Housing, welfare and childcare dominate Budget 2019 Q&A

 

Housing, welfare and childcare were the main issues preoccupying Irish Times readers after Budget 2019 when they contacted our post-budget online Q&A. But it wasn’t to the exclusion of a wide range of topics, with strong reader interest despite the absence of surprises in the Minister’s budget speech.

Readers were trying to get a fix on how the various housing measures announced in the budget would affect property prices in or rental rates in general, or on their prospects for being able to buy a home.

The €310 million affordable housing scheme drew particular attention though it is not likely to deliver any homes until 2020 at the earliest.

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From the other side of the debate, landlords were checking on how the new mortgage interest arrangements would work, and whether there were any other incentives to encourage private sector housing supply. There were none.

People on different welfare payments, or pro rata payments, wanted to make sure that that the €5 weekly increase from March applied to them. And they also welcomed the full restoration of the Christmas bonus.

A change to the Working Family Payment (formerly family income supplement)that disregards some of the cost of housing form the weekly income threshold should be good news for around 5,500 families.

Childcare, as always, was a strong theme among the questions, with many people trying to figure out how the additional funding would be allocated and whether it was relevant to them. Many of the answers were expected from Minister Katherine Zappone who was holding a lunchtime briefing on the subject.

The decision to extend the zero rating for electric vehicles for three years was noted but there was some concern at the introduction of a €50,000 cap on the price of new cars qualifying. It means that environmentally focused business executives will face benefit-in-kind on any garage value of their company car above that threshold.

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Students
Third-level students were left wondering if they had been forgotten altogether with no specific measures put in place to make their lives easier, or studying more affordable.

Others were looking for details of any funding for colleges themselves or for back to education programmes. Both will benefit form increased Department of Education funding but the details are still unclear.

There was plenty of interest from current and former public servants about pay and pensions but neither was addressed in the budget. The Government and public service unions already agreed in late 2017 a path to full pay restoration by 2021 and whoever holds the position of minister for public expenditure on December 31st, 2020, will have to give a date at that stage for when the pension reduction will be fully unravelled.

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State pension reform also featured though, again, that was not a matter for the budget, with Minister for Employment and Social Affairs Regina Doherty preparing separately to get in touch by the end of the month with 67,000 pensioners.

Some readers were asking about the fate of some of the measures that were the subject of intensive kite-flying ahead of the budget, only to be markedly absent from the Minister’s speech. They could still feature in the Finance Bill but we’ll have to wait till its publication next week to see if that is so.

And then there were the smokers, fulminating about the latest 50 cent increase in the price of cigarettes and wondering what the Government will do when it has taxed them into giving up tobacco. With one in five people still smoking, that’s unlikely to be an immediate concern for the Minister.

Dominic Coyle

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