Wednesday, 28 September 2022
Financial Resolutions 2022 - Financial Resolution No. 6: General: Financial Resolution (Resumed)
Gary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats) | Oireachtas source
Once again we are here after a budget and those living in and on the edge of poverty have all but been forgotten. While high-income earners reap the rewards of another budget, it is the same old story we have heard throughout countless Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Governments. This budget lacks nuance. It attempts to tick boxes with one-off measures that will barely scratch the surface of the crisis facing those fighting for survival in this country. The Government continues to ignore them. Temporary supports look great on the front page. The billions being thrown around this Chamber yesterday clearly sound impressive on the face of it, but how many people will it take out of poverty, which one in five in this country is experiencing? In the coming weeks and months, it will mean nothing to those who need it more to avoid being crippled by inflation. For that, the Government alone is to blame. The budget could have made a real difference. It needed to make a real difference but instead thousands of families look ahead to the winter thinking about decisions they will have to make each and every day to heat their homes or feed their children.
There is a danger these devastating decisions will become platitudes for real people who will suffer this winter, and the Government has condemned them, without remorse, to months of unthinkable sacrifice. At its most basic, poverty is about sacrifice; it is about what families will choose to go without, whether that is heating, eating or warm clothes.
Meanwhile, the €6 billion in the rainy day fund will not do much to feed hungry stomachs, house the homeless or provide essential services as it sits idle. Today is a rainy day - it is absolutely lashing for families - and a storm is approaching our shores. Why is the Government waiting for people’s quality of life to be devastated further before intervening for those who need it most? The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has already admitted he cannot rule out dipping into the fund. Of course he cannot, given people will go hungry and leave the country in their droves if the Government does not act fast. A small portion of that fund could have been used for targeted measures to alleviate the pain and struggle of those on the margins.
One such example would have been to make education genuinely free, something the Social Democrats costed in our alternative budget, showing how effective such a measure would be for those worst off. Instead, the Government pretended we do not offer education to those children over the age of 12 in secondary schools, because second level supports and books apparently do not count. It has told parents to grit their teeth and fork out hundreds of euro for iPads that are compulsory in many secondary schools throughout the country because their child does not deserve the same State support once he or she begins secondary school. It has told them to buy new editions of expensive textbooks every year, as though their household income should have increased due to their putting their 13-year-old to work in secondary school, because I have no other concept as to why free schoolbooks for secondary school students have not been provided for.
Nothing has been done to protect thousands of families from incurring those exorbitant costs in secondary schools. Publishers will continue to kill the second-hand market, book rental schemes and the sharing of texts between siblings by pumping out yearly-updated versions just so that students can scratch the code on the covers and chuck the books in the bin. For those families with sixth-year students who have turned 18 before the academic years begins, after covering five years of books, uniforms and so-called voluntary contributions that are never voluntary, they will not even have the child benefit to get them through the year, and the Government simply says, "Too bad".
The Social Democrats believe in free schoolbooks for all, along with abolishing voluntary contributions and school transport fees. The Government could have made that happen but it chose not to, just like it chose not to focus on any long-term measures to alleviate poverty for those experiencing it. Making these resources free would have required only a 2% rise in the budget, a meagre price for a policy that would have had a massive impact on those struggling to make ends meet, but of course, it is not as though we have billions of euro sitting in a rainy day fund, from which we could have taken out the €250 million or €300 million it would have cost to make education genuinely free.
Second level education is only one example of the many severe shortcomings in the budget that will impact those on the margins of our society. The qualified child allowance increase of €2 is shamefully inadequate. This miserly increase is an insult to vulnerable families and proves the Government is not serious about ending the scandal of child poverty. The Government was delighted to provide generous tax concessions for the better-off and universal energy supports for all income brackets, including high earners, but chose to ignore targeted measures that would have made a difference to those in need. As the Children's Rights Alliance announced, an increase of €2 a week will not be enough to keep families and their children from poverty. The Social Democrats' alternative budget proposed an additional €7 for children under the age of 12 and an additional €12 for teenagers, bringing the weekly sums to €47 and €60 per week, respectively, but this was apparently too much to ask of a Government that continues to show it does not care if this winter puts families through an unimaginable struggle.
At the heart of it, this budget fails to target those most in need. We see that in the treatment of energy supports, income tax and healthcare, and as my colleague Deputy Cairns will demonstrate shortly, in disability supports and housing. Those who were hopeful of a helping hand in this budget have been subjected to shortcomings in all aspects of life and I refer in particular to those who are most on the margins. As the Government was patting itself on the back last night, thousands went to bed wondering whether there was still life to eke out in this country. Watch now as they continue to leave for a better life elsewhere.