Budget to take long-term perspective, says Varadkar

Decrease in prescription charges set to form part of financial package worth about €1bn

 Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe.  There will be increased staffing across the public sector to deal with Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe. There will be increased staffing across the public sector to deal with Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

 

Paschal Donohoe is to say that the Government is moving towards “sustainable” budgets when he announces his first tax and spending package as Minister for Finance today.

The overall size of the package of new tax cuts and spending commitments was still being finalised last night but is expected to be about €1.1 billion, largely funded through revenue raising measures.

There will be an emphasis on infrastructure, with additional capital spending announced to speed up existing projects in the areas of housing, roads and education.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there would be an indication of a “10-year view and a long-term perspective about our economy”.

Prescription charges are to be reduced for everyone with a medical card under the age of 70 in line with changes made for the over-70s in the last budget.

It is expected that the charge will be reduced from €2.50 to €2 per item and the monthly cap for prescription charges decreased from €25 to €20 for this cohort.

The regime for the over-70s will not change, since it was amended in the last budget.

The National Treatment Purchase Fund will be increased by €55 million.

Capital expenditure will also be used to deal with the effects of Brexit, and there will also be some increased staffing across the public sector to deal with Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

The controversial help-to-buy scheme of grants for first-time buyers, which offers an income tax refund of up to €20,000 for buyers of newly built homes, is to be retained, although it may be amended slightly.

A report commissioned by the Department of Finance is also to be published today and will say that it is too early to state if it has had a significant effect on the market.

The social welfare Christmas bonus is expected to be paid at 85 per cent of its usual rate. All welfare payments will increase by €5, although it has yet to be decided if the increased payments will kick in next March or April.

Additional funding is also expected for lone parents, the Family Income Supplement (FIS), meal allowances for schoolchildren, rural transport programmes and on subsidies for private operators to provide transport for older people in rural areas.

Around €40 million will be raised from the new sugar tax, although this will not take effect until April 2018.

The allocation for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs will be €1.4 billion, with Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to be allocated €750 million, up €40 million.

The agency will recruit 300 new staff and will also develop a national out-of-hours phone service for reporting child abuse.

The 110 family resource centres around the country are to be allocated an extra €10,000 each, and an additional 11 centres will be established. There will also be improvements in the Early Childhood Care and Education scheme, which provides care for three- and four-year-olds.