Thursday 23 January 2020

Minister to demand €5-a-week pension hike but won't seek increases for other social welfare payments

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty. Photo: Tom Burke
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty. Photo: Tom Burke
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty is set to demand a €5-a-week increase in the old age pension when she begins Budget negotiations with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

Ms Doherty will not seek to have other social welfare payments increased, such as the jobseeker's payment, but she will look to introduce new measures to assist working lone parents.

The minister is also hoping to pay the Christmas bonus to welfare recipients this year but it will not be restored to 100pc. Ms Doherty came under fire last week when she said that her focus for the Budget was on increasing support for single parents rather than pensioners.

However, the Sunday Independent has learned that she will call for the old age pension to be increased by at least €5 a week when she meets Mr Donohoe in the coming weeks.

"We are not giving them less than a fiver," a source close to Ms Doherty said.

"If we are not giving a fiver we are not giving anything. We can't do this miserable business of giving €2.50 or €3."

Ms Doherty wants to raise all weekly state pensions by €5 a week and continue the process of increasing the weekly rate over forthcoming budgets.

The minister will also seek to make changes to the Budget which would allow working single parents to earn more money while still being permitted to collect social welfare payments.

This could include increasing the threshold for how much a single parent can earn before they begin to lose out on benefits under the Jobseeker's Transitional Payment.

The €193 payment is paid to single parents of children aged seven to 13. However, any other earnings above €110 a week are means-tested.

Ms Doherty wants to increase this rate to €130 a week if resources allow.

“We want to allow them to earn more money before it impacts on their social welfare income,” a Government source said.

The source insisted that the Budget would not be a “competition between lone parents and our pensioners”.

“There are people who are at risk of deprivation.

We have 100,000 children below the poverty line and that needs to be addressed,” the source added.

“This is the State providing for all of the deserving groups and pensioners are up there in that category.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Social Protection is facing a major funding gap despite the fall in unemployment in the last year.

Any savings raised by people coming off benefits have been “eaten up” by the increase in the number of people reaching pensionable age.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has promised to raise the weekly pension in the Budget but has yet to reveal how much he will increase it by.

Last year, after Fianna Fail social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea called for the pension to be increased by €5 a week, Mr Varadkar insisted on raising all welfare benefits by the same amount.

Fianna Fail has been reluctant to push for pension hike, with Micheal Martin telling this newspaper his priority for the Budget was increasing payments for carers and those receiving State-supported disability payments.

However, Ms Doherty is not looking for welfare increases apart from the pension and payments received by lone parents.

Sunday Independent

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