Wednesday 17 January 2018

Sinead Ryan: A boost for the young, while OAPs get cold comfort

Sinead Ryan

Sinead Ryan

IT WAS national children's day yesterday as the young got a boost for a change. They won't realise it, of course, but the future voters' mammies and daddies will be moderately happy.

For those in the autumn of their lives, however, it's a different story.

There was no cut to children's allowance, as had been expected. The crude flat-rate chopping which took place in recent years wasn't repeated this year.

Instead, all under-fives were given free GP care, which is the first step in the Government's Universal Healthcare plan, despite the fact this has not yet been costed, or agreed, with doctors.

By the time these children get to school, there will be 1,250 new teachers in situ, which will really only stop the galloping march on class sizes rather than provide extra education measures.

But any move in this area is welcome, not least for the thousands of primary school teachers leaving colleges with no jobs to go to.

For all the moves towards the younger generation, however, it looks like it will be the older one paying for them.

While the old age pension remains intact, and the abolition of the phone allowance might appear like a small cut, even the tiniest culls hit this vocal and articulate lobby group hard.

No government minister can forget the march of the grey vote when medical cards were messed with a few years ago.

The cutting of the bereavement grant is a paltry measure and a mean one.

That €850 mightn't pay for brass handles on the walnut coffin and a fancy funeral, but it means a lot to older people who can be faced with sudden and unexpected expenses relating to a loved one dying and who can ill afford a good send off.

The capping of medical insurance tax relief hits this group the hardest too – because of their fondness (and, many would say, need) for a higher-level full-cover plan.

Those on the top plans, which used to be known as plans D or E, who pay thousands every year to ensure their hospital needs are met, will find their tax relief capped at €1,000 per person.

For the over 70s reliant on the medical card, up to 30,000 fewer of them will keep theirs as new qualification thresholds kick in.

Many will still get the GP-only card, but the confusion will remain for some who are caught between two stools. Added to that, with prescription charges increasing, there has to be a concern now that some elderly people on a cocktail of medicines might be tempted to drop some of them, which could be injurious to their health.

One thing we know for certain about pensioners is that they are great savers. They come from a generation where saving for their future was a way of life.

Therefore, hiking up the DIRT rate to an onerous 41pc will be felt heavily, not least because it coincides with PRSI charges coming down the line on savings in January, meaning almost half of all interest earned on savings will be swiped in tax.

For those still saving for retirement, old age doesn't look any rosier with the pensions levy being replaced by yet another pensions levy on private retirement funds.

The 0.6pc which was due to end in December 2014 will eventually be swapped with a lower one of 0.15pc, however crucially, there will be a 'crossover' year where both will apply. This flies in the face of what Michael Noonan had promised would happen to this 'temporary' tax.

And if granny feels like a sit down with a cigarette and a stiff gin after all that, she'll be paying more for both after midnight.

Irish Independent

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