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Social Welfare Bill 2012: Second Stage (Continued)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath] They all asked me to fight on their behalf. I, therefore, urge the Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, and the Government to listen to their needs and roll back this legislation that provides for cuts to the respite care grant. Let the Government be brave, tough and strong and come up with other options to stop the cuts. It is not rocket science; many Deputies have brought forward other funding proposals to resolve these matters. Let us have compassion and common sense and, above all, listen to carers, the disabled and senior citizens. That is all I ask for in the debate on the Social Welfare Bill. Family carers provide €4 billion worth of care every year and are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Let us give them dignity and respect and in the coming days look at changing the Bill. If the Government does not do this, I will vote against it. It is time to end the talk and stand with carers, the disabled and senior citizens.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, began by stating, "Our twin objectives in the budget have been to ensure those in most need of the support of the Department of Social Protection are protected most and that the Department does everything it can to get people back to work." Sadly, the Bill fails in both respects. If anybody believes more people will be working in December 2013 than in December 2012, I beg to differ.

  On the issue of those in most need of help, I have received an e-mail today from a family, the Johnstons, in County Wexford who have two autistic children. They outlined how the budget would impact on them. The reduction in children's allowance will be €456; the property tax will result in the payment of an extra €150 on what they paid this year; there will be an extra €80 on road tax; the reduction in the respite grant will amount to €650; and the increase in PRSI for the family member working will be €300. Therefore, the total loss for the year will be €1,636, a sum they cannot afford. They added:

Our eldest son, Evan, has been on a priority waiting list for respite care since September 2012. Since then, he was allocated one day of respite care which made a huge difference for this family. He benefited greatly from the experience and his behaviour improved for many days afterwards, improving the lives of all of us. Even if Evan is given access to more days in respite, we still have another autistic son to care for. The respite service would help us a great deal if we could access it in Wexford. It would not cure him but it would help just one more struggling family.

After its announcement the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, then on the Opposition benches, stated the budget for 2010 would leave Irish society more divided than ever. I agree completely that it did. Sadly, the budget for 2013 will do the same. There has not been a serious attempt to challenge the massive levels of inequality in society which should be our biggest challenge, given that most of us accept there is a massive level of inequality. A recent OECD report showed that the gap between the incomes of the top 10% and those of the bottom 10% had multiplied by a factor of 14 in the past 25 years, which is incredible. We are moving in the wrong direction. The chances of achieving social solidarity which used to be the reality in days gone by are disappearing. It goes without saying that in unequal societies the fate of young people is directly linked with how their parents get on, which reinforces a vicious cycle of poverty. I cannot think why the Government did not apply the simple measure of adding 3% to the USC for those who earn more than €100,000. That some members would balance a 3% reduction in social welfare against that measure is something I cannot understand.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy I met a woman outside Leinster House earlier today who told me she had less freedom than an inmate in Mountjoy Prison. Her home has to be locked down 24-7 because she cares for her young adult son who is autistic and presents such of a flight risk that the Garda helicopter has had to be deployed. He requires adult services, but nothing is available to him. Any home help the family has received has been withdrawn. The woman concerned has not had a night out in six years and put herself through hoops to be here today. The respite care grant is paid annually and not spent in a frivolous way. Any presentation of it being used for holidays or treats grossly misrepresents the reality. The woman concerned is from the Tánaiste's constituency.

  I refer to the advertisement on child benefit mentioned which was carried only days before the general election and in full knowledge of what the memorandum of understanding with the troika contained. It was not picked from thin air but was long-standing policy of the Labour Party. I refer to a debate sponsored by that party in 2009 in which the Tánaiste said the then Government had mortgaged our children's future for decades to come in the form of NAMA and was robbing from children to pay the banks. He continued:

One can only tap the same source for so long before it runs dry. Child benefit is not, as some would characterise it, a contribution towards the luxuries of life for the overwhelming majority. It is money which parents count on to pay for child care, trips to the doctor and food and clothing for their children. For ten of thousands of families in this recession it is a crucial source of household income with just about keeps them afloat.   

Those are fine words, but it is deeds that count. In the same debate the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, stated, "In this country child benefit is society's contribution to rearing our next generation." She referred to the Scandinavian countries and continued, "Rather than a race to the bottom as regards child welfare, we should try to model ourselves on the best practice throughout the European Union." Shamefully, it seems we are being led in a race to the bottom. Had the Labour Party told parents prior to the last general election they would have their child benefit cut, had it refused to sign the student pledge, had it told the electorate that two years on from the general election it would be Frankfurt's way that would win, with €8.1 billion in the budget to be spent to service the interest on the national debt, would it have received the same level of support? What I cannot understand is that this is not even about self-preservation. This will not be forgiven or forgotten. People expected better from the Government. They trusted parties such as Fine Gael and the Labour Party with their votes. The Government often arrogantly describes itself as a "national" Government, but tonight it is an absent Government. Its huge majority is being used as a sledgehammer, not against the banks or the troika but against those who cannot fight back. It is an absolute disgrace.

Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan I would like to have more time, but, unfortunately, the Government does not like dissent or to hear about the reality. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, stated social protection had high priority in the Bill. I wonder how that fits in with a quote from one of the organisations affected by the budget which stated the Minister was "breaking the backs of those who need a break". How does that fit in with giving social protection high priority?

  The Minister has confirmed that she will cut the respite care grant. I understand Fine Gael is pushing her around. However, even in the area of economics, this does not add up. I know Fine Gael does not care about people; it only cares about money; therefore, I will try to appeal to it. This measure will cost us money. A woman outside Leinster House involved in the protest last week told me that she was on the edge and that removal of part of this grant might push her over the edge. If she went over it - believe me, she looked as if she was on the edge because her voice was trembling - she told me it would cost the State €300,000 to take care of her two children and it would not do as good a job as she did.

  Perhaps the Minister does not believe what I am saying. I will tell her a story about someone else because I know she does not have any respect for me:

I have just spent this evening between helping my ten year old learn his lines for his Christmas play and trying to decide which of the medications I am prescribed by my consultant neurologist I really need. The levy on each item is now €1.50 as opposed to 50 cents.


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