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Ó Snodaigh calls on Minister Burton to re-open Diet Supplement Scheme

5 March, 2014 - by Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD

“For many the supplement was the difference between keeping their heads above water and sinking in the pool of austerity for which the government and Fianna Fáil are responsible."

Sinn Féin Social Protection Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called on Minister Joan Burton to re-open the Diet Supplement Scheme.

Deputy O’Snodaigh made the call as he questioned the Minister on her decision to close the scheme to new applicants as of February 1st of this year.

The scheme is a social welfare top-up for people who have specific dietary requirements as prescribed by a hospital consultant.

Speaking following the exchange in Dáil, Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“This is a quietly carried out attack on poor people living with conditions that can inflate the cost of their diets. It is an additional cost that can push people over the poverty line.

“For many the supplement was the difference between keeping their heads above water and sinking in the pool of austerity for which the government and Fianna Fáil are responsible.

“You have closed the scheme which means that there is zero support for people on low incomes living with these conditions.

“Your closure of the scheme creates a potential poverty trap for those affected.

“Currently recipients will not be immediately affected, however should they move off social welfare, subsequently lose their jobs, they will not be able to regain this vital supplement. It is a payment which makes such a difference to the household budgets of recipients.

“Additionally, people on low incomes cannot avail of tax reliefs, such as the one on gluten free foods, available to those on higher incomes.

“You commissioned the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Report which confirmed that the cost of a gluten free diet can be 33% more expensive than a typical healthy diet and that the cost of a liquidised diet can be 26% more expensive than a typical healthy diet.

“What the Minister should have done is adjust the diet supplement scheme payment rates in light of inflation and additional financial burdens.

“Instead, in a ruthless move, she closed the scheme and abandoned these vulnerable people to the prospect of poverty.

“But then that has been the hallmark of Joan Burton time as Minister for Social Persecution.

“The Minister should have a heart. She should show some compassion for people who find themselves in dire financial straits while also living with these conditions.

“She should reverse this callous decision and re-open the Diet Supplement Scheme.”


Notes to Editors:

Interesting points from INDI Report

“Large discount stores have a significant listing of products in the coeliac society foods listing book but during this study we found inconsistency in availability in these stores.”

“Trying to follow the principles of a specialised diet is difficult and often there is limited variety. It may be necessary for individuals to find and travel to larger shops or other areas in order to complete the ingredient list for a diet. This can have a major financial impact due to the additional costs involved.”

“Typically when purchasing for a specialised diet, one is not able to take advantage of in store offers for foods, as these are unsuitable for the diet in question.”

Current prices of gluten free versus standard staples

Deputy Ó Snodaigh compiled these prices compiled from Tesco

Tesco Everyday Value Penne pasta 47c for 500g

Tesco Free From Gluten Penne Pasta €2.50 for 500g

Gluten free pasta is more than 5 times the price of standard pasta

Brennans wholegrain sliced pan €1.87 for 800g (23c per 100g)

Genius Brown Free From Bread €3.29 for 400g (82c per 100g)

Gluten free bread is three and a half times the price of standard bread

Kellogs Cornflakes €3.50 for 1KG (35c for 100g)

Kelkin Gluten Free Cornflakes €3.19 for 375g (85c for 100g)

Gluten free cornflakes are two and a half times the price of standard cornflakes

Gluten free multi-seed crackers €3.99 for 110g (€3.62 per 100g)

Ryvita multi-seed thins €2.39 for 125g (€1.91 per 100g)

Gluten free crackers are almost twice the price of standard crackers

Change Cannot Be Stopped

The story of change is only beginning.

Sinn Féin will not allow Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to waste the potential, the possibilities and the aspirations of our people.

A government led by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil together does not represent the change that people voted for in February. In fact, it is an attempt to deny change, to protect the status quo and to continue with the same broken politics that has so badly failed workers and families

Sinn Féin will defend the change that the people voted for. We will continue to stand up for workers and families.

North and south, Sinn Féin is that change for a fairer, stronger and united Ireland.

Fully Supporting our Health Service and Frontline Workers

We need to ensure that we have all available capacity within our health systems, that we have sufficient ventilators and respiratory equipment, sufficient beds including ICU beds, and that our frontline workers are protected.  We need more testing and tracing and we need to ensure that we have all available capacity within our health systems, that we have sufficient ventilators and respiratory equipment, sufficient beds including ICU beds. 

The lack of protective equipment (PPE) for health workers, carers and others is causing a lot of concern – with frontline workers taking to the internet looking for resources and the government have stated that homehelp workers don’t need PPE. 

We need to see delivery of more testing across the island to tackle COVID-19 in line with the advice of WHO and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Income Support - Protecting Workers & Families

Sinn Féin’s proposals in the south would have guaranteed 100% of income up to €525 a week for workers and the self-employed who are laid off due to this crisis.  The Irish government’s proposal comes nowhere close to that and does not go far enough. €350 is not enough for people who have lost their jobs. 

While we are supportive of the wage subsidy scheme we believe that it must be targeted and not open to abuse - employers should have to make up the rest of the 30% of the salary – under the Irish government proposal employers could put in just one cent towards their employees pay.

There are also outstanding issues including: will workers have to pay tax on this income, now or at the end of the tax year; can workers who reside in the north but pay tax in the south be able to access the PUP payment?

Protecting Workers, Families and Businesses in the North

Finance Minister Conor Murphy has introduced protections for workers, small businesses and is lobbying the British Treasury to support the self-employed. He has brought in rate relief, including a three month rate holiday for all businesses and grants to support SMEs.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has streamlined the benefit system to make it easy for those affected by COVID-19 to access benefits, including sick pay for workers.  She has also introduced support measures for the community and voluntary sector.

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In the north, Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has introduced measures to support those in the public housing sector and we have called for mortgage relief for homeowners and businesses.

Banks and the Insurance industry

It is outrageous that many people with a €200,000 mortgage will pay close to €2,000 more over the lifetime of their mortgage because the banks are not only charging interest but interest on the interest.  This is how the banks are intending to profit out of this crisis and it is outrageous. We want the Central Bank and the banks called in by the government and this to be stopped. We have been in touch with the Minister, the Central Bank and the banks on this. The fact is that they already charge twice the average EU interest rates for mortgage  - they need to waive all interest during the period of the emergency and not profit on it.

The behaviour of the insurance industry also needs to be tackled – they are failing to respond properly to this crisis.

The insurance industry is trying to find ways of avoiding providing coverage to businesses who pay very high insurance premiums and have been forced to close as a result of the crisis.  They need to be reined in by the Central Bank and taken to task over this behaviour. Nothing less than this is approach is required.