St Vincent de Paul (SVP), which recorded a staggering 94% rise in calls during the third quarter of this year, said a significant number of those seeking assistance were facing hardship because of hikes in utility bills and the introduction of indirect taxes.
“We have found an increase in the number of people who are working but in low-paid jobs. These are people and families who are just above a lot of safety nets and thresholds for medical cards and other allowances,” said John Mark McCafferty of SVP. “They will take the full brunt of whatever charges have been introduced (in the Estimates).”
The harsh criticism of the Estimates came at the start of a difficult weekend for the Government. Yesterday, Justice Minister Michael McDowell confirmed that he would oppose Environment Minister Martin Cullen’s Critical Infrastructure Bill if it provided for an incinerator at Ringsend without including planning law safeguards.
Following Michael Smith’s comments earlier this week, Mr McDowell is the second minister who seems directly at odds with a Cabinet colleague over a key Government policy area.
SVP was one of a number of voluntary agencies which expressed criticism of new charges, stealth taxes and the 16 cuts in social welfare allowances (which will yield savings of €55 million).
It said some of the measures, especially the new rent allowance rules and cuts in back-to-education allowances could create new poverty traps.
All condemned the new rules governing rent allowance, where health boards will be given powers to refuse rent supplements for private rented accommodation, unless the person applying has already been renting for at least six months.
Threshold said that restrictions in rent allowance could lead to 60,000 being trapped in poverty. This claim was disputed last night by Fianna Fáil TD Charlie O’Connor as “simply not true” and scare-mongering. “Minister Mary Coughlan made it perfectly clear that there will be provisions for exemptions in relation to people who are homeless or where there are compelling reasons,” he said.
In its response, the Simon Community said the changes in rent supplement criteria were a backward step, while Barnardos said the cuts were short-term measures that would cost society in the long term.