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Budget Statement 2021 (Continued)

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 999 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett] This failure to restore the PUP and the wage subsidy scheme and to provide grant supports to the particular sectors that desperately need them contrasts with the continued handout of Government money to the pampered sections of Irish society, mostly in the form of enormous tax reliefs, which is barely spoken about. That is the outrageous thing. We all knew there had to be significant increases in spending in order to deal with the current crisis and the Government has made the decision to finance that through borrowing. Let us be absolutely clear. Faced with the need to spend, I would rather borrow than not spend, but it has been suggested that there are no alternatives to borrowing money, which ordinary working people in this country will ultimately have to pay back. We remember the bitter price we paid for that in the past. There is an alternative, which is to look at the enormous wealth and profits being made by a tiny, pampered and super-wealthy minority in this country.

The latest profit figures for the corporate sector in this country show €180 billion in profits, and corporations are only paying about 5% tax, not the 12.5% they should be paying. If we just brought that up to 12.5%, which would still be one of the lowest levels of corporation tax anywhere in the western world or even the world, we would get around an extra €10 billion and they would still be paying an incredibly low level of tax. That would save us having to borrow money while redistributing some of that profit. Some of these sectors have done extraordinarily well during the pandemic, most notably the pharmaceutical sector and those involved in medical equipment. Some of the big IT companies have made super profits over the course of the last year. Surely it would be fair to get them to make a fair contribution to the tax system to show the social solidarity which underpins the supposed principle of us all being in this together. The truth is that some are making super profits while others, who have lost their jobs and employment through no fault of their own, are on their knees financially and are facing a very uncertain and difficult future.

Similarly, the Government could look at tax reliefs like carrying losses forward, which allows banks to essentially write off all their profits against tax for the foreseeable future. These tax reliefs should be ended and the money redirected towards ordinary working families, particularly those who are struggling as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

The Government could also have looked at a number of other potential areas. Those who have benefited from property development and land speculation, which was fuelled by Government policy, could and should have idle site and vacant property taxes imposed on them in order to address the scandal of land hoarding and empty properties lying around in every town and city in this country. These properties could be used to provide desperately needed housing for people who need it, but also to provide the sort of emergency capacity we need in our massively overcrowded schools. The Minister is crowing because he is going to reduce the ratio of students to staff in our schools by one, but we have the most overcrowded classrooms in western Europe, which makes those classrooms and the teachers who work in them far more vulnerable to Covid-19 infection. We should be aiming for a staff to student ratio like that of Denmark, which is not 1:25 but 1:10, and we should be making the necessary investment through the recruitment of teachers to reduce class sizes.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy I wish to draw attention to something the Ceann Comhairle mentioned at the start of today's debate. He asked all Deputies not to distribute the contents of the budget before the budget speeches were completed. We were not permitted to take the documents out of the room, but the Tánaiste did just that. Before the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform had even stood up to deliver his speech, the Tánaiste had tweeted out large parts of the budget which was contained in the speech that was yet to be given. Perhaps he could not contain his enthusiasm for another Fine Gael Thatcherite budget but I understand that Phil Hogan was previously forced to resign over leaking the details of a budget. Will there be any consequences for the Tánaiste?

The framing of this budget by sections of the media as some sort of giveaway budget is entirely false. It is nothing of the sort. This budget does nothing for working people. It makes people's lives harder with eco-austerity measures while providing giveaways for the rich. This budget learns no lessons from the coronavirus crisis. It pays lip service to the impending climate catastrophe but effectively does nothing to address it. There is a reduced PUP and a Scrooge-like refusal to give a Christmas bonus to those recently on the PUP through no fault of their own. Shame on the Government Deputies, particularly those who pretended to be against these cuts but who will vote them through again like they did last week. There is an increase in the carbon tax, which will hit the most vulnerable the hardest, and an increase in motor tax on old, polluting cars for workers who cannot afford a new car and cannot access public transport. There is a rise of less than 1% in the minimum wage, to a miserable €10.20 an hour for those workers who kept society and the economy moving over the past six months and who were rewarded with a clap on a Thursday night. There is not an extra cent or euro for young people on social welfare, for the core rates of social welfare or for those on the State pension. There is nothing for renters, no ban on evictions and no rent control. There is almost nothing for youth services, which are so important at this time. There is a miserly €2 - one coin - increase in the qualified child payment for under-12s. It is incredible and outrageous to freeze investment in childcare right now, in spite of the crisis which pre-existed Covid and became exposed and worse as a result of it. A completely inadequate €80 million is provided for retrofitting our schools when one quarter of them do not have hot water and 80% do not have the ventilation they need.

There is an air of unreality to the Ministers' speeches about the kind of society in which we are living and the kind of conditions people are facing. I spent some of my day yesterday with a young mother who was waiting for her landlord to come and attempt to evict her illegally. Thanks to the community support she got, the landlord never dared to turn up because he knew she would have been protected by her community who rallied around her. As reported in the papers today, John Johnson and his three sons were not so lucky. They were evicted from their family home of 60 years by a vulture fund on Saturday and the family spent the weekend sleeping out under a bridge. John lost his job in a bar and had his PUP of €350 cut. What is in the budget for them? What giveaway is there for them to ensure we are not faced with similar shocking stories in the next days and weeks? The PUP of €350 is not being restored, evictions are not being stopped and there is no plan to build the 100,000 social houses we actually need to clear the waiting lists.

The reality is that the Government is doing the bare minimum it can get away with. There is no plan here to address the massive inequalities in our society, to fund a zero-Covid strategy or to deal with the climate catastrophe we are facing. In fact, the hiking of the carbon tax will make it more difficult for John and other families like his to get by. The Government is just forcing working people to pay yet another tax to live in a system over which they have no control.

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