‘Difficult’ to meet benefit increase expectations

The Social Protection Minister has been told by her department that it will be “difficult to meet” expectations of further benefit increases because of financial constraints and the impact of rising pensions costs.

The warning is included in a briefing note to Regina Doherty, which also shows the recent “welfare cheats” campaign led to an increase of 60% in the number of reports linked to alleged welfare fraud to the end of May, compared with the same period last year. The campaign, spearheaded by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar before his election as Fine Gael leader, was criticised by the opposition.

The briefing note shows the campaign, which cost almost €166,000, resulted in 3,681 reports being received by the department to May 29 this year, compared with the comparable period last year in which 2,298 reports were received.

However, the note also outlines issues in processing some claims, admitting the maternity benefit section was “currently experiencing some difficulty” and that the target for the processing of carer’s allowance applications within 12 weeks has been lowered from 90% to 70% of cases.

As for paternity benefit, it says 22,500 are likely to apply in a full year.

It also states that the legislation governing child benefit, which provides that the payment be made to the mother, has been the subject of recent court cases and so “it is likely the original policy rationale will have to be reviewed and possibly amended in light of the legal challenges and to reflect and take due account of the needs of children in diverse family formations”.

The note outlines how the 2017 budget allocation does not include provision for a Christmas bonus, and that “the increases granted in the 2017 budget may increase expectations of similar increases in 2018” — but given issues such as pension costs and constraints on exchequer finances, “it will be difficult to meet such expectations”.

It also says the Social Insurance Fund will likely fall into deficit again and present “a significant challenge for Government”, later stating: “Expenditure on pensions is increasing by approximately €1bn every five years because of demographic pressures.”

The 2018 expenditure ceiling also assumes €150m in savings through falls in the unemployment figures.

News: 4

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