Independent Alliance wants restoration of bereavement grant
Alliance seeks ringfenced budget to allow for greater flexibility in housing aid payments
Minister of State for Health Finian McGrath is to meet Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe this week to discuss next month’s budget. Photograph: Alan Betson
Independent Alliance Ministers are to seek a restoration of the bereavement grant and an increase in gambling tax in Budget 2018.
The other two Independent Ministers will also seek increases in their departmental allocations. Minister of State for Jobs John Halligan is to request additional funding for research and development, and Minister of State at the Office of Public Works Kevin “Boxer” Moran is seeking an increase in the budget allocated for flooding.
The group met last week and agreed a number of other measures it wants to secure in Budget 2018.
It is seeking a full restoration of the bereavement grant, a once-off payment of €850 given to families to assist with funeral costs. It was abolished in 2014 by former minister for social protection Joan Burton.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has indicated he wants to restore the payment but it is not clear whether it could be done in this year’s budget.
The Independent Alliance has also proposed a one percentage point on gambling tax, which is currently 1 per cent. It is estimated that would raise €50 million, which the group wants ring-fenced for addiction services.
The five TDs also discussed measures it wants implemented by Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy.
A rent freeze of two years was also tabled at the meeting, but it is understood the Independent Alliance has not reached agreement on whether to pursue it.
The group also wants a ringfenced budget to allow for greater flexibility in housing assistance payments. The payment is designed to help homeless families access the rental market. Local authorities can exceed rent limits on a case-to-case basis, but the Alliance wants an annual allocation for this to allow for greater use of the monies.
A re-establishment of the National Building Agency was also discussed by the group.
Ministers will hold a meeting with Mr Donohoe on Wednesday ahead of formal discussions later in the month.
The Minister for Finance has little manoeuvre in Budget 2018, and has already committed to reducing taxes for middle-income families and to further tax measures for the self-employed.
Mr Donohoe favours increasing the betting tax but is unlikely to ringfence the money. He will also increase excise duty on cigarettes and impose a tax on sugary drinks from April 2018.
The Minister is also under pressure regarding the reduced VAT rate for the hospitality sector. It currently has a 9 per cent rate but Mr Donohoe may increase it slightly.
In a letter seeking input from Fine Gael members on budget policy the Taoiseach offered them a number of options including abolishing the lowest rate of universal social charge (USC) on incomes up to €12,000, reducing the 5 per cent USC rate to 4 per cent, widening the basic income tax band, reducing the higher rate of tax or assisting self-employed.
On the expenditure side, members were also asked to choose whether they favoured increasing the State pension, increasing all social welfare payments, increasing the living-alone allowance or increasing child benefit.
The party will decide its priorities by the end of this month.