Thursday, 1 April 2010
Social Welfare Benefits
Brendan Ryan (Labour)
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, to the House to deal with this matter.
The people of Balbriggan were informed several years ago that it had become necessary to relocate part of the HSE community welfare service from Balbriggan to offices in Gardiner Street in the city centre of Dublin, due to lack of space. They were informed that this would only be a temporary measure until suitable alternative premises could be procured. Six years later, this temporary arrangement still exists. Up to 250 people per week must travel at their own expense nearly 22 miles each way to have their applications for entitlements processed. The round trip costs a minimum of €8. It is scandalous that this situation has been allowed to develop and that the resolution of the problem continues to be put on the long finger. It is for that reason I raise the issue again. The situation is totally unacceptable.
There are currently five community welfare officers providing a service to the people of Balbriggan, three of whom operate out of the Gardiner Street office. Balbriggan health centre was, and still remains, totally inadequate to provide the range of services essential for the people of Balbriggan, such as public health nursing, dental service, mental health services and community welfare services. The existing single storey building, with a prefab extension to the rear, at Hampton Street, cannot cater for the expansion of the services which has resulted from an increased demand driven by the rapid expansion of housing developments in the Balbriggan area, together with the rapid increase in unemployment in the town.
There were 5,029 people on the live register in Balbriggan at the end of February and due to extreme delays in processing applications, new applicants are forced to seek welfare from the community welfare office while they are waiting to receive their jobseeker's benefit. If they are lucky and live in the south of the town, they can go to the community welfare officer in the local office in Hampton Street, but if they live in the north or west of the town, they must travel into Gardiner Street. Other supplementary payments delivered through the community welfare service include rent supplement, mortgage interest supplement, heating expenses and exceptional needs payments. Applicants for all of these payments must also make their way into Gardiner Street if they live in a certain part of Balbriggan. This problem is well known to the HSE and the Department of Health and Children.
Following previous representations by me on this issue, I was informed by the HSE in May 2008:
A number of possible alternative locations in Balbriggan were examined and one had been deemed suitable to accommodate the community welfare services. This has been put forward to the HSE National Property Committee and a response is pending.
Notwithstanding that reply, the location referred to was never available. Following further representations by me in February 2009, I was informed:
It is anticipated that the Community Welfare Service will be factored into the new employment exchange development in Balbriggan which is due to be operational in six months and the service based in Gardiner Street will move to this facility as soon as it is ready.
There is as yet, more than a year later, no employment exchange development in place and when it is in place, it may not even be adequate in size to provide a full service for social welfare services and will definitely not be adequate to include the community welfare service. Once again, this outlines the lack of commitment by the Department of Health and Children and the HSE to the needs of the people of Balbriggan.
I am demanding that the HSE accepts its responsibility and provides an alternative location in Balbriggan as a matter of urgency. Given the downturn in the property market, there should be no excuse for not sourcing a suitable location. I know that suitable premises are available for lease in Balbriggan today. Action must be taken. The people of Balbriggan deserve better. I hope for positive news from the Minister of State and hope to receive a meaningful response from him, unlike previous responses on this matter.