Thursday, 12 October 2017
Financial Resolutions 2018 - Financial Resolution No. 4: General (Resumed)
Sometimes it feels like banging one's head against a brick wall when one is trying to explain to the Government how difficult life is for ordinary people. We have a housing crisis, a health crisis and spiralling child care costs, with workers in that sector on very low wages, yet the Government appears to be scared of making real decisions to tackle these problems. This budget did not deliver much of anything. There are a few euro in people's pockets each week, enough for one or two cups of coffee.
There is a housing and health care crisis in the State but one would not know it from listening to some Members in the House. There is no increase in social housing targets for 2018. Why is that? The social housing target is 40% lower than what was recommended in the Committee on Housing and Homelessness report in 2016. Every day more people are becoming homeless. There are over 3,000 homeless children in the State right now, yet the social housing targets are pitiful. There are at least 80,000 vacant houses in the State, but there is nothing in the budget to increase access to those houses.
As for health, there is barely enough in the budget to keep the health system standing still, let alone move it towards increasing capacity. Basically, if Mary from down the road who is waiting on a hospital trolley today is back in the hospital again next year waiting for a hospital trolley she will be able to afford a cup of tea and a biscuit while she is waiting. People want services. They would far prefer to have investment in health care and housing than a few cent extra in their pockets. That is the reality. We are not saying that investment will solve everything. There must be different approaches and new thinking on some of the issues.
What really annoys me, and it has annoyed me every year since the pension bands were changed in 2012, is the failure to address the blatant discrimination against women in the State pension. Again this year there is nothing in the budget to address that.
Child care is an enormous issue and I am surprised that the Government did not take far more action to address it. Next year parents will still be paying high child care fees. Child care workers, who are highly qualified and skilled workers, will still be on very low wages. These are people we trust enough to leave our child or children with, which we all agree is a very important responsibility, yet they are paid peanuts. That is simply not good enough. Despite the fees, many child care providers are operating on very narrow margins. They cannot afford to give their staff a pay increase. They must be supported too.
I had a chat recently with a girl in Raheny in my constituency. She works in the child care sector. She works full-time in a crèche and part-time at the weekends in a cafe. She also works behind the bar in the local pub in the evening. She wants to work in child care and she is qualified in child care, but she knows she will never be able to afford a house with the pay in the sector. She plans to leave for New Zealand. This is another highly skilled young person choosing to leave the State. Child care workers do not feel that they are sufficiently valued.
Some elements of the budget were good. The increase in funding for Tusla and addressing the gaps in the out-of-hours services are welcome.
The expansion of the early child care and education, ECCE, scheme and increase in capitation grants are also welcome. I fear, however, that these measures will simply not be enough to make a significant difference in child care. I know the Minister is independent and I sincerely believe she is doing her best but I suspect she sometimes runs into a brick wall when trying to convince her Cabinet colleagues on some of these issues.
Overall, people deserve better than this budget. The Government needs to take a hard look at the situation on the ground in terms of health and housing. Instead of prioritising tax cuts for most people, which most benefit the better-off, serious investment must be made in services because that is the only way to tackle the current crises.