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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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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív] Until last year, 70% of the income of a low-income farmer was assessed as means. In other words, the total farm assist payment was calculated and 70% of one's farm income was deducted therefrom. There was a special allowance of €127 per annum for each of one's first two children and €190 per annum for each of the third and subsequent children. Over two years, the Minister has eliminated all of these allowances. Now, if one earns money on one's farm, one's farm assist payment is reduced on a euro-for-euro basis. Consequently, if a single person earns €200 from farming, his farm assist payment is reduced by €200. All the time and effort devoted to farming the land will literally yield one no money. This is going back to the old days and it will kill all incentives to work small farms.

This step has been taken by a Government that could not bring itself to increase the universal social charge by 3% on incomes over €100,000. Accounting for all the various taxes, including the universal social charge and PRSI, such an increase would mean that the part of one's income over €100,000 would be taxed at a rate of 57%. The Minister, Deputy Burton, has no difficulty imposing an effective tax rate or deduction of 100% on the very first euro of income earned by small farmers.

The Government's strategy is clear: protect the rich and impoverish the poor. For example, a farmer with two children who has a farm income of €200 per week will have lost €65 per week over the past two years. This is on top of all the other cuts, the property tax, etc. A single farmer in similar circumstances will have lost €60 per week. A farmer with a farm income of €400 per week and five children stands to lose €133 per week before taking into account the changes regarding child benefit, car tax, property tax and so on. The Government is literally taking the crust of bread out of the mouths of poor people. In a Department that spends €188,000 per minute, the total saving this year in this regard will be €4 million. This would not keep it going for an hour. There was no need to do this. It has nothing to do with the troika or cutbacks; it is policy. It is interesting to note that 80% of the farmers who receive the most through the farm assist scheme are west of the Shannon, or west of a line from Cork to Derry. We know the interest of the Labour Party in that part of the world.

Deputy John Browne: Information on John Browne Zoom on John Browne I wish to highlight some of the measures introduced by the Government that will affect ordinary people, families and people with disabilities throughout the country. The Government has managed to target all the vulnerable, despite the many promises of Fine Gael and the Labour Party before the last general election. There were red-line points and PR articles in all the newspapers, written in the main by the Labour Party, which stated it would not allow Fine Gael to bully it into introducing cuts in any shape or form. Obviously, this is what has happened in this budget. Child benefit has been cut by €10 to €130, thereby hitting families across the country. There is a cruel cut of 20% to the respite care grant. The term of payment of the core weekly social welfare payment represented by the jobseeker's allowance will be cut from 12 months to nine. There are also cuts to the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance and the back-to-education allowance, and there is a PRSI increase. The redundancy rebate has been abolished and maternity benefit has been taxed. There are cuts to farm assist payments, as outlined by Deputy Ó Cuív. All of the cuts are affecting ordinary families throughout the country.

The cut to the respite care grant is a really mean cut by the Government. The grant is for people who look after those with disabilities, sick people and those who are unable to care for themselves. Over recent days, we have received hundreds of e-mails and letters from carers who are very concerned about the reduction. Recipients have not been using the respite care grant to go on holidays or buy new fancy clothes. Some of the letters we received show that the grant has been used by parents who bring children to Crumlin, Beaumont or Temple Street hospital. They use it to put diesel in the car, pay for lunches and meet other subsistence costs. As we all know, often when children with disabilities go to Crumlin or Temple Street hospital, their parents must stay there for two or three nights, or perhaps longer, during the period of hospitalisation. The respite care grant was used to subsidise the incomes of families who suffer very severely.

As I have said in the House so often, I have a daughter in a wheelchair and am very much aware of the suffering of families with disabled members. They are struggling to make ends meet and to ensure the disabled person has a decent standard of care. The cutting of the respite care grant will only add to the difficulties and it will cause major problems for families. If the Labour Party and Fine Gael do nothing else between now and the passing of the Bill, I ask them to ensure that the €1,700 is restored. I am involved with the spina bifida and wheelchair associations and many others and thus realise that families depend very much on the respite care grant. It is important that it be restored.

The Labour Party said child benefit was a red-line issue and that it would not be cut. I could quote many statements from the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, the Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, and various Fine Gael spokespersons to the effect that child benefit would not be cut if they were in power. The children's referendum was passed very recently but it was a case of style over substance because the decisions taken by the Government in this budget will certainly do nothing for children or improve their quality of life. So much emphasis was put on the referendum, yet we now see all the cuts that are affecting children.

I was at a meeting in Askamore, County Wexford, last night, which was attended by 120 or 130 farmers, many of whom are in receipt of the farm assist payment. They are very concerned about the reduction. It is an attack by the Government on the less well off in society. When I was growing up, we believed Robin Hood was the man who took from the rich to look after the poor, but the Government has taken from the poor to protect the rich. The Labour Party has lost out badly to Fine Gael in this budget.

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