The Green Party has called for increasing Ireland’s social welfare rate to €250 a week in a bid to end poverty – even as the national debt is set to soar to close to €250bn in coming years.

Green Party Minister of State and TD Joe O’Brien says that he would “challenge anyone” to try to live comfortably on €203 euro a week, which is the current standard rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance in Ireland.

This week, NGOs and academics took part in the “Social Inclusion Forum 2021” – a yearly event with a goal of discussing how the government can reduce poverty nationally. Speaking to Newstalk, O’Brien said that the government has a goal of reducing consistent poverty to 2% or less by 2025, requiring a “dramatically different” approach.

“To put it in context, in 2008, when we were coming to the end of the Celtic Tiger…the consistent poverty rate was 4.8%,” he said.
“When we’re talking about bringing it down to 2%, that’s quite a dramatic change, and quite a challenge.”

This announcement comes at a time when close to 140,000 people are unemployed due to the government coalition’s covid-19 lockdown – 24.2% of the Irish workforce. For comparison, in March of a normal year, unemployment stands at around 5.4%.

However, the number on Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) is significantly higher – currently over 437,000 individuals are receiving the PUP, costing the state €130.31 million per week.
The national debt in Ireland is set to reach the highest per head of population in all of Europe this year, at €47,700 per person – €20,000 more than the EU average. It is set to rise even further again in 2022.

Even before the covid-19 lockdown, Ireland was the third most indebted country in the developed world, and now in the wake of the new economic damage, the situation is set to be exacerbated even further.

Notably, the Green Party continues to support the covid-19 lockdown, which is the longest and most restrictive in Europe according to Oxford University.

According to the latest government figures, the sector with the highest number of people receiving PUP is tourism, hospitality and the food service industry, i.e. pubs and restaurants.

It’s these sectors which potentially face the most damage from the lockdown as the restrictions wear on – as the RAI said recently, half of all restaurants in Ireland are facing permanent closure, meaning workers in those sectors may have no job to go back to after the dust settles.

Though Tánaiste Leo Varadkar initially said there would be no tax hikes after the covid-19 pandemic earlier this year, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe contradicted him mere weeks after, saying that tax hikes were needed to deal with the growing national deficit.