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 Header Item Estimates for the Public Services 2014: Message from Select Committee
 Header Item Human Rights Budgeting: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 859 No. 2

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Estimates for the Public Services 2014: Message from Select Committee

Acting Chairman (Deputy Brian Walsh): Information on Brian Walsh Zoom on Brian Walsh The Select Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality has completed its consideration of the following Supplementary Estimates for Public Services for the year ending 31 December 2014 - Votes 20 to 22, inclusive.

Human Rights Budgeting: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

The following motion was moved by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan on Tuesday, 25 November 2014:

That Dáil Éireann:

acknowledges:

— that there are positive signs of economic recovery; and

— the social impact analysis and the pre-budget consultations carried out by the Department of Social Protection;

notes:

— that there are insufficient human rights aspects included in budgets which shows Ireland is not in-line with the United Nations (UN) Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee’s minimal core requirements;

— other than the Department of Social Protection, no other Government Department carries out social impact analysis and thus no adequate assessment of the impact of budgetary decisions;

— that the current process of forming budgets does not have evidence based discussions; and

— the lack of engagement by the Economic Management Council with the voluntary/community sector; and

calls for:

— agreement that the income gap between the basic social welfare rates and the income required for a minimally adequate standard of living (as measured by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice Studies on minimum essential budgetary standards) should be reduced in each in each year’s budget;

— the effects of budgetary impact on people be analysed by a social impact survey, before the publishing of budgets, which will be completed by a cross-Department body and recommend requirements as set out by the UN Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee's minimal core requirements; and

— a guiding vision for Ireland which would ensure coherence at the core of public policy and a commitment to the common good.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

To delete all the words after "pre-budget consultations carried out by the Department of Social Protection" and substitute the following:
"notes:
— the provision of substantial resources set out by the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform in Budget 2015 to the Construction 2020 strategy to ensure an increased and improving housing stock which will fundamentally improve social housing provision in Ireland;

— that, in addition to the capital funding to be made available, the introduction of the Housing Assistance Payment will further support the social housing needs of 8,000 households; and

— an increase in the annual expenditure provision for tackling homelessness;
further notes:
— that budget 2015 was the first budget since 2009 in which there will be no new cuts to social welfare schemes demonstrating that economic recovery will be accompanied by social recovery, highlighted by the fact that:

— a new back to work family dividend will be introduced;

— the rate of child benefit will be increased by €5;

— the rate of the living alone allowance will be increased, benefitting almost 180,000 people; and

— the Government has decided to pay a 25 per cent bonus to social welfare and other recipients this coming Christmas; and

— the income tax reform plan in Budget 2015, which reduces the marginal tax rate on low and middle income earners in a manner that maintains the highly progressive nature of the Irish tax system and makes it more attractive to return to work, stay in work and ensures that work rewards individuals adequately;
agrees that, while detailed distributional impact analysis of tax changes are already included in budget documentation, a social impact assessment of the main taxation and welfare measures will be carried out by a cross-Department body led by the Departments of Finance, Social Protection and Public Expenditure and Reform before the publishing of budgets; and is committed to a vision for Ireland which provides for economic and social recovery and focuses on measures which will assist people to return to work, continue to build consumer confidence and strengthen demand in the domestic economy.

- (Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection)

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis As republicans, equality is at the heart of all we believe in and we strive to achieve it every day in the course of our work and activism. We believe in a new republic, one where all citizens are equal regardless of the colour of their skin, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, where they live or what they do. Creating the conditions for establishing an equal society means recognising that many diverse groups and sections of Irish society need enhanced protection from the State. We must ensure that when we are making budget decisions, these people are to the fore of our minds. These individuals, who are our most vulnerable citizens, need to be protected. We all know that times are hard in Ireland in 2014 but what some of us fail to recognise is just how difficult they are for the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. This Government came into office on a wave of promises in 2011. Soon afterwards, it became apparent that many of their plans involved taking from some of the most vulnerable.

In order to create true equality, we must put the necessary mechanisms in place. This is one of those times. In July of last year, Sinn Féin introduced the Equal Status (Amendment) Bill 2013. We were seeking, by means of this Bill, to amend existing legislation and provide for equality proofing of Government policy and budgets and public bodies through impact assessments. Our Bill was rejected. Had it been accepted and passed, it would have ensured that in exercising their functions Government and public bodies would do so in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socioeconomic disadvantage. The legislation in question also recognised those additional sectors of society which require enhanced protection from the State in the context of policy and spending decisions. I refer here to rural dwellers.

If we used equality budgeting, we would ensure that equality is placed well and truly at the centre of any decisions concerning public expenditure and income. We now know that the economic policy measures introduced since the beginning of the economic crisis are having a disproportionate impact on certain sections of society and that the problems of inequality and poverty have been exacerbated as a result. Women, particularly those with children, are more reliant on public services and welfare provisions, all of which are currently being severely curtailed by the Government. Reductions in health expenditure have resulted in reductions in services for people with disabilities. We have witnessed, and continue to see, increases in inequality and poverty and there is growing evidence highlighting the disproportionate impact economic policies have had on disadvantaged groups since the beginning of the economic crisis. Equality budgeting has been internationally accepted as a means to effectively deal with inequality and poverty. Over 60 countries worldwide have either adopted or are working toward introducing equality budgeting. The time has come for Ireland to follow suit, make a stand and provide a more just and equitable society for all. This is our duty as republicans. Equality budgeting makes sense and it is fair.

The motion calls for a reduction - over successive future budgets - in the income gap between social welfare rates and the income required for a minimally adequate standard of living. The Government amendment states that detailed distributional impact analysis of tax changes is already included in budget documentation. It is great that it is included but does the Government actually intend to take action? There is no commitment to equality in what is outlined.

The Government also states that there is a commitment on its part to invest substantial resources in increasing and improving the social housing stock. It also lauds the housing assistance payment, HAP, as a method of supporting social housing needs. HAP is a repackaged rent supplement which offers the ability to work as the only improvement in a climate of job scarcity and at a time when wages are decreasing to a point where many workers are not better off being in employment. The Government's strategy on housing is to spin and repeat and recycle figures in order to pretend that it is doing great things. The Government's announcement earlier today amounts to a budget of just €633 million per year during the next six years. That is just €36 million more than what has been spent in the current year, when homeless figures rose along with the numbers on the housing waiting list. In the six years between 2008 and 2013 almost €1 billion more was spent on housing than the Government is promising to spend during the next six years. Most of the investment it is promising to make relates to a time long after it will have been thrown out of office.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I am speaking in support of the motion and I commend Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and the other Members who proposed it for using their Private Members' time to facilitate a debate on this important issue. Since I only have five minutes - and given that others have covered the detail so admirably - I will stick to discussing the broader issue.

We need to ask more from our budgets than merely balancing the books. Instead, we must ask if each budgetary proposal or measure - regardless of whether it relates to spending allocations or cuts, tax increases or reductions - vindicates or violates the fundamental human rights of our citizens. For example, we should ask whether a proposal to remove medical cards is consistent with the human right to health, whether a proposal to reduce local authority budgets result in contravention of the human right to housing and whether a decision to increase third level fees interferes with the human right to education. We should also ask whether the decision not to restore the respite care grant - despite having fiscal room for manoeuvre - respects the human right to an adequate standard of living or whether it fails this test. If the answers to such questions reveal that human rights impacts are negative and that citizens rights are being violated, then the reality is that the decisions to which they relate will end up costing us - taxpayers and the State - more in fiscal, social and human terms.

In so far as they provide a way to identify and reduce associated externalities, applying human rights standards to budgetary decisions makes economic sense. This is all the more true in times of recession, when there is less to go around. However, this human rights-based approach to budgeting is the very antithesis of the austerity model favoured by the establishment parties. That surely explains the Government's decision to amend rather than support the motion. Both the Government's amendment and its members' explanatory remarks have failed to address what I believe to be the core question. Will the Government commit to introduce formal, statutory mechanisms for consistently evaluating the foreseeable human rights impact of all budgetary proposals before committing to them? Will it also put in place effective monitoring to consistently scrutinise the human rights outcomes and impacts of budgetary decisions once they have been made and implemented? The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, has been consistently evasive when I have asked him this directly, specifically in respect of equality budgeting. He will not say "No" but, more significantly, he will not say "Yes" either. This characteristic fudge is not good enough for a Government that includes members of the Labour Party in Cabinet and on the Economic Management Council.


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