In the last few days, it has emerged that there is support for social welfare payments being increased from €203 to €250. This view has been expressed and supported by Green Party Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development with special responsibility for Community Development and Charities, Joe O’Brien. According to Newstalk, Minister O’Brien has said that ‘social welfare rate should be increased to €250 over the next few years’. O’Brien also said that ‘he’d challenge anyone to live comfortably solely on the current rate of €203 a week, the standard rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance’.
On Tuesday, the 13th of April, on Newstalk Breakfast, O’Brien said that ‘the Government aims to reduce that consistent poverty rate to 2% or less by 2025 – something he says will require a dramatically different approach… To put it in context, in 2008, when we were coming to the end of the Celtic Tiger… the consistent poverty rate was 4.8%... When we’re talking about bringing it down to 2%, that’s quite a dramatic change – and quite a challenge… We’re a comparably rich country in the international context, but we still have quite stubborn and entrenched levels of poverty across the country… We’ve had it during good times as well’.
It remains to be seen whether O’Brien’s idea will be taken into consideration. As O’Brien acknowledges, it is extremely difficult for a person to live on €203 per week of Jobseeker’s Allowance. A modest increase would be a starting point, but a more ambitious increase, as suggested by O’Brien, would represent a rise in living standards of people on social welfare.
This position appears to have support from Fianna Fáil as it states on its website that ‘in Government our Party will introduce innovate social policies, increase social welfare rates and actively reform the social welfare system to ensure it helps and encourages people to reach their full potential’. It seems that the Green Party and Fianna Fáil have common ground when it comes to social welfare payments, but it will be intriguing to see whether Fine Gael would support at least a modest increase to social welfare payments.
Opposition parties have also voiced support for increasing social welfare payments. Sinn Féin TD Claire Kerrane introduced a bill in November 2020, entitled ‘the Social Welfare Commission Bill’ which ‘would establish a Commission to research and make recommendations annually ahead of the Budget to ensure social welfare rates are adequate by providing a minimum essential standard of living and protection from poverty’. This Bill passed the first stage in the Dáil in November 2020.
According to Kerrane, ‘one of the first lessons learned from a Social Protection perspective when Covid hit was the fact that nobody who lost their job would live on €203 per week… Yet this is the maximum rate for many social welfare payments’. Meanwhile, in their Alternative Budget 2021, the Social Democrats want to ‘link social welfare rates to the Minimum Standards of Living’.
According to the then Finance Spokesperson for Labour, Joan Burton, the party supported an increase in social welfare payments. More specifically, it sought a €5 increase in social welfare payments per week, according to their 2020 general election manifesto.
According to the Programme for Government that was formed between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, in relation to social protection, they will ‘protect core weekly social welfare rates’. Therefore, it appears that there is little appetite in the Programme for Government to increase weekly social welfare rates, but rather to protect these weekly payments. Whether this happens during the lifetime of this Government remains unknown.