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Social protection minister defends Budget focus on old-age pension despite Department of Finance advice

THE social protection minister has defended the Government’s focus on older people in the upcoming Budget despite warnings from Department of Finance officials that the elderly were less at risk of poverty than younger people.

eather Humphreys was responding after Independent.ie reported older people would be the “big winners” in Budget 2022, with the Government planning to increase the State pension while also boosting the fuel allowance amid spiralling energy costs.

Speaking at an event highlighting the dangers of fireworks ahead of Halloween, the Cavan-Monaghan TD said it was three weeks to the Budget and she would have discussions with Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath before then. 

“We’re very conscious that there hasn’t been an increase in social welfare payments across the board for the last two years,” Ms Humphreys said.

“We’re also very conscious that the cost of living has gone up. We’re also very conscious that the cost of fuel has gone up and all of these issues will be considered when we are doing the budget in three weeks’ time.”

A €5 increase in the State pension remains on the table for the Budget, despite official warnings from civil servants that social welfare hikes should be aimed at ­working-age people.

Government ministers are actively considering the increase for retirees to appease the grey vote after they missed out on an increase in the last Budget.

However, tax strategy papers from department officials last week stated this would have little impact on poverty rates. In fact, they said that pensioners were less at risk of poverty than other sectors of society.

This advice has already been widely dismissed across the Coalition.

Sources in the two main government parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, last week insisted an increase in the contributory State pension rate of €248.30 a week is being actively considered by ministers.

Asked when an expected report on pensions will be published, Ms Humphreys said: “The pensions report has been given to me, and I hope to publish it as soon as possible. There are a number of recommendations that have been highlighted in the newspapers. But again, I don’t want to discuss the pensions report, until I have brought it to cabinet and discussed it with my colleagues.

“I don’t think anybody should be concerned because it’s very clear in the programme for government that when I bring this report to Cabinet, the Government has six months to consider it. I’d be very happy to come and talk at that stage when it is published.”

Independent.ie also understands that ministers are looking at adjusting the means test to help more people cope with spiralling energy costs.

It comes as families are facing a series of prices hikes this winter, including paying an extra €400 for electricity and heating.

With the State pension set to rise, older people may also benefit with a re-assessment of the means criteria for the fuel allowance.

Speaking in New York last night, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the Government will use next month’s Budget to protect people on lower incomes from the impact of rising energy costs.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil yesterday that older people and those on social welfare will be “worse off” unless there are increases.

He also said that maximum price orders will be considered by Government in bid to halve spiralling energy bills.

“There will need to be a welfare package in the Budget, because people on pensions and social welfare will end up worse off if there isn’t an increase this year,” he said.

“That will need to be done. We will also need to do something on the fuel allowance, we’ve already committed to ring-fencing some of the proceeds from the carbon tax to increase the fuel allowance.”

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