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Budget Statement 2019 (Continued)

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 973 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton] As a consequence, child benefit is the State's unique way of recognising some of the cost of rearing children. I hope the Government has not set its mind on a policy of eroding the value of this benefit. There are many working parents of modest incomes who greatly value its role in managing a family budget. Understandably, much of the focus is on childcare costs being so high but mothers and fathers looking after teenagers have to spend a lot of money on new shoes every couple of months and so on.

In addition, the Government has again ignored the domiciliary care allowance, which I find to be simply mean. This is paid to families who qualify and are paid a monthly stipend in respect of a child who has an intellectual, physical or behavioural disability. This payment is special to the parents who work so hard to look after their special children. As far as I can see, that monthly payment has been left untouched again by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in the budget. In the past year, there have been many problems in changes with school transport, including for children with special needs. More importantly, we have many children on the autism spectrum for instance, who are making long journeys on buses for a couple of hours a day at times in Dublin, going from Blanchardstown to Artane and back again, for example, and what is difficult to understand is why this particular budget is not looking to invest in capital infrastructure in a serious way. We have many autism spectrum disorder, ASD, units that have been developed but they are not suitable for every child who has these issues. For instance, in my constituency - and that of the Taoiseach - there is no ASD special school. This is an area of education provision that has sadly been forgotten in this budget, but then, education has not featured hugely in this budget. The Minister of State might even agree that the amount that has gone into increased capitation will barely take the pressure off some of the schools.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin It is 5%.

Deputy Michael D'Arcy: Information on Michael  D'Arcy Zoom on Michael  D'Arcy I do not agree.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin It is shocking.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton It says 5% in the budget booklet. That is modest because schools are being put to the pin of their collars to meet their running costs. If it is an older school building such as an old parish school, it is very likely that it is not well insulated against heat loss and consequently, that its heating costs are very expensive.

I mention the living wage and in that context I wish to look under the bonnet and see some features of the economy that can often be hidden from view but have a significant impact on the lives of people. We talk here a lot about taxes. We need to talk just as much about wages. Recently, we thankfully have witnessed many consecutive months of net jobs growth and an exceptionally long streak of reduced unemployment. That, in itself, is undoubtedly good news and is a vindication of the relentless focus on jobs that my party pursued in government. The growth has brought down the official unemployment rate month by month and labour force participation, which counts the number of people working or actively seeking work, is also ticking upward. That indicates that people who may have given up on finding a job are starting to return to the workforce. Despite the sustained job growth, there remains a deep dissatisfaction that the recovery has not been adequate to meaningfully boost the fortunes of ordinary families. One reason for such deep public scepticism is that wages have yet to grow substantially in line with the growth in jobs and indeed in line with growing productivity. People are deeply disappointed with the sluggish wage growth, because their expectations have risen after years of consistent job growth. Now, in the fourth or fifth year of the official recovery, working people are justifiably less patient and no minuscule tinkering with tax rates will alter that until the longstanding stagnation of wage rates is tackled. It seems that we have gone a long way to deal with the job quantity issue but we have lagged too far behind on the job quality issue.

The gender pay gap has finally and belatedly come to the fore and it will need a sustained sector by sector effort to close off this running sore. In more general terms, we should recognise that workers are fully entitled to obtain a greater share of the fruits of quite dramatic levels of economic growth. To ignore this is to tolerate ever greater and wider inequality and all the social disruption and strains such inequality brings. Interestingly, the International Monetary Fund, IMF, has come to recognise how inequality in incomes is now a serious barrier to economic progress in advanced economies. The evidence is stark - excessive income inequality actually drags down the economic growth rate and makes growth less sustainable over time. We need to take this evidence on board and recognise its profound significance for wage policies and tax policies.

Additionally, a sustainable wage boost can encourage workers to make better provision for their pension pots. I am a strong advocate of auto-enrolment in private pension schemes but that can be realistic only when workers have the capacity, through better wages, to save adequately for pensions and it is only when governments, including our own, are prepared to match those contributions - as employers should be as well - that such measures will come into place. There are now annual reviews of the minimum wage but I feel this is inadequate, welcome as today's announcement may be. It is a very small increase in the minimum wage. It is the living wage that should be the focus of all policy making. It is a well researched concept based on firm evidence and it properly incorporates all the elements that enable an acceptable standard of living. It certainly would be one way of dealing with the crisis in the spiralling costs of rents and would allow people, especially young people, to feel some measure of safety in that not everything they earn would be entirely gobbled up by massively increasing rents.

I wish to refer briefly to the budget allocation for international development aid. The Taoiseach has been eloquent on his travels about Ireland’s global footprint. It is a worthy ambition and has wide support, as has the decision to campaign aggressively to secure a UN Security Council seat for Ireland. However, it has to mean a lot more than just Irish Embassies all around the world. It must also involve a critical look at the commitment to reaching the UN development aid target of 0.7% of gross domestic product, GDP, each year and to ensure that tax treaties cannot be abused to enable widespread corporate or individual tax evasion. The gradual move towards the 0.7% target did have to be postponed during our painful retrenchment period, though many hundreds of millions of euro were allocated annually even in the worst of years. Last year, the cash allocation amounted to over €700 million. I acknowledge there has been a significant increase of over €100 million today but now is the time to set out a clear and obligatory timetable, lest our diplomats have to embark on their vote-seeking travels with one arm as long as the other. War, conflict and climate change have caused immense suffering, as have famine, drought and population displacement. More than 128 million people in 33 countries currently are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance and more than 65 million people have been displaced from their homes by war and conflict.

I worked in Tanzania with Irish Aid and the Agency for Personal Service Overseas, APSO, for a number of years and I went back there last year on a private visit. I had the opportunity to spend some time visiting some very innovative and interesting projects financed by Irish Aid and, therefore, by all of the taxpayers in Ireland.

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