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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 Anthony Lawlor: Information on Anthony Lawlor Zoom on Anthony Lawlor] It is unfortunate that when we have promised not to cut core payments, cuts must be made in other areas to make savings. One of the cuts I find difficult to accept is the cut to the respite care grant and I have made a number of suggestions to Ministers with regard to how we could raise revenue elsewhere or make other savings. In my home town, Peter Riordan has been named carer of the year. He cares for his two sons and he cared for his wife. It will be difficult for me to face him on this, but I will face him and I will be honest and let him know what I have tried to do and what I hope to do with regard to respite care grants.

I will support the Government on this budget. We must make hard decisions and I am not afraid to make those decisions, so that even if I do not retain my seat in four years time, I will have left the country with a better legacy and in a better position than the one we inherited.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I call Deputy Donnelly, who is sharing time with Deputies Ross, Halligan, Boyd Barrett, Daly and Pringle.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly The Government's refusal to allow Dáil Éireann to have adequate time for a meaningful debate on the Social Welfare Bill is outrageous. This Bill will push many people into poverty, yet the Government will not even allow our national Parliament sufficient time to debate it. What is the Government afraid of? Is it afraid its backbenchers may get time to speak? Deputy McCarthy made an excellent contribution, although I disagree with much of what he said. As elected representatives, we should have adequate time to debate the Bill. Is the Government afraid the people will see understand the impact this Bill will have?

This Bill will push men, women and children in this country into poverty. We do not know how many it will push into poverty, because the Government has not even had the decency to conduct a proper poverty impact assessment. Let me, therefore, introduce some figures to the debate. CSO figures for 2010 show there is now in every six adults in Ireland at risk of poverty and one in every five children at risk of poverty. Two years into this Government, I am pretty sure those figures have increased. However, the Government is now introducing, through PRSI, a flat income tax rise and is cutting child benefit for everyone in the country. Both of these regressive measures will hit the most vulnerable hardest.

Why does the Minister not means test child benefit? The Government says that is not possible. It can set up NAMA, invent promissory notes, figure out how to tax everybody's house, but it cannot means test child benefit. Why does the Government not introduce a progressive income tax? Fine Gael says this would disincentivise higher earners from working, but it has nothing to back this up. It has no data, research or surveys on this. All it has is its own ridiculous version of economics, which promotes inequality and poverty, somehow in the national interest.

The removal of the PRSI threshold will affect more than 1 million workers and will hit those who have the least more than anybody else. In its defence, the Government points to a progressive tax system. We have a progressive system, but this sort of measure undermines that. A sum of €256 a year may not sound like a lot to a Minister or a Deputy. It certainly does not sound like much to members of the so-called Economic Management Council. However, if one is one of the 20% of children in Ireland at risk of poverty, that is a hell of a lot of money. The cut to child benefit also amounts to a lot of money for these people. Again, this will hit the poorest families the worst.

Since 2009, the annual child benefit for a three-child family will have fallen by more than €1,600 a year following this budget. For many people, that is the difference between being at risk of poverty and of being in poverty. What do these measures on PRSI and child benefit achieve? They will raise just €500 million, which will go just a small fraction of the way towards paying off the promissory notes. The fact the Minister will not even allow the Dáil adequate time to debate this is pathetic.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross I do not come to this debate with any strong ideological position, but I am staggered by what the Government is doing through its cuts, particularly to carers. Like many of the Members on this side of the House, I spent some time outside Leinster House yesterday and some time in my constituency this morning discussing the proposed changes and was staggered by the fact that carers are bewildered. They do not understand how the Government, for the sake of €26 million, can cause so much offence, discomfort, difficulty and hardship to them, when it could so easily get that money elsewhere. That is what amazes them. They are amazed that a government that is committed to caring, to an ideology that is soft left, is prepared to make these unnecessary cuts in social welfare.

In Stepaside this morning, these carers pointed out to me that they work for the social welfare benefits they receive. They do not begrudge social welfare benefits to anybody, but they work for their benefits day and night, 24/7, yet the Government is removing some of their benefit from them. Why is that? It is being taken from them, because they cannot walk off their jobs, because if they did, they would be deserting family, friends and people to whom they have been loyal carers. There are easier ways the Government could have found to save €26 million.

The Minister for Transport was in Leinster House the other day seeking approval for an extra borrowing requirement for CIE, a corrupt semi-State organisation, of €300 million. Earlier in the summer, he had agreed to give them €36 million, more than the Government is taking from the carers. He then took that away and then returned it.

The decision to reduce the carers' respite benefit is extraordinary. It shows the priorities of the Government are bizarre and perverse. The same is true with regard to the cut in children's benefit. There is a kind of myth abroad that somehow carers are spending their money on holidays and that mothers of the children of this country are spending their children's allowance on something else. That may be true in the case of a minority, but is certainly not true for the majority. People being deprived of this money are people who need it badly. In the case of children's allowance, these are the same people who are being crucified for money elsewhere.

I do not believe social welfare should be cut until we cut other benefits that are easily abused. What about social welfare fraud? Why is that issue not tackled properly in the budget? Why is there some sort of taboo about doing that, a taboo Governments continually refuse to tackle with the vigour necessary?

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan Just weeks ago, the Government promoted a referendum on children's rights, despite the fact it knew damn well it would follow it up with socially irresponsible direct attack on children which has the potential to affect some parents' ability to care and provide for their children and, possibly, push more children into the care of the State.

Cuts to the back to school clothing allowance will cause enormous hardship for struggling families. Overall, the awful treatment of mothers and children in this budget puts the once proposed Fine Gael tax on children's shoes in the ha'penny place. I listened to some of the Deputies on the Government side talking about ideologies, the left, the right and whatever. It has always been the case that the less well off in societies around the world are the most vulnerable to attack by the right. In Ireland, the less well off, the 700,000 people on the verge of poverty, or the 200,000 children on the poverty line, are under severe attack, with nobody to defend them.


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