FF wants USC reductions and state pension increases

Fianna Fáil wants modest reductions in the Universal Social Charge as well as at least a €5 increase in the state pension in Budget 2019.

FF wants USC reductions and state pension increases

Fianna Fáil wants modest reductions in the Universal Social Charge as well as at least a €5 increase in the state pension in Budget 2019.

Party leader Micheál Martin also said pay should be restored for general practitioners as well as workers whose employers are grant-aided by the HSE and who have not benefited from the public service pay restoration.

The comments were made as the party finished up its two-day think in north Dublin.

The party, he said, considered previous Fine Gael promises to overhaul the health system, including an original pledge to disband the HSE as well as the abandonment of the universal health insurance policy and escalating hospital waiting lists.

Budget negotiations for Fianna Fáil will include a push for more national treatment purchase funds to alleviate hospital waiting lists as well as more money to reduce waiting times for assessments for children with special needs, Mr Martin said.

“Children are waiting up to three and half years for assessments in some parts of the country. That is unacceptable,” he said.

The party also wants to restore pay for GPs, after emergency FEMPI cuts during the recession.

Mr Martin said: “It is accepted that there is a crisis in GPs across the country in terms of supply and availability. That has to be arrested and action has to be taken.”

A full allocation of €55m for mental health services is also being sought for next year.

The party also wants ‘section 39’ employees, to benefit from public sector pay restoration. These HSE-paid workers are not included in a pay deal.

This issue was also raised at Cabinet last week, where Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath confronted government colleagues and demanded that section 39 workers see their pay restored.

Section 39 employees are not public servants, but their employers are grant-aided by the HSE to provide services mainly in the health and social services sectors.

Traditionally their pay has been linked to rates in the public service.

“For some reason, they have been inexplicably excluded,” said Mr Martin.

Fianna Fáil, despite recent warnings about overspending from the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, also wants modest reductions in the USC for workers. This is allowed for in its confidence and supply agreement with the Fine Gael-led government.

“The overarching priority is housing and health. In terms of prioritisation, investment and services have to be the priority this year in the amount of funding that is available,” said Mr Martin.

“We do believe that (there should be) some modest reductions in the USC in line with the last two years, focusing on the lower paid.”

He said he absolutely wanted to see USC reductions as opposed to any tweaking of tax bands.

While saying specifics had yet to be agreed on a welfare package for next year, Mr Martin said he would support a €5 increase in the state pension. This has also been flagged as a possibility by government figures.

“We were instrumental in ensuring that over the last two years,” added the party leader.

The confidence and supply agreement between the Fine Gael-led government and Fianna Fáil states that there must be pension increases.

The last two budgets increased the state pension by a total of €10 a week, between the two years. Fianna Fáil now wants the equivalent increase for pensioners in Budget 2019.

Fianna Fáil is also open to revenue-raising measures. It has been suggested that increases in carbon tax and a higher Vat rate for the tourism sector will provide this in 2019.

“Everything that we do in the budget is predicated on protecting the less well-off in society, protecting people on low incomes,” added Mr Martin.

The Government is deciding on how to spend an extra €800m next year, between services and tax measures.

Fianna Fáil is also pushing for a €200m affordable homes package, a reduction in hospital waiting lists, as well as further supports for low-income families.

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