Thursday 22 August 2019

Pensions boost: €5-a-week rise on cards as Budget battle lines are drawn

Independent Alliance will also demand €20 more a week for children in poverty

Regina Doherty: Social Protection Minister has indicated she wants targeted payments for children in poorer families. Photo: Douglas O’Connor
Regina Doherty: Social Protection Minister has indicated she wants targeted payments for children in poorer families. Photo: Douglas O’Connor
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

The Independent Alliance is set for a Budget battle with Fine Gael over its demand for a €5 increase in the State pension, the Irish Independent can reveal.

Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath has confirmed he will seek a €5 pension rise in Budget talks over the coming weeks.

He also wants a €20-a-week increase in payments to people on disability benefit and a further €20-a-week extra for children in poverty.

Despite Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty warning last month that pension and other welfare increases would be threatened by a hard Brexit, the Government is now coming under enormous pressure to ensure the €5 across-the-board rise given to pensioners and those on other social welfare payments in the last three Budgets is repeated in October's announcement.

Finian McGrath. Picture: Frank McGrath
Finian McGrath. Picture: Frank McGrath

Fianna Fáil's social protection spokesman Willie O'Dea has already confirmed he will seek a €5 increase for pensioners.

Mr McGrath told this newspaper: "I would go along with that, yeah. I would also see there is no reason why we can't target the disabled and child poverty."

Mr McGrath said in addition to the €5 increase in the State pension he also wants a €20 rise in weekly welfare payments for more than 140,000 people on disability allowance and the same hike in welfare payments to the 120,000 poorest families, which would be specifically targeted at addressing child poverty.

"I'd love to see some targeted approach to people in poverty and I'd love to see a targeted approach to people with disabilities," he said.

"People with a disability have higher needs than your average person and they would deserve an extra €20-a-week.

"That would be my view. People in poverty and people with disabilities should be getting €20 extra."

Read more here: 'People say I've sold out but I've no problem, I sleep every night' - Finian McGrath on working with Fine Gael in Government

He added: "I'm very much on the side of targeting particular issues that you can make an impression on.

"For example, child poverty would be one that I'd say: 'Let's do something on that in the Budget.' Pick the 120,000 poorest families and give them something extra that will give them a break to get them out of that poverty trap."

Ms Doherty signalled last month she would be open to targeted increases to help children in poorer families 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 and footwear allowance.

"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," Ms Doherty said at the start of July.

Mr McGrath signalled that, beyond the €5 increase for pensioners and €20 increase for children in poverty and people who are disabled, he would want to "control the money elsewhere".

However, he declined to offer specifics and said "at the moment" he had not identified revenue-raising measures to fund spending increases.

Despite a history of backing left-wing causes, including the Fidel Castro-led socialist revolution in Cuba, he said he had given up on the idea of a wealth tax.

"It doesn't deliver on the ground, I am into delivering money and services," he said.

"It might be easier to put another five cents on the fags or something. I'll take the hit.

Poverty

"If you needed €40m or €50m for child poverty, I'd be easily able to do something, look at something that you could raise €50m.

"We did it last year on the betting tax. We'd look at it, yeah, but I wouldn't like to be revisiting the same places again. I'd like to look at different ideas."

Read more here: Pensions time-bomb: Risk report warns workers not saving enough - or at all - for retirement

Fianna Fáil has already accused the Fine Gael-led minority Government of using the threat of a hard Brexit as an excuse to "make poor people poorer" in the context of a rising cost of living.

"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," Mr O'Dea told the Irish Independent last month.

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

Irish Independent

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