Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said the main objective of this year’s Budget is “putting more money in people’s pockets” and also reducing the bills people have to pay.
Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, he said there are three elements to a household budget, “what you get paid, how much you get to keep after taxes, and how far the money goes. We want to help on all three fronts”.
He said this will be done with pay rises and reduction in taxes and in helping to reduce costs for people, such as with childcare.
He said for businesses it is a slightly different picture. “In the pandemic we did a lot, intervened on a large scale and we are going to need to intervene again.”
Mr Varadkar said the objective is to make sure viable but vulnerable businesses survive and people’s jobs are protected.
“So, there are three things we are working on at the moment. One is a Government backed low-cost loan, similar to what we had for Covid and Brexit. We have Commission approval for that, we will need legislation in the Dáil but that is what we are working on.
“The second is a grant scheme and we have Commission approval for this. This would be a grant for businesses that are manufacturing or exporting and have seen a dip in their profits or turnover as a result of high energy bills.”
He said there is a broader measure that the Government is working on to help businesses in sectors such as retail, leisure, and hospitality that are facing very high bills.
He said the details are “not firmed up yet” but indicated that they would like it to be focused to help with energy bills.
He said any help would have to cover farms also as they are facing high energy costs as well.
No decision on tackling energy costs, says Calleary
Earlier, Minister of State Dara Calleary said a final decision has not been taken by the Government on tackling the energy crisis, however he defended the use of energy credits over a cap on prices.
The Fianna Fáil TD said the credit system is ready to go with one €200 credit already done earlier this year, and that it will reduce people’s bills quickly and effectively.
He warned that a cap favours energy companies and rewards energy companies and while it would give certainty it is only for a few months. He said that is the case in the UK with this in place only until February.
Speaking on the same programme, he said with a cap you are “adding to the profits of the companies, that is not making companies keep prices down. If you look at the UK model it is a blank cheque to energy companies.”
He said there will be a “far bigger response” from the Government during this winter than previous years in light of the current crisis.
“It is required for families, homes, businesses, particularly small businesses.”
He said it was done during the pandemic and they want to continue this type of support.
Sinn Féin’s Climate Action and Communications Spokesperson Darren O’Rourke said the cap will provide certainty for people.
He said they have seen the clear implications of the cost of electricity.
He accused the Government of having “provided cover for energy companies, refusing to move on windfall tax for an extended period”.
Reacting to the Taoiseach’s comments yesterday in relation to ESB profits, he said he wonders what Micheál Martin will say when other companies announce huge profits.
“They have no approach and consistently refused to tackle those excess profits.”
Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said the number one priority is to get money direct to households that are struggling.
“We favour an extension of the fuel allowance.”
She said broadening it to a wider group and increasing it would help.
She does not agree with a universal credit. “Everyone is experiencing big bills but some can manage to absorb them.” She said there should be direct payments targeted for those on different incomes
Ms Shortall also said a windfall tax has to happen, with “much quicker progress at an EU level”.
Regarding a price cap she reflected on the downsides to it. “How do you control a cap which is essentially a subsidy to the electricity company?”
She said other considerations are that a cap on energy prices does nothing for over 50% of people who use gas to heat their homes or those who use oil.
She also said there must be a focus to incentivise people to reduce their use of electricity and consider renewables.
Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae, a member of the Rural Independent group, said there is a need for direct assistance to people who are now paying three times more to fill their oil tank and more for their bag of coal as they are really going to struggle this winter.
Meanwhile, CEO of Threshold John-Mark McCafferty has said there is an “abject challenge” over a loss of tenancies, which has risen sharply.
“We are seeing something in the region of 460 notices of termination every month. That is double what we were recording before the pandemic.”
He has called for budget measures to help renters most at risk. “Private renters must be a priority… Private renters are one of the groups hit hardest by rising inflation and are at greatest risk of poverty in comparison to owner-occupiers.”
He said along with consistent rises in rents, they are often in the least energy efficient homes and can inherit pre-pay meters so they do not necessarily have the discretion or choices that other people might have.
Threshold is calling for a number of measures, including a rent arrears fund of €20m, to support renters experiencing financial difficulty along with increase in housing assistance payment base rates to correspond with demand.
He also raised awareness of homeless prevention.
“Within the homeless budget, there is a lot of talk of homeless prevention, but the vast majority of the budget goes to emergency accommodation.”