Wednesday 23 January 2019

'Fiver-for-all' budget unlikely again this year, insists minister

Minister Regina Doherty speaks to journalist Sinead Ryan at the pre-budget forum at Dublin Castle. Photo: Mark Condren
Minister Regina Doherty speaks to journalist Sinead Ryan at the pre-budget forum at Dublin Castle. Photo: Mark Condren

Allison Bray and Anne-Marie Walsh

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty has poured cold water on hopes of another €5-for-all budget next year.

While she insisted nothing is ruled in or out, she indicated the popular social welfare hike would eat up almost half her department's €800m budget.

The extra fiver has been given to social welfare recipients, including State pensioners, dole recipients, carers and the disabled, in recent budgets.

"Maybe this year won't be the year," she told reporters at a pre-budget forum at Dublin Castle yesterday, hosted by INM's consumer correspondent Sinead Ryan.

She said there are many other priorities that must be taken into account as her department considers its 2019 spend.

The minister said the Government needs to address the fact there is no paid parental leave in this country.

"That's against the backdrop of an EU directive that we just signed up to a couple of months ago to introduce paid parental leave for every man and woman by 2021," she said. "That's six weeks each. We know people who are self-employed in this country above a certain means don't get supported by Jobseekers' (allowance) the same way as employed people do.

"That's only the tip of the iceberg. We have to have a long conversation around caring - around the people who are actually caring, 24/7 in this country and who potentially don't get recognised by the State financially.

"But if you have acknowledgement and an acceptance we're going to do what we've done for the last number of years - which is increase all payments by €5 - that toddles up to about €343m," she added.

"That doesn't leave much of the €800m. So I'm trying to be realistic."

However, she hinted the parents of children living in poverty may get a break. She said there are 112,000 children living in consistent poverty, but the number is not coming down as "we're not addressing it".

Ms Doherty said this issue was near the top of her list last year and is "absolutely at the top" this year.

Meanwhile, she said there is a big problem in Ireland when you reach the "magic age" of 55.

"The workforce seems to think you're an old fart and they don't want to deal with you anymore," she said. "And given that we're all living much longer and healthier lives, 66 is relatively young, but 55 is only a bloody baby."

She also indicated the Government may increase the State contributory pension for those who work beyond 66.

She made the comments as representatives of around 50 organisations and NGOs attended workshops and discussions on their budget issues at the forum.

Irish Independent

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