Thursday, 29 September 2022
Financial Resolutions 2022 - Financial Resolution No. 6: General (Resumed)
Dealing with the cost-of-living crisis is the top priority in budget 2023. The Government introduced a very significant €11 billion package on Tuesday to support households and businesses. The budget will continue to invest in public services, particularly our education, health, childcare and housing services, while increasing social protection and pension rates, supporting enterprise and delivering tax relief for working people.
The €4.1 billion cost-of-living package is very welcome and necessary as we face into a challenging winter. In particular, I welcome: the €600 energy credit, which will be paid in three €200 instalments in November, January and March; the €1,000 tax credit for renters, €500 of which can be claimed this year and €500 next year; childcare fees being reduced by up to €2,100 per child; a double payment of child benefit in November; a double payment of welfare payments in October as well as the normal double payment at Christmas; a €500 grant for carers and those with disabilities; a €1,000 reduction in college fees for all students; major expansion of eligibility for the fuel allowance to bring more than 80,000 households into the system in January; fuel allowance to include a €400 lump sum; a working family payment to include a €500 lump sum; and a double SUSI payment in one month, paid in December. All of these are extremely welcome. Many colleagues spoke about them earlier and it is good to hear the members of the Opposition also welcome many of the measures. Of course, I cannot fail but mention the much-needed energy supports for the SMEs which require support over the next number of months, with up to €10,000 per month being offered there.
Working families with one child will save up to €4,500. A working family, for instance, with three children, one of whom is in college, will see a saving of up to €5,640. A pensioner living alone in receipt of the State pension will see savings of up to €2,375, while a person with a disability living alone will see savings of up to €2,460.
It is also recognised that the cost-of-living crisis will impact every household. The €600 electricity credit reflects this. This direct payment will assist households to manage their bills over the winter regardless of whether they use oil, gas or solid fuel to heat their homes. The significant adjustment of tax bands to ensure people earning under €40,000 do not have to pay tax at the higher rate is extremely welcome. This recognises the fact many people earning between €35,000 and €40,000 and above are not eligible for many social supports such as the housing assistance payment, HAP, and social housing. I welcome the permanent increases in social protection payments, such as the broad increase in core rates.
The budget will make a real difference in people's lives. Moving beyond the direct payments, we can see improvements in other areas that will improve lives also. For instance, in education, the Minister, Deputy Foley, is rolling out free school books to all primary level schools. This will benefit 500,000 students and their parents next year.
The reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio to 23:1 recognises the challenges facing children after the disruption of Covid. It should be noted that this is the third year in a row of tackling the pupil-teacher ratio. An additional 686 special education teachers and an additional 1,194 special needs assistants, SNAs, will make a huge difference for children and the learning environment. Parents with children in childcare will see a saving of up to €2,106 per child, a real difference which will help parents.
There is a massive investment in health too, with 6,000 new staff and the removal of hospital inpatient charges for public patients, worth €800 per patient. There is a €443 million package to reduce waiting lists and a €9 million package to reduce oral health waiting lists. Those changes will make a real difference for hundreds of thousands of people in need of such care. There is also investment in mental health.
Students will benefit from the reduction in fees, the bonus SUSI payments, which I have referred to, and the permanent increases in grants from next year.
In the few moments remaining to me, I will touch on just one issue the Opposition has raised, namely, the capping of energy rates. We need only look across the water and at what happened even today to see that borrowing rates are going through the roof and there are serious challenges facing that economy, challenges which could have an impact on our economy too. We have to be conscious that if we follow that route, we too could be impacted in that way.