The 1997 budget, which was announced on 22 January 1997, provided for a £3 increase in the maximum weekly personal rates of all social welfare payments, with proportionate increases in reduced rate contributory payments.
The 1998 budget, which was announced on 3 December 1997, provided for an increase of £5 in the maxium weekly personal rates for all old age and related pensions, with proportionate increases for reduced rate contributory pensions. The 1998 budget also provides for an increase of £3 in the maximum weekly personal rates of all other social welfare payments, with proportionate increases for reduced rate contributory payments. The qualified audit allowance will be increased by 3 per cent in general.
To qualify for a non-contributory social assistance payment a person must satisfy a means test. Where a person does not have any means, the maximum rate of payment is paid. However, where there are means, the amount payable is the difference between the maximum rate of payment and the level of the person's weekly means. Accordingly, where the maximum weekly rate of a social assistance payment is increased by, say, £5, then all recipients of that payment will receive the £5 increase.
The person referred to by the Deputy is over the age of 66 and in receipt of a widow's (non-contributory) pension at a reduced rate because of means. Her pension will, therefore, be increased by £5 from the beginning of June 1998.
The increases provided for in the 1998 budget will benefit 890,000 social welfare recipients. Approximately 270,000 pensioners aged 66 and over will have their payments increased by £5 a week, with some 54,000 people on reduced rate contributory pensions receiving proportionate increases. Approximately 560,000 people under 66 years will have their payments increased by £3 a week, with some 6,000 people on reduced rate contributory payments receiving proportionate increases.