Welfare payments target those most in need within Irish society. They also play a central role in alleviating poverty. According to the latest CSO Poverty figures, without the social welfare system four in every ten of the Irish population would be living on an income below the poverty line. However, welfare payments reduced the poverty rate by 27 percentage points to 11.6 per cent. Thus, when Budget resources are focused on the welfare system they assist those who need most help.
Social Justice Ireland regrets that Budget 2023 only provided an increase of €12 per week to core welfare payments. In our pre-Budget document, Budget Choices, we called for an increase of €20 per week in all weekly minimum welfare payments to ensure that their value was benchmarked to movements that have already occurred in average earnings. We believe that over this and the next budget a benchmark equivalent to 27.5 per cent of average earnings could be achieved. This would have required an increase totalling €34 over both years; it is regrettable that more progress was not made on achieving this objective. It is also a concern that as public and private sector wage increases continue throughout 2023, those dependent on welfare will fall further and further behind.
A lesson from past experiences is that the weakest in our society get left behind unless welfare increases keep track with increases in earnings elsewhere in the economy. If divides open up, as in the late 1990s, poverty for this group will rise. We regret that progress towards this benchmark was not delivered as part of Budget 2023. Despite challenges, we believe that the resources were available to deliver this increase.
Other Budget measures, including increases to the qualified child payment and adjustments to the qualification criteria for fuel allowance, disability allowance, the blind pension and the working family payment are welcome. These assist low income vulnerable groups in our society.
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