Budget 2017 saw an increase in the pension, but it's not quite that simple

An increase of €5 was announced for all social welfare payments in Tuesday's budget

Michael Noonan, Paschal Donohoe, budget 2017

Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

It is astonishing to believe that 21 years ago, the then-Junior Finance Minister Phil Hogan felt compelled to resign when he accidentally leaked some budget measures a few hours before they were to be officially announced in the Dáil.

Now the only surprise is if something is announced that hasn't previously been leaked. Today's increase in the pension certainly was not in that category, as it had been known for weeks that pensioners were going to get an extra €5 per week - something which was effectively forced upon the Government by Fianna Fáil at the behest of Willie O'Dea.

The only uncertainty in recent days was when the increase would apply. Fianna Fáil were insisting on the first of January, while Fine Gael were vacillating between March and June. 

Leo Varadkar argued that other vulnerable members of society on Social Welfare should also benefit, but he could not deliver this if the State Pension was increased from January. So, a compromise was reached and now all weekly social welfare payments– including the carer’s allowance, disability allowance and jobseeker's benefit and allowance - will rise by €5 per week inline with the State Pension in March.

As yet, the exact date is unspecified, but if it is from the beginning of March, it will mean an increase of €215 in a full year which is an effective rate of €4.13 per week. Should it be deferred until the end of March, then the annualised increase for 2017 will be €195, resulting in an effective weekly rate of €3.75.

Either way, it is not exactly a massive increase over the much derided €3 per week announced by Joan Burton this time last year. Obviously Fianna Fáil is claiming credit for the increase, although they will come under fire from the other opposition TDs in relation to the deferment.

It could also be argued that restoring the Christmas bonus to 85% gives an extra €23 this December to those on the full State Pension.

This weekend Fianna Fáil TDs will be back in their constituencies, insisting to their local electorate that their senior citizens are much better off because of Michael Martin and Willie O'Dea. Given the electoral importance of the pensioners' vote (in February a late surge of support to Fianna Fáil give them an extra seven seats), they will see this as an opportunity to increase that support base.

On the other hand, Fine Gael will point to their insistence in spreading the money across the board and look for credit from those sectors. The problem that they have is that the disadvantaged have never really regarded Fine Gael as the party of choice when they cast their ballots.

It is also certain that the Independent Alliance - particularly Finian McGrath - will justifiably not be behind the door when claiming credit for extra help for the disabled. The Alliance will also claim credit for the reduction on the cap on prescription charges to the over 70s on a Medical Card from €25 to €20 per month, which is a potential saving of €60 per year.

All parties will be looking to the next series of opinion polls to see who, if anyone, will get credit for the budget.  Obviously that will be determined by the totality of the measures described but all politicians realise that it is the older generation who come out to vote, and €5 per week is proportionately more valuable to the average pensioner that a 0.5% reduction on USC is to those on the average industrial wage.   

Between now and the next General Election, the "grey vote" will be love bombed by politicians of all hues.