Monday 24 July 2017

Charlie Weston: The new finance minister has to be fair to middle Ireland

'It is psychologically important that all workers see the marginal rate fall below 50pc, and not just those on smaller incomes'
'It is psychologically important that all workers see the marginal rate fall below 50pc, and not just those on smaller incomes'
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

We could be a while waiting for a new government to be formed - but when we have one, the choice of a finance minister will be a key decision.

Whoever gets the job will be overseeing the €50bn or so it takes to run the country every year.

That is one hell of a responsibility. Many big decisions will have to be made, so here are a few suggestions.

Income tax was the issue that failed to ignite during the General Election, despite strong emphasis on tax matters among the big parties.

However, as most parties promised to reduce the hated universal social charge (USC), that is something that is likely to be tackled. But it must be done in a sustainable way. This tax pulls in around €3.6bn a year.

A positive about USC, when it was introduced, was that it was paid by almost all earners. It is important that everyone makes a contribution, instead of having so many people as net beneficiaries of the State. There is only so much middle Ireland should have to pay for in this country.

But the chipping away at the USC base has taken around 700,000 income earners out of the tax net.

It is doubtful that any new minister for finance will be able to scrap the tax entirely. This means determining who should pay.

Is it really fair that only those earning more than €70,000 carry the burden of paying USC, as has been suggested by many political parties, when others may get to avoid it?

Already, the marginal rate of tax - all income taxes paid on higher amounts of income - has fallen below 50pc for those who earn less than €70,000. It is psychologically important that all workers see the marginal rate fall below 50pc, and not just those on smaller incomes.

The new minister will also need to grapple with the inequitable situation where the self-employed pay more USC and get a smaller tax credit.

Another matter that ordinary people desperately need dealt with is the crisis in motor insurance. Premiums have shot up 30pc, with FBD Insurance saying last week premiums will keep rising this year.

The reasons for this are many and complex. Among those who have played a role in the crisis through their actions and inactions are insurers, regulators, the Government, and fraudulent claimants. A number of decisions from judges have exacerbated an already difficult situation for drivers.

A new motor insurance advisory board, which could again be headed by claims expert Dorothea Dowling, is needed to sort out the mess.

Action is also needed on mortgage arrears and variable rates. These two issues are diseases attacking household finances.

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