SOCIAL PROTECTION MINISTER Joan Burton heard presentations from 31 voluntary and community organisations worried about their funding in her department’s pre-budget forum today.
Speaking to reporters outside the event, Burton said the coalition is committed to maintaining “the basic core social welfare rates” but she refused to be drawn on what exactly those categories are.
“I cannot clarify anything until I sit around a big table with my colleagues in Cabinet and a collective agreement is taken,” she explained.
Burton said she had inherited the most challenging role of any Minister in trying to find savings, while still protecting the most vulnerable in society who were represented at the gathering today.
According to the Minister, her annual budget of €20.5 billion, which is 40 per cent of all government spending, is an “indication for support for social solidarity”.
Quizzed on her position on child benefit, Burton said she believes the traditional argument against means-testing – that it is costly and admin-heavy – “is a strong one”. “Personally, my own preference is to go through the taxation route but Revenue say that is difficult for them,” she added.
However, no decision will be made until an advisory committee reports back to Cabinet later this year.
Responding to this morning’s reports about child benefit being paid to people living abroad, Burton said her department were making “really strong progress” in the area. She said the spend had been “tightened enormously”, being brought down from €21 million to less than €13 million per year.
Among the 31 groups at today’s forum were the Society of St Vincent de Paul, the Disability Federation of Ireland, Social Justice Ireland and Older and Bolder. Each one urged no further cuts to their annual allocations.
Burton continued to emphasise the need for reform and getting people back to work, calling social welfare for the unemployed “a cushion”.