Sunday 18 August 2019

Election 2016: Enda's pitch targets families in low-pay jobs

Fine Gael to commit to 'sensible increases in the minimum wage'

Fine Gael economic plan
Fine Gael economic plan

Fionnán Sheahan

A new support payment for working families, more hikes in the minimum wage and welfare reforms will form Fine Gael's pitch to low-income workers in the general election.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will seek to "broaden the appeal" of his party by breaking down how the economic recovery will benefit those on low incomes.

The plan will see Fine Gael move in on areas of policy usually the preserve of the Labour Party.

Fine Gael's new long-term economic plan, called 'Keep the Recovery Going', will be based on three sequential steps: create jobs, make work pay, and put funding back into public services.

The party will be emphasising that the second and third steps are dependent upon the first.

Along with phasing out the Universal Social Charge, a key component will be an additional incentive for low-income workers to stay in employment and get off welfare.

This new Working Family Payment will target those on incomes under €25,000 or €30,000, who won't derive as much benefit from the USC cuts.

"It's not a stick, it's a carrot. The Back to Work Allowance halves after a year and disappears after two years. The Working Family Payment will be an ongoing in-work benefit to make sure that every family is better off in work rather than on welfare, and that every additional hour worked will bring more take-home pay," a senior party strategist told the Irish Independent.

"It's designed to benefit those who don't get as much out of USC cuts as middle-income earners do. In addition to the benefits of USC, everybody will be better off at work than on welfare. This payment would work seamlessly with the tax system."

The plan will also include additional help with childcare costs. In October's Budget, the Government pledged to provide additional months of free care for children from the age of three until they start school.

The senior Coalition party's economic plan will set out other measures to assist parents.

Significantly, Fine Gael will commit to "further sensible increases in the minimum wage".

From January 1, the minimum wage will increase from €8.65 to €9.15 an hour.

The Labour Party wants employers to pay a living wage - a wage which makes possible a minimum acceptable standard of living.

The living wage is currently set at €11.50 an hour, a fifth more than the new minimum wage level.

Fine Gael is notably not talking about the living wage.

Mr Kenny's economic plan was drawn up by Finance Minister Michael Noonan, Jobs Minister Richard Bruton and Junior Finance Minister Simon Harris.

Party strategists say the policy is aimed at "broadening the appeal of the party".

"This is our key theme for the general election campaign. It needs to be explained over time to people that each step is contingent on the previous one," a senior party strategist said.

The Government has already launched a plan aimed at putting more people at work than ever before.

The plan also warns the country's regions they will have to work harder to attract both investment and workers.

The ability to move between specialist jobs within the same region will also be vital if areas are to retain workers.

'Enterprise 2025' aims to add 266,000 extra jobs by 2020, leading to more people at work in Ireland than ever before, resulting in unemployment falling to 6pc.

Irish Independent

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