17 December 2009 Edition
Savage Budget attacks poor, low-paid and medium earners
SINN FÉIN Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has described Budget 2010 as a savage attack on the people and a budget that was cobbled together by economic illiterates. He said it was anti-jobs and would serve to further depress the economy as well as causing poverty and emigration.
The Cavan-Monaghan TD said the cuts to social welfare, to public services like health and education and to the pay of ordinary public service workers were both wrong and avoidable. He said his party had presented a viable alternative to the Government’s approach and would continue to advance its proposals.
Speaking in last week’s Dáil debate, Ó Caoláin addressed the Finance Minister Brian Lenihan:
“Minister Lenihan’s speech must rank as one of the greatest examples of self-delusion we have ever had to listen to. Either that or he is deeply cynical. Certainly he is trying to delude the Irish people. He told us we are ‘on the road to economic recovery’! Who does he think he’s kidding?
“Like a First World War general Minister Lenihan told us the worst is over and that this is the last big push’. I was expecting him to say it will all be over by Christmas. If it’s the last big push we know who he’s sending over the top – the low paid workers and their families, the social welfare recipients, the carers and the young unemployed.”
‘SHOWER OF HYPOCRITES’
Addressing the Government TDs, Ó Caoláin said:
“The people of Ireland looked on with horror as the members of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party applauded a savage budget, a budget that attacks the poor, the low-paid and the medium income earners. It was a budget cobbled together by economic illiterates.
“The Fianna Fáil backbenchers last week staged a mock revolt over the talks with the public service unions. But there will be no revolt when they troop through the lobbies tomorrow to support cuts to the welfare payments of the most vulnerable sections of our society.
“The Fianna Fáil backbenchers are the greatest shower of hypocrites that ever sat on those benches. Their only hope now is to try to hang together and pray they are not plunged into an early general election when many of them may hang separately.
“Shame on them for what they are doing to those who depend on social welfare. They have cut a swathe through social welfare benefit schemes and assistance schemes. Jobseekers Allowance, Farm Assist, Pre-Retirement, Supplementary Welfare Allowance – all cut. Widow and Widower’s pensions cut. Deserted Wife’s Benefit Allowance cut. One-Parent Family Payment cut. Disablement Pension and Invalidity Pension cut as well as the Disability Allowance and Blind Pension.”
CRUEL CUT TO CARERS
Ó Caoláin described as “disgraceful and inexcusable” the Budget cuts both to carer’s benefit and carer’s allowance. He said:
“They are taking €8.20 and €8.50 respectively per week out of the pockets of people who are caring for elderly and/or disabled relatives in their homes. People on Disability Allowance are going to lose €8.30 per week.
“The person on Carer’s Allowance will be out of pocket by €34 per month or €408 per annum. The Carers’ Association has quite rightly pointed out that carers are the only social welfare recipients who have to work for their payment by providing full time care in the home to elderly, sick and disabled.
“It has been estimated that 161,000 family carers provide over 3.7 million hours of unpaid care each week contributing more than €2.5 billion to the Irish economy each year. The 40,883 family carers providing full-time care – more than the 39,000 nurses employed by the HSE – contribute €1.6 billion to the economy. This cut is the thanks that carers get. And Minister Lenihan claims the over-riding objective of the Budget has been to ‘strive for fairness’!
YOUNG UNEMPLOYED TARGETED
Ó Caoláin asked: “Where is the fairness in the savage cuts to social welfare support for young unemployed people?” He continued: “This Budget cuts Jobseekers Allowance for 20 and 21 year old new applicants from €204 to €100 per week and to €150 per week for those between 22 and 24. This is a further attack on young people who are facing the ordeal of the dole queue. It follows the April Budget’s slashing of Jobseekers’ Allowance for 18 and 19 year olds.
“Who are these young people? These are the children who did their Junior Cert between 2001 and 2007 at the height of the Celtic Tiger and their Leaving Cert between 2006 and 2009 as it was coming to an end. They were told they were being educated in a knowledge economy and that if they worked for the best academic results they would reap rich rewards in a State with full employment. But now, thanks to the disastrous policies and gross mismanagement of Fianna Fáil-led governments, they are being thrown on the unemployment scrap-heap.”
NO JOBS STRATEGY
The lack of a jobs strategy was one of the most serious failures of the Budget, stated Ó Caoláin. He told the Dáil.
“There was no real recognition in this Budget of the catastrophe of unemployment. There are 423,400 people on the Live Register in this State, an increase of over 146,000 in one year. There has been an increase of 63% in those applying for Jobseekers Allowance since December 2008. But where is the Jobs Strategy in this Budget? There is none. There is a rag bag of mainly training measures amounting to a paltry €136 million. It is an insult.”
FAMILIES ON MODEST INCOMES
“What of people who are in work? This Budget attacks low and modest income families by imposing a 5% across-the-board cut in the wages of workers in the public service earning under €30,000 per year and 7.5% on earnings between €30,000 and €70,000. These public service workers, who make up the single largest bloc of public service employees, are amongst those who will be hit the hardest by this Budget.
“This Budget crucifies those families on modest incomes. They are now bearing the brunt of pay cuts and the disgraceful cut to Child Benefit. A family with three children loses nearly €50 per month. Many such families have just one pay packet coming into the household and have to meet exorbitant mortgage payments out of that single income.
“The cut to Child Benefit is an attack on children and an attack on families. Net childcare costs in this State are 45% of the average wage compared to 16-17% in EU and OECD states. Childcare cost accounts for 30% of family income in this State as against 12.5% in EU and OECD countries. Over the past decade when people called for a real State childcare strategy with proper infrastructure, and places that were affordable and accessible to all who needed them, we were told that we had the most generous Child Benefit system and that this was how childcare would be funded.
“Once again it is those families bringing in wages and struggling to make ends meet who will be hit hardest. Their Child Benefit will be cut and if they are above the income threshold they will receive no Family Income Supplement to compensate. It is these same families and others like them who will be hit by the increase in the threshold for the Drugs Payment Scheme, meaning they now have to pay more every month for medicines.
“To justify its cuts to pay and social welfare the government claims that the cost of living has gone down but this is not the case for the majority of people, especially for struggling families. This year prices went up for a range of essential items such as electricity, gas, bus fares, childcare, primary education and hospital services.”
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin pointed out that in her Health Estimates Statement Minister Harney claimed that planned reductions in the drugs bill in 2010 would save €141 million in addition to €133 million saved this year. He said:
“Of course such savings could and should have been made long ago and more savings can be made, through reduction in price and wider use of generic drugs and the establishment of a state wholesale distributor, as Sinn Féin has long advocated. Why then does the Minister choose to target medical card holders with her prescription charge of up to €10 per month? This charge undermines the General Medical Services and Long Term Illness Schemes. Once established it will remain in place to be increased year on year at the expense of those who rely on our public health system.
“The Budget has dealt a further blow to that already struggling public health system. The two-tier public private system is hugely costly in terms of inequality and the poorer health outcome it entails and in terms of its inefficiency in using public money to subsidise the private healthcare industry. Privatised healthcare will not be affected by this Budget. It will still be pampered but the public system will continue to deteriorate. This Budget takes €106 million out of current expenditure in the HSE under so-called economies and reduces capital spending by €37 million.”
“I spoke earlier of the Government’s oft-repeated claim that we are a knowledge economy. But Minister Lenihan chose not to highlight in his speech the cuts of €200 million to Education in 2010. It is an outrage that 27% has been cut from the budget for building, equipping and furnishing primary schools. Children will continue to be taught in dilapidated buildings and millions will continue to be wasted in rents for so-called temporary pre-fab accommodation.
“So much for the knowledge economy.”
PUBLIC SERVICE PAY
“This Budget has been preceded by efforts throughout the past year to divide and conquer public sector and private sector workers. Public service workers were demonised and the stage was set for the stage-managed collapse of the negotiations with the public service unions. The phoney revolt of the Fianna Fáil backbenchers was the trigger for the collapse and the field was clear for the Government to impose the pay cuts. Yes, the highest earners have been hit and rightly so, but the across-the-board 5% cut for low and modest income earners in the public service is wrong.
“And, make no mistake, any ordinary workers in the private sector who were misled enough to think that they will benefit from this cut to the incomes of ordinary workers in the public sector are in for a shock. If the Government gets away with this attack on low and modest income earners in the public sector then the private sector will be next for an even worse hit. The next target will be the minimum wage and wages and conditions right across the private sector.”
“But there were some tax changes. The carbon tax has been brought in as a revenue raising measure that once again will hit those least able to afford it, which is why Sinn Féin voted against it last night.
“The 21.5% VAT rate was reduced but by not nearly enough and should never have been increased in the last Budget. The alcohol excise measures should help restore some balance in trade along the badly hit Border towns. But this should be seen as a temporary expedient only. Much more needs to be done to help revive the economy of the Border region – and I mean on both sides of the Border. The only real solution will be tax and currency harmonisation on this island.”
RECIPE FOR EMIGRATION
“Minister Lenihan and the Taoiseach have tried to put a positive spin on this disgraceful Budget. Unbelievably, Minister Lenihan invoked the community spirit of the people who rallied to the aid of those hit by the recent catastrophic flooding. He has some neck given the lack of urgency in the Government response to the flooding, the inadequate funding made available to deal with the aftermath, and above all, the fact that Government neglect left people across the country vulnerable to flooding in the first place.
“Also invoked by Minister Lenihan was the ancestry of the Kennedy family in Co. Wexford. This was appropriate but not in the way Minister Lenihan intended. His Budget and his Government’s policies are a recipe for the mass emigration of unemployed Irish youth. Last year he charged them €10 per head to leave the country. This year he is making damn sure that Ireland is a cold house for jobless young people and that the door is wide open for them to get out.”
THERE IS AN ALTERNATIVE
Concluding his address, Ó Caoláin said there is an alternative to the Budget:
“Sinn Féin presented the alternative in our Pre-Budget Submission ‘The Road to Recovery.’ Central to that alternative is the provision of stimulus to the economy so that recovery can come about in the only way possible – the provision of jobs. We proposed a €3.218 billion economic stimulus package with a range of measures to get Ireland back to work. We proposed measures and savings amounting to €7.623 billion which protected those on low and modest incomes, social welfare recipients and public services. In contrast this anti-jobs Budget will depress the Irish economy and worsen our economic woes.
“Our proposals are not for resting on a shelf. They are campaigning proposals and we will advance them in the months ahead. We welcome the fact that people are fighting back against the disastrous policies of this Fianna Fáil/Green Government. People have been on the streets in the past year in unprecedented numbers in demonstrations, strikes and other forms of protest.
“We need economic policies founded on fairness and with the ability to succeed in providing a decent livelihood and decent public services for all.
“Such policies also need to instill confidence. Sinn Féin is confident that the Irish people can emerge from this economic crisis and that we can build a fairer society and sustainable economy.
“To do that we must reject the policies on which this Budget is based and get rid of the politically bankrupt Government which produced it. We demand a better, fairer way. We say to this Government: ‘Get out of office and give the people back our country and our economy.’”
SINN FÉIN PROTEST: Highlighting Dublin TDs voting in favour of dole cuts outside Leinster House last Friday