Thursday, 15 October 2020
Financial Resolutions 2020 - Financial Resolution No. 7: General (Resumed)
Earlier today, I re-read more than 300 comments left by almost 500 people who participated in my online survey on household debt last month. One of those who left a comment was a mother who has been crying herself to sleep so her husband and son do not see her. Another was a person who is living alone and in constant pain but cannot afford to go to the dentist for the major dental work she needs. There was also a father who has contemplated suicide and picked a spot in the house to do it but who has been kept going by his son. Those are the real life experiences of the impact of Covid on workers and families across the State. Many have lost their jobs and others are on reduced incomes even though their outgoings remain unchanged. In many cases, people's outgoings have increased because they are spending more time at home. That means higher electricity bills, more groceries and higher heating bills while rents and mortgages still must be paid. The basic protections, including bans on disconnections and evictions, and mortgage breaks, are all gone. The Government stood idly by and allowed those protections to be taken away even though people continue to lose their jobs and businesses continue to close, as is happening even today.
The Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS, has warned of the tsunami of household debt that is coming, to which there is not even a reference in this budget. This budget should have reversed the cuts to the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and reinstated the higher rate of €350. It could have sent a message to workers who have lost their jobs, through no fault of their own, that their income supports should not have been cut and that they would be protected. Instead, those workers have to continue to live on less and not only that, but they will also face further cuts to come next year.
For the second year in a row, core weekly social welfare payments remain unchanged. This is a time when the current rates are already set below the poverty line and far below any minimum basic standard of living. This budget shows no weekly increase for carers, older people, people living with a disability, jobseekers, including those aged 18 to 24 who are expected to live on €112 a week, or the majority of lone parents at a time when, only last month, we had yet another report from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, showing that half of lone-parent families are experiencing enforced deprivation. Enforced deprivation levels in Ireland increased in 2019 before we ever heard of Covid.
The Minister made reference to the removal of the 15-month rule for jobseekers and those on the PUP to allow them to qualify for the Christmas bonus and that is welcome, but the same 15-month rule applies for jobseekers when it comes to qualifying for the fuel allowance. That means that anyone who has lost their job and are now on jobseeker's allowance cannot and will not be able to get assistance with their fuel allowance this winter. The fuel allowance increase of €3.50 per week would be welcome if it did not pale in comparison with increases in costs, the public service obligation levy, PSO, and Electric Ireland rates this month. There has also been yet another increase in the carbon tax, a measure that shows this Government's indifference to people who live in rural Ireland where alternatives simply are not there. This Government has put this charge on the backs of people knowing they can neither afford it nor avoid it. The report on the impact of these carbon tax increases on low-income households still has not been published.
The deferral of the increase of the pension age to 67 is welcome and is something for which Sinn Féin has long campaigned. We need to see the legislation quickly. We also need to see the make-up of the pension commission.
The three-week increase to parents' benefit has led to utter confusion and we need clarity from the Department on what those three weeks mean and when parents will be able to take them because they need them now.