Elderly and disabled living alone ‘targeted’ in Budget 2020
Income allowed while still qualifying for One Parent Family Payment up €15 to €145
Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
From next year, the Living Alone Allowance will increase by €5 a week, from €9 to €14. File photograph: Getty
A “modest” but “targeted” social protection package, which includes measures to alleviate child poverty and hardship among older people living alone, has been announced in Budget 2020.
With no across-the-board increase in any social welfare payment, the changes focus on the poorest households. The measures will take effect on January 6th, and not from March as in recent budgets.
The Living Alone Allowance, which goes to 160,000 pensioners, widows and widowers and to more than 40,000 people with disabilities, will increase by €5 a week to €14.
The households benefit package, which includes gas and electricity allowances and a free television licence, will now be available to people aged between 66 and 70 even where they have a younger adult – usually one of their children – living with them.
It has been available to all over 70s regardless of their living circumstances but those aged 66-70 were not entitled to it unless living alone. That was described on Tuesday by Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty as “petty”.
“This provides additional supports to vulnerable, multi-generational households at a time of high housing costs,” she said.
The “qualified child allowance”, paid in respect of children whose parents or guardians are dependent on social welfare, will go up by €3 a week for over-12s to €40, and by €2 for under-12s to €36.
A scheme providing hot school meals, currently being piloted in 36 primary schools and catering for 7,000 children, will be extended to an additional 35,000 children from September.
The income a single parent can earn while still qualifying for the One Parent Family Payment or the Jobseeker Transitional Payment is increasing by €15 a week, to €145.
Similarly, the income threshold for the Working Family Payment (formerly known as Family Income Supplement or FIS) is going up by €10 a week for families with up to three children.
The fuel allowance, currently paid to 370,000 households, will increase by €2 a week to €24.50. It is paid for 28 weeks from the end of September.
The controversial cut to Jobseekers’ Allowance for those under 26 has been partially reversed. Jobseekers aged 25 will now get the full rate of €203 a week. Those aged 18-24, living independently and in receipt of housing supports such as HAP or rent supplement, will also receive the full rate.
The youngest jobseekers, who are still living at home, will still get €112.70 a week.
Ms Doherty acknowledged the lowest-paid workers may not benefit from the recommended increase in the minimum wage by 30 cent, to €10.10 per hour, because the recommendation that it be increased was made on the basis of an “orderly Brexit”.
“We really don’t know if it’s going to be the case,” she said. A decision on when the increase will commence will be made when the outcome of the Brexit negotiations becomes clear, Ms Doherty said.
A total of €2 million has been allocated to develop specific activation initiatives for particular groups who are “distant” from the labour market.
“In particular I plan to develop return-ships for the many hundreds of thousands of women who have taken time out of the workforce to raise their family or care for a relative.” Other groups include Travellers, Roma and ex-offenders.
Two research projects are being funded, including one on funeral poverty and the economic impact of bereavement. The second, to be led by a judge, will look at international best practice in ensuring non-custody parents pay maintenance towards the upkeep of their children.
This would “help us achieve better outcomes for families because there doesn’t seem to be anyone who is happy with the situation as it currently stands,” said the Minister.
She said her department would have €171 million for “new spending” in 2020, compared with €360 million for increases and initiatives in last year’s budget.
“A budget is not just about money. It is also about ensuring that you use your resources to effect the best possible changes for society. I hope the changes announced today will improve the lot of as many families and vulnerable people as possible.”