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Budget Statement 2018 (Continued)

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 1

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  5 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan] That excludes people from what should be an inclusive society.

  The other group of workers who may be employed but are certainly underpaid are those in the early years sector. I was disappointed by the amount of funding that has been allocated to child care. There was much more allocated in budgets when money was more scarce-----

Deputy Alan Kelly: Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly Hear, hear.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan -----and the second preschool year was introduced. This is a tiny sum and it will not address the low wages of people working in the child care sector.

In our alternative budget, we allocated a sum of money to reduce the cost on parents but we also included a significant sum to increase the pay of workers in the sector to a living wage. These people are dedicated to their work but are paid less than they would be in a job where they did not need qualifications. We are discussing people who, in many cases, have degrees in child care and other significant qualifications.

There was considerable spin about this budget in advance. Much of that was questionable, given how previous Ministers were sacked for releasing even a small amount of information. The spin concerning the amount of money that would be spent on, for example, child care led to an expectation that something real was going to happen, yet nothing real has happened for those children. Nothing real has happened for children in homelessness or other precarious housing situations. It could have been done, however, as there were ways in which extra money could have been raised and directed to where it was most needed.

There was a significant expectation that there would be a focus on housing. Not on announcements or spin but on delivery. We have 700-plus sites around the country in public ownership on which local authorities could show leadership by building a social mix of housing to be available to people at an affordable level, be that through leasing or sale, but that opportunity has not been taken. I predict that this time next year, many of those sites will not even have been commenced because there are no implementation measures. There is a vague throwing of money at the private sector in the hope that it will respond but that has failed to date and will not succeed now.

The budget is particularly disappointing because the opportunities that existed have not been seized. This budget will be marked as one in which the economy had begun to rise and there were ways of raising more money, some of which I have outlined, but where the areas crying out for spending - health and housing in particular, but also education - were failed. I regret that this budget is not doing what we expected it to do.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Well done.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy Anois, Solidarity-PBP. I presume that Deputies Paul Murphy and Boyd-Barrett are both contributing.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy Yes.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy The Deputies will have equal time of 30 minutes each.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy How to describe this budget? "Band-Aid budget" most correctly sums it up. Ten years of crisis and Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour Party austerity created gaping wounds in our society. Between them, they removed more than €100 billion in terms of cuts to public services and extra, unjust taxes. Those measures created insecurity, homelessness and poverty. Now the Government comes along and tries to apply a tiny plaster that will not cover up the societal wounds or make a real difference to people's lives. At the same time, the budget continues moving the economy and society in the same direction that caused the crisis, namely, a shrinking State, a drive towards privatisation and a normalisation of precarious work and precarious existence, particularly for young people.

A figure hidden in the budget documents illustrates what Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil before it have achieved with their right-wing ideology and the shrinking of the State. According to the most recent available figures, total expenditure is 28.7% of GDP, which is the lowest in the European Union. Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance, supported by Fianna Fáil, continue that in this budget.

The Government likes to talk about a republic of opportunity, but what is the reality of the society that it has constructed, a reality that this budget will go further in constructing? It is a republic that can be summed up by "inequality". It is a society in which the richest 10% of the population controls 54% of the net wealth, leaving just 5% for the bottom 50%. It is a republic of inequality where the Government has driven a transfer of wealth and a shift from wages to profits and from labour to capital. Workers' wages are still lower than they were in 2008, not just in weekly and hourly terms but as a percentage of GDP, with a fall from 53% in 2008 to 40%. On the other hand, the personal wealth of the richest 300 people in our country has doubled from €50 billion in 2010 to €100 billion now. It is a republic of inequality where pre-tax corporate profits doubled from €75 billion in 2011 to €150 billion in 2015. It is a society in which a quarter of Ireland's population - 1.2 million people - are experiencing poverty or social exclusion. That figure increased from 15% in ten years. Some 308,000 of those people are children under the age of 16 years.

After budget day is over, after the debate has died down and a year has passed, what will the real impact of these Government policies have been? Will there be less social exclusion, poverty and homelessness? The Government and everyone else in the House know these policies will not make the situation any better. The crisis will worsen and the budget will deepen inequality. This is because it is yet another ideologically driven, right-wing, Thatcherite budget. It is almost dripping off every page of the speech, with private funding, tax cuts for developers and a hidden, massive giveaway for the vulture funds. In almost every sector, the Government's orientation is towards the private sector to deliver. This is particularly striking in housing, in education through the public private partnerships and the corporate influence on education courses, as well as in many other aspects. It will reinforce existing inequalities and worsen the cost-of-living crisis. At the same time, it will make some people - those best represented by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil - much richer.

The right-wing approach that lies behind the budget was summed up by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, this morning when she defended the cuts made to the one-parent family payment under Fine Gael and, in particular, the Labour Party. She stated that those changes had resulted in fewer people being dependent on welfare. That is what happens if one cuts people off welfare, in that they are no longer dependent on it because they cannot access it. It is an Orwellian use of language. This pushes people into poverty. Due to our low-pay economy, almost 50% of the Irish population would have been living in poverty in 2015 had they not had access to some form of welfare payment but that is the direction in which the right-wing Government and Fianna Fáil would like us to go.

It is a budget of spin. We were told that the Taoiseach's strategic communications unit would not cost us anything but we see from these documents that it will cost us €5 million. This means that people - those on social welfare and low-paid workers - are paying for the Government's spin. They are paying for the Government to spin this budget in the next number of days, to pretend that everyone is getting something out of it while ignoring the reality that what most people will get by the time March comes around will be taken away before they have even received it. James Connolly used the phrase "ruling by fooling" to describe what he called a "British art", but it is an art the Government is trying to take up with a view to spinning anything that happens, particularly budgets.

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