Delays in Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance Scheme must be addressed immediately – Ó Caoláin
Speaking this evening in the Dáil during the Adjournment debate on the ‘Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance Scheme, Sinn Féín Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said that the delays in the scheme will inevitably hit low income families with children which have already been targeted in previous cuts and that extra staff should be hired, even on a temporary basis so that further hardship be avoided.
(Full speech follows)
There is an urgent need for the Minister for Social Protection and the Minister for Health and Children to take immediate action to ensure the delivery of the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance Scheme which faces further severe delays this year, causing hardship to low-income families with school-going children.
I have raised this matter on the adjournment to try to instil a sense of urgency on the part of the Government. If action is not taken soon we face a worse situation than we saw last year, when applicants encountered long delays and payments were not received until well after the start of the school year.
In my own constituency and across the State people who have sought application forms for the scheme have been told they are not yet available.
The Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance scheme assists families on social welfare and on HSE payments towards the cost of uniforms and footwear for children who are attending school. Many families depend on this scheme to ensure that their children are able to avail of education. With growing unemployment the number of people qualifying is growing also.
The scheme is supposed to operate from 1 June to 30 September. However, last year, forms were not available until the middle of June and many people did not receive payments until well into September. I understand that this year even worse delays are likely to take place. There are inadequate staffing levels to cope with the number of applicants.
These delays cause real hardship. In many cases school uniforms come into the shops in June and parents need to budget to pay for uniforms, schoolbooks and other onerous school expenses, spreading out their spending over the summer months. Delays to this scheme will see payments to which people are entitled delayed again until late September or beyond.
I cited the two Ministers because this payment is part of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Scheme which is funded by the Department of Social and Family Affairs and administered by the HSE. The two Departments and the HSE need to get their act together.
We do not want a repeat of 2009 when by August more than 50,000 parents who had then applied to the scheme had experienced delays in the processing of claims. The Health Service Executive (HSE) admitted that a backlog resulted in less than one-third of the applicants being processed at that stage and that at least another 130,000 applications were expected before September.
The HSE had received nearly 80,000 applications by mid-July last year but processed only 25,332 as of the 10th of that month.
This must not be repeated.
The already overworked CWOs need additional assistance.
The recruitment embargo should be lifted; extra staff should be hired, even on a temporary basis; staff should re-deployed, where appropriate.
The bottom line is that people should not be forced to suffer further delays and hardship. The Government has already cut social welfare payments, it has cut the Christmas bonus, it has cut educational supports. Low income families with children must not be targeted again.