FG welfare top-up plan 'shamelessly stolen from Labour'

Junior Minister Simon Harris

John Downing

Labour have tried to put a brave face on what was dubbed "a shameless attempt to steal their political clothes" by Fine Gael.

Minister of State for Finance Simon Harris said yesterday that the planned welfare top-up for people on low pay will reward work over welfare.

"It will also avoid putting an unbearable cost of increased pay on business and thus continue to help growth in employment," he said.

But Fianna Fail welfare spokesman Willie O'Dea said the plan was "a very obvious ploy by Fine Gael to take votes away from Labour".


He said the plan replicated two existing schemes and was an effort to deflect from Labour proposals for "a living wage".

"This is quite simply a shameless ploy to steal Labour's political clothing," said Mr O'Dea.

Mr Harris rejected this charge, saying Fine Gael and Labour had worked well together on the issues of job creation and welfare.

"I want us to continue working together in coalition for another five years," he said.

Labour equally made light of the claims of being upstaged yet again by their senior partners.

A Labour source said they were happy to see Fine Gael adopting policies that were very similar to their own.

"These similarities show the impact we are actually having in government. They are reflected in both economic and social policies," the Labour source said.

Mr Harris said the specific details of the new "Working Family Payment" will be fleshed out in Fine Gael's general election manifesto.

He said the current Family Income Supplement scheme, which is designed to top-up low-paid workers' wages, was too rigid to incentivise many people to return to work.

"For example, I know of people working three half-days a week, but if they accept a fourth half-day's work they find they lose heavily on welfare and fall off a kind of income cliff. We need to eliminate that," he said.

It is understood that workers receiving the minimum wage of €9.15 from next January could receive a top-up of €2.60 an hour. In a best case scenario, it could lead to an extra €100 per week from some families.

While brushing aside allegations of "targeting" Labour votes, Mr Harris said he hoped it would expose Sinn Fein proposals for a living wage of €11.50 an hour. He said that would put employment at risk. The revelation comes amid signs senior civil servants are preparing a campaign for pay rises.