An all-party Oireachtas committee has called for across-the-board increases in social welfare and a substantial widening of the fuel allowance scheme to allay the cost of living crisis and spiralling energy costs.
The Joint Committee on Social Protection, chaired by Independent TD Denis Naughten, has made 31 recommendations in its pre-budget submission to Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys.
Its prime recommendation is that, at a minimum, “there should be a rise in all payments equivalent to the cost of living increases since the last increase.
It also recommends that eligibility for fuel allowances be increased by four weeks to total of 32 weeks. It also says that everyone earning less than €140 per week over the social welfare rates should also be entitled to fuel allowance. Those earning between €140 and €280 more per week than the social welfare rate should be entitled to a new half rate fuel allowance, it continues.
The report also calls for a €20 per week increase in disability allowance as well as for restoration of the full rate of jobseekers’ allowance for those aged 18-24 by 2026. It is currently €117 per week for those aged 18-24, compared to the full rate of €208.
Carer’s allowance should also be open to parents whose child requires hospitalisation from birth, as well as parents whose child requires hospitalisation for more than six months, it states.
The overall cost of these changes to the annual budget of the Department of Social Protection are not stated. Funding allotted to the department for 2022 is €23 billion, down €7 billion from €30 billion in 2021. The high expenditure in that year was due to the high numbers receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment during the Covid pandemic.
The report states: “It is essential that the Government commit to benchmarking social welfare payments and minimum wages to an adequate level and in line with living costs in the long run.
“Ireland’s poverty rates show that the operational disparities that persist in society leave some people at a much higher risk of facing difficulties. St Vincent de Paul, in its submission, told the committee that almost 20 per cent of people who are unable to work due to illness or disability are in consistent poverty.”
In his introduction, Mr Naughten said the committee is of the opinion that the 31 recommendations, if implemented, would have “a substantial positive effect while not creating extensive added expenditure for the Department of Social Protection”.
“The recurring themes in submissions received was tackling poverty and the rising cost of living, alongside general social welfare rates,” he said.
Another new recommendation is for a new energy poverty strategy to provide longer term-solutions to those who struggle to afford energy bills.
“The rising costs of energy have highlighted the fact that we need to mitigate the immediate costs of energy, alongside the long – term costs, for people on the lowest incomes.”
It calls for the appointment of “community energy advisers” to help people experiencing energy poverty to find longer term solutions to their needs.