Burton defends allowance cuts in Budget

Wednesday 05 December 2012 22.31
The children of most welfare recipients qualify for support under the scheme
The children of most welfare recipients qualify for support under the scheme

The Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, has told families facing a cut of up to one-third in their school-children’s clothing and footwear allowance they can get very good value in some shops.

Ms Burton also reminded them that her cabinet colleague, Ruairi Quinn, has told school authorities to ban expensive school uniforms with crests.

“There is a lot of good value in shops in relation to clothing and footwear,” Ms Burton told journalists when questioned about the cut to the annual Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance.

The children of most welfare recipients qualify for support under the scheme.

The payment has been reduced from €150 to €100 for primary school children and from €250 to €200 for secondary and third level students below the age of 22.

The Department has estimated that 170,000 families would benefit from the scheme this year, compared to 194,000 in 2011 when it cost a record €90 million, a 16% increase on 2010.

Last year the Minister reduced rates and ended the practice of paying the Allowance in respect of 2 and 3-year-olds.

Ms Burton also moved to dispel what she called “confusion” among fellow TD’s about the impact of the budget’s major PRSI change on lower earners.

She told her post-budget media briefing that the cut in the PRSI-Free Allowance will not affect PAYE workers earning €352 or less per week.

They will continue to be exempt from making contributions to the Social Insurance Fund, she said.

The Minister also said her department would save €20m from changes in the electricity and gas elements of the Household Benefits Package for pensioners. They will continue to get 150 free units each month but will be expected to purchase them for €35.

This is the “the best average market rate available” and she was hoping the pensioners concerned would get a better deal from utility companies whose prices differ.

She said the reform is designed to get the best value for every cent that her Department contributes to the cost of heating homes.

It pays €157m annually to electricity companies and €19m to gas suppliers.

Ms Burton explained that because of EU competition rules, she was prohibited from negotiating discounts from utility companies.

She said she understood that the changes are painful for people who are struggling with the fallout from the economic crisis.

But she emphasised that the budget had protected core welfare rates and contained significant new spending of €18.5m on childcare initiatives and €11m on employment and internship programmes.