An immediate €20 weekly increase in all core social welfare payments must be among targeted measures in the upcoming budget to support households on fixed incomes, Social Justice Ireland (SJI) has urged.
Calls for targeted measures rather than “one-off” payments, along with a strategy of investment in public services, were made as the independent think tank released its pre-budget submission on Monday.
“Targeted measures to support welfare-dependent households must be an essential part of the evolving policy response to the current experience of rising living costs and an increase of €20 in core social welfare rates should form a central part of the policy measures adopted as part of Budget 2023,” SJI chief executive Dr Seán Healy said. “If not, those on the lowest incomes will be left behind.
“Households in the middle are also being impacted by rising costs, households who don’t qualify for supports such as the fuel allowance, the working family payment or the back to school clothing and footwear scheme,” he said.
“The Government is right to want to support these households and the most effective way to reduce costs for these households in the long term is a strategy of investment in public services.”
Refundable tax credits and a commitment to deliver a living wage of €12.90 per hour for those on low pay are also necessary in the budget to support low-wage households, Susanne Rogers, research and policy analyst with SJI, said.
A €20 increase in core social welfare rates would set the Government on the correct path to benchmark social welfare rates to 27.5 per cent of average weekly earnings over a two-year period, which was the standard set in 2007, she said. “Meeting this benchmark is a crucial first step in addressing income adequacy challenges for people dependent on social welfare.”
SJI wants the budget to prioritise long-term investment in housing, health, education, renewable energy and in people and public services so as to support low-income households, make “a meaningful impact” on reducing the cost of living and advance a transition to a green economy and a vibrant society.
To begin addressing the crises in housing affordability and homelessness, the Government must set a target of social housing stock that is 20 per cent of the overall housing stock by 2030, Colette Bennett, SJI economic and social analyst, said. To achieve this Government must double its Housing for All targets for social housing in the budget at an additional cost of €1.4 billion, she said.
Other proposals include a windfall tax on excessive profits made by oil companies and energy suppliers, yielding €100 million to be invested in renewable energy and programmes to eliminate energy poverty.
SJI says the Government should begin the process of ending fossil fuel subsidies and environmentally harmful tax expenditures in the budget and allocate €477 million for rural development investment. It wants specified sums for investment in a range of other areas, including €1.436 million for health investment prioritising social and community care, disability, mental health and Sláintecare.