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Budget Statement 2013 (Continued)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Sean Fleming: Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming] There was no mention of it in the statement today. Throughout the country ordinary families are struggling to make ends meet and meet their basic child care costs. This crude attack will cause significant hardship for families. The Minister will also impose additional expenses on working low income families.

I wish to explain the changes made to child benefit because they will have escaped many people. The Minister had already announced cuts to child benefit to be introduced on 1 January, which were not repeated today but which will affect every family claiming child benefit. At present the rate is €140 for the first and second child and this will be cut by €10 per week to €130. The current rate for the third child of €148 will also be reduced to €130, according to the previous announcement and the announcement made today. For the fourth and subsequent child the current rate of €160 will also be reduced. Families will wish to know how it will affect them. Families with one child will see a reduction of €10 per month. A family with three children will see a cut of €38 per month, or €436 being taken from the mother's hand per annum. For a household with four children the cut will be €696 per annum. This is a very severe cut and it is important that people understand what is going on.

It is not only in this area the Minister will make cuts. He will also make it more difficult for people to obtain mortgage interest supplement. This scheme had worked well over a number of years and helped people avoid falling into arrears with their bank repayments. It costs approximately €3,500 per recipient, which is good value compared to what would be paid in rental supplements if the recipients were in private rented accommodation. The measures introduced by the Minister are coming into effect as time goes on and they will have a substantial impact in 2013. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, stated that rather than it being a preventative measure she wants a person to be in arrears for at least two years. This means a person must struggle for a year and then deal with his or her bank or financial institution, meet the conditions of the deal reached for an additional 12 months after which he or she will qualify for mortgage interest supplement. If people can meet the deal offered by the bank the Minister will then tell them they do not need mortgage interest supplement, so she is on the way to phasing it out.

Another issue which needs to be mentioned is the one parent family payment. The age limit for this payment has been 14 years, but legislation was passed earlier this year which means from 1 January 2013 the age limit will be reduced to ten years for new applicants. This must be taken into account. In the first week of January the Minister will also reduce by approximately €20 the income disregard which can be earned without the one parent family payment being affected. This measure was announced on a previous occasion but will come into effect next year.

The measures announced by the Minister will hit families where it hurts most by removing another €50 from the pocket of those who qualify for the back to school allowance. One must be on a very low income to qualify for this allowance. The Minister stated this will save €17 million, but this saving is on the back of the poorest people of Ireland, because by and large one must be in receipt of a welfare payment to qualify for the back to school allowance. At present the payment is €250 for children over 12 years of age and this will be reduced by €50. The payment for children under 12 years of age will be cut from €150 to €100.

With regard to older people, the household benefits package is valued throughout the country. Our senior citizens and people with disabilities depend on it. We know it is a significant cost to the State and we know it must be considered carefully. Approximately 400,000 people depend on the household benefits package. The main areas it covers are gas, electricity, telephone costs and the television licence. Many utility companies make excessive profits through what they charge the State for the package. The Minister for Social Protection should drive them harder and get better bargains for the State rather than making cuts. The €61 million saving should be shared between the companies providing the services, which have a monopoly, and none of it should be brought to bear on elderly people or those with disabilities.

Was the budget poverty-proofed? The answer is that it could not have been because the Ministers only saw it a few days ago. Was it gender-proofed? It could not have been because only four Ministers, all men, were in possession of it until a few days ago. They could not have gender-proofed it. Was it equality-proofed? It was not. It was rushed to the printers in the past day or two without detailed discussion. If it had been gender-proofed and the Minister had thought about it carefully he would not have done much of what he did. Many of the measures announced in the past hour and a half are anti-women and anti-mother. I am shocked the Minister announced he wants to tax maternity benefit. He will tax mothers who give birth to children. As I outlined earlier, child benefit payments to a woman - and most child benefit payments go to women - with three or four children will be reduced by more than €600.

The measures announced by the Minister will hit women who have children. They will also hit new applicants for the one parent family payment as the age limit will be reduced to ten years of age and families with children over this age will not be eligible to apply. The Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, has the view they should not all be out working and somebody should mind the children when they come home from school. As I also outlined earlier, the amount which can be earned before the reduction in the one parent family payment takes effect will also be reduced. We know the overwhelming majority of those in receipt of the one parent family payment are women.

The Minister has done a very nasty thing by cutting the carer's respite grant. This is a grant for carers who look after elderly or disabled people, including disabled children in receipt of domiciliary care allowance, in their home. I cannot believe for an amount of €26 million the Minister has decided to cut the respite care grant and will reduce it by €325 from €1,700 per annum to €1,375 per annum. This grant is what allows people to keep their sanity. They need the respite care grant so they can have a break for a week or two at some stage during the 52 weeks of the year. They provide 24-hour cover 365 days a year and need to be able to pay someone to come and look after their dependent relative. They need a break. However, the Minister will cut the respite care grant payable to the carer. This is nasty and unnecessary. The Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Howlin, are two decent men and I ask them to reconsider this. Two categories of people receive the respite care grant, namely, those in receipt of carer's allowance and those who do not qualify for it because of the means test but still provide 24-hour cover 365 days a year. The only payment the latter group receives for providing full-time cover for an elderly or sick relative is the respite care grant of €1,700 a year. I cannot believe the Minister is cutting it. The majority of carers in Ireland are women. This is another anti-woman move. This is also the case with regard to the changes to the household benefits package because the majority of elderly people are women as they tend to live longer. The reduction in the household benefits package will affect elderly widows.

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