Thursday, 29 September 2022
Financial Resolutions 2022 - Financial Resolution No. 6: General (Resumed)
Regarding the budget, certainly, “the devil is in the detail” rings a bell. One would see that when looking at the commitments around GP care. We know that commitments made previously in relation to under-12s, which has, in fact, been legislated for, has not come to fruition. There is much ambition in relation to that. It is welcome, if it can actually be implemented. In counties such as mine - I presume this is the case in many rural towns, especially - people cannot even access a GP in many cases, or else they will wait two or three weeks for a basic appointment. The roll-out of free GP care is welcome. However, it actually has to be implemented.
It would have been preferable had that been run by GPs before it was announced because it clearly came as news to them.
When it comes to the devil being in the detail, the rent credit is also an issue. Rents have been increasing not just in our cities but also in counties like mine. The average rent per month is now nearly €1,000 in County Roscommon. In the first three months of this year, rents increased by 18% in County Galway alone. I am referring to rural towns where people are really struggling to pay rent. A rent credit is welcome. It is something for which we have called for years, but what is the point in putting in place a rent credit without imposing a pause and or ban on rent increases in the first place? Rents are continuing to rise and there is no sign of them slowing down. Therefore, the tax credit will work regarding rents only if the ban on rent increases comes with it. Rent is one of the issues in respect of which we see young people in particular really struggling. They are finding it impossible to save for a mortgage. They are the very people who are once again being driven out of this country to faraway places. We are definitely losing our best and brightest to emigration once again.
I spoke to a young worker yesterday who is about to take up a job on a salary of €26,000 per year. She will get nothing in the tax package introduced by the Government this week. Someone earning €130,000 will see a benefit of €830 whereas a teacher or nurse on €35,000 will see a benefit of only €190. That is not fair. We have heard a lot about low- and middle-income workers - the squeezed middle – in recent weeks and months. They have not been served in this budget, and they are going to continue to struggle.
With regard to social welfare, it is deeply disappointing that no weekly increase will be seen until January. The lump-sum payments are welcome to some degree but in many cases their equivalent will be spent even before they are received. It is disappointing that we have yet another budget that does not recognise the minimum essential standard of living when it comes to social welfare increases. It is still the case that, at the time of every budget, there is a circus over what an increase will be. It is never linked to anything. The increase is not linked to inflation and does not protect from poverty. It is just a figure plucked out of the air. We are no closer to protecting people from poverty when it comes to social welfare. When we talk about social welfare and social protection, it is important to note that the smallest group of recipients comprises jobseekers, people who have lost work. The majority are carers, including family carers, and also people with a disability and the elderly. These are the people who will see no badly needed increase in their weekly income until January. That was a mistake.
I welcome the moves made on the fuel allowance. I have asked many times for the eligibility criteria to be considered because the scheme has been far too rigid. It is really unfortunate that the extensions as regards eligibility will not come into place until January. That will leave people without support by way of the fuel allowance and locked out of all supports to meet energy costs in the next few months and into the winter.
On the subject of lone parents, the likes of SPARK and One Family Ireland have voiced their disappointment over what the budget does for lone parents. It is deeply disappointing that we have seen no moves on the child maintenance service and the establishment of a proper service to examine child maintenance for lone-parent families, who deserve nothing less. It is disappointing that we did not see a recognition of the cost of disability after the report that we know was furnished to the Minister. There should have been moves on this in the budget. Many other organisations, representing family carers, older people, people with a disability, are disappointed with this budget, so the Government does not have to take it just from Sinn Féin.
On the cost of living, we need clarity on the double payment that will be made in the autumn. The budget book was very clear in stating the double payment in October will be paid to those on long-term social welfare payments. The position on this is similar to that pertaining to the Christmas bonus. It does not include the likes of the illness benefit, yet the Tánaiste said today on the floor of the Dáil that it includes all payments. We need clarity on this because people need to know.
On what is available for rural development, it is disappointing that there is no increase in LEADER funding, which has been sought. This will be detrimental to rural communities. It is also disappointing that funding for the statewide sheds of the Irish Men’s Shed Association and Ireland’s Women’s Sheds across the State was not reinstated. They do wonderful work for people living in rural communities, many of whom are isolated.
The devil is in the detail of this budget. We have much work to do on poverty in this State and getting people through the cost-of-living crisis.