Fórsa calls for clarity on emergency supports if cold snap returns

Fórsa has called on the Government to give clear advice to older people and other vulnerable groups about the financial supports they can expect from community welfare services if snow, ice and frosty weather return at the weekend. The union juxtaposed the Taoiseach’s recent suggestion that the budget for ‘exceptional needs payments’ was unlimited with figures showing a 93% fall in the monthly numbers of recipients since 2011.

Fórsa said confused official statements during the recent snow storms had fallen short of what’s needed to ensure that vulnerable people keep warm in the face of unseasonable weather. The union, which represents community welfare officers (CWOs), also demanded more investment in community welfare budgets and increased discretion for CWOs when vulnerable people seek their help.

The union criticised Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for suggesting that the budget-stretched community welfare service had unlimited funds to grant ‘exceptional needs payments.’ Rather, the number of exceptional needs payments has fallen by 93% between December 2011 and February 2016. Some 226,200 payments were made in December 2011, compared to 14,631 in February 2016.

The union said the social welfare department had been directing people in need to the Society of St Vincent de Paul during the recent weather crisis. And it said CWOs discretion had been eroded since the service had been subsumed by the Department of Social Welfare in 2011.

Fórsa official Eugene Quinn said elderly citizens and other vulnerable people needed firm reassurance that they would not risk running up unpayable debt if they needed additional heating during the cold snap. “Rather than bland assurances, we need a budget supplement to ensure that CWOs have extra funds to allocate in emergency needs payments. In the longer term, we must return to a position where CWOs have the discretion to make payments when they see an objective need.”

Mr Quinn said the union had frequently voiced concerns about inadequate funding for community welfare services.

Local clinics have been closed and vulnerable customers must now mail or phone in their applications, or travel long distances to centralised facilities, which are mainly designed for employment supports. The discretion available to CWOs has been watered down considerably

he said.