition parties in 1997, which is some measure of their commitment to the less well off, the disadvantaged, the old and vulnerable," she said.

But Fine Gael rejected this. "All the agencies who deal with poverty, and especially CORI, are saying the opposite," said Mr Ring.

"The 'savage 16 cuts' introduced by Minister Coughlan in the last Budget have had a huge impact on those struggling on social welfare because they lost basic supports like rent allowances, diet supplements and financial support from the Money Advice and Budgeting Service that helps people get out of debt. If this Government is serious about tackling poverty why did it cut €56 million from the social welfare budget?" he added.

Labour also accused the Minister of "spinning" statistics to win votes. "Minister Coughlan has only reversed one of the 16 savage cuts introduced in the Budget the widows welfare cuts and this was after extreme pressure from the Opposition and media," a Labour spokesman added.

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