Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions


12:00 pm

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

Níl dabht ar bith ach go bhfuil smacht caillte ag an Rialtas ar an ghéarchéim costais maireachtála. Tchímid go bhfuil méadú de 28% tagtha ar bhillí leictreachais, go bhfuil méadaithe os cionn 50% tagtha ar bhillí gáis agus go bhfuil an costas d'ola chun tithe a théamh beagnach dúbailte le bliain anuas. Tá cíosanna imithe suas 12% agus tá brú millteanach ar theaghlaigh ar ioncaim íseal agus ar mheánioncaim.

There is no doubt the cost of living crisis is reducing the living standards of low- and middle-income households across the State. Inflation in the 12 months to April reached over 7%, the biggest spike we have seen in prices in more than two decades. Workers and families are struggling. They are seeing their energy bills soar and other costs rise. We know what has caused this. Many factors are beyond our control but others are not. Soaring rents and unaffordable childcare are not beyond the control of this Government. In many ways, they have reached such unaffordable levels because of Government policy. The Government can and must respond.

We in Sinn Féin recognise that every household cannot be protected from every price increase but low- and middle-income households must be supported. In this regard, the Government has lost control of the cost of living crisis. Electricity bills have increased by 28% and gas bills by over 50%, the cost of home heating oil has almost doubled and rents have gone up by 12%. Inflation impacts everybody but not equally. Lower-income and middle-income households are hit hardest, as they spend a higher proportion of their money on energy and food.

The most vulnerable in our society are faced with choices they should never have to make over whether to eat or heat their homes. Shamefully, the Government has not increased social welfare rates in response to historic levels of inflation. The pay packets of low-paid workers cannot stretch from one month to the next. Let us be clear. The Government is deliberately allowing people to fall through the cracks. Sinn Féin has for many months consistently called for a mini-budget that would bring forward a comprehensive package of measures to support low- and middle-income households.

This morning the Think-tank for Action on Social Change released its report on inequality in Ireland in 2022. It highlights the fact inflation has impacted low-income households most and has been made worse by Government policy failure in areas such as housing and childcare. It recommends what Sinn Féin has called for for months, that is, an increase in social welfare rates to ensure the most vulnerable in our society are protected and supported. It also calls for an increase in the minimum wage to boost the incomes of more than 130,000 workers. However, the Government has refused to do either of these things.

Sinn Féin has been calling on the Government to introduce targeted measures to protect renters through a refundable tax credit putting one month's rent back into renters' pockets and to ban rent increases. We have called on the Government to reduce the cost of childcare and of home heating oil. These measures can be taken. They are sensible, necessary and what families and workers need at this time. The Government continues to delay, oppose and rule them out. Workers and families cannot afford more delay or inaction. They are looking for the Government to respond to an unprecedented challenge in their homes and lifestyles and to the cost-of-living crisis they face. They are looking for the Government to take the actions we in Sinn Féin have spelled out.

Is the Government planning to introduce further measures or does it continue to ignore the plight of, in particular, those on fixed incomes who have not seen an increase in social welfare rates during these unprecedented price increases?


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