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Budget 2010: Poverty action group condemn Widows’ Pension cuts

KILKENNY’S Prevent Poverty Action Group (PPAG) has condemned the decision to cut the Widows’ Pension in last week’s Budget.

Minister Brian Lenihan proposed a cut of 8% in the Widows’ and Widowers’ pension, as part of widespread cuts in the country’s social welfare payments.

Chairperson and founder of the PPAG, Teresa Mullen, was strongly critical of the decision, which she felt targeted some of the most vulnerable in Irish society.

“There’s been huge increases in some payments in the past number of years, and that’s going to the wealthiest in the country. Whether we like it or not, that’s social welfare and a huge sum of it is going to the very wealthiest. But now, even widows have had to take a cut in their benefit… I’ve always made the point that widows have been the least taken care of, of all sections of society.”

Mullen explained that between 1994 and 2007, the allowance paid to widows for each dependent child remained unchanged, in spite of the rampant inflation at the time. “In 1994 the allowance was £17, and in 2007 it was still €22. It had just €2 added to it last year, and €2 the year before.

“Everyone else in the state got an increase by way of their weekly income in whatever way, except for those people. The widow got an increase in her own allowance but absolutely nothing in the dependence allowance for her children.”

Mullen rejected suggestions that increases in Child Benefit would have allowed for this. “You could say that children’s allowance would account for it in some way, but that’s nonsense because hat went to everyone in the country, irrespective of income.”

However, Mullen welcomed the decision not to cut the state pension paid to senior citizens, and the massive cuts to public sector pay packets, which she felt were measures tantamount to scrapping the controversial benchmarking scheme.

“I would regard that as a positive thing; we said in our pre-Budget submission that benchmarking has done the most damage to the country,” she said. “It created high prices as well as everything else, and those not involved were hit the hardest.

“Benchmarking was done on behalf of the most secure group in the country… the entire country had to pay for it, but the safest half of it benefited. Benchmarking might now be gone, but the state is still obliged to pay massive pensions to these people that it now can’t afford, so the rest of us are left to pay for it.”

The group also extended criticism to the new 50c prescription charge for medical card holders, which it felt did not tackle the root problem of prescription abuse. There was a need to tackle the culture of “firing prescriptions out instead of actually trying to solve problems”, according to Mullen, and the new charge would result in the welfare recipient being out of pocket rather than addressing the bigger issue of prescriptions being freely handed out without consideration of a patient’s longer-term welfare or the cost to the State.

PPAG was founded in 1995 and is a local group made up solely of welfare recipients based in Co Kilkenny, with most of its members being pensioners or widows. It considers itself to speak from the position of, rather than on behalf of, those most vulnerable in society, and has been heavily critical of groups such as CORI who it claims cannot speak “from a position of need and vulnerability.”