Thursday, 22 September 2022
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Leo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
I look forward to reading the Labour Party's alternative budget, hopefully being able to take on board some of the suggestions made. We will have a budget next week. The details will be announced by the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform next Tuesday. People will see a response of scale from the Government to help them with the cost-of-living crisis. That will involve a multibillion euro package. People will see that in their pockets and off their bills within weeks. That will apply within weeks and will be deployed well before Christmas. People will also see a multibillion euro package which will take effect in the new year. It may not be possible to cushion everyone fully from the impact of the cost of living, but it will be our objective to do so for those on the lowest pay and the lowest incomes and for those on middle and higher incomes to help them out in substantial and meaningful way as well. It is important that everyone gets help with the cost of living, but that those who need the help the most get the most help. That will be our approach.
I think that when it comes to any household budget, there are three elements: how much one is paid, how much one gets to take home after taxes and how far the money goes. We need to help on all three fronts. I know the Deputy's party is focusing on the third element, namely, the costs such as childcare, public transport and healthcare. That is fair enough. Those are the kind of areas that we want to help in as well. On childcare, as all of the party leaders and the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth have said, it is our objective to reduce childcare fees next year. However, we need to do it in a sensible way. Notwithstanding the new agreement that we have to raise pay in the sector for childcare professionals and early educators, there are capacity constraints in the system. As we know from previous experience in other areas, if the cost is reduced dramatically, demand rises and then we are left with a different problem around capacity. We need to square that circle and get it right. We must ensure that in reducing fees we do not solve one problem and make another one worse.
On the €9 public transport ticket, such a scheme was introduced in Germany. However, what the Deputy did not mention was that it has been abandoned in Germany. After consideration, the Government decided not to continue with it for a number of reasons, including affordability. What we have done is to reduce public transport fares by 20% or 30%. I think we have had a good result from that. There are more people using public transport, but there are not problems with affordability or overcrowding. We will give consideration to extending and maybe even improving on that in the context of the budget next week.
On free GP care, the Deputy rightly pointed out that we made a good start on that. Sometime ago, the former Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, and I brought in free GP care for children under six years. We have managed to extend it to some other groups, for example, people with terminal conditions, children with cancer and people in receipt of the carer's allowance, since then. However, to date we have not been successful in negotiations with the IMO and the doctors to extend it beyond six-year-olds. Unfortunately, that is the reason why it has not proceeded.