Social welfare payments leave families behind

Despite the budget's efforts, the reality for many families relying on social welfare payments is that they will continue to struggle to survive. By Emma Browne.


The budget for 2007 was heralded as an “historic breakthrough” by some because it brought the lowest social welfare payment to 30 per cent of the average industrial wage. However, a report published just a month ago shows that most households relying partially or totally on social welfare payments struggle to survive.

The report, carried out by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, studied the minimum essential budgets for six types of households that receive social welfare payments and calculated the shortfall left. The households they looked at were a lone parent with two children, and a two-parent and two-children family with three scenarios based on the age of the children, a pensioner couple, a single female pensioner and a single male.

The report found “a minimum essential standard of living is not possible for five out of six of the households in this study on their present level of income”. It said that many of these households were “trapped in poverty”.

Much of the coverage this year regarding social welfare payments increases focused on the fact that the lowest social welfare payments had increased to €185.80 – 30 per cent of the average industrial wage. This was something that social justice groups and organisations had been asking for over the past few years.

The Vincentian report was based on social welfare payments for 2006 and although Budget 2007 did give increases to many of the payments for these families – for instance jobseekers benefit, one-parent family payment, child benefit – it would still not be enough for a minimum essential budget when inflation is taken into account. As well as this, when a main social welfare benefit increases it may affect and even lessen a secondary benefit like back-to-school allowance or rent, so overall an increase may not benefit the family.

In the case of the lone-parent family with a three-year-old and a 10-year-old boy, they found that full-time work was “economically disadvantageous” for the lone parent and part-time work was the best option. A lone parent dependent on social welfare with no car had a shortfall of €47.83 a week – €2,480 a year. A lone parent working full-time with a car had a weekly shortfall of €77.44 a week – €4,026 a year.

The two-parent and two-children family with a 10-year-old girl and 15-year-old girl relying on unemployment benefit had the largest shortfall out of all two-parent, two-children families. They had a weekly shortfall of €162.83. For this family it was “economically disadvantageous” for both of the parents to work.

A pensioner couple fare the best in social welfare payments in general with mostly minor shortfalls. In the worst case scenario they have a weekly shortfall of €62.21.

A single adult male over 25 years of age had a large shortfall. A single man dependent on a jobseekers benefit will have a weekly shortfall of €92.77