Sinn Féin spokesperson for Social Protection, Claire Kerrane TD, has welcomed changes to the emergency social welfare payment, including the new Additional Needs Payment which includes eligibility based on various income limits.
However, she warned that much more still must be done to ensure that people under financial pressure can get the supports they need urgently and in an accessible way.
Speaking in the Dáil today, Teachta Kerrane said:
“The cost of living crisis is putting people under real financial pressure. People are struggling to keep on top of their bills as prices rise and their income remains the same. It’s clear that the government needs to do much more to support hard-pressed families.
“I welcome the changes made to the emergency payments available through Community Welfare Officers in the introduction of what is now known as an Additional Needs Payment, which includes eligibility based on various income limits which increase depending on household size.
“This is a step in the right direction as there were issues with the current inadequate system which I raised with Minister Humphreys many times, including the fact that those working 30 hours a week or more could not access assistance under the Exceptional Needs Payment.
“However, while this development is welcome we need to make sure this new payment works, that it can be easily accessed and that it is paid out to those who need it.
“In order for this to be a successful and effective measure, it must be widely advertised. The Minister should also meet online with Community Welfare Officers to ensure they are aware of the new Scheme including the income limits, what it is for, the flexibility needed to be shown and the need for discretion to ensure people who need the funds are not locked out of the scheme.
“I have also raised difficulties regarding access to Community Welfare Officers as have many other Deputies in the Opposition. It is no coincidence that the drop in payments made under both Exceptional Needs and Urgent Needs payments followed changes to how the public access these officers.
“The drop-in element is gone and this was important in communities, especially for Older People. This element of Community Welfare Services must be restored and we will continue to push the government to address this.
“There is another cohort of people who are not comfortable with approaching a Community Welfare Officer in the hope of financial assistance. I spoke just this week to a lone parent in her early fifties who has worked all her life and told me she would feel embarrassed and ashamed to have to do this. She should not feel this way but these issues around stigma can be overcome by putting the application for emergency assistance online.
“Today in the Dáil I asked the Minister to make the application available online, as some other social welfare applications are already, and to allow people to make their application online for those who wish to have that option.
“Emergency payments are going to continue to be an important support. The cost of living crisis is worsening and we need to ensure emergency payments are easily accessible and can be dealt with quickly and efficiently to get money into peoples’ pockets when they are in dire straits
“I have followed up this request in writing to the Minister and I hope she will consider it. I will continue to stand up for people hit by the cost of living crisis to ensure that they get a much-needed break and the financial supports they deserve.”