Monday 19 February 2018

Burton brands FG jobs plan ‘corporate welfare’

Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton
Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton

Kevin Doyle and Niall O'Connor

Tánaiste Joan Burton has been accused of wanting to "destroy jobs" as a Coalition row over how to help struggling families increase incomes escalated to all-out warfare.

The Labour Party leader sparked outrage within Fine Gael by dismissing their proposals for a 'Working Family Payment' as "corporate welfare" that would be "extraordinarily expensive on the taxpayers".

She suggested that Enda Kenny's alternative to the 'living wage' of €11.50 an hour would create "very large difficulties" and let large companies off the hook when it came to wages.

But in an extraordinary response last night, a senior Fine Gael source described the welfare system, which Ms Burton has overseen for the past five years, as "dysfunctional".

And replying directly to the Tánaiste's insistence that the 'living wage' is the only way forward, the source told the Irish Independent: "This 'anti-business' philosophy won't benefit anybody because it will destroy jobs and put at risk the economic recovery."

As the parties move into full-blown election mode, Fine Gael's spending war chest has been boosted to the tune of €1m.

Around 12,000 tickets were sold for its annual superdraw this year, despite the price rising by €20 to €80.

The huge rift with Labour comes just days after Fine Gael strategists made a decision not to engage in 'electoral fisticuffs' with their junior coalition partners for fear it might undermine their joint message of stability.

However, the gloves came off last night as a result of Ms Burton's comments at an event where SSE Airtricity announced it will pay all of its 750 staff at least the 'living wage'.

She questioned how much Fine Gael's proposal to give a top-up payment from the State to working parents to ensure they earn at least €11.75 an hour would cost.

Her junior minister Ged Nash added: "I would prefer that the several hundred million euro that that type of top-up would cost would be spent on carers, our pensioners, our schools, our hospitals and the Garda Síochána."

Fine Gael sources told the Irish Independent that the Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare (AGTSW) had studied the core elements of their 'Working Family Payment' and concluded that it would be cost neutral if it replaced the existing Family Income Supplement (FIS) which is "badly designed".

As Minister for Social Protection, Ms Burton successfully lobbied her Cabinet colleagues during the Budget 2016 negotiations to expand the FIS.

The details of Fine Gael's plan are still being finalised and well-placed sources accepted that there would be some "very modest" costs associated with its full proposal.

And in a direct attack on the Labour Party, the senior source said: "The alternative is to force small businesses to pay for the costs of a dysfunctional welfare system through an unaffordable increase in the minimum wage to €11.50."

Irish Independent

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