Tuesday, 8 October 2019
Financial Resolutions - Budget Statement 2020
Let us have less laughter from the Minister of State on the other side of the Chamber.
No measures have been put in place to deal with price increases, rent increases and pay cuts that we are told are coming as a result of a no-deal Brexit. The Government says it has put in place measures to deal with jobs, but it has allowed in its estimates for 33,000 jobs to be lost over the next year.
A different approach is taken to business. A total of €1.2 billion has been provided, and not all of it is going to small businesses or what are described as medium-sized businesses, although I understand that can include businesses with up to several thousand employees. Big business as well will tap into that fund in a significant way. The Government has said it is okay to tap into the fund in a Brexit crisis, without even guaranteeing jobs or ensuring that there will be no wage cuts. The big beneficiaries of the fund will include agribusiness and the meat industry. In 2016, eight families controlled 80% of the beef industry in this country. Those eight families had a combined wealth of €2 billion. They are the people who tried to starve farmers rather than pay them a decent rate and who tried to use 8,000 of their workers as pawns in the dispute by laying them off temporarily. There should be State intervention in the beef industry and in other industries hit by a no-deal Brexit, but there should be State intervention of a very different kind. The State should save jobs and protect against wage cuts, but the only way to do that effectively and clearly is to take those companies into public ownership. That is what should be done. We need to break with the logic of the capitalist market in dealing with the approaching crisis.
The approach of the Government on climate change, as explained in the budget, is also to make working people pay. Carbon taxes will be increased by 30%, but more important than the 30% increase was the statement by the Minister that it is the Government's intention and his ambition to increase the tax steadily to meet the 2030 targets. This is just the first of a series of carbon tax increases over ten years that will be placed on the shoulders of ordinary people. In fact, a quadrupling of carbon taxes is on the cards. The climate emergency must be addressed effectively. The carbon tax is a regressive tax. It will hit middle and lower income earners in society, namely, the poorer harder than the rest. Members need not take it from me; the ESRI has said so. There has been much commentary about how rural Ireland will be hit particularly hard by the carbon tax. I do not dispute that, but there is more to it than meets the eye. In my constituency of Cork North-Central, key workers such as nurses, teachers, firefighters and ambulance paramedics cannot afford to buy a house in the city because they have been priced out and locked out of the market.
They have been forced to travel far into the county to find affordable accommodation. They are now commuters who have to drive into work, and they are going to be hammered by these carbon tax increases. These increases will also exacerbate fuel poverty according, again, to the ESRI. Regarding the €2 increase in the fuel allowance, there are shops near where I live where it would be just about possible to buy a firelog for that amount. That is a joke as a measure to mitigate fuel poverty.
Alternative policies to carbon tax increases could be introduced to address the climate emergency. Such measures would also be more effective. One such policy would be free public transport. A number of countries and 100 cities worldwide have introduced this measure as a climate emergency action policy. It works. In Cork, for some months, fares were reduced to €1 for a ride on the bus. That was during the controversy regarding a car-free Patrick Street. Public transport usage increased by more than 8% during that time. If that is what can be achieved by reducing public transport costs to a €1 fare, what could be achieved if it was made free for an extended period? That would cost approximately €650 million. The State is facing fines three, four or five times greater than that if it does not reach its 2030 targets. Free public transport is an obvious policy that should be introduced. There was not, however, even a mention of it in the Government's budget today.
I do not have time to develop points on retrofitting. It was mentioned prominently in the climate action programme. Some 50,000 homes are meant to be refitted each year. Where are the funds to do that? Where is the investment in training people to do that retrofitting? The best way to tackle the climate emergency is not by trying to place additional taxes on the shoulders of consumers; it is to go straight to the point of production, straight to the industries producing the emissions in the first place. We should tax those industries, but we should also go further and take them into public ownership. That would make it possible to move in a controlled way, with the hand of society on the tiller, towards a carbon-free, alternative economy with investment, jobs and retraining switched to the green energy sector. We need massive investment in that area.
I mentioned the Budget Statement had two sentences on the issue of rents. There was no mention of anti-eviction legislation nor any serious mention of local authority house building. While we are on that topic, what about the figures that have come out regarding the number of local authority houses built in the first two quarters of this year? It stands at 429, which is absolutely shocking. Some 8.5% of the housing stock in this country is now local authority housing. That compares with figures ranging from 20% to 32% in countries such as The Netherlands, Denmark and Austria. For seven successive months, the official homeless figures have remained above 10,000 people.