Varadkar goes after FG base with dole for self-employed
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar is promising the dole for the self-employed in next year's Budget.
In a pitch to small business owners and entrepreneurs, the Fine Gael leadership frontrunner is also appealing to his party base by linking tax contributions to welfare benefits.
The move will be viewed very much as an appeal to the party's base ahead of the forthcoming leadership contest.
In this month's Budget, the self-employed were given entitlements to treatment benefits and invalidity pension for the first time.
Writing in today's Irish Independent, he says the next step is rolling out the dole for self-employed people, which was a big issue during the economic downturn.
"Throughout 2017, my Department will also do detailed work on Jobseekers Benefit and how we might provide a better safety net for self-employed people whose businesses fail, hopefully for the next Budget," he said.
"I believe these reforms value the contribution that self-employed citizens make to our society and economy. I believe they will also encourage more people to consider self-employment or becoming an entrepreneur in the knowledge that there is a safety net for them if things don't work out.
"I also believe it will help to strengthen the contributory principle underlying social insurance and PRSI. Namely: that everyone pays into the fund, and is eligible for something in return."
Mr Varadkar is seeking to put Fine Gael's mark on the Department of Social Welfare.
Since its establishment in 1947, he is only the second Fine Gael minister to hold the post. Gemma Hussey held it for less than a year in the 1980s in the midst of a recession with little available resources.
But his emphasis on the self-employed will be particularly attractive to the Fine Gael base of supporters and activists.
Giving greater social protection to the self-employed and entrepreneurs is intended to provide a stronger safety net and thereby encourage more people to go into business for themselves, which involves taking risks.
But Mr Varadkar's move also plays to a Fine Gael principle of social insurance. The party's philosophy would be that those who pay into the social insurance fund should also get the benefit.
The minister will deliberately pitch his view against that of the left. He will point out those who pay taxes should get the most benefit from the system.
As Fine Gael is currently struggling to deliver on its promise to substantially reduce income taxes, the extension of social welfare is another way to keep small business people onside.
There are an estimated 350,000 self-employed businesspeople in the country.
In Budget 2017, the earned income tax credit was increased by €400. The Start Your Business Scheme was also extended by another two years. The new benefits extended include Treatment Benefit, to cover the cost of regular dental and eye exams and Invalidity Pension.