Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath has said the Government recognises the latest measures to address the rising cost of living “won’t meet every need” or solve everyone’s financial problems.
However, he said the Government believes it will make a “positive difference” for a very large number of people.
A €200 energy rebate to every household in the country is the main plank of the Government’s package, which was announced yesterday. It accounts for €378 million of a total of €505 million.
The other two big ticket items are the 20% reduction in public transport fares at €54 million, and the €125 payment to the recipients of the fuel allowance, which costs €49 million.
Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland, Mr McGrath said the measures are for those who need it the most, while also offering some relief to everyone.
He said there are many who have an income above social welfare thresholds but are struggling.
He also said there is a “safety net” within the social welfare system and people can seek additional help when they need it.
Last year, he said, 55,000 payments were paid with an average payment of €770 in these circumstances.
Mr McGrath also said that he hopes a new public service pay deal will be reached over the coming months and it will take into account the economic situation.
The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) has sought assurances from Government that the 20% reduction in public transport prices will not have an impact on workers’ pay.
NBRU General Secretary Dermot O’Leary said: “We don’t know where that money is coming from … The fundamental issue for us here is staff certainly will not be paying or plugging the gap on this one.”
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he said another issue of concern is whether the reduction on transport costs will affect plans to improve public transport infrastructure.
Mr McGrath said the reduction is a “very important initiative” across all the different public transport platforms and the commitment is for a reduction until the end of the year.
He said he wants to reassure “workers who are delivering these vital services” that it will not be at their expense as the money to fund these price cuts will be coming from the Exchequer.
On the same programme, co-leader of the Social Democrats Roisin Shorthall rejected the Government’s assertion that the bulk of the measures announced yesterday to address the rising cost of living are targeted.
“That is patently not true. Out of €505 million in total, €378 million is going in an untargeted measure and that is the electricity rebate. That is a very blunt instrument. It is not targeted at all towards people who absolutely need it and are in dire straits.”
She said a lot of the money will be given to people who “won’t even notice it going into their account” and people who have holiday homes.
“We know there is about 62,000 holiday homes, and the total cost of giving that energy rebate to people in holiday homes is €12.5 million. That is a substantial amount of money that is going to people who, I would argue strongly, don’t need it.”
She does not accept the government stance that speed was important in delivering this rebate, and therefore it was wiser to get it delivered to a wider number of people faster rather than spend more time on trying to assess who needs it most.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe last night defended the measures and the logic of the strategy was to get financial assistance to householders as quickly as possible.
However, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty has derided the Coalition’s approach, claiming it only scratched the surface of a problem which is affecting more and more people.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Prime Time, Minister Donohoe said that in adopting this universal payment strategy for the energy rebate, the Government’s assessment was that speed was of the essence.
He contended targeting supports at people who most need them would have meant many months of work, and financial assistance not being available until later this year.
Mr Doherty countered that the Government should have acted earlier to deal with the rising costs of living.
He called for a payment of €200 to those earning less than €30,000, arguing lower income households spend more on heating and lighting their homes.