By CAROL BYRNE
EAST Clare councillor Pat Hayes is calling for the Department of Social Protection to roll back on its decision to streamline community welfare services.
“The services in the rural communities and smaller towns and villages are being centralised again and people are expected to come into the main towns all the time. In the circumstances the people involved don’t always know they might need community welfare services at the end of a week. I know people who didn’t get their wages and they would have been hungry by the weekend,” he said.
Councillor Hayes was responding to the revision of community welfare services which came into effect on January 20 last, when a decision was taken to close 22 community welfare clinics across the county. The Department of Social Protection has made alternative clinics available to those facilitated at the 22 clinics and these are located at five principle locations countywide.
In East Clare community welfare clinics at Quin, Kilkishen, Tulla and Ballina have been closed, and although there is a clinic base remaining in Scariff it has reduced to just one clinic a week.
In Quin community welfare services were provided locally from 2.30pm to 3pm each Tuesday, this has now been centralised to Ennis where services are available from 9.30am to 12noon Monday to Friday.
Services at Kilkishen were provided from 2.30pm to 3pm on Thursdays and will now be provided at Shannon on Tuesdays from 9.30am to 12noon. The Tulla clinic that operated on Thursdays from 11am to 12noon has now been transferred to Ennis, where services are available Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 12noon.
In Scariff two clinics operated heretofore, one on Tuesdays from 11am to 12.30pm, and on Thursday from 10.30am to 11.30am, this has been reduced to one clinic which now takes place on Wednesdays from 10am to 12noon. Ballina community welfare services will also be offered at the same time in Scariff.
“Talk about services being lost, this is a real cut of services. The people of Ballina and down into Killaloe are being serviced by a two hours clinic for the whole of East Clare, and people in Tulla will have to go into Ennis. The department are reviewing everything, but I think that the services we need, need to be extended rather than cut back. While I welcome a one stop shop where people can come in, the community welfare officers play a critical role in these times, particularly when people fall into difficulty. We should be enhancing our services in the community, and particularly those with mortgage problems, and in need of heating supplements, exceptional needs payments and urgent needs payments,” Councillor Hayes said.
Outlining the changes the Department of Social Protection said it is currently examining the operation of all services across its remit, including the Community Welfare Service in the context of the Pathways to Work commitments and the development of Intreo services nationally (a single point of contact for all employment and income supports).
“Overall, this will result in some re-balancing of resources across the Department’s range of activities. Community Welfare Service Clinics process applications for Supplementary Welfare Allowance which consists of: basic supplementary welfare allowance; rent supplement; mortgage interest supplement; other supplements e.g. diet supplement, heating supplement, travel supplement; exceptional needs payment; and urgent needs payments. A decision has been taken to rationalise some Community Welfare Service clinics in County Clare with effect from January 20, 2014. The clients who currently attend these clinics will be facilitated by attending another clinic,” a spokesperson for the department said.
A phone number will be provided for anyone who is not in a position to attend a clinic, and if required, a member of staff may arrange to visit the client’s home.
“The Department of Social Protection is conscious of the need to provide efficient and effective customer services at a local level for all customers of the Department, having regard to the resources that are available,” the spokesperson continued.
Councillor Hayes was sceptical about the number of visits community welfare officers would be able to make under the changed arrangements.
“How many visits are they going to carry out if you are out in the far parts of far parts of East Clare or West Clare, will they go out to Slieve Anore, or Loop head where someone where an old person is in bad need of welfare. This is where the service needs to be enhanced. I think it is disappointing, while I recognise there has to be improvement in services, I think this is a loss of services to rural communities. We don’t have the services of MABS out in East Clare and we don’t have the same people to come out to give us advice and I think people are dependent on councillors like ourselves to try to give them the help and advice, and they are not fully aware,” he continued.
Councillor Hayes said it is his feeling that there should be two full day services available in Scariff and Tulla.
He recalled that community welfare officers in East Clare would be available for a full day holding clinics in the morning and afternoon visits in the afternoon.
“They dealt with a lot of local issues in communities, and it is one of the sections of social welfare that is really important to communities. In my job as a councillor I see a lot of people in distress and I’ve come across people where they expect to get their disability payment on a Friday and unexpectedly they get no payment then they might need to go and meet with an officer immediately. It is ok if you are in a town like Ennis or Shannon where you can just walk in, but if you are out in a remote area of East Clare or any other part of the county you need to try to access someone, because that could be the difference of putting food on the table,” he said.
He said he admires the work community welfare officers have done for the areas they have served over the years, but said this latest change to service provision “should be reviewed”.
“It is good to bring people to a one stop shop, but that’s alright in general sense to help reintroduce people to work and look at everything as a whole, but this is a basic service that is needed. There is a lot more distressing people at the moment, and it cuts across the whole community, it’s not just social welfare recipients, but middle income families are struggling to send children to college, and when something comes along like a car breaking down, you then find you can’t pay the ESB bill, that’s why you need the advice of the community welfare officer,” he concluded.