The Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection has warned that State top-ups to ensure workers earn a living wage could be extraordinarily expensive for taxpayers.

Joan Burton was asked about the Fine Gael proposal to provide State payments to low-paid workers to bring their wages up to a minimum of €11.75 an hour - above the living wage of €11.50 an hour.

She was also asked whether business was being let off the hook of paying decent wages through social welfare transfers.

She said she did not want a situation where people were relying on social welfare or the tax system to provide a form of corporate welfare, which would prove extraordinarily expensive for ordinary taxpayers who would be footing the bill one way or another.

The Tánaiste said that the UK system of lower hourly rates paid by employers with social welfare tax credits had left them with large difficulties.

She acknowledged that this year her department had spent €400m in wage supports through the Family Income Supplement and the Back to Work Family Dividend.

She noted that the minimum wage will rise from €8.65 an hour to €9.15 an hour in January - but added that it was time to move as a country towards a living wage currently calculated at €11.50 an hour.

She said it was much more sensible to raise income directly through the living wage.

Minister of State for Business and Employment Ged Nash said he did not want to see a situation where major companies were let off the hook in terms of paying staff decent wages, leaving the taxpayer to fill the void.

He said he would prefer to see the money that top-ups cost to be diverted to carers, hospitals, pensioners, schools and gardaí.

He said it was very important to make transfers from the taxpayer through the Department of Social Protection to the low paid - but that situation should not continue in perpetuity.

He said the aim was to ensure that people could stand on their own two feet on a decent wage.

Both ministers were attending the announcement by energy company SSE Airtricity that it is becoming a living wage employer.

This means that 61 current employees will receive a wage rise averaging around €500 per year - and no future recruits will be paid less than the living wage rate of €11.50 an hour.

While some employers have committed to the living wage campaign, employer lobby groups including IBEC have described the concept as flawed and unaffordable.