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How much more can 'coping classes' take?

ARE you a member of Ireland's so-called 'coping classes', the middle-income earners who keep this economy going and feel they get precious little thanks for it?

Then Leo Varadkar is on your side. The outspoken Minister for Transport has sent an early warning signal to his Labour colleagues by declaring that ordinary working families cannot afford to take another "hammering" in the budget, which is now just 80 days away.

Between now and December 5, we can expect to hear plenty of political hot air about which sectors of society deserve to be protected in the next round of cuts and taxes.

Unfortunately, they never bother to tell us who exactly should take the pain instead.

In reality, the 'coping classes' simply do not have the same lobbying power as children, the elderly or social welfare recipients -- which is why the smart money suggests they will be squeezed yet again until their pips start to squeak.

Varadkar's basic argument is sound. An incredible 1.8m people in this country now have less than €100 to spare after paying all essential bills at the end of the month. Many of them earn a decent wage but are being slowly crucified by stealth taxes, hikes in health insurance and the steadily increasing cost of utilities such as electricity.

In other words, the middle classes find themselves in the position of a frog which has been placed in boiling water but does not realise the danger until it is too late. Despite Varadkar's "I feel your pain" comments, most of his Cabinet's proposed budgetary measures will only succeed in turning up the temperature.

A new property tax, cuts to child benefit and an increase in PRSI would all raid these people's wallets and reduce their spending power in an economy where confidence is in desperately short supply.


Is there an alternative? Over the weekend, yet another mini-row broke out between Fine Gael and Labour over whether pensioners should still be seen as off-limits. Brian Hayes claimed that many elderly people are quite well off and could afford to cough up a few more bob, but was immediately slapped down by Joan Burton who insisted that he was merely expressing "a personal view".

Once again, the Fine Gael Minister seems to make a good point. The package of universal benefits received by all OAPs, including free TV licence, a travel pass and electricity, gas and telephone allowances, costs the State a whopping €450m per year.

Savings could be made by asking the better-off among them to make a contribution -- if only to help the younger generation, who are drowning in a sea of negative equity and household debt.

But sadly, it isn't that simple. The 'grey power' brigade puts the fear of God into most politicians, who remember how pensioners humiliated the last Fianna Fail Government when Brian Lenihan tried to take away their automatic right to a medical card back in 2008.

By comparison, the 'coping classes' are seen as a soft touch. They need to batten down the hatches.

By Christmas, the chances are that many of us will not be coping any more.