Social welfare and child benefit rates should be maintained before the deepening divisions in society are embedded, it has been claimed.
Seven Catholic social justice groups appealed to Finance Minister Michael Noonan not to hit the most vulnerable households in next week's budget, but to address the deficit based on a sector's ability to take a cut.
They warned austerity measures have had a damaging and disproportionate impact, and that a change of policy would bring Ireland closer to creating a society where respect for the dignity of every person, fairness, solidarity and the common good are the key underpinning values.
"Since the beginning of the economic crisis, cuts in health, education and social services, reductions in social welfare payments, and increases in taxes and charges have had a devastating impact on the ability of many people in Ireland to maintain an acceptable standard of living and to gain access to needed services," they said in a joint statement.
"Meanwhile, for those sections of Irish society that remain better off, the economic crisis has had a proportionately less significant impact on their living standards."
The group comprises the St Vincent de Paul, Crosscare, Trocaire, Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice, Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, Council for Justice and Peace of the Irish Episcopal Conference and the Council for Research and Development of the Irish Episcopal Conference.
They stressed that as a minimum there should be no further cuts to social welfare payments, child benefit payments and the overseas development aid budget.
They said policy choices in Budget 2013 need to be carefully assessed in terms of how they will impact those who already cannot afford a minimum acceptable standard of living.
Measures to address the deficit need to be proportionate and equitable and based on the ability of different sectors of society to take a cut. The organisations argued unemployment rates, the numbers living in poverty and mortgage arrears soared while social welfare payments and allowances were reduced.
"With each annual budget introduced in the past few years, there has been a further erosion of hope and a deepening of divisions within Irish society," they continued. "We need to put a stop to this situation before it becomes more embedded."