Tuesday, 8 October 2019
Financial Resolutions - Budget Statement 2020
Richard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
We needed a radical budget to deal with the threat of a no-deal Brexit, the disastrous housing and homelessness crisis, the crisis in our public health system, the climate emergency, the astronomical cost of childcare and the woefully inadequate disability and respite services, among a whole range of other areas. We did not get a radical budget or radical action on any of these crises, threats or emergencies that face us. We got a deeply conservative budget that will address none of these crises or emergencies. Working people, pensioners and young people who are dependent on social welfare got absolutely nothing. By getting nothing, they have in effect taken cuts. That is the reality. By imposing a freeze on the incomes of the poorest people and on working people, giving them nothing, the Government has in effect cut their incomes.
The Government may believe that is prudent in the face of the threat of a no-deal Brexit. In fact, it repeats the folly of the Government that reacted to the last major crisis, the crash of 2008, where austerity and keeping a clamp on or cutting the incomes of working people made a bad situation a hell of a lot worse. We are still paying for those mistakes with the housing crisis that we face, the mess in our public health system and shocking levels of poverty, with 720,000 people in the country living in poverty, including 230,000 children. Some 100,000 people who are working in the country are officially living in poverty. The Government has given no increases in social welfare or relief on the austerity USC that was imposed on workers all those years ago, which effectively cut their incomes. That is a big mistake and one does not have to be a radical socialist to think so. John Maynard Keynes made this point a long time ago. When one is facing a potential downturn or disruption in an economy, one should spend more, boost people's incomes and increase investment in infrastructure, key sectors of the economy and in services. The Government has done the opposite to that. The so-called prudence is conservatism in reality and will potentially make a bad situation worse.
It is important to underline the point about workers getting nothing. One only has to walk out to the canteen to talk to workers. They are already saying there and on the streets that workers got nothing out of this budget. That is against a background where the productivity of workers in this country has gone through the roof in recent years. Workers are working harder and longer, effectively for less and making a bigger tax contribution than they ever have before. The tax contribution of ordinary workers has gone from €13 billion in 2007 to €21 billion. Workers are working harder and longer for less and paying more tax and the Government wants to impose a carbon tax on top of that. It is more aggressive taxation to cut further the real incomes of working people and the least well off.
Let us not forget about our students, who got nothing from this. They asked for a break in student contribution fees or for an increase in maintenance grants, in effect driving more and more students into poverty, while they also face astronomical rents and the failure of the Government to build cheap, affordable student accommodation on third level campuses. The students asked for that and got none of it.
Meanwhile, all the big tax breaks continue for the big corporations. We have carbon taxes for the poor and struggling who are not to blame for the climate emergency but there is no mention of the big polluting corporations. Even the EU has proposed that there would be an aviation fuel tax. If it was imposed on the Ryanairs of this world, this country would raise hundreds of millions, but the Government never talks about taxing the massively profitable aviation industry and the other polluting corporations. The Government always wants to hit the working people, the poor and the little people, who are asked to pay the price for the crimes of the rich.
The issue with housing is unbelievable. Does the Government not understand that its policy is failing? It is eight years since Fine Gael came into government and this Government has been in place for more than three years. The housing situation gets worse. Rents are at astronomical levels. Average rents in Dublin are way in excess of what one pays for a mortgage and ordinary working people cannot afford a mortgage either because house prices are so high. I even heard Tom Parlon, hardly a firebrand on the left, on the television before I came in here, reminding us that one has to be paid €90,000 or €100,000 a year to have a prayer of buying a house at average prices in Dublin.