Saturday, February 6, 2010

Public suffer as HSE embargo takes its toll

As applications rise for payments under the community welfare system due to cuts in social welfare payments and with more people out of work local community welfare officers are unable to cope with the rising demand. This is not the fault of the staff who are trying their best but is a direct result of the national HSE staff embargo.

The Government needs to increase the number of community welfare officers available in Waterford in order to cope better with the rising applications from members of the public seeking help. While the Minister for Social and Family Affairs is rightly creating an extra 115 posts to meet increased demand in her own department people are being turned away from the local community welfare office due to insufficient staff numbers arising from the HSE embargo. This does not make sense as over 70% of the community welfare budget is funded by the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

Prior to the introduction of the HSE embargo the agreed Community Welfare Officer compliment was 18 and half yet the current number of CWO’s locally is 14. According to figures recently released by SIPTU, applications for medical cards rose 20 per cent between 2007 and 2008 in some regions; while claims for supplementary welfare increased 45 per cent and claims for mortgage assistance were up 70 per cent over the same period. In addition, mortgage assistance claims have increased by another 12 per cent since Christmas. Community welfare officers are dealing with families struggling to pay mortgages, put food on the table and pay lighting and heating bills. The basic fact is that more people are in need yet are finding it more difficult to get into the system. In Waterford people are constantly turned away from the Community Welfare clinic as the numbers are simply too great.

The HSE embargo is a crude instrument and does not reflect the changing reality on the ground. Given that most of the Community Welfare system funding comes from the DSFA I am calling on the Government to be flexible and make an exception to allow for the placement of extra staff in this area. At the very least the agreed staff compliment of 18 CWO’s in the Waterford office should be met.

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