Polio survivors, choosing between heating and shoes, feel ‘deep disappointment’ at budget

More than half of those affected suffer pain, muscle-weakness and immobility if limbs get cold

Polio survivors, many of whom experience extreme cold intolerance, are choosing between heating and replacing worn-out shoes amid “deep disappointment” at Budget 2024.

A predominantly ageing population, more than half suffer pain, muscle-weakness and immobility if their limbs get cold.

The advocacy group Polio Survivors Ireland (PSI) says members are “deeply disappointed” their call for fuel allowance, which is means-tested, to be made available to all polio survivors and year-round, went unheeded in this month’s budget.

Worth €33 a week, the fuel allowance is paid from late September until early April. Many of the about 5,000 polio survivors, however, keep their homes heated all year round, including at night, says Emma Clarke-Conway, spokeswoman for the charity.


“Cold intolerance can give burning pain, pins and needles and put some at risk of hypothermia. So fuel is a huge, huge issue,” she says.

Polio is an infectious virus than used to be common in Ireland, with outbreaks causing fear in communities. It primarily affects young children, infecting their spinal cord, causing paralysis of limbs and difficulties breathing.

Treatment often involved children spending years in hospitals, undergoing painful rehabilitation away from families and their schooling interrupted. It was largely wiped out with the introduction of the polio-vaccine in Ireland in 1957.

Over 80 per cent of polio-survivors here were retired or “at retirement age”, said Ms Conway Clarke with a majority dependent on either disability allowance or the old-age pension – worth between €220 and €265.30 per week. Those living alone are entitled to the living alone allowance of €22 a week.

“The payments they get though social protection are just not enough,” she continued.

Budget 2024 provided a €12 increase in core welfare rates and a series of one-off lump-sums which will begin being paid next month. These include €300 to recipients of fuel allowance and €200 to living-alone allowance recipients. Core welfare payments will be paid at a double rate, before Christmas as usual and in January, while every household will get three energy credits, worth €150 each, between now and April.

While these are welcome, like other advocacy groups, PSI was “deeply disappointed” core welfare rates were increase by just €12 a week. “It falls short by over 50 per cent. The increase should have been €27.50,” said Ms Clarke-Conway.

She noted there was no €400 lump sum for those in receipt of the old-age pension – on which many polio survivors depend – as there will be for recipients of disability allowance, blind pension, invalidity pension, carers support grant, and the domiciliary care allowance.

The only increases for survivors ineligible for the fuel or the living alone allowances will be the €12 weekly welfare increase, and the January double payment, as well as the universal €450 energy credits.

“Polio survivors, given all they have gone through in their lives, they just should be better looked after,” says Ms Clarke-Conway. Many found the “small lump sums” patronising.

“They need a substantial weekly uplift just to keep up with inflation. We have members who are choosing heating over buying coats, shoes or replacing broken kettles.

“Tragically the majority are ageing and dying out. People are passing away. We are asking again that the fuel allowance be provided automatically to all polio survivors, provided all year ‘round.”

The Department of Social Protection was contacted for a comment.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times