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Financial Resolution No. 15: General (Resumed) (Continued)

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin] The Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, has failed to deliver the promised reductions in the exorbitant prices of medicines. Instead, he is passing on the cost to patients through higher prescription charges and the increase in the threshold for the drugs payment scheme from €132 to €144 per month.

  I could go on ad infinitum, there are so many serious fault lines in this budget package, but I will conclude. We reject this budget, we stand shoulder to shoulder with those who bear the brunt of its attacks and we will campaign and work even more vigorously for a real alternative.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh This budget is cowardly and indefensible. In particular, the cuts in social welfare target the most vulnerable in society. So much for the pre-election promises and programme for Government's commitments. By design, the Government has set out to target children and the parents on whom they depend. Also by design, it has set out to target the disabled again.

Only one month ago, the Government campaigned on children's rights, promising the Earth, moon and stars, but we can see today the colour of its commitment to children. The number of children at risk of poverty and the numbers experiencing acute deprivation will increase as a consequence of this budget. Basics such as food, clothing and shelter will become unaffordable for thousands of families. Without hesitation, I condemn the cuts to the child benefit, the back to school allowance, the respite care grant and the maternity benefit in particular, although there are many others.

Yesterday, the Labour Party-Fine Gael Government dipped its hand into families' pockets and ripped out €10 for each child. In the case of a family of four, the Minister for Social Protection has taken €58 in child benefit per month, some €696 per year. The parents of twins and triplets will struggle in particular, having been targeted by the Government last year.

If all of that was not low enough, the Government has decided to tax the unborn. The decision to start taxing maternity benefit could see some mothers losing more than €1,300 at an expensive time in their lives.

If it was not already bad enough for mothers and their young children, the Government has once again targeted them by cutting the back to school allowance by €50. This annual payment assists the country's poorest children and their families when children return to school each September. Combined with last year's cut of approximately €50, €100 has been cut across two Labour Party and Fine Gael budgets. This is supposed to be a fairness agenda. So much for fairness.

Struggling families should fear not, however. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, and her colleagues have included some measures to "compensate" for the cuts. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, has been all over the place claiming that there is a "suite" of 14 measures to tackle wealth. However, he announced a suite of measures yesterday that will push more people into poverty, target the low paid and the vulnerable and dig further into their pockets. The Minister, Deputy Howlin's wealth suite also targets the poor and the low paid.

The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, has a solution for the majority of families, one that is taken out of Ms Mary Harney's book. Do Deputies remember Mary Harney of the Progressive Democrats? She told people to shop around. This is the answer that the Minister, Deputy Burton, has for parents whose back to school clothing allowance she has slashed.

I will address one of the meanest cuts of all. The annual respite care grant for children and others with severe disabilities is being cut by €325 at a time when respite services are being steadily reduced because of the Government cuts of recent years to the health service. We need only recall the issue of home help. The respite care grant is invaluable to the financial and mental well-being of family carers. This morning, the Tánaiste referred to its recipients as members of the caring profession. That is a joke. The State has never fully recognised the cost of disability, let alone the value of caring. Using a phrase that incites the rage of many of the carers whom I have met, the Minister, Deputy Burton, has regularly referred to them as unsung heroes. They do not want her patronising praise. They want the cuts reversed and the Government to give them a break.

When people are at their lowest having just lost their jobs, what is the Government's response? The response of the Labour Party, which supposedly represents the working class - at least that lie is in tatters - to jobseekers is to walk all over them and to kick them when they are down. The Government proposes to cut jobseeker's benefit entitlements by three months, amounting to 25% and 33%, respectively. The Government is removing people's insurance repayments, as jobseeker's benefit is a payment due to them from their PRSI contributions. Claimants paid their premiums while working and are entitled to expect that they be repaid to them once they lose their jobs. Since 2007, 300,000 people have lost their jobs. In the past three months alone, the total number of people employed has decreased by 5,800.

The Government has done nothing in this budget to live up to its promise not to cut social welfare core rates. The changes to the jobseeker's benefit is proof of this, were any needed. Just as workers, trade unions, Sinn Féin and members of the Labour Party agree that allowances in the public sector form part of core pay, social welfare allowances and secondary benefits are core social welfare payments. Has the Government no shame in trying to represent this manifestly unfair budget as fair? Shame on it.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Seán Kenny): Information on Seán Kenny Zoom on Seán Kenny The next speaker is the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, but the House is due to suspend at 3 p.m. As it is now 2.58 p.m., the Minister of State can use the remainder of his time when the debate resumes.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Sean Sherlock): Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock With the Chair's permission, I would like to share my time with Deputies Harrington, Twomey and Kyne.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Seán Kenny): Information on Seán Kenny Zoom on Seán Kenny The Deputies will have five minutes each.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock I will conclude my contribution within the two minutes remaining before the sos, after which my time will revert to the other Deputies, with the Chair's permission.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Seán Kenny): Information on Seán Kenny Zoom on Seán Kenny That is fine.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock There are two Sinn Féins on this island - Sinn Féin in the Six Counties and Sinn Féin in the Twenty-six Counties. They preach one message in the South and another in the North. I do not understand Sinn Féin's vehement opposition to a property tax in the South, as it does not appear to oppose it in the North where it is in government and where the average household pays approximately £1,000 per annum. If Sinn Féin is so vehemently opposed to property tax, why has it not rolled back on that tax in the North?

In October, Sinn Féin nodded through the Welfare Reform Bill in the North, which will have the effect of permanently reducing the North's £5.1 billion benefits bill.

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