Wednesday, 28 September 2022
Financial Resolutions 2022 - Financial Resolution No. 6: General: Financial Resolution (Resumed)
The €11 billion figure can by default sound like a success but this budget is a failure to invest in State services.
The headline tax cuts may look good, but in reality, they are very poor value for people. At nearly €11 billion, this budget could have been a change one. This budget should have been about investing in our public services. Public services are getting by on threadbare budgets while the Government tax cuts will disproportionately benefit the better-off. The €1.1 billion income tax package should be used for social care and healthcare, education, public transport, community facilities and climate action. What about the thousands of people on waiting lists for community disability network teams? What about multi-annual funding for mental health beds in Bantry hospital and beyond? What about the wastewater treatment plants throughout the country that need investment? Any benefit for households will quickly be eaten up by some of the highest childcare costs in Europe, rising rents, so-called voluntary school contributions, GP home visits, home care and so much more.
These tax cuts will end up costing average families more. If that €1.1 billion were invested in services, it would have significantly larger positive impact due to economies of scale. The same amount of money given in small amounts to many people is much less efficient and is an irresponsible fiscal policy. It is obviously ideologically driven and that is the main difference between a social democratic approach and the centre-right approach of the Government parties. It is painful to watch them attempt to make this seem like a progressive budget. They should at least own their own policies.
It is clear these long-term decisions will benefit the better-off while the more vulnerable, those on disability allowance, carers and pensioners only get temporary measures and one-off payments. In the middle of a housing disaster with record numbers of homeless people and failed Government policy, the least we could expect is a new approach. However, instead we get more half-measures that benefit developers and investment funds more than people who need a home. Young people and families are being priced out of the rental market and home ownership is simply impossible to many. Yesterday's budget offers no hope and will probably be the final straw for many young people who are considering emigrating.
The Government has made a big deal over its renter tax credit but everyone knows that in reality it will be quickly gobbled up through rent increases, not to mention those on fixed incomes who will not be able to avail of it. Without a rent freeze, what is the point? We need a rent freeze and we need it now. Today when I looked, I found only ten places to rent in my entire constituency and fewer than 100 homes for less than €300,000. At the same time there are hundreds of vacant and deteriorating houses in towns and villages throughout the country. Meanwhile, incredibly, the budget has introduced a 0.3% tax on vacant homes. This is a blatantly empty gesture when house price inflation is running at about 8%. We all know that 0.3% will be utterly useless in tackling vacancy and dereliction.
It feels like the Government somehow does not realise that we are years into a desperate housing emergency. Where is the urgency? We drastically need policies with teeth to stop speculation and at the same time support to help to turn vacant and derelict buildings in urban and rural areas into homes. This is more economically and environmentally efficient. It is beyond belief that the Government is not doing this on the scale that is required. This Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Government, like the Fine Gael Government before it, is failing to address the housing disaster and the situation is getting worse under continued failed policies. Budget 2023 can be added to this list. Again, ordinary families and young people will pay the price for the Government's failures.
On disability, in July the Government agreed to the Social Democrats motion calling for an increase in disability allowance of at least €15 a week and a cost-of-disability payment of €20 per week. Instead, the Government is only giving a €12 increase for core welfare and a €500 one-off payment when obviously disability is a long-term permanent issue for people. It is not only highly cynical but deeply disrespectful to give disabled people and their families the impression it is going to recognise their struggles and then actually give them almost €700 less this year. Instead of €1,040 more every year, there is only a once-off €500.
Temporary payments do not address systemic issues of poverty, exclusion and disempowerment for people with disabilities. Government reports have highlighted that it costs up to €12,300 more annually to live with a disability in Ireland. While I welcome the additional funding for disability services, it still falls short of the amount outlined in the Department of Health's own disability capacity review to 2032. Although funding is essential, it also needs to be supported by plans for implementation. The children's disability network teams are chronically understaffed and there are major issues with retention and recruitment. These issues must be addressed if the budget is to make a real impact for those children and their families.
People in rural areas have been left deeply worried about climate action due to the rhetoric put forward by the big players. This budget is a missed opportunity to invest in and outline a just transition for small farmers and rural residents. Instead, we have the repackaging of the same agricultural schemes and retrofitting announcements when targets continue to be missed. The lack of public transport remains one of the largest social and environmental issues in rural areas. Vulnerable groups and whole communities are screaming out for Local Link services but the fund is just not there.
Climate action should have been at the forefront and the centre of this budget. Instead, it is only an afterthought. The underinvestment in public services will cost families as will the lack of ambition in climate action. Long after the once-off measures are spent, the larger systemic issues will remain and everyone will end up paying for the Government's mistakes.