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Budget Statement 2019

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Snippet Contents:

There is something demoralising and abstract about this annual pantomime and the hype that belies the real lives of citizens. I am sure the Government thinks it is great, patting itself on the back that there are no obvious banana skins and that there are crumbs for everyone in the audience. However, not only will this budget fail to transform the lives of ordinary people, it will not make even a blind bit of difference to anybody. It critically fails to alter the strategic direction of the economy from a trajectory accelerated by the bailout. After all, why waste a good crisis? That strategy fast-tracked the redistribution of wealth upwards. Let us be clear: it was a political choice ten years ago to burden the public with private debt, impose austerity, reduce the tax base, and undermine public services, public jobs, wages and conditions through the Haddington Road agreement and FEMPI.
It is also a political choice today to fail to address the structural underinvestment highlighted by organisations such as Social Justice Ireland, which points out that our social wage falls way below that of our EU counterparts, while spending per capita is 12.6% below the EU average. Nothing in this budget will alter that, but the Government does not care because that is not its agenda. It wants to continue the process of privatising public assets and outsourcing public functions such as community training and education centres, CTEC, administering unemployment benefit as if it had some sort of personal press. I listened to the Minister bragging about how he is putting more money into homelessness and HAP, but if his policies were working, he would put less into those areas, not more. He bragged about having the lowest unemployment rates but what does that mean? With more people at work, surely one would think that people could afford homes and childcare. Should that not mean less poverty or better health and education systems? It does not mean that, however. It means that we have a new phenomenon, the working poor, where the State steps in to make up for the failure of employers to offer a living wage.
A permanent, pensionable job is as much a lie today as it was before the budget. According to the CSO, in the ten years since the bailout the numbers in part-time employment have increased by 33,700, while those in underemployment have increased by 29,300. A recent survey of 1,000 bar workers by Mandate highlighted that only 44% were in full-time work and 49% were in vulnerable work, while a clear majority felt their hours were used as a stick to beat them with. Similarly, some 76% of workers are on flexible contracts in Dunnes Stores, whereas 98% of them wanted more stable hours. What was the response to that survey? There was messing around in the House with Sinn Féin's Bill, which attempted to deal with it through banded hours. The Government came up with a watered-down version of that, but Fianna Fáil came in at the last minute, scuppered it and dragged it out, no doubt helped by lobbying from IBEC behind the scenes. Meanwhile, the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, is dealing with employers who blatantly ignore the organs of the State but it is completely toothless. Tesco, Lloyds Pharmacy, Dunnes Stores and TK Maxx have 25,000 workers in total who are completely ignored. These companies do not engage with the WRC, yet Lloyds Pharmacy gets contracts from the State. There are uncertain working conditions in universities where casual employment contracts are the order of the day. We also see this in our airlines, where we have become a flag of social dumping and of convenience. There are pilots who are on contract labour but whose employers do not pay employer PRSI, which means they do not get the basic benefits of our employment protection.
This is a wage-deflated economy which, when coupled with the rising cost of houses in the private rented sector and elsewhere, is not a stepping stone to a stronger economy. In fact, the elevated cost of living is compounded by a poor social wage and market-driven policies that do not provide solutions at all. The solution the Government offered today of subsidising landlords makes the problem worse.
I know there will be more time to debate this further tomorrow but, in conclusion, I reiterate that we still have one of the lowest budgets per capita in the EU, which continues to put our public services under enormous strain, and we have one of the lowest effective rates of corporation tax in the world. The Government has set up a rainy day fund when people have pointed out that it is lashing outside for those who are experiencing the housing crisis, which the Government has done nothing to alleviate. While the giant elephant in the room is the catastrophic announcement yesterday of the impact of climate change and of how close we are to the brink, the Minister talks about "step change" and an incentive to put people in hybrid cars. If the implications were not so serious, we would split our sides laughing. People have spoken about loony economics but the Government has shown itself to be disconnected from reality when it brings in a budget that fails to deal with these issues.