The children’s referendum was about recognising the rights of children in the Constitution. Unfortunately, Labour, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil don’t recognise children’s rights at budget time. Reports show that a growing percentage of children regularly go hungry, don’t have the proper clothes to see them through cold seasons, haven’t got school books, don’t receive adequate health service provision and live in homes that aren’t properly heated. They also show that the number of children who are homeless is growing.
The government targets these children directly by cutting welfare support, by reducing fuel allowance, by cutting health services, by increasing taxes on struggling families and by failing to deal with rising school costs. This year, it wants to cut child benefit again.
Talking about children’s rights is not enough. The government must consciously provide for the rights of children and their families, over and above the rights of wealthy people, of banks and of vested interests. Our alternative budget shows how it is possible to target the exchequer deficit without attacking children’s rights.
These proposals will benefit children, but will also benefit families as a whole by alleviating the financial burden on parents. A number of the proposals will also benefit elderly people and other vulnerable people.
The cost of schooling is anything but free in this state. A Barnardo’s survey in July (Barnardo’s school cost survey 2012)found that the average cost of sending a 12-year-old child to secondary school was €770 and a 6-year-old to senior infants €355. These costs excluded items such as trainers, school bags and extra-curricular activities. The cost of books for the 12- and6-year-olds are €275 and €85 respectively. While some schools are looking to move towards e-books, there will still be a cost that has to be alleviated for families. We are advocating a state provision of school books, which are provided to students and returned at year (exam) end, to be passed on to the next batch of students. This will save parents a good deal of money,in some cases alleviating poverty, in others, adding to their disposable income. The state already provides €15million in grants; this would bring the full amount to €60million, equal to the estimated annual average spend on books.
Last year the government introduced a cut of €32million to the earnings disregard for the One Parent Family payment,which saw it reduced to €130 per week for 2012 and a planned reduction to €60 per week from 2013. The cut makes going to work financially unviable for lone parents. We believe that where lone parents want to access the workplace, this must be encouraged and facilitated as much as possible. The government are actively reinstating poverty traps. Poverty traps occur where the rules of a social welfare scheme are such that a person would be better off not working. The constructive way to address a poverty trap is to allow a person to maintain some of their benefits while in work, because it actually costs to take up work (childcare, transport, lunches, appropriate attire, etc). The special earnings disregard for lone parents was designed to overcome a poverty trap.
A report launched by the Minister for Health in April 2012 (Health behaviour in school aged children) showed that a growing number of Irish children are going to school hungry, with 21%going to school without breakfast or to bed without a proper meal. It is our ultimate vision to roll out school meals to every school. This would ensure no child goes to school hungry, and act as a boost to parents’ income and local agri-food providers. This expenditure is an interim measure which would double the budget of the school meals programme from €35million to €70million and see meals rolled out to disadvantaged schools that were unsuccessful in their application to the current school meals programme.
So far, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has cut fuel allowance for people in smokeless zones from €23.90 to €20 (16%). She has cut the fuel components of the Household Benefits Package: Electricity (-25%), Gas (-20%). These cuts were the brainchild of FF but Labour/FG chose to introduce them. The fuel allowance is a means-tested payment and is, by definition, only available to the poorest families. The
Household Benefits package is for pensioners and people with disabilities. In the last Budget, Minister Burton cut the fuel allowance season by 6 weeks. That’s a cut of €120 or 19%. This is at a time when fuel prices are rocketing. 120,000 Bord Gáis customers are now in arrears. This measure would immediately reverse the six-week cut to fuel allowance.
Sinn Féin would also:
Between negative equity, spiralling bills and diminishing income, the number of those who are suffering as a result of this recession has grown rapidly over the last number of years. Those on very little have been hit very hard. Now those who used to be relatively okay are being hit very hard. The ‘squeezed middle’ group - such as families who used to have two incomes and now only have one, or two-income parents who’ve seen their income drop dramatically - is a group that the government goes back to in each budget and expects more from each time. This group is suffering immensely.
The Irish League of Credit Unions, in a survey in October, found that the number of people who are left with €100 or less at the end of each month after essentials are paid has risen to over 1.8million. Half of all adults are struggling to pay their bills on
time, with 42% having to borrow money to do so. Eight out of ten people are worried that they will not be able to cope with the increasing energy costs this winter. The study also found that 96% of people asked are worried about the impact Budget
2013 will have on their incomes.
The pressure of austerity, combined with the lack of security and the absence of a believable plan to take us out of recession, is paralysing the economy. The collapse in income, the rise in costs and the overhang of personal debt is causing a distress in
families that must be alleviated in this budget. The number of households in mortgage distress has risen to 160,000 (Central Bank August figures). We set out proposals to assist those in mortgage distress in this alternative budget. The cuts to home helps, the property tax, reduction in child benefit and increase in fuel costs will push most of this group over the edge. In the proposals we set out below, we include reductions to excise duty and changes to the USC. These measures are explained and accounted for in our taxation section, as they will have an impact on tax receipts.
Since coming to office, this government has presided over cuts of almost one and a half million home help hours. Having a home help for a couple of hours daily to provide social interaction, practical help and real support is invaluable to older and infirm people. It helps them live an independent life, with dignity and, as is their wish, in their own home. Home helps are a fundamental cornerstone of the community-based primary care approach to healthcare and well-being. As well as cutting this valuable assistance, the government has cut the hours of those workers who provide the care – mostly women. We would immediately, and as a first step, reinstate the 950,000 hours cut in 2012.
The cut to the training and materials allowance in the last budget left CE participants unable to access training because the €500 allowance was less than what most FETAC and other courses cost. The point of training on CE schemes is to ensure individuals are ready for and able to gain access to the labour market when the economy recovers. This cut took money from CE projects which limited the funds available to upskill CE workers and impacted on the projects’ ability to deliver their community services. While it was rolled back on somewhat, it must be reversed in this year’s budget to ensure we are training CE participants to their full ability.
With growing numbers of families leaving private health insurance, more people are beginning to see the cost of the health service for those who don’t meet the very low threshold of medical cards. This government promised an end to the two tier health service, free GP care and much more. Instead we still have GP costs ranging from €35 at the low end to €65 in most parts of Dublin. A&E admission has risen to €100. Prescription costs remain high because the government has not pursued an ambitious generic drugs policy. This is just one small measure to alleviate the medical cost burden on families.
Sinn Féin would also:
In Sinn Féin’s jobs plan produced in October we set out the details of a stimulus plan which would see the building of additional schools, primary health care centres and other public service infrastructure. The government has claimed it will also build extra schools, etc, however it maintains a freeze on current public service employee numbers and an embargo on hiring new staff. To run more public buildings, they must be staffed, and this must be provided for in the annual budget.
A parliamentary response last year stated that lifting the embargo on recruiting frontline staff would cost in the region of €145million per annum. This will allow the hiring of 3,500 frontline staff. We would target these staff numbers at the health and education departments in the first instance, to be followed by Gardaí and the Social Protection department.