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Hypocrisy to suggest that Labour Party not responsible for budget

11 December, 2012 - by Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD


Hypocrisy to suggest that Labour Party not responsible for budget

Speaking tonight in the Dáil on the Social Welfare Bill, Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on social protection, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, was scathing in his criticism of the Labour Party and its minister for social protection, Joan Burton TD.

He pointed to Labour hypocrisy in trying to suggest that it had nothing to do with his budget:
“Labour backbenchers and hacks have been trying to put it out there that this is all Noonan’s fault and that their own precious Minister has been fighting the good fight.

“Well I have been debating social welfare issues with the Labour Party minister in this chamber on a near monthly basis, since she took up office and not an opportunity goes by that she doesn’t allude to her opinion that financial supports for carers are too generous and that the disabled aren’t really disabled.

“Anyone who recalls Minister Noonan’s treatment of Brigid McCole has come to expect callousness and inhumanity from him. But the public would have expected more from the Labour minister Joan Burton because she has spoken in the past of the value of social welfare to families and to the wider economy. The public will not make the same mistake again.”

Full text of speech below. Please check against delivery.
The Labour Party’s Joan Burton speaking about Child Benefit in December 2009 when Fianna Fáil were preparing to cut it:
“The Irish tax code is a funny thing. It can recognise, and has recognised, Pino Harris and his yacht Christina O. It recognises stallions at stud. It also recognises high-achieving sportsmen, heritage properties, writers and artists. However, it does not recognise children, the cost of raising a child and the burden that places on the incomes of parents who are taxpayers.
A person or couple who work and have a child pay the same amount of tax as an individual or couple with no dependent children.
Child benefit is keeping many families afloat.
Child benefit is keeping bread on the table. It is paying the food bills of a significant number of families who have had a massive reduction in their income.
Child benefit is, has been and will continue for a long time to be mainly an issue for mná na hÉireann and their children. That is why it is so vulnerable.”
Fast forward and what did she do once she got into government? She took advantage of this vulnerability. Sure it’s only women and children. It’s only Mná na hÉireann. She cut the child benefit two years running. With the backing of her party colleagues she is bursting the life raft of households with children, she is taking bread off the tables of children.
The Labour Party’s pre-election posters and promises to protect child benefit and low income families have been quoted ad nauseum. These promises with which they bought the election and indeed the promises contained in the Programme for Government to protect the vulnerable have now been broken ad nauseum.
Fine Gael’s Michael Ring speaking about carers in 2010 when Fianna Fáil were cutting financial support to carers:
“It is outrageous that the Government has targeted the carers in this budget. The carers are those who work for their social welfare payment and I am disappointed that the Minister and the Government could not have excluded the carers as these people need help more than anybody.
Fine Gael believes we should support carers. It makes sense that carers are supported in the work they do because they save the taxpayer money in the long run. If carers are not supported they will experience physical, financial and emotional hardship and eventual burnout. The result of this is that the cared-for person will end up in expensive hospital or nursing homes and the State will have to pick up that tab.”
Fast forward and what are Fine Gael doing, along with their Labour party colleagues, in government? Cutting support for these same carers. Cutting the Respite Care Grant.
What have Fine Gael and the Labour Party got to say for themselves today? How do they attempt to justify these u-turns? How do they attempt to justify this electoral fraud?
Well according to Minister Pat Rabitte, Labour Party election promises were made to be broken. And Fine Gael Minister Shane MacEntee doesn’t know what the carers are complaining about it all– sure “you could stay in a top hotel for €700 a week. People just have to get on with it”. – As if in the government’s opinion carers have been living it up in five star luxury at the expense of the state all these years!
Labour backbenchers and hacks have been trying to put it out there that this is all Noonan’s fault and that their own precious Minister has been fighting the good fight. Well I have been debating social welfare issues with the Labour Party Minister in this chamber on a near monthly basis since she took up office and not an opportunity goes by that she doesn’t allude to her opinion that financial supports for carers are too generous and that the disabled aren’t really disabled.
Anyone who recalls Minister Noonan’s treatment of Brigid McCole has come to expect callousness and inhumanity from him. But the public would have expected more from the Labour Minister Joan Burton because she has spoken in the past of the value of social welfare to families and to the wider economy. The public will not make the same mistake again.
What is the verdict on the Budget and the Social Welfare Bill before us? My words clearly fall on deaf ears with this Minister so I’ll borrow the words of some of her own party colleagues.
Roisín Shorthall said “Budget 2013 is an assault on families – as unfair as any we have seen in recent years. By continuing to protect the wealthy, it proves that as long as Fine Gael ideology dominates the Government, ordinary people will suffer.”
Labour Party Chairman Colm Keaveney pointing to the “cumulative effect on working families” of the child benefit cut and PRSI changes he called aspects of the Budget “regressive”. He said “We had choices in the Budget and in certain areas we didn’t make the correct choices.”
Well Shorthall, Keaveny and the rest will have an opportunity to demonstrate when the votes are taken on this Bill whether they are people of integrity who mean what they say or whether they are merely paying lip service to save their electoral behinds.
[Eric Byrne in my own constituency last night said “its not over until the fat lady sings.” Was he giving false hope to carers Minister or are you the lady to hwom he referred and are you going to start singing?].
And what is the public’s response to the Budget and this Social Welfare Bill? I’ll now quote from a small selection of the many emails that I received from Mná na hEireann in the wake of the Budget last week -
“Devasted here after listening to the budget , I have twins in pre school. I still only have 10 hrs a week as a home help so if you do the maths over half my wages goes on child care , not including how expensive it is to clothe two at one time . I also have a son in primary school and i dread next September with 3 uniforms , tracksuits shoes and books to fork out for ...I dont know how to cut my cloth any more ..Please help women like me keep our head above water.”
“the little people are screwed yet again totally disillusioned with this country I'm a mother of 2 sets of twins never looked for anything from this country very hard to envisage us staying here it's impossible as time goes on it's just hit after hit. So disappointed.”

“I am fully aware that as a country we have an awful mess that we have to clean up but I am totally honest when I say that most families that I know use child benefit to pay essential bills each month. Why does the government not go after the wealthy in this country as they seem to not be struggling as much as us ordinary people. In fact I can never remember a time during the boom when I or anyone I know had money to throw around, it may have been a boom but I honestly think this was only for a small few.”

“Today is a grim day for us mothers. All that shower of thieving gets are short of doing is either dropping poor or middle class families off at the major ports in Ireland and sending us away on coffin ships!! It's a disgrace!!”

“as a disabled person I don't know if I will be able to keep up my regular medication because of the increases, and how can I get to the doctor when I can't afford road tax as it is!! Cuts in the household benefits package will cripple me, I'm already seeking help from SVP, what do I do now??”

“I don't think the current powers realise the amount of people in their 30's that are taking their life's because they can't survive in this country! I hit rock bottom myself in September and driving my car into a wall was the only way out I could think of, thankfully I thought about my children and the fact that they would be left parent less if I was gone, but what can I offer them, in a country that's anti mothers and anti-children, the only option is to leave.”
I’ll deal with as many of the specifics of the Bill as the guillotine imposed by government allows during Committee Stage. Suffice to say at this stage that myself and my party colleagues are opposed to almost every single section of this Bill.
The Bill cuts core social welfare payments and rates. It cuts the respite care grant, child benefit and jobseekers benefit. It increases PRSI contributions for the low paid and for self-employed people with very very low incomes.
I have tabled amendments aimed at removing all of these cuts from the Bill.
I have also tabled amendments that would both save and raise money for the Department of Social Protection. I have shown yet again that the Minister has options. She has real choices. She does not have to target carers, children or those on low incomes.
I have tabled amendments providing for a temporary social welfare amnesty which would give rise to a one off control saving hike of €55 million. And I have tabled an amendment providing for a third rate of employers PRSI contribution on earnings exceeding €100,000. This measures which is limited to those employers who can afford to pay it would raise €91.5 million.
In addition to these savings which are internal to the Minister own departmental budget my party produced a detailed and costed alternative budget which clearly shows that every cut to social welfare contained in this Bill could have been avoided.
Fianna Fáil’s record
Fianna Fáil have been all over the media, ringing their hands and pretending opposition to these cuts. But lets look at what they actually proposed in their own pre-budget submission. And lets look at what they actually did in government.
There was a world of difference between Fianna Fáil’s pre-budget proposals and my own party’s alternative budget.
In terms of social welfare the only proposal that Fianna Fáil actually detailed and costed is a fresh cut.
Despite the growing evidence that the last round of rent supplement cuts are causing homelessness Fianna Fáil propose to save €25 million by cutting the scheme further. They proposed to do this by hiking the individual contribution yet again.
Beyond this they proposed to reduce social welfare spending by €200 million with unspecified additional control savings and activation. This was a ‘back of a beer mat’ proposal. There was no breakdown, no creative new control idea and activation measures designed to get people working actually cost money.
In stark contrast to the Fianna Fáil document my party’s Social Protection proposals were detailed and costed.
We had spelt out how we would have saved €67 million with a one-off amnesty and by recouping welfare paid from employers found guilty of wrongful dismissal. We have demonstrated how the government could raise an additional €91.5 million from those employers that can demonstrably afford to pay higher PRSI.
And we had committed to spend an additional€32 million increasing the earnings disregard for lone parents which provides a route out of poverty and welfare dependency, €51 million increasing the annual fuel allowance payment by €120 and €12.5 million restoring the cuts made by this government to Community Employment Scheme training and materials budgets.
Current government same as last
1. FF cut the weekly working age payment rates twice.
2. FF abolished the Xmas Bonus
3. FF cut child benefit across the board. LAB/FG provided for cuts to child benefit for later children and abolished the grants for multiple births that were payable at birth, 4 and 12 years old
4. FF announced the end of the smokeless zone fuel allowance top-up, Lab/FG implemented it. LAB/FG cut the fuel allowance by 6 weeks or €120.
5. In Budget 2012 Lab/FG introduced tax on illness benefit from day 1. The first 6 weeks used to be exempt. From Jan 2009 (i.e. under FF) illness benefit was limited to 2 years max for a person with 260 paid contributions and 1 year for someone with between 104 and 260 contributions. Illness benefit had been available indefinitely up til then.
6. The treatment benefit scheme was cut by FF in Budget 2010 and again by LAB/FG in Budget 2012.
7. Lab/FG cut the redundancy rebate for employers from 60% to 15%
8. In 2009 FF cut rent supplement by 8% and reduced the maximum rent caps. In Budget 2012 LAB/FG cut rent supplement further hiking the individual contribution required and reducing the max rent caps.
9. In budget 2012 Lab/FG abolished concurrent payments (lone parents and people with disabilities now effectively excluded from CE).

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