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Social Welfare Bill 2012: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 2

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  5 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher] The four horsemen of austerity discussed the budget around the Cabinet table - or the half-Cabinet table - week in, week out. The Social Welfare Bill is a result of those discussions among the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach. They presented a figure to the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton. What never ceases to amaze me is that the Minister, Deputy Burton, has been acting as the Florence Nightingale of the Social Welfare Bill, as if she is not responsible for the cuts to respite care grants, to child benefit, to the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance, to farm assist, to jobseeker's benefit, to the redundancy payments scheme, to the supplementary welfare allowance, to the back-to-education allowance, to the respite care grant, and to household benefit, telephone benefit and other packages for existing recipients. The Minister is as culpable as the four horsemen of austerity.

The Bill is a direct attack on the vulnerable and the poorest in society. The spin from the Government will not inspire hope because people are living from day to day. Government spokespersons, Deputies and Ministers say their hands are tied by the agreement with the troika. However, they take credit for any change in the deal. I accept the fact that the troika is in town, but the troika did not ask the Government to include in the Social Welfare Bill a cut in the respite care grant or in the back-to-school allowance. There is no way the troika demanded that the Government should tax the poor and let the rich off. The troika is only interested in the bottom line. It is clear that Fine Gael has dictated the policy; the horsemen handed it to Deputy Burton and she capitulated. She has included in the Bill proposals that will penalise the most vulnerable and those who are helping the most vulnerable. At the same time, some Deputies opposite are crying crocodile tears and saying it is a very difficult budget. Of course it is a difficult budget. It is difficult because of the outlandish promises made by the two parties opposite who form this great national Government. They promised they would not cut social welfare rates nor increase taxes. Fine Gael has got its way. There is no increase in taxes for high earners but the poor will pay. Any posturing from Deputies opposite that this is a caring approach to the vulnerable and that it is a progressive budget does not add up. This Government has betrayed its mandate.

It is evident that a chasm is appearing between Deputies on this side and those on the other side. The betrayal is on that side of the House. The Government has been dishonest and disingenuous with regard to its mandate. A perusal of the programme for Government or other Government literature will show that the Government has not adhered to those commitments.

The Social Welfare Bill is inherently unfair and it attacks the most vulnerable. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, made some glib comments - which is not unusual for Deputy Rabbitte - saying that the cut in the respite care grant was small. I can tell the Minister that €6.50 a week to a family who are already struggling is quite a substantial amount. We all know this is the case because we hear it from people in our constituency clinics or around our constituencies.

The Bill is a complete betrayal of anything the Labour Party has ever stood for or claimed to stand for. It does not protect the vulnerable or those who need the support of the State. The cut in the respite care grant is the outstanding issue. However, I could spend the night listing the other issues as outlined on page 15 of the Budget Statement. The list contains all the cuts outlined by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, but the four horsemen of austerity are blamed for them. This Bill attacks those who need the support of the State.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív Tá sé deacair agam a thuiscint cén bunús a bhaineann leis an gcur chuige atá ag an Aire. Anuraidh, d'ionsaigh sí mná agus muintir na tuaithe. I mbliana, is teaghlaigh atá sí ag ionsaí, agus arís muintir na tuaithe. Ar ndóigh, is iad na teaghlaigh agus gasúir todhchaí na tíre ach is cosúil gur cuma leis an Aire faoi sin.

Is é an dearcadh atá ag an Rialtas, seachas athrú a dhéanamh de réir chumas íocaíochta nó é a roinnt beagán ar gach uile dhuine, ná díriú ar shainghrúpaí faoi leith a cheapann siad atá leochaileach agus nach mbeidh in ann troid ar ais. Níl cothramas ann agus níl ceart ann. Ba cheart go mbeadh náire ar Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre faoin méid atá déanta.

Caithfidh mé a rá nach bhfuil iontas ar bith orm nach bhfuil an tAire anseo tráthnóna, mar caithfidh go bhfuil sé deacair éisteacht le cur síos mion ar an mhísc atá déanta aici i mbun a cuid cúramaí.

I will deal with the cuts in social welfare in the context of wider Government policy. Rather than taking a little from many or being progressive by taking more from those who can afford to pay, the Government has a policy of targeting vulnerable groups in small numbers. It attempts to pick them off in the hope that these groups do not have the capacity, the time or the organisation to fight back. The Government has no regard for whether it is possible to carry the burden or whether the proposed measure is progressive or regressive.

According to commentators, from the downturn in the economy until the change of government, budgets were broadly progressive in that those who could pay the most took the biggest hit. Since this Government came to power, there has been a complete reversal of engines. In last year's budget, the attack was on women, children and rural dwellers; this year it is families with children and, yet again, another mean cut for farmers. The cumulative effect on families as a result of the changes in PRSI, motor tax, child benefit and property tax is very large and is disproportionate. It will push many families with children over the edge financially. Families and children are our future; they should have been protected in the budget instead of being specifically targeted.

I could speak further about the budget but, unfortunately, we are constrained by time because of the refusal of the Government to allow time to hear a proper and detailed analysis of the choices facing it. As my party's spokesperson on agriculture I will direct my attention to the changes made over two years to the farm assist scheme, which provides a safety net for low-income farmers.

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