Seamus Boland, the CEO of the Moate-based Irish Rural Link group.

Moate-based rural group says budget didn't do enough to offset rising energy costs

Irish Rural Link, the Moate-based national network representing the interest of rural communities, has today welcomed some of the measures announced in the Budget but remains concerned that increases in Social Welfare payments and fuel allowance will not be enough to offset rising fuel and energy costs.

Irish Rural Link (IRL) broadly welcomed the increase in core social welfare payments and in the weekly pension, as well as fuel allowance increase which came into effect from midnight last night.

However, it said this would not be enough to offset the increase in fuel and energy prices over the last few months, which impact low-income households the most.

The Minimum Essential Standard of Living estimates that older person living alone and indeed a pension couple have an income inadequacy of approximately €50 due to transport and energy costs; this was prior to recent price increases. IRL is concerned that these people will continue to experience fuel and energy poverty as we come into the winter months.

It said it's awaiting more details of the ring-fencing of carbon tax for retrofitting of homes and how many homes would be supported in the €202 million fund to improve energy efficiency in their homes.

IRL stated that grants and schemes must be available to those who are most in need of these funds and to those unable to afford the initial costs of making changes to their homes. Likewise grants for battery operated vehicles will still not be accessible for many of the people and communities IRL represent as the cost of purchasing such a car is not affordable for them.

The group welcomed the introduction of new Youth Travel Card which will offer a 50% discount to those aged 19 – 23 years and anticipated that this could be used on Local Link services and may help encourage the use of public transport by younger people.

However, it would like to have seen this available to those aged 25 years and under, to coincide with the lower rates of social welfare payments for this age cohort so that they can access training and education.

The increase in minimum wage by 30c to €10.50 per hour, while moving in the right direction it is still short of the living wage of €12.90 per hour. For those living in rural areas it will remain inadequate to afford a decent standard of living, IRL said.

The group also welcomed the increase in the budget to the Department of Rural and Community Development and a €5 million allocation for community centre upgrade.

IRL is awaiting more details on each Government Department budget, and a more detailed analysis of the budget is to be published in the coming days.