Wednesday 25 April 2018

Varadkar seeks increased payments to families in poverty, disabled and carers in budget

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar. Photo: Damien Eagers
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar. Photo: Damien Eagers
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Increased payments to families in poverty, people with disabilities and carers are being sought by Social Protection minister Leo Varadkar as Budget negotiations near a close.

The Cabinet will meet this evening in a bid to finalise the details of next Tuesday's Budget.

Mr Varadkar has insisted that while there is "consensus" that a increase in the weekly pension increase will happen, hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people under 66 must benefit too.

He is this afternoon continuing talks with Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe in a last-ditch bid to secure funding for his plans.

Mr Vardakar said: "We’re very close to agreeing the welfare package for the Budget and there has been a lot of focus on what’s in the Budget for pensioners which includes, of course, a weekly increase in the rate of the pension.

"But I think it’s very important that the Budget passes the fairness test and that’s why it’s absolutely crucial that the Budget must include an increase in payments made to people who are under 66 as well.

"That includes some of the most vulnerable people in our society," he added and listed:

* Carers.

* People with disabilities.

* Thos on the blind pension.

* Widows under the age of 66.

* Families with children who are in poverty.

* People in receipt of illness payments.

"Minister Donohoe and I are working very closely in the last couple of days to come up with a social welfare package that’s fair," Mr Varadkar said.

He said that Mr Donohoe shares his view that if there is an increase in the pension,"it's very important other vulnerable groups also recieve an increase".

He said the categories he mentioned accounts for between 400,000 and 800,000 people.

Asked if he'll secure a deal by Cabinet this evening, Mr Varadkar replied: "That's my objective and that's the objective of minister Donohoe as well."

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar says that it makes sense for the proposed subsidy scheme to help parents with childcare be targeted at low income families first.

There has been unrest in Fine Gael at Children Minister Katherine Zappone's plan for a subsidy that would be paid to childcare providers amid reports that the threshold for eligibility could be as low as a net combined income of around €50,000. This wouldn't cover 'squeezed middle' families.

Mr Vardakar said that the details of the plan have yet to be announced but that the ideal childcare package can't be brought in "overnight".

He said childcare is "an enormous cost to parents and it’s an enormous barrier to employment particularly to low income couples and loan parents"

"I totally understand that you can’t bring in the ideal childcare package overnight.

"It’s going to have to be phased in and on that basis I think it does make sense to start with low income people. The lowest paid because they’re the ones who can’t get into work at all because of the cost of childcare.

"But it does of course have to extend to people on middle incomes as soon as we can afford it," Mr Varadkar added.

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