I propose to take Questions Nos. 126, 127 and 143 together.
The Government is acutely aware of the increase in consumer prices in recent months, especially the increase in fuel and other energy prices. This increase in inflation is not a problem unique to Ireland. Internationally, arising from the pandemic supply chain issues were a factor, and now with the war in Ukraine driving further increases in energy prices countries are facing higher prices. These external factors are not within our control.
In recognition of this inflationary challenge, Budget 2022 set out a €1.2 billion package of expenditure measures to support citizens across a range of sectors with cost of living pressures. Some headline measures include increases in social protection payments, Fuel Allowance and Working Family Payment; health affordability measures; social and affordable housing funding, and enhanced student and childcare supports. Budget 2022 also contained an income tax package of just over half a billion euro.
Since December 2021, over half a billion euro of additional expenditure measures have been put in place to support citizens and businesses with increased costs. A number of these measures build on supports put in place in Budget 2022. A summary of the main measures is as follows:
- An Energy Credit payment automatically applied to the electricity bill of all domestic account holders to assist with rising energy costs.
- In addition to the €5 per week increase in Fuel Allowance payments introduced in Budget 2022, a further two lump sum payments totalling €225, paid in March and in mid-May, will benefit over 370,000 households.
- Budget 2022 announced an increase of €10 in the weekly income threshold for the Working Family Payment. The implementation of this increase was brought forward from April to June.
- A further reduction from €100 to €80 in the monthly payment threshold for the Drugs Payment Scheme. This will reduce medicines and drugs costs for over 70,000 recipients.
- A temporary 20% reduction in Public Service Obligation Public Transport fares until the end of 2022 to reduce the financial burden on commuters returning to the workplace.
- The maximum annual School Transport charge was reduced to €150 per family at primary level and €500 per family at post-primary level for the next academic year.
- A temporary and targeted emergency grant scheme for licensed hauliers provides a payment of €100 per week for licenced heavy goods vehicle for a period of eight weeks.
To provide further support towards mitigating fuel cost increases, the Department of Finance have introduced temporary reductions in the excise duties charged on petrol, diesel and marked gas oil and have reduced the rate of VAT on the supply of gas and electricity.
While public resources cannot be deployed at the scale that would be needed to fully compensate for all cost increases, the Government has committed significant resources to mitigate cost of living issues, targeted at the main underlying problem of higher energy prices and with additional assistance to those most vulnerable.
Over the coming weeks, I will be engaging with my colleague the Minister for Finance to prepare the Summer Economic Statement. This will set out the budgetary parameters for Budget 2023 taking account of an increasingly challenging and complex economic context.