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Budget Statement 2013 (Continued)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 2

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  6 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle] Removing the €127 PRSI exemption is also hard to stomach. A person earning €18,000 a year will pay the same PRSI increase as we Deputies, who earn €92,000. How can a Labour Party Minister justify that? The Fine Gael Party guaranteed no increases in income tax but for low income workers PRSI is a tax on income. How can the Minister say he has not increased taxation?

The Labour Party made much of wanting to increase the universal social charge for those earning over €100,000 per year. They lost that battle to their masters in coalition yet they are happy to take away the PRSI threshold. The Labour Party does not protect the vulnerable; it targets them more and more.

The increase of the self-employed PRSI annual contribution to €500 is a sickening blow for the self-employed. They get very little in return for their contribution. I have pushed the Minister for the last two years to allow access to benefits for the self-employed that would offer them support if they need it and would justify increased contributions, but it falls on deaf ears. The Government makes much of the deficit in the Social Insurance Fund as a reason not to provide self-employed people with benefits and these measures are being dressed up as a way to close the deficit. The fact is that the Social Insurance Fund should be in deficit when we are in a recession and built up when we are in recovery. The Government does not see that.

Taxing maternity benefit is hard to believe. It seems like a mean spirited measure. It is targeted to raise €40 million in a full year and makes the children of the country pay once again.

Again and again, we see the vulnerable being hit. The back-to-school clothing allowance, the respite care grant and household packages for the elderly and disabled are being cut. Reducing the respite care grant by €320 will hit families who use this to get some relief for a disabled or elderly family member. We can add to this the cut in child benefit of €10 per month, which is simply lazy. This is another across-the-board cut. A family on social welfare with three children will lose €30 a month. A family with three children on €100,000 a year will lose €30 a month. Where is the equity in that?

If the Labour Party had the will, a system could have been put in place to have a fairer targeting of cuts in child benefit. I put proposals to the Minister that would have saved €120 million on child benefit but would only target those earning over €80,000 a year. This could have been achieved without a heavy administrative burden on the Department. There are almost 700,000 children in families on low incomes either dependent on social welfare, getting family income supplement or earning under €80,000 per year in this country. The Minister could have protected those children but chose not to.

The 200% increase in the medical card prescription charge once again targets the vulnerable. It is the only part of the health budget that people can be sure will be delivered on. Once again, €51 million is to be taken from the most vulnerable. I have no faith, like the rest of the country, that the Minister will deliver the savings he says he will from the reduction in the costs of prescription drugs. Does anyone in the House really believe that he will achieve €330 million in savings?

The Minister said the budget protects the vulnerable. The budget measures are a litany of attacks on the most vulnerable. There is nothing in the budget that will protect those who need it.

The Fine Gael Party is only interested in balancing the books and does not care what the impact of the changes are, but the Labour Party should care, or should not have told everyone it will protect the vulnerable. The Labour Party has rolled over and has no credibility left. No one will think that Labour are looking after anyone except themselves. That is the sad reality.

Hope for people died when the Government took on the policies of the Fianna Fáil Party in 2011 and ditched its election promises. In the last two budgets the Government has taken ownership of those policies and built on them. It is clear that this is no country for the poor, the vulnerable and those who need to be protected the most.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly There is a huge element of the annual Christmas pantomime about this debate. There are the usual set pieces and routines. We have heard it all before. There is mock indignation from the people who started the austerity and robust defence of the measures from the other side of the House. For the people outside the gates and in their homes, however, this is not a pantomime and there will not be a happy ending. People are terrified and angry. We can say what we like in here and the Government can dress it up, but everything has got worse for people. Any leeway they had is gone. There are people who were in work and are no longer in work. There are people who are in work who are working harder for considerably less.

The only solutions to these problems being put forward by the Government is to dish up more of the same. This is the economics of lunacy. No matter how one dresses it up, this is Robin Hood in reverse. The Government is robbing the poor to continue to allow those at the top to get away scot free. One would expect that of Fine Gael. They are playing to their constituency and doing what they said they would do.

For the Labour Party, on the hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the party to stand over this and for Labour Deputies to have more interest in their mobile telephones than in the budget debate is a disgusting indication of how far the party has fallen. It has chosen to wage war on ordinary people. The budget contains not a single measure to tackle the wealthy. If the actual rate of corporation tax were imposed and corporations were forced to pay what they owe, it would negate any other measure in the budget. I do not even speak about tackling the high earners or going after them with a wealth tax. Instead, the Government has chosen to target the vulnerable.

Thirty years ago, the Labour Party's predecessors brought down a Government on the issue of VAT on children's shoes. Labour Party Deputies now vote for a home tax. Let us call it what it is. This home tax is the equivalent of VAT on 40 pairs of children's shoes, yet they sit there with not a bother on them. It is a disgrace.

We have dealt with the issue of targeting mothers by taxing maternity benefit and stripping electricity payments and telephone allowances from pensioners. People who have worked all their lives see their entitlement to jobseeker's benefit reduced, respite care is slashed, hospital charges are increased and so on.

The big one is the home tax. A basic roof over one's head is a massive whopping liability for so many people, and the Government is asking them to pay a tax on it. Council tenants are included in the net because local authorities will be levied for all the houses in their stock. They have no money so they will pass the tax on to tenants. Poor people are allowed the luxury of deferring the payment and paying a higher rate of interest. This is lunacy. Thankfully, I do not think people will pay the tax because they do not have the means to do so.

There are about 200 gardaí outside the gate of Leinster House today. I thought they were here to stop the daylight robbery that is going on in here, but it became apparent that they are here to protect the members of the Government. They need protection because the people are not going to stand idly by and allow them drive the country into the depths of despair. They will not tolerate it.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace Whenever a budget appears a critical question must be asked. Does the budget seriously address the massive levels of inequality in our society? Does it make a genuine effort to close the gap between the top 10% and the bottom 10%? Sadly, the answer today, as with previous austerity budgets, is "No".

  A few days ago, I found a page from The Guardian which I had kept from 8 December 2010, the day after the last budget of the Fianna Fail-Green Party Government. The headline was, "Poor Pay Price of Saving Ireland's Economy". The article went on to say:

During the budget debate in the Dáil, Fine Gael spokesman on Finance, Michael Noonan, accused the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government of being socially blind and said the budget was soft on the rich and hard on the poor. Michael Noonan added, "This is the budget of a puppet government doing what it is told by the IMF, the EU and the ECB".

He was right.

Irish Labour Finance spokeswoman, Joan Burton, said the winners in the budget were the bankers, both foreign and Irish, who were hoovering our money. She said responsibility was not being borne by reckless lenders or those who lent to them. She said the budget would leave Irish society more divided than ever.

She was right.

  That same month, as they prepared for an election, Fine Gael said a recurring residential property tax on people's homes would be unfair for a number of reasons.

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