Thursday 22 August 2019

Hard Brexit threat to €5 pension hike

Minister won't guarantee rise in October's Budget

Tight-lipped: Minister Regina Doherty refused to be drawn on any plans for social welfare increases. Photo: Paul Sherwood
Tight-lipped: Minister Regina Doherty refused to be drawn on any plans for social welfare increases. Photo: Paul Sherwood
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

Pension increases can't be guaranteed in the Budget because of the threat of a no-deal Brexit.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty refused to pledge an increase in October with the outcome of the Brexit talks still unclear.

"No, because I can't guarantee the outcome of Brexit," she said when asked about a pension increase yesterday.

"So until we are sure of what we are dealing with next year, I don't think it would be wise to give anybody a promise at this stage, no."

But Fianna Fáil accused Fine Gael of using the threat of a no-deal Brexit to "make poor people poorer" in the context of a rising cost of living.

Fianna Fáil's social protection spokesman Willie O'Dea criticised the party's stance last night.

He told the Irish Independent: "Fine Gael had in its election manifesto that it would increase the State pension by €25 a week [over five years], but has tried might and main to get out of that promise.

"They did it through gritted teeth under pressure from us.

"I am not going to allow them to use Brexit to do what they wanted to do all along, which is make the poor poorer.

"I'll be looking for an increase to prevent pensioners from slipping back into poverty."

The Government has raised social welfare entitlements by €5 a week in each of the last three budgets negotiated with Fianna Fáil.

But Ms Doherty refused to be drawn on what plans she has for social welfare increases, including the old-age pension, at a pre-Budget forum in Dublin Castle yesterday.

She also warned that the annual €5 increases risked diminishing the value of the payments to those in receipt of welfare.

The Fine Gael TD said targeted increases would be more effective.

"If we keep continuing doing a fiver across the board for everybody, first of all it kind of diminishes in the value, but second of all it doesn't actually hit the people who really need the attention from the State the most and so those 120,000 children who are living in consistent poverty, they don't get helped by a fiver across the board, they get helped by targeted increases," she said.

Unfair

Ms Doherty said that these targeted increases could come in the form of increases in qualified child payments, more school meals programmes, payments for school books and increases in the back-to-school clothing a footwear allowance.

Ms Doherty said there would be a social welfare package in the Budget, but added: "Until I know how much money I have to spend I can't give any guarantees and I certainly won't make any promises to anybody because I think that would be unfair."

The Government is facing calls from Age Action to increase the State pension by as much as €9 in the Budget.

The Government has committed to eventually setting the pension payment to at least 34pc of average weekly earnings.

Mr O'Dea said that any plan to index-link payments for pensioners dependant on social welfare would put them in poverty or at risk of poverty.

"I don't accept that and I don't think that's right," he said.

Read more: Doherty unable to guarantee increase in old-age pension due to Brexit concerns

Irish Independent

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