Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Budget does nothing for struggling families

14 October, 2014 - by Pearse Doherty TD

“If the Government was serious about helping struggling families they would have abolished the water charges. Instead they chose to give a tax break to high earners."

“Budget 2015 lacks ambition. It doesn’t deal with the unemployment crisis, the housing crisis, or crisis in health. For most people it will mean yet another year of austerity.”

Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty has described Budget 2015 as “deeply disappointing” and doing “nothing for struggling families”.

The Donegal TD also criticised the Government for “failing to do the right thing by struggling families and abolish the water charge.”

Speaking during the budget debate Deputy Doherty said:

“Recovery must mean people’s lives are improving, that the financial and emotional burden of the recession is lifted, that tomorrow is better than today.

“What today’s budget shows us is that there is a recovery but only for the few. The vast majority of people are no better off.

“A low paid worker on €30,000 will gain €174 – less than the lowest possible water charge bill of €176.

“A middle income earner on €50,000 will gain €546 – all of which will be wiped out by average property tax and water charge bills.

“While a high earner on €70,000 will gain €746 – the only category of worker who will gain any real benefit from your tax changes.

“Where is the help for low and middle income families in these changes?

“If the Government was serious about helping struggling families they would have abolished the water charges. Instead they chose to give a tax break to high earners.

“Budget 2015 lacks ambition. It doesn’t deal with the unemployment crisis, the housing crisis, or crisis in health. For most people it will mean yet another year of austerity.”

Full text of the speech delivered by Deputy Pearse Doherty follows.

On Saturday one hundred thousand people marched the streets of Dublin.

This was the largest demonstration against austerity since the crisis began.

It was a march against the unjust water tax – a tax dreamt up by Fianna Fáil and eagerly implemented by Fine Gael and Labour.

It was an expression of the anger that people feel against a Government without any sense of fairness.

After six long years of spending cuts and tax hikes, of unemployment and emigration, of bank bailouts and golden handshakes – people are saying enough is enough.

While today’s budget will be spun by the Government as a technical end to austerity it won’t end austerity for ordinary people.

Austerity does not simply mean balancing the books - it means placing the burden of the fiscal adjustment on those least able to pay.

It is a policy that makes ordinary hard working people pay for the bad decisions and reckless behaviour of the few.

It is a deeply unfair policy – and it does not work.

After almost four years in Government Fine Gael and Labour can no longer blame Fianna Fáil for the state of our economy and our society.

Today there are 28,000 less young people in employment than when you took office.

In the first six months of this year you have only created 5,500 net new jobs.

And a staggering 374,800 are stuck on the dole.

Is it any wonder that over 200 people, mainly young, continue to emigrate every single day- in search of work and a better future?

Seo a bhfuil déanta agat a Aire, tá na figiriúirí seo mar thoradh ar do chuid roghanna.

Seo é oidhreacht Fine Gael agus Páirty an Lucht Oibre.

Agus seo é an chúis go raibh céad míle duine ag morshúil trí shráideanna Bhaile Átha Chliath – le tacaíocht na gcéadta míle daoine eile. 

Today you had an opportunity to show that you have listened to the people.

You could have introduced a budget that would have eased the burden on the vast majority of people; a budget that would stimulate the domestic economy and start the renewal of our public services.

Unfortunately Minister you have introduced a budget that is driven by the same failed policies as your previous budgets.

You are taking the same failed approach to the recovery as you did to the recession.

You are wedded to the politics of privilege.

The anger on the streets of central Dublin on Saturday was matched by the results in the Dublin South West and Roscommon South Leitrim by-elections.

A clear majority of voters in both constituencies said no to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour austerity.

Clearly you have lost your mandate – you no longer have the support of the people.

In the dyeing days of the last Fianna Fáil administration Michael Martin’s party had clearly lost touch with the public mood – they were no longer able to hear what the people were saying.

But your Government is worse Minister.

You have heard the voice of the people and yet you carry on regardless.

So let me spell it out for you Minister one more time – you need to scrap water charges.

This is a government not only out of touch – but arrogantly ignoring the appeal of the vast majority of people for an ending of the burden of austerity on their families and their communities.

It may seem strange to Government TDs that anger has spilled onto the streets and into the ballot boxes.

How can it be asks the puzzled backbencher?

The Troika are gone, the economy is growing, people are back to work, the deficit is under control – the recovery has finally arrived.

Are people really that ungrateful? Can they not see that things are getting better?

Unfortunately for the vast majority of people there is no recovery.

Ó thosaigh an ghéarchéim seo agus le trí cinn de na buiséid is míchothroime cuireadh go leor teaghlach agus níos mó eile chun bochtanais.

Anois agus Fine Gael agus Páirtí an Lucht Oibre i gcumhacht ní hionann post a bheith agat agus greim a choinneáil faoin bhfiacail.

One in seven working people are living at risk of poverty.

One in four people live in a jobless household.

And these are the families that you expect to pay water charges.

Where is the recovery Minister for the family with only €8.75 left each week after essential bills are paid as recently highlighted by MABS?

Where is the recovery for the family sleeping in a hotel room or on their parents couch because the rent supplement trap drove them out of their home?

Where is the recovery for the family whose children will emigrate today and tomorrow and the day after?

Where is the recovery for the 324 family whose loved one will lie on a hospital trollys today?

Where is the recovery for the non-verbal child waiting for speech and language therapy today, tomorrow and all of next year?

Minister I like everyone else desperately want to see a recovery.

But a recovery is more than GDP statistics or marginal reductions in the live register.

If it is to mean anything at all a recovery must mean people’s lives are improving; that the financial and emotional burden of the recession is lifted; that tomorrow is better than today.

Of course for some there is a recovery – but the vast majority of families are being left behind.

Fine Gael and Labour’s recovery is a recovery for the few not the many.

When the detail of what you have announced today sinks in hundreds of thousands of people across the state will be bitterly disappointed.

2015 will not be the end of austerity for the hard pressed family struggling to pay property tax and water charges.

Today’s budget does little or nothing for these families.

And we must never forget why this is the case.

This year servicing the states debt burden will cost the taxpayer €8 billion.

How much of this Minister is the cost of your personal failure to deliver a deal on the banking debt?

What is the cost of your Government failing to secure the separation of banking debt and sovereign debt as promised in the June 2012 European Council Summit meeting.

The single biggest challenge facing the economy is the lack of private and public sector investment.

This is why so many people continue to be unemployed or underemployed.

This is why so many people continue to emigrate.

In 2011 Enda’s Kenny’s famous five point plan promised to invest €5 billion over the lifetime of the government to get people back to work.

The Labour Party promised a €1bn Strategic Investment Bank.

Budget after budget you have failed to live up to these promises.

This is why the rate of job creation is so painfully slow – because you are failing to invest.

Sinn Féin has consistently argued for real state led stimulus.

Time after time we have produced costed job creation proposals.

First you dismissed our plans.

Now you have embraced some of them but without the ambition or speed that the employment crisis demands.

One of the most important choices you faced in advance of today’s budget was whether to tax the wealthy or lift the burden from the low and middle earners.

You are presenting your changes to the marginal rate of tax, the threshold at which people enter the marginal rate and the changes to USC rates as helping struggling families.

The truth is rather different.

Taken together these combined changes when taken alongside the impact of property tax and water charges will be of no benefit to those earning the average industrial wage.

They will be neutral for middle income families.

But once again the high earners will benefit significantly.

A low paid worker on €30,000 will gain €174 – less than the lowest possible water charge bill of €176.

A middle income earner on €50,000 will gain €546 – all of which will be wiped out by average property tax and water charge bills.

While a high earner €70,000 will gain €746 – the only category of worker who will gain any real benefit from your tax changes.

Where is the help for low and middle income families in these changes Minister.

Ní haon ionadh é go dtiocfadh páirtí ar nós Fine Gael ar chinneadh cosúil leis seo – is sibhse an páirtí pribhléideach seasta.

Ach is ábhar iontas é go bhfuil tacaíocht Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre agaibh.

Ní chruthófar postanna le laghdúchán aon faoin gcéad ar an ráta imeallach cánach.

Ní chabhróidh sé le muirear chánach tromlach na dteaghlach atá ag obair a laghdú.

At a time when children are being forced to sleep in cars, tents, hotel beds or family floors because of lack of investment in housing it is criminal for Government to cut the top rate of tax.

Peter McVerry was right to express outrage at this proposal saying that he was ‘dismayed’ and ‘outraged’

That is what Fine Gael and Labour are doing here today.

Sinn Féin welcomes the closure of loop holes that allow multi-national companies to reduce their tax liability.

When we called for an end to the Double Irish you said that the only problem with the loop hole was that it had the word Irish in it – and yet here you are finally taking action.

But Minister the real tragedy in today’s Budget is the failure to abolish the property tax and the water charges.

Fine Gael and Labour continue to over tax ordinary families.

A fairer budget would shift the burden of taxation onto revenue sources less harmful to the domestic economy while ensuring finance for investment in front line services.

Abolishing the property tax – a deeply unfair charge – would act as a massive stimulus for low and middle income families.

It would save 1.8 million homeowners an average of €278 per year.

Scrapping the introduction of the water charges would have an even greater effect as the average family bill will be well in excess of the average touted by government.

The Governments proposal to provide working people with a €100 tax credit to offset the cost of the water charges in no way compensates for the impact on hard pressed families.

Worse still up to 856,000 working people will not be able to avail of this break as they are outside the tax net – the very people who will be worst affected by the charge.

Sinn Féin has committed to the total abolition of these unjust taxes – they are hurting families and hurting the domestic economy.

One of the most damaging consequences of successive Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour austerity budgets has been the dismantling of our public health system.

The health system needs not only the €500 million hole in the budget this year but a further €300 million to deal with our growing and ageing population.

Last year my Sinn Féin warned that cutting €666 million from the health budget would harm patients.

Fine Gael and Labour carried on regardless – withdrawing thousands of medical cards from people in real medical need.

Today’s budget does not mark an end of austerity in health.

Our hospitals and health services will once again be forced to do more with less. The consequence will felt in patient care and wellbeing all over the state.

Todays total voted expenditure for health is €13 billion.

In plain English todays budget allocation means a further reduction in health spending when increased demand is taken into account.

And what will be the consequence of your failure to invest in health?

Our two tier health system will continue to stumble along.

Public patients will continue to wait far longer for crucial diagnosis and procedures than those able to afford private health insurance.

Waiting lists and trolley waits will continue.

Agus a Aire, ní amháin go mbeidh daoine ag fulaingt, ach beidh siad ag fáilt báis toisc gur theip ar do rialtas géarchéim na seirbhísí sláinte a thuiscint. 

The mismanagement of housing policy by Government played a central part in our economic collapse in 2007.

Almost four years since Fine Gael and Labour took office and the housing crisis continues.

The private rental market is in crisis. Rent supplement caps introduced by the Tánaiste have forced hundreds of families into homelessness.

Local authorities are being forced to house these families in hotels at huge cost to the state and the families involved.

Can you imagine Minister what it must be like to be forced out of your home because you can no longer afford the rising market rents and because Joan Burton capped the rent supplement payments while refusing to introduce rent caps.

Have you any idea of what it must feel like moving night after night, with your children from emergency hostel to hotel room?

You have to be up and out by 11am, nowhere to keep you possessions, unable to prepare breakfast for your family?

Minister today, in this city there are hundreds of homeless families in this situation.

Why? Because like Fianna Fáil before you Fine Gael and Labour have slashed the capital spend on social housing.

Since taking office you have cut €270 million from the housing budget – reducing the spend on social housing by almost 50% in three years.

I want to welcome the Government’s commitment to invest in social housing.

Any increase in the capital budget for social housing is to be welcomed.

However the €450 million allocated for 2015 is simply not enough.

For four years you have done nothing to alleviate the housing crisis.

Now at the very last minute you are slowly waking up to the problem, but it is clear you still do not fully grasp the scale of the crisis.

Sinn Féin would immediately invest €1 billion to provide more than double the number of new homes in 2015.

This is the kind of urgent response that the housing and homeless crisis needs.

Once again it is a case of too little too late from Fine Gael and Labour.

The increase in the homeless budget is also to be welcomed though it is questionable whether it will even cover the recent increase in demand for emergency accommodation let alone contribute to ending long term homelessness.

Minister today you have announced a number of measures which you say are aimed at helping people with the cost of the water charges.

No doubt you will try to pitch this as a generous measure born out of concern for the vulnerable.  

But let’s look at it more closely.  

You introduced water charges the initial average annual bill for which is expected to be €278.  

Since taking office you have cut the Household Benefits Package by €367

When you add the cuts to the household benefits package to the cost of the water charge pensioners and people with disabilities are already hundreds of euro worse off.  

The idea that €100 in any way compensates for what you have done to these people is an insult Minister.  The extension of the €100 to recipients of the fuel allowance also (an allowance that was itself cut by €120) still leaves almost 200,000 people on the live register with zero support towards the cost of their water.

As winter approaches older people in particular living with the reality of fuel poverty will not only be forced to go to bed early to save on heating bills but they will now be worried about the cost of a cup of tea or a warm bath.

As to the €5 rise in Child Benefit - This government itself cut Child Benefit by between €10 and €47 per child each month.

You cut the annual Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance for poor families by €100.  

All the while the cost of living and education have been rising pushing more and more families into debt.

You cut maternity benefit by €32 per week and the lone parents income disregard was cut from €146.50 to €90 as a consequence of which a working lone mother is down €28 each week.  

Against this backdrop, struggling families will barely notice the extra €5 per month in their child benefit announced by the government today.  

€5 literally won't even get you a pack of nappies let alone make up for the hardship caused by all the cuts this government have made already to child income supports.
The so-called Christmas bonus amounts to a one-off payment of between €25 and €57.50.  

I don't know if the Minister has visited any toystores recently but trust me this really won't get you very far.  

People are struggling all year round not just at Christmas.  

Many are still in debt from last Christmas.  They need much more than this miserly festive pittance.

Minister as with housing and social welfare your announcements on education will leave many people bitterly disappointed.

While the additional seachers, recource teachers and SNA are to be welcomed there will simply meet the increasing demand for services.

Worse than this the 2015 cuts announced in last years budget – the €250 increase in student fees, the 1% cut in the capitation grant and the cuts to Universities – will all go ahead.

Minister this government was told that any further cuts to the capitation grant would mean some schools would no longer be in a position to pay basic utility bills.

Is it really the policy of Fine Gael and Labour to force the closure of schools?

Minister last week I and my colleagues launched our alternative budget.

It set out a fairer and more sustainable way of meeting the states deficit targets.

It sought to put €800 million back into the pockets of ordinary workers through the abolition of the property tax and water charges.

It outlined investment in disability services and supports.

We prioritised investment in health and education.

We sought to stem the tide of youth emigration.

It was a budget that would help rebuild our economy, renew our society and repair our communities.

Unfortunately Minister you have once again failed to listen.

In addition to scrapping property tax and water charges Sinn Féin committed exempting the 296,000 low paid workers who earn between €193 and €337 from the Universal Social Charge.  

While the removal of 80,000 low paid workers from the USC announced today is welcome it simply does not go far enough.

Cutting the lower rate of USC by 0.5% is simply no substitute for removing the remaining 210,000 of the lowest paid workers from the tax net.

Taken together these three measures would significantly reduce the risk of poverty amongst society’s lowest income households while at the same time stimulate domestic demand.

In turn we would place the burden of new tax measures on those most able to pay.

We would introduce a third rate of income tax of 48% on incomes over €100,000 raising an additional €448 million, we would reintroduce the second home charge at €400 per year, along with other measures including increases in betting tax

In total, the measures contained in our alternative budget would raise an additional €1.7 billion.

But crucially over €1b of this would be put back in the pockets of ordinary working people.

This would reverse the growing inequality and poverty in society.

It would also help the local economy and save jobs.

In our Alternative proposals for 2015 we focused on raising the living standards of the most vulnerable, increasing investment in disability services, reversing the crisis in front line health care and making education more affordable.

Working families need a break which is why Sinn Féin’s proposals sought to increase the Family Income Supplement by 10% giving 47,553 families on average an extra €18.50 a week.

This is a measure that you could have introduced today but chose not to.

We also argued that young people need a break which is why Sinn Féin proposed to reverse the cuts to Job Seekers Allowance.

Unlike Joan Burton and her cabinet colleagues we want our young people who can’t find work to have the choice to stay and build a future.

Carers, people with disabilities and one parent families need a break which is why Sinn Féin proposed to increase the respite care grant by €325 and raising the one parent family payment disregard to €120

We identified eleven measures to invest €202 million in disability services and supports including an additional €18.7 million on suicide prevention.

These are just some of the measures that that you could have introduced.

And this was based on a neutral budget as the government demanded.

However we now know that you have far greater scope.

Based on the expenditure and receipts provided by the Department on Friday the Government could invest an extra €1.1 billion while still coming in below the 3% deficit target.

Ach mar is dual dóibh tá an Rialtas seo ag féachaint lena chuid máistrí sa Bhruiséil a shásamh in áit freastal ar riachtanais mhuintir na hÉireann.

At the end of 2010 public anger was at fever pitch. The incompetence and corruption of the Fianna Fáil government made people realise the need for change.

On the streets and in the polling booths people voted for that change.

Fine Gael and Labour promised a democratic revolution; they promised investment in jobs and services; they promised fairness.

But what did we get?

The same old economic incompetence and political cronyism that came before.

And as each Fine Gael Labour budget comes and goes there is a growing sense that nothing has changed.

That is why one hundred thousand people marched for the right to water in Dublin on Saturday.

That is why support for Sinn Féin and other progressive candidates reached 60% in Dublin South West and Roscommon South Leitrim last Friday.

That is why a Government with an inbuilt majority couldn’t even win a Seanad by-election.

It seemed that after six years of harsh austerity people’s expectations had been lowered – we were just too accustomed to the harsh reality of crippling austerity, endless bank bailouts and the same old politics as usual.

 But something is changing.

The more people hear talk of economic recovery the more it jars with the reality that their own lives are not getting better.

The more the Government spins the line that we have finally turned the corner the more people are asking why they have less money in their pockets at the end of the week.

There is a recovery taking place – the figures bear that out.

But it is a recovery for the few not the many.

It is a two tier-two two-speed recovery

Just as todays budget is a two-tier budget.

Tax cuts that benefit the better off while the rest are left to rot.

Minister, budget day is about much more than balancing the books – the debate we are having here today is about much more than the listing of tax and spend measures.

This is a debate about the kind of society we want to build – about the type of future we want to leave for our children.

Sinn Féin believes that a better, fairer, more equal and prosperous Ireland is possible.

But it can-not be achieved on the basis of the policies you have outlined today.

Yes the Troika will be happy with what you have announced

But Irish society will continue to privilege the few over the many

It will continue as a society for the elites not for citizens

Poverty, homelessness, health and education inequalities, unemployment and emigration will still be the daily reality for tens of thousands of people.

Minister you and your colleagues lack vision

A century on from the Easter Rising of 1916 when the women and men of this country dared to dream of a better future the comparison with today’s political class could not be starker.

The disillusionment of W.B. Yeats with the lack of vision among his generation spring to mind:

What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the 
halfpence to the pence

But Yeats could also remember a different generation who had the courage to imagine a better society:

Yet they were of a different kind,
The names that stilled your childish play,
They have gone about the world like wind

Ireland is crying out for a new generation who have the courage to lift their horizons above the greasy till

A generation who believe that a better Ireland is possible.

Minister the winds of change are once again blowing and the failure of your government to live up to the promises made in 2011 will be your undoing.

The budget before lacks ambition. It doesn’t deal with the unemployment crisis, the housing crisis, or crisis in health.

And once again Minister you are giving tax breaks to the rich while giving nothing to low and middle income earners.

Even with the modest measures outlined today the privilege and poverty in our society will remain in place.

For these reasons I and my Sinn Féin colleagues will not be supporting this budget.