Heather Humphreys refuses to rule out other once-off payments as she announces €2.2bn Budget Day package

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“September is coming to an end,” said the Social Protection Minister. “The days are getting shorter and I know many people are looking ahead nervously to the winter months.”

eather Humphreys sounded almost poetic as she expressed what is probably the uppermost question in many people’s minds despite the series of cash announcements made yesterday. What lies ahead?

The minister did not rule out further once-off payments if needs be, despite announcing the biggest social protection package of all time, worth €2.2bn for next year.

When asked about the possibility of additional measures being taken in March or April if inflation continues its dramatic rise? She said it had been pointed out that “there’s still some fuel in the tank”.

“You heard the Minister for Finance said today that there’s money being put into a reserve,” she said. “So, I think somebody else did make the point that there’s still some fuel in the tank. There’s going to be money available if it is needed.”

She said the historic budget package announced yesterday will “certainly go a long way to supporting people with the increased cost of living”.

Department sources said everything will be kept under review but there are no plans for additional payments “as of now”.

The €2.2bn Social Protection budget unveiled by Ms Humphreys will not just benefit those living on the lowest incomes in the country.

One of the centrepieces is a double payment of the universal child benefit. It will be paid to all families with children, whether the household includes company CEOs or low-paid sales assistants.

The payment will have broad ­electoral appeal.

At €140 per child, it will amount to a double payment of €840 for parents with three children. The payment will be made to every family in the country, said the minister. A total of 640,000 families will ­benefit.

“These are extraordinary times requiring an extraordinary response,” she said.

The biggest criticism she faced yesterday was for not achieving the rumoured €15 across-the-board increase she was believed to be battling for in welfare rates.

Instead, there will be a €12 hike from January.

With recent astonishing rates of inflation, the extra fivers that were once a regular feature on Budget day now seem far-removed.

Ms Humphreys said this measure alone will cost almost €900m and is the largest Budget increase in weekly payments since the mid-2000s.

She justified it on the basis that an additional series of exceptional lump-sum payments will also ease the pressure and stress that households are facing in the coming weeks – not just from January.

Her officials are setting up a system to ensure these payments are made in October, November and December, when people need the support most, she added.

They include a double cost-of-living payment next month for all welfare recipients, including pensioners, carers and people on disability payments.

In November, there will be a €400 lump-sum Fuel Allowance payment, a €200 lump-sum payment for pensioners and those with a disability receiving the living alone allowance, and a €500 cost-of-living lump sum for families in receipt of the working family payment.

There will also be a €500 cost-of-living payment for people on the carer’s support grant and the same amount for those on disability support grants.

In December, a Christmas bonus double payment will be paid to
1.3 million social protection recipients.

“What we want to do is help people now,” she said, rather than give them incremental increases in the new year. She said if someone wants to fill their tank with oil, they need the money now.

Of course, one of the obvious benefits of these payments is that they are once-off, avoiding a more permanent potential negative impact on government finances and the social insurance fund.

To be fair, there are other costly permanent measures, including the largest expansion of the Fuel Allowance scheme, to bring in almost 90,000 new households. “We all have parents and grannies and grandads who we think the world of,” said the minister.

“The one thing I don’t want to see as minister is any old person sitting in their home afraid to turn on the heat.”

She argued that the “extraordinary” budget must be viewed “in the round” by looking at the impact of the lump sum payments and weekly increase.

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