Wednesday, 28 September 2022
Financial Resolutions 2022 - Financial Resolution No. 6: General: Financial Resolution (Resumed)
Budget 2023 is reminiscent of previous budgets brought forward by the present Government. It just does not go far enough for those who really need it. Time and again we are reminded that the community and voluntary sector must be recognised and nurtured. The buzzword I have heard over the past 24 hours is that we are all valued. However, many in the community and voluntary sector are feeling very far from valued. The cost of living and energy continue to rise and why? It is because the Government has refused to reduce electricity prices and cap them at pre-crisis levels, something that Sinn Féin would do in government.
Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party have left workers, families and the community and voluntary sector exposed to further price hikes. While I welcome any extra funding for the sector, the measures introduced yesterday are simply not enough. For already-stretched communities, this funding is welcome but there is great concern that there will not be enough money to shield them from the rising cost of energy. Every day, I deal with different sections of the community. There is genuine fear within projects that the day will come when they will have to switch off the lights and close the doors, whether it is with early days or short weeks. One-off payments are no substitute for the certainty that a price cap would bring. We have had debates in this House on the implementation of a living wage for all. The €3.5 million given yesterday to the community services programme will go nowhere near bridging the pay gap that projects must fund to pay their staff the minimum wage, let alone go anywhere near to achieving the living wage.
The details still need to be explored, but, on the face of it, the small increase will only put further pressure on the community service projects to raise the difference between what is paid by the Department and what is the new minimum wage while at the same time trying to deal with the increased living costs.
Community centres are hubs in our communities. They facilitate many organisations, groups and clubs. They also facilitate politicians in holding clinics. We know well the effects the Covid pandemic had on these centres and the lack of income during that time. Many centres can only dream of retrofitting them to bring them up to the standards required to help them to reduce their energy bills. The additional funding to the community centre investment fund would need to increase by at least €5 million as called for by Sinn Féin, the community sector and the Wheel.
While the headline figures may be an easy sell, the small print shows that the community and voluntary sector is again being undervalued by the Government. We need to remember that this sector has not recovered from the savage austerity cuts that it experienced over the last ten years. It has not got that money back. The workers have not got the money back and the community projects themselves have not got the money back.