People in different parts of country could get different welfare payments

People in different parts of country could get different welfare payments

People living in different parts of the country could get different amounts of welfare and State pensions -as the Government looks at a shake-up of the current system.

The Government is considering moving away from universal welfare and pension increases as seen in recent years towards using a more targetted allowance system in the lead-up to this year's budget.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said the recent €5 budget increases for welfare and pensions are not sustainable. Instead, a system where citizens on State payments get enough support for a so-called minimum essential standard of living (MESL) is being considered.

Attending a pre-budget forum of 50 organisations in Dublin Castle yesterday, Ms Doherty was told that groups, including carers and support agencies, want targetted payments rather than €5 annual rises.

The Government has raised welfare entitlements by €5-a-week in each of the last three budgets.

Ms Doherty criticised what she called "bartering" between politicians over the budget every year through the media as “disrespectful” and undignified”.

The Government is now considering a new system, referred to as a minimum essential standard of living. This was proposed by the St Vincent de Paul and proposes lifting households out of poverty by ensuring a basic income is provided. It would involve moving away from the traditional universal welfare pay increases announced at budget time.

Ms Doherty admitted it could involve people in different parts of the country in different circumstances getting different payments: “When you break it down, there are some people who are actually taking more than the essential minimum living standards from the state and there are an awful lot of people who are not. For argument's sake, pensioners living in urban settings have a higher rate than pensioners living on their own in a rural setting. You have single-income families versus dual income families. You have families with children versus families with no children.

There are a whole different variety of circumstances that don't get addressed when you give everybody the same across the board because you still leave the people who are at most risk behind.

Ms Doherty would not guarantee that the so-called €5 welfare rise would increase in October's budget again. Instead, she said the Government could not keep paying €400m or more for these universal increases every budget: “A fiver across the board doesn't hit people who need it most."

Pension increases can also “not be guaranteed” next year because of Brexit, she added.

Ms Doherty said the minimum standard payment needs to be done over a number of years as it could be expensive and would require substantial means-testing for households: “We need to have both political and societal buy-in because how do you explain to a lady in Donegal that she is going to get more or less than a lady in somewhere else without having the space to fully explore and socialise the idea. If you live in an area and can get public transport outside your door and can get on a bus with a free travel card, well then you don't have that cost of living. Where if you lived in Glenroe and you didn't have any buses and you had to have a car or bicycle..."

“It is exactly the same premise that we are doing with the cost of disability. I can't stand over treating everybody with disability who have a myriad of costs associated with their disability by giving them a single payment. I don't think that is fair. I don't think it is fair that we expect people who have very mild affliction and probably not much costs associated with their life to have exactly the same payment as people who are severely disabled and have much higher costs."

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