13 December 2001 Edition

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Welfare increases too little too late - Ó Caoláin

Speaking in the Dáil debate on the Social Welfare Bill, which implements Budget changes, Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the government had ensured that the past four and a half years of prosperity had benefited the better off most.

"The increases in the various benefits and allowances are welcome as far as they go - but they could go much further and could have gone much further over the past four and a half years of this administration. This Bill is not welcome as it is part of a deeply flawed Budget, the fifth in a series brought to us by Minister McCreevy on behalf of a Government that threw away the best opportunity in the history of this State to redistribute wealth and build our economy on foundations of real equality.

"Government Ministers and other government deputies cheered the social welfare increases announced in the Budget, but the reality is that this State spends a much lower proportion of Gross National Product on social welfare than other EU countries. This State contributes 17.5% of GNP to social welfare compared to an EU average of 28.2%."

A report by the European Foundation - the EU social policy research unit - published on 29 November, recently found the 26-County State fourth from bottom of the 15 EU countries in terms of distribution of wealth. Only Greece, Spain and Portugal fare worse.

"A quarter of our children and a fifth of our adults are in households with less than half the average income. Some 500,000 adults in the 26 Counties have basic literacy problems. The OECD has found that 26% of our young people have no useful qualification beyond junior level. This is the context of the Budget and of this Social Welfare Bill and, notwithstanding the improvements, it is a sorry record as this administration ends its term of office."

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