Thursday, 29 September 2022
Financial Resolutions 2022 - Financial Resolution No. 6: General (Resumed)
I spoke on the budget on Tuesday night. As I said then, despite lots of highlighted figures and talk of unprecedented expenditure, the net fact about this budget is that the majority of workers, pensioners, social welfare recipients, people with disabilities and vulnerable low and middle-income households will be worse off next year than they were last year. The measures taken have not protected people from the spike in the cost of living or the ongoing housing crisis in terms of extortionate rents and house prices and of course homelessness. That is the net fact, no matter what way the Government tries to dress it up or spin it. People will be worse off. One-off payments that slightly mitigate things for a few months will not hide that fact as we head into the new year.
I want to zone in today on a few more specific issues. How is it acceptable that the much-trumpeted 80,000 new recipients of the fuel allowance will not get the €400 payment before Christmas? That is not acceptable. The Government has been forced to accept that those 80,000 or 90,000 people need fuel allowance because of protests and pressure. Because the Government is not going to actually give them the fuel allowance until January, they will not get the €400 payment. They need it every bit as much as those who are going to get it but they are not going to get it. That is not acceptable. The Government should rethink that one.
The vast majority of those in receipt of jobseeker's benefit, illness benefit, enhanced illness benefit, maternity benefit and disablement benefit, in other words people who are not long-term recipients of social welfare payments, get no fuel allowance, will get no lump sum payment and will get no Christmas bonus. How is that acceptable? Where is the help for them to deal with this excruciating cost-of-living crisis as we head into the winter months? They are going to get the bill hikes the same as everybody else but they are not going to get any assistance at all in terms of the payments that are being given out and much-trumpeted by the Government. That is not acceptable.
Another small but important issue for those who are affected is the abolition of the infamous Croke Park hours. The austerity hours imposed on public sector workers are finally abolished. However, I have discovered that, among others, service officers here in the Dáil and, I think, the ushers and similar grades will not get the return of their overtime payments based on the abolition of those hours. Overtime will still be calculated on the same divisor, as it is known technically, as if the Croke Park hours still existed. Very regularly the service officers and ushers in here are asked to accommodate Culture Night or late-night activity in the bar. Is it fair that they are not getting what they are fully entitled to in terms of overtime payments which should have come back with the abolition of the Croke Park hours? I suggest the Government look into that. We often rightly praise the staff who keep this place running. There may be many other public sector workers in similar grades affected by this. If the hours are gone then the overtime payments should be restored.
As I debated with the Minister of State, Deputy English on the radio this morning, the biggest, shocking, disgraceful failing of this budget is in respect of the most severe aspect of the cost-of-living crisis, namely, the ongoing housing and homelessness crisis, the crisis of unaffordable rents and house prices. It is difficult to know where to begin with how this budget has failed. I have highlighted and will continue to highlight the failure to raise the income thresholds for social housing eligibility. This means that people who got a marginal increase, for example those who get €4 extra a week with the tax band changes, may now find a very bitter sting in the tail of this minimal, pathetic increase in their income. They will now be flung off the social housing list, as has been happening to thousands of people over recent years because the Government has not raised those thresholds despite promises. Worse than that, they will not be entitled to the housing assistance payment, HAP, either. They go a few euro over the threshold and now they have no help, even though they have not got a prayer of being able to afford the rents out in the open market or buy their own home. That is outrageous.
It is outrageous that €5 billion has been put in the rainy day fund while at the same time, all the strategic housing developments that are being built, all the apartment blocks, are not being bought up by ordinary purchasers but by investment funds, which then rent them at extortionate rents. Often the State pays anyway through HAP, rental accommodation scheme, RAS and leasing arrangements. Why on earth would the Government not use that money to buy up that property, the vacant and derelict properties and the tenancies of people who are being evicted into homelessness? That would save those people the housing misery and homelessness they are suffering. It would actually save the State money in terms of HAP and RAS payments. Why will the Government not do it? Why will it not impose rent controls and stop the profiteering of the vulture landlords and the energy companies?