Budget 2018 is “shamefully inadequate”, given the extreme crisis in housing and health and the need to restore cuts in welfare, disability provision, public service pay and pensions and many other areas, Tipperary Independent Deputy Seamus Healy has said.
“Some might say this budget is a missed opportunity, but not so. It is, rather, a conscious decision, a conscious and deliberate policy, by Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and Fianna Fáil to protect the massive increase in wealth of the Irish super-rich from fair taxation and to make further tax concessions to them.
Prudent budgeting does not require limiting of spending to the shamefully low figures in today's budget. The European Union fiscal treaty does not require it either but it does not forbid extra revenue-raising, provided it is recurrent. Significant additional income could have been raised if the Government was prepared to make the super-rich pay their fair share of taxation.
“Here are the facts. On GDP per head, Ireland is wealthier than Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Italy. Overall, Ireland is ranked eighth in the world. The richest 12 in Ireland have €50 billion in total assets, having gained €6 billion in the last year alone. The top 300 have €100 billion, having gained €12 billion in the last year alone. The financial assets of the top 10% are €37 billion above the peak boom levels of 2006.
“The top 10,000 of personal income recipients have incomes totalling €6 billion per year, or average incomes of €600,000 per year each, and they have received the full benefit of income tax and USC reductions in the last two budgets and again today. The top 5% of all income recipients, on average incomes of €180,000, have received income tax and USC reductions in the last two budgets totalling €172 million. Today, they again benefit to the full from income tax and USC changes. Today, again, the fabulously wealthy will escape any additional imposition on their massive and growing wealth. In fact, they get €90 million out of today's budget.
“This is a regressive budget. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in its pre-budget submission correctly stated that Government policy has created an unequal nation. The society stated that the top 1% increased its share of income by 20%, but the share of income of the bottom 50% has fallen by 15%, and one in four one-parent families lives in consistent poverty. Government policy is shameful, cruel and anti-human. It makes the British landlords of old appear like charitable figures by comparison. There is one simple explanation. Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and Fianna Fáil are determined to protect the Irish super-rich from fair taxation.
“First, tax and USC relief on the top 10,000 income recipients should be withdrawn, giving a saving of some €10 million. Instead, a higher marginal tax rate should be imposed on all individual incomes over €150,000 per year. A wealth and assets tax must be imposed on the super-rich while protecting small property owners. Skilled Department of Finance accountants will have no difficulty in sourcing three times the revenue the State is collecting solely by extra taxes on the super-rich. For example, the wealthiest 12 would hardly miss €1 billion out of the €6 billion they have gained in the last year alone and the top 10% of financial asset holders would hardly miss €1 billion from the €35 billion above what they had at peak boom levels in 2006. These measures would transform the Government's ability to spend on housing and health, but the Government and Fianna Fáil are protecting the super-rich.
Housing and Homelessness
“Today is world homelessness day. The proposals in this budget in respect of housing are scandalous. The Government's policy of relying on developers and the market to solve the housing emergency has been a disaster for families, yet this policy is continued in today's budget, again showing the support by Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and Fianna Fáil for the rich and powerful in our society. There is no change in housing policy in this budget. Not a single addition house will be built as a result of the budget proposals. The Government is persisting with its disastrous housing policy and, outrageously, it is continuing to evict families from their homes into a horrendous housing crisis through the banks it itself owns, Allied Irish Banks and permanent tsb. The Government policy of reliance on the market has created a housing emergency, rising homelessness, rising non-affordability and rising rents. The conscious decisions by successive Governments to outsource house building to a profit-dominated, land-speculative, developer-led market has created homelessness and deaths on our streets. The market system has failed and is entirely dysfunctional. Hundreds of thousands of citizens are affected and large numbers of children are being damaged.
“Over 90,000 families languish on local authority housing waiting lists, a figure that has doubled since 2005.More than 20,000 families are on housing assistance payment schemes. This is a disaster for the families and a bonanza for the landlords. Families are paying rent to the local authority and significant top ups to landlords and at the end of the week, the families do not have two cents to rub together. An illness, a death, a first holy communion or a confirmation can drive them into debt and into the hands of moneylenders. Many more thousands are homeless. Currently more than 8,000 people, including some 3,000 children, are homeless. Many more are homeless who are sleeping on couches or doubling up with relatives. The proposals for housing in the budget are cruelly inadequate. We must have a housing policy change. We need a declaration of a national housing emergency. We must stop the voluntary surrender of homes, the so-called voluntary sale of homes, repossessions and evictions. We need a major, emergency, local authority social and affordable house building programme. This would be a win-win situation for all with additional jobs, less social welfare payments and more income tax. We also need to repeal the law that allows vulture funds and purchasers to evict sitting tenants.
“The only explanation for the housing debacle - as I have already said - is the determination of Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance, supported by Fianna Fáil, to put the interests of the Irish super-rich above all else. These parties have opposed the formal declaration of a national housing emergency. Under the constitutional articles in respect of private property, the formal declaration of a housing emergency by the Oireachtas would enable legislation to be passed that would end evictions, freeze rents and provide for the compulsory purchase of land and buildings. The Government has already used emergency legislation to confiscate private property through the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2015, but when the property interests of the super-rich are at stake, the Government refuses to act.
National Demonstration/People Power
“Through mass action on the streets, we forced the Government to retreat on water charges. We must do the same on housing. I will be calling a meeting of the 31 Deputies who voted in support of my amendment to the housing Bill last December. That amendment called for the declaration of a housing emergency. I will ask Deputies to call a national demonstration to force a change in housing policy. The Government has ignored the calls made by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Focus Ireland and other advocacy groups to declare a housing emergency and to build sufficient public homes to rapidly reduce homelessness and the local authority waiting lists. I will ask all those bodies to join a national demonstration. Reasonable persuasion has failed. The Government has refused to listen and the time for talking is now over. It is time to take action.
“What does the Taoiseach's republic of opportunity look like for people who need to use our health services? It means 675,000 people on hospital waiting lists. Today, there were 514 people on hospital trolleys. In my town of Clonmel, in 2011 there were 750 people on trolleys in South Tipperary General Hospital - the year the last Fine Gael and the Labour Party Government came to power - and in 2017 that figure will be 7,000 people. We have huge waiting lists for various services. Urgent cases in urology services will be called in 48 months. That is four years. People are waiting two years for audiology services, anything up to four years for orthopaedic services and up to two years for cataract operations. Families waiting on assessments for children who have a disability, and who by law are entitled to assessment within three months of referral, are now being told they must wait for two years. Home helps and care assistants are run off their feet providing the 45 minutes of care in people's homes. It goes on and on.
Today's budget made no mention of the funding for the Sláintecare programme. We have been told that to provide the same level of service in 2018 as in 2017, including the requirements for demographic changes, would cost €900 million. Today, the health budget was allocated €685 million.
The disability community is bitterly disappointed tonight as its 643,000 members have been sidelined again with a very minor increase of around €15 million. There was no mention whatsoever of the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. To add insult to injury, in today's budget we were told that the Taoiseach's media quango, which was supposed to cost the State nothing - zilch - is going to cost €5 million. This will be used to spin, to gild the lily and to tell us half-truths. The health service also has a pay apartheid where young nurses are paid less than colleagues who work alongside them while doing the same work.
Mental Health Services
The mental health services remain the Cinderella of the health service. A Vision for Change, published way back in 2006, is still not funded, resourced or staffed. Community-based teams are a shadow of what they should be under the Vision for Change programme. There are not enough nurses, medical staff or paramedical staff. In my county of Tipperary, services have been completely decimated with inpatient services transferred to Kilkenny and to Ennis. The community-based services, which were supposed to be of Rolls Royce standard to compensate for the transferred inpatient services, are a shadow of the previous services. They are under-funded and under-staffed.
Mental Health Reform said tonight that "We are deeply concerned that essential mental health services will not be in place for people in mental distress who need them, and that new developments including expanding access to out-of-hours mental health services will not be possible". They are deeply disappointed that a promised €35 million has transpired to be only €11.3 million. It was pointed out recently that a €65 million increase would be needed to maintain existing services and to provide for demographic changes.
While any increase is welcome, the social welfare increases are paltry. An increase of €5 per week will not come into effect until the last week of March 2018. These increases will be wiped out by already announced and future increases in electricity, gas, rents, bin charges, health insurance, car insurance and cigarettes.
The treatment of children in this budget is absolutely despicable and an insult. There is no child benefit increase at all. There is a €2 per week increase for the dependent child allowance. This is in the context of 3,000 children who are homeless and 132,000 children living in consistent poverty. This is 11.5 % of the total child population.
Indeed, Barnardos stated tonight that these increases are unacceptable. We should have done a lot more for the children of the nation who we are supposed to look after, given that one in four one-parent families lives in consistent poverty. The organisation, One Family, stated tonight that it is disappointed with the proposals and that much more must be done to lift one-parent families out of Government-created poverty.
State Pension – Women - Age
There were two other areas in the social welfare budget that the Government should have addressed as a matter of urgency. It has been asked to address these matters urgently by Members on all sides of the House. I refer to the State pension for women who took time out to look after and rear families and now find themselves with zero or reduced pensions. It is time to ensure that the changes introduced by Deputy Burton when she was leader of the Labour Party are reversed and that those women get proper State pension payments. I refer also to the age at which pension entitlements accrue. It has gone to 66 and will go to 68. There is even talk of it going to 70. That should be reversed and the age should revert to 65. If individuals want to work beyond 65, it should be optional. Certainly, however, the pension age should revert to 65.
Turning to education, while the reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio from 27:1 to 26:1 is welcome, we continue to have the second largest class sizes in Europe. Only the UK has larger class sizes. The average pupil-teacher ratio in Europe is 20:1, which shows how far we have to go. School communities and parents will be deeply disappointed that the capitation grant has not been increased. There is huge pressure on parents to make payments to schools, to run cake sales and draws and to otherwise support schools. Capitation payments must be increased.
The mark of this budget is the fact that AIB and permanent tsb, two banks which we, the people, bailed out, will now be tax free for another 21 years. That is absolutely unacceptable. As someone else said, this is a budget of bits and bobs. There is nothing substantial in it for ordinary families or, indeed, public services. It is a budget for the wealthy at the expense of public services, those who are homeless, those seeking housing and those who are patients in our hospitals.