Communion clothes payout to be slashed
ANGER: 'Poorest families will suffer'
A GOVERNMENT crackdown on State payments for First Communion and Confirmation clothes has been criticised by anti-poverty groups.
Exceptional Needs Payments for new clothes for children of poorer families involved in the religious events are to be drastically curtailed.
Current State payments averaging €242 for Communion dresses and other clothes will be slashed to €110 and will only be available in future to proven "hardship" cases.
Other Exceptional Needs Payments to be slashed are furniture and equipment payments for social housing tenants who have insufficient money to furnish their own homes. Only those living in local authority owned homes will get the payments from now on.
The clampdown on a variety of such payments comes as the Government seeks to reduce its huge Department of Social Protection budget.
Welfare officers were informed they must cut down on payouts for religious ceremonies and furniture kit-outs to achieve reductions of €8.5m in the overall €63m being paid out annually in Exceptional Need Payments (ENPs).
Guidelines sent to supplementary welfare officers said new clothes payments for religious events must only be given for "exceptional needs".
Each year around 14,000 children have benefits from such payments which cost the State around €3.4m.
The tougher policy on new furniture payments also come into effect in the coming weeks. All such payments to people who do not live in council-owned homes must cease immediately, officials have been told. Last year, those who received such payments got an average of €1,145 for new furniture and kitchen equipment. Almost 8,000 received the payments which cost the State almost €9m.
Officials were told such kit-out payments must be one-off and nobody must get more than one payment for the same accommodation.
The St Vincent de Paul Society has warned that the stoppage of all such ENPs will have "a severe impact" on those struggling to make ends meet.
The Society's spokesman John Monaghan said those families seeking Communion and Confirmation payments have no savings and they will seek funds for their children from welfare officers, charities such as SVP, or money lenders.