Thursday 22 February 2018

Dole hikes for under-26s on the table as Budget talks underway

Joan Burton
Joan Burton
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

An increase in the dole for young people is on the table ahead of October's Budget, the Irish Independent has learned.

The Coalition is considering increasing welfare payments for under-26s who agree to enter into training or education programmes.

Such a move could see the restoration of the dole for thousands of young people - two years after it was cut by €44 per week.

Around 13,750 people aged 25 or under were affected by the cuts in their jobseekers' payments as part of Budget 2014.

People aged from 22 to 24 had their dole cut from €144 a week to €100, while those who reached 25 received €144 instead of the maximum payment of €188.

There were a number of exceptions for those who took part in a Back to Education programme or the JobBridge internship scheme.

Tánaiste Joan Burton defended the cuts at the time, stating that she wanted to make the social welfare safety net "like a trampoline that's there to lift you up and not just to support you".

But the Irish Independent has learned that the Department of Social Protection has drawn up plans which would see increases for this cohort.

The proposals, which have not been brought to Cabinet or the Economic Management Council (EMC), are understood to have been sent to the Department of Finance for consideration.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Ms Burton said the Budget is not a "parlour game" whereby TDs can publicly state their preference of measures.

Despite the remarks, several budget items have already been signalled by Ms Burton and her junior minister Kevin Humphreys.

A €5 increase in Child Benefit is on the cards, while there will also be a restoration of the respite grant and the living alone allowance.

It's also expected that Ms Burton will further top-up the Christmas Bonus, which was partially restored to a 25pc level last year.

The size of this top-up will depend on the level of money left over in the Department of Social Protection's budget towards the latter end of the year.

In relation to her own budget, Ms Burton said she will use her spending power to boost the incomes of pensioners, young families, the disabled and their carers.

TDs from both Fine Gael and the Labour Party believe Budget 2016 is the most important of this Government's term given the upcoming general election.

But ministers are wary about discussing budgetary measures at their respective parliamentary party meetings for fear of giving rise to false expectations.

As reported this week, a cohort of Fine Gael backbenchers is putting pressure on Finance Minister Michael Noonan to introduce tax incentives for market towns.

The proposal, which was tabled at the Fine Gael meeting on Wednesday by Mayo TD Michelle Mulherin, would see tax breaks for businesses, first-time buyers and owner occupiers who revive dormant properties.

Mr Noonan is reported to have given a "lukewarm" response to the proposal, which is now expected to be examined by an internal party committee for inclusion in its general election manifesto.

Irish Independent

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