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Government cherishes CEOs over children – Ó Caoláin

12 December, 2012 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Speaking in the Dáil this evening on the Social Welfare Bill Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said this government cherishes CEOs over children and accused the Labour Party of breaking its commitment to protect core social welfare rates when it agreed to cut child benefit.

Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin’s speech follows:

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health & Children

Who were the winners in Budget 2013? The Government pretends there were no winners. But the reality is that the most highly paid, the wealthy elite, escaped yet again and those struggling on the edge of poverty suffered most.

The more you have the least you lose. Winner takes all. These are the mottos of Fine Gael, the big political winners in this Budget. They beat the Labour Party hands down.

Labour boasts that they protected the core social welfare payments. It is a false claim. They claim to have fought the good fight in cabinet and pushed for a 3% increase in the Universal Social Charge for those earning over €100,000. They lost. Michael Noonan rejected them and instead took his lead from the bosses of multinational corporations.

Don’t take my word for it. Minister Noonan has admitted it: “The people who were advising us not to do it were the multinational sector in the country...”

He said it was down to the pay packets of multinational chief executives.

That sums it up. This is the government that cherishes all the CEOs equally. The children are left out in the cold.

I deplore the cuts to Child Benefit in this Budget. They are possibly the most far-reaching of all the cuts. This IS a core payment and it has been slashed, contrary to Labour Party claims and Labour Party pre-election commitments.

The incomes of households with children were already falling further and faster before this budget. The Central Statistics Office Survey on Income and Living Conditions demonstrates that the incomes of households with children fell five times more than the incomes of childless households between 2009 and 2010, the latest figures available.

Households with children are three times more likely to be in debt arising from ordinary living expenses than households without children.

The Social Protection Department’s own value-for-money review of Child Benefit published in 2010 demonstrates the dependence of middle income families on this payment. Its analysis found that households in the 4th and 5th of ten income brackets fall below or onto the poverty line after paying their taxes and it is Child Benefit that then lifts them onto and over the line respectively. These are the families that pay for everything and are entitled to nothing.

The Child Benefit cuts come on top of other penalties and obstacles being encountered by struggling families. In November the Minister informed us that working families who are in poverty and who applied for Family Income Supplement in June of this year may be waiting as long as until April next year for a decision on their claims.

Child care and after school care are extremely expensive. In terms of affordability this State has almost the worst child care and after school care provision in Europe. Working families with young children are spending up to 41% of their income on child care.

According to the Energy Regulator families with children are having the most problems falling into arrears on their energy bills.

Despite Programme for Government commitments, basic healthcare for children is extremely expensive. According to a report by the European Observatory, published at the end of November this year, this is the only State that does not offer universal coverage of primary care. The average cost of a GP visit here is €51 compared to €22 in France. We are one of only three states to charge individuals for essential prescription drugs and common medicines are many multiples more expensive to purchase in Ireland than elsewhere. We are one of only six countries to charge for attending hospital emergency departments. The hospital charge is much higher here than elsewhere – €100 compared to only €2-€30 in the other countries that charge.

And now families who face Child Benefit cuts must also face higher charges for medicines, through the trebling of prescription charges for medical card patients and the increase of the Drugs Payment Scheme monthly ceiling to €144. The reduction of the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance is another heavy blow to those least able to sustain the hit.
I have no doubt that this Social Welfare Bill, in combination with the Health cuts, will damage the health of children.

It would be fairer, simpler and economically sounder to introduce a third rate of income tax on all high earners. But Fine Gael and Labour Ministers have set their faces against fairness. Will all members of their parliamentary parties follow them?


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