Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions


12:00 pm

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I acknowledge that we face a cost-of-living crisis, that inflation is at levels not seen in a very long time and that people are feeling the pinch and more than a pinch. Many are struggling to make ends meet. It is affecting households and families, as well as businesses in terms of the cost of energy. People see it when they fill their car with petrol or diesel, really see it in their electricity or gas bill and increasingly are seeing it in other areas, such as groceries.

It is true that those most affected are those on lowest incomes because they spend more of their incomes on food and energy than those on middle or higher incomes. However, I do not think it only affects those on low to middle incomes. People on average incomes of €40,000 to €50,000 per year, working full time, are also being affected. That is why the Government's approach has been to take action that is universal so everyone gets some help, including those on middle and good incomes. However, we are targeting our approach in order that most of the support is going to those on the lowest incomes. I think that is the right approach. Sinn Féin does not support it for ideological reasons but I disagree on that. It is a universal approach to help everyone and recognise that middle-income families are being hit too, but is targeted to give additional help to those on the lowest incomes.

I am a little disappointed in the Deputy's question because there was no acknowledgement in it that the Government had done anything to help people with the cost of living. That is not fair. We have had packages totalling €2.4 billion to help people with the cost of living. That is considerable and is more than would be the case in any one budget. We had a tax and welfare package that kicked in in January. Sinn Féin supported the welfare and pension increases but did not support the tax element of that. The average couple earning €40,000 each per year, we will say, would be thousands of euro worse off under Sinn Féin in terms of after-tax income than under the current Government. The increase in the minimum wage kicked in in January. We reduced VAT on electricity and gas. We reduced excise on petrol and diesel. We brought in targeted measures to help those who need it most, including the increase in the fuel allowance through two additional payments and the €200 discount per household on electricity bills which people are seeing in their bills at the moment. There is a 2% cap on rent increases, which means rent is going up between 0% and 2% for existing tenancies. We have had reductions in public transport fares, which I think have been widely welcomed, especially for younger people. We have had a reduction in the cost of school transport for families with multiple kids using it. We have had a reduction in the costs of medicine and 92% of childcare services have signed up to free fees. There was not a single mention of any of that in the Deputy's question, which is not fair. It is €2.4 billion and ten or 20 measures, including universal ones to help everyone and targeted ones to help those most in need.

I know I will hear back the usual rant for social media about how we do not get it, yadda yadda, and all the pre-scripted stuff. I would like to see in part of the Deputy's response an acknowledgement that the Government has done something in this area and has provided €2.4 billion worth of relief to help households with the cost of living. Will the Deputy at least be generous or honest enough to acknowledge that in his reply?


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