New side advert

15 November 2001 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Share the Wealth in Budget 2002

The following is an edited version of Sinn Féin's pre-Budget submission, launched in Dublin on Wednesday by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, party chair Mitchel McLaughlin and Dublin Councillor Seán Crowe. It concentrates on the two main planks of Sinn Féin's submission, health and housing.



Introduction



Budget 2002 is being framed in a dramatically changed economic climate. The unprecedented growth in the economy during the past five years has slowed to a standstill in the space of a few months. It remains to be seen if this slowdown can be halted and reversed. One thing is certain. It will have little adverse affect on the wealthy in our society who have been generously rewarded by the current government in every Budget since 1997. But for those on average or below average incomes the economic slowdown is already a reality they are ill-equipped to cope with thanks to the failure of the government to use economic growth to create equality.

The October 2001 Central Statistics Office Family Household Budget Survey clearly shows the level of inequality where the bottom 10% of households have to get by on £15 a day, while the wealthiest 10% have over £150 a day to spend. The survey also found that the income of the wealthy had far outstripped the growth of the poorest in our society and that 38% of pensioners were now among the least well off in our society.

The Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats government has had two enormous advantages enjoyed by no previous government in the 26 Counties. Firstly, it has been in office at a time of exceptional prosperity resulting in budget surpluses in four successive years. Secondly, despite its slim Dáil majority, it has been able to plan for five budgets in a row.

Those advantages have been scandalously squandered by the FF/PD Coalition government. Not only has it failed to tackle the structural inequalities which warp our economy and damage our society, it has actually worsened those inequalities and widened the gap between rich and poor.

In our first Pre-Budget submission to this administration in 1997 Sinn Féin stated that there was never "a more favourable economic climate in which to cultivate equity and share prosperity". Instead the government began its term of office by giving record tax cuts to the highest earners and cutting taxes for big business. It repeated that exercise in each of its budgets.

In 1998 we urged that the Budget should dramatically improve "the quality and quantity of services provided by the State in health, education, housing, social welfare, infrastructure and employment creation". But Budget 1999 led us to state that "improved conditions for many sections of our society, and the conspicuous luxury enjoyed by a minority, contrasts sharply with the plight of those who have not been allowed to benefit".

In Budget 2000 three times more was spent on tax reduction than on social welfare increases. In Budget 2001 there was a further reduction of 2% in the top rate of tax and yet again those who needed it least benefited most from tax cuts. It has been estimated that the gap in disposable income between a person earning £40,000 a year and a person who is unemployed has been widened by £159 a week by the present Government since it came to office.

After four FF/PD Budgets the Economic and Social Research Institute had to state in July 2001 that the "high rate of relative income poverty is a serious structural problem that needs to be tackled while the resources are available".

There has been accelerating economic growth since this government came to office in 1997 but -


a quarter of our children and a fifth of our adults are in households with less than half the average income.

the government presides over a crisis in our unreformed and under-resourced health services and a housing nightmare for the 50,000 households in need of accommodation.

a United Nations report published in July 2001 found that we have the most unequal distribution of wealth of any industrialised state outside the USA.

This is the unequal society that now faces recession. And already we hear voices calling for belt-tightening and fiscal rectitude - the chorus that in the past meant cuts for the low paid and those on social welfare. The wealthy have been well cushioned against recession by this government. Those on lower incomes have seen neither the substantial direct gain in wages nor the improved services which they need at a time of economic uncertainty. They demand justice now.

In Budget 2002 the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Coalition government has its last opportunity to do what it has failed to do thus far - significantly redistribute wealth in our society. Such redistribution is even more necessary as we face an economic downturn.

Sinn Féin believes the priorities in Budget 2002 must be:


Concentration of resources on much needed improvements in health, housing, social welfare, education and childcare services which enhance the quality of life of all citizens.

Tax reductions for the low paid only; no further reductions for the higher earners; restoration of just taxation levels on big business.


All-out Attack on the Housing Crisis



"The ever-widening increase in income inequalities and resources is nowhere more evident today than in the case of housing. One of the results is that home ownership is now beyond the reach of most people on average incomes. This in turn is adding to the pressures of an already over-stretched social housing sector."

These are the words of the Report on Social Housing published by the National Economic and Social Forum (NESF). The NESF represents a broad cross-section of society from trade unions to employers, from farmers to local government members, community and voluntary groups. Even such a diverse group was able to agree that at the root of the current housing crisis is the Government's failure to provide social housing - that is houses built by the local authorities and housing co-ops.

Incredibly, given the massive need we see all around us, only 8 per cent of all houses are being built by the local authorities or voluntary sector. This is by far the lowest share for any period in the past century. Since 1996 the number on local authority waiting lists has risen by 43 per cent.

House prices in the private market increased by an average of 15 per cent in 2000. This drove more people onto local authority waiting lists and into private rented accommodation. While house prices have moderated somewhat in 2001 this has done nothing to ease the crisis.

People in private rented accommodation face poor living conditions, high rents and no proper security of tenure. Unscrupulous landlords can let sub-standard property for high rents and evict tenants with little difficulty. These landlords are being subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of over £100 million annually in rent supplements under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Scheme.

The Commission on the Private Rented Sector presented its report in July 2000 but well over a year later the government has failed to take action even on the limited proposals of the Commission. Tenants are being left to suffer.

New house starts are down by some 20% in 2001. The slowdown in the private housing sector provides an opportunity for the government to use the available capacity of the construction industry to attack the housing crisis by increasing resources for public sector housing.

Therefore Sinn Féin's key housing recommendation which should be acted upon in Budget 2002 is:


Major renewed State investment in a comprehensive Social Housing Programme, with front-loading of funding under the National Development Plan to allow the local authorities to house our citizens.

We also call for:


Target for elimination of waiting lists by local authorities, with an immediate target of 70 per cent of applicant units to be provided with suitable accommodation within two years of their being on the list.

The control of land prices with a statutory ceiling on the price of land zoned for housing to stop speculation and reduce house prices. A Constitutional amendment to allow for this if necessary.

Statutory control of rents in the private rented sector, strengthened laws to set standards for accommodation and more resources to implement those regulations.

A renovation grant of up to £5,000 to assist home-owners to improve their properties.

A special grant to encourage utilisation of urban and rural derelict sites for new domestic dwellings.


Towards Free Health Care for All



Private medical care targeted at the most well-off in our society is prospering. The public health system is lagging far behind. There are tens of thousands of people on hospital waiting lists in the 26 Counties while hospital beds and operating theatres are closed in many hospitals. There is a severe shortage of nurses. Hospital staff, especially nurses and junior doctors, are forced to work extremely long hours, which creates a real danger to the welfare of both patients and staff.

All this points to three major ills in our health system: lack of long-term government planning and bad management and organisation of the services; inequality within the system; and the legacy of years of under-funding.

We welcome further government moves to reverse under-funding. But comprehensive action is needed on many fronts.

We need reform of training, staff organisation, work practices and pay at all levels in the health services to end inequality. Such inequality includes that between well-paid consultants, who operate profitably in both public and private practice, and the hard-pressed staff of public hospitals who do most of the healthcare work. The grip of a minority of consultants on the purse-strings and organisational structure of the health service must be broken.

Sinn Féin believes the government should be eliminating the two-tier, public/private system in health and moving towards an Irish National Health Service with free healthcare for all, funded from central government tax revenue. This would be in the context of extended co-operation and integration of health systems on an all-Ireland basis. There can be no more important use made of taxpayers' money.


In Budget 2002 Sinn Féin urges two major steps:


The extension of medical card eligibility to all those on or below the minimum wage and to all persons under 18 years.

Increase in health spending in the Budget designed to eliminate waiting lists.

 

Sinn Féin Budget 2002 Submission Summary



Sinn Féin believes the priorities in Budget 2002 must be:


Concentration of resources on much needed improvements in health, housing, social welfare, education and childcare services which enhance the quality of life of all citizens.
Tax reductions for the low paid only; no further reductions for the higher earners; restoration of just taxation levels on big business.

Health



The extension of medical card eligibility to all those on or below the minimum wage and to all persons under 18 years.


Increase in health spending in the Budget designed to eliminate waiting lists.


Housing



Major renewed State investment in a comprehensive Social Housing Programme, with front-loading of funding under the National Development Plan to allow the local authorities to house our citizens.


Social Welfare



Increase the personal rates of basic social welfare payments by £14 per week for a single person and £24 for a couple.


Children



Substantial increase in Child Benefit. In line with the Open Your Eyes to Child Poverty Initiative the government should frontload a substantial proportion of its commitment to invest £1 billion over three years (2001-2003) in Child Benefit to reach Child Benefit rates of £117.50 per month for first and second child and £146 per month for third and subsequent children.

 

All-Ireland Economic Development



The Good Friday Agreement is an all-Ireland Agreement.

Through the new political institutions created under the Good Friday Agreement there is growing all-Ireland co-operation in the crucial fields of economic development, education, health, environment, agriculture, transport and tourism. In each of these areas we have already seen progress and programmes of work are being advanced through the implementation bodies.

The potential is obvious and it is clear that an all-Ireland economy would bring about considerable benefits to all living on the island.

It is essential that such cooperation continues.

Sinn Féin believes that the Irish Government should:


Seek to expand the all-Ireland areas of cooperation.
Develop the potential provided by the implementation bodies.
Make available the appropriate financial and other resources to ensure that substantial progress can take place.
 
GUE-NGL-new-Jan-2106

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

Powered by Phoenix Media Group