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Financial Resolution No. 5: General (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 893 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton] We are also increasing the entry point for USC. This means that anybody earning less than €13,000 per annum will pay no USC from 2016 onwards. As a result of these changes from January next 700,000 low-income earners will be exempt from the USC and for middle income PAYE earners, the marginal tax rate will fall below 50%. This is an important milestone on the road to our recovery, both in terms of the message it sends out to people in Ireland and the message it sends out abroad. This is a highly progressive approach, one that, as Tánaiste and leader of the Labour Party, I am proud to have delivered together with the Taoiseach and Fine Gael.

If re-elected to government, the Labour Party will work to phase out USC for all low and middle income earners. By stark contrast, I note that Sinn Féin wants to retain the USC. It wants to retain this emergency tax in place despite the fact the emergency is over. The reason it wants to retain the USC is because it has realised none of its previous tax plans added up. While the totals in this regard have been checked off by the Department of Finance, frankly, I, and most other people who have reviewed them, find them difficult to make sense of. Meet Fianna Fáil Nua, formerly Sinn Féin. Fianna Fáil ran the country into the ground and Sinn Féin would return it there in no time at all.

By contrast, this Government is delivering a budget that raises living standards in a fair and sustainable way. The overall effect of the changes is that the biggest gains are made by the bottom 30% of earners and the smallest gains are made by the top 10%. Families will particularly benefit. The child benefit increase of €5 will benefit more than 623,000 families and almost 1.2 million children. I make no apologies for retaining child benefit as a universal payment because, overwhelmingly, it is paid to mothers whether working in or outside the home. It is a crucial support. As a result of the USC and child benefit changes, a family with one parent working and earning a salary of €45,000 per annum will be more than €830 better off next year. As a female leader, I am particularly pleased that this Government has been able to announce progressive change for mothers working in the home or in the workplace. I am tired of approaches that seek to pit one woman against the other, as if there is a perfect model that every mother, every family, should adopt, as though there were not times when people want to care at home and other times when people want to be fully involved in a vibrant way in the workforce and labour force. There are different stages in people's lives within a family situation.

Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy: Information on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy Zoom on Marcella Corcoran Kennedy Hear, hear.

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton It is important to remember that fathers who work in the home, of which there are a growing number, will benefit from the changes in the same way. I am pleased that we are announcing an increase in the home carer’s credit from €810 to €1,000, which will offer better options to families at different stages in their lives. The days are rightly gone when child-rearing or caring for a relative was considered solely the woman’s prerogative. Many men now take some time off work to help with child-rearing at home. The time has long since past since this was considered solely a woman's prerogative.

At the same time, we are investing heavily in child care to increase options for families where both parents are in the workplace. This includes the extension of the early childhood care and education scheme, which has been a long-standing priority for me. In addition, I am allocating €5 million in 2016 for a new paternity benefit scheme. This will allow fathers in employment, from next September, to take two weeks paternity leave. This will be paid at the rate of €230 per week, based on the same PRSI contributions as required for maternity benefit.

This budget will raise living standards and improve services for workers, families and children. It will also increase incomes and provide greater security for retired people. Throughout the worst of the crisis, we protected the State pension. I am pleased that in this budget, we are announcing an above-inflation increase of €3 per week for pensioners aged 66 and over. This was a priority of mine and of the Taoiseach. This is the first weekly rate increase for pensioners since 2009 and is long overdue. In the years since, many pensioners have supported their adult children and their families throughout very difficult times. They deserve to see their income in retirement increase now that we have some room to do so.

I am glad that pensioners will not only receive a rate increase but will also benefit from the 75% Christmas bonus. The least well-off pensioners will also benefit from the increase in the fuel allowance. I am glad to say that this amounts to a solid three-part package for many of our retired citizens. I make no apologies to those who question the logic of the spend on the Christmas bonus. As Tánaiste and Labour Party leader, my focus is on ensuring we improve things for every person, not just a few. Fair dues to Fianna Fáil of former days and the late Mr. Haughey who introduced the Christmas bonus, which as a child I recall was of great importance to my great aunts and uncles and of great significance to people who find Christmas spending a particular challenge. The people of this country deserve immense credit for ensuring that social solidarity remained intact throughout the crisis, when it fractured in other countries. This solidarity is based on the simple concept, that age-old Irish tradition of looking out for someone less fortunate than oneself. The bonus is not just a welcome assistance to retired people at a financially stressful time of year, it also helps a range of other vulnerable people, including lone parents, long-term jobseekers, carers and people with disabilities. For a single person on disability allowance, this will mean a bonus payment of €141 at Christmas. For a pensioner couple, both in receipt of the non-contributory State pension, it will mean a bonus payment of €327.50. As we all know, the bonus is largely spent in local economies countrywide. It provides a boost not only for the individuals and families who receive it, but also for local businesses and the community. In other words, it is money well spent in every conceivable way.

While the bonus is an important measure for vulnerable groups it is not the only important measure. Carers play an incredibly important role in our society. I am, therefore, pleased to be increasing the respite care grant by €325 to €1,700 per annum. In addition, people in receipt of carer’s allowance will continue to receive their payment for an additional six weeks subsequent to the death of the loved one for whom they were caring. I am conscious that when the person for whom a carer has been caring dies this can be an enormously traumatic time. We have been in discussion with the Carer's Association in relation to the provision of options for people following that period. This will bring the total grace period from six weeks to 12 weeks.

Carer’s allowance recipients aged 66 and over will benefit from the €3 per week increase announced for pensioners.

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