Pensioners and lone parents look set to receive increases in State payments, but not all social welfare recipients will benefit from the autumn budget.
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said, for her, a priority in budget negotiations was the most vulnerable, especially children and lone parents in need of welfare supports.
Figures this week revealed a significantly low take-up of paternity leave by fathers since changes were introduced last year.
Ms Doherty said she was considering and negotiating for all sides in her budget preferences, as departments begin making their submissions in the weeks ahead.
The Programme for Government agrees to pension increases over the lifetime of the Fine Gael- Independent Alliance coalition. The Government, in its budget for 2017, agreed to increase by €5 pensions and other benefits for those with disabilities, and widows.
Asked on Newstalk radio whether pensions and child benefit would be increased, Ms Doherty said: “I can’t promise. All I know is what is in the Programme for Government, which I am charged with delivering.
“We’ve already agreed that we will be increasing the pension with the rate of inflation. I’ve heard the Taoiseach on a number of occasions saying he wants to go further than that.
“I’m conscious that there are other people more vulnerable than pensioners. Lone parents are probably at the moment the most vulnerable in society. Children are at the highest risk of poverty in society, with 20% of our children in deprivation levels. That needs to be addressed.” Widespread expectations already point to the State pension being increased by €5.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has already said there will “absolutely” be increases for pensioners in the October budget. The increases were delayed after Mr Varadkar, as social protection minister, insisted the same benefits be applied to other welfare- related groups.
Ms Doherty has flagged it as unlikely that there will be increases announced across all welfare-related groups.
The entire cost to taxpayers for a pension rise and other welfare increases in 2017 is more than €300m. This is the same amount available to Government for tax cuts and spending.
The Government, however, has also spoken about hidden fiscal space and monies which might be taken or saved from other areas for the budget.
Ms Doherty said: “I’m not excluding the fact that pensioners do need to be looked after. People on invalidity pensions need to be looked after; people on pensions with disabilities. Jobseekers need to be looked after. For me, my priority at the moment is the most vulnerable at the moment and that is lone parents and children. It is all in the mix and I’m going to try and deliver for everybody.”
Recent figures show 139,000 children in consistent poverty, with 20% within lone-parent families.
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