Friday, 11 December 2009
Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2009: Committee and Remaining Stages
On a point of order, the Cabinet handbook states that any policy proposals must clearly indicate the impact of the proposal on groups in poverty or at risk of falling into poverty. Every year since 1998, the budget-----
In support of Deputy Shortall, if there is such a document available, it would help the Members in the discussion on the various sections of the Bill in order that they can have confirmation of what the Department and Government were talking about in terms of poverty proofing in respect of each of these sections.
On a point of order, although the Ceann Comhairle is now ruling it is out of order, I have already moved it. Once it is moved, it is open for debate. The Ceann Comhairle should not have called me if that is the case.
On section 1, I will mention the fact that I tried to amend section 1, the Title to the Bill and how it will be cited as an Act in the future, as the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Act 2009.
That Title gives no indication of the scale of what this Bill involves. My attempt to amend the Title was ruled out of order. I got the Ceann Comhairle's missive, which stated that he regretted to inform me that amendments Nos. 1 and 9, tabled by me for Committee Stage of the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill, must be ruled out of order as they are declaratory in nature. That is ridiculous, they are not declaratory, they are descriptive. The whole idea is to allow a description of what the Bill intends to achieve.
The intention behind the entire Bill is to substantially reduce social welfare. Not only will it do that but it will lay the groundwork for emigration on a vast scale again, something this Government boasted for ten years that it had eradicated. Emigration destroyed communities across this country and that is exactly what this Bill will do if and when it is passed.
It is my intention to raise the issue that this Bill will substantially reduce social welfare. I was not being frivolous or declaratory, I was being realistic in what I intended to do, so that this Bill and its odious nature would reflect that in the future.
This Bill will substantially reduce social welfare payments to young people and turn them into second class citizens, it will discriminate against them and mean they are not proper citizens who enjoy the same benefits as those over 25. Where the 25 years came from, I do not know. I presumed that young people became adults at the age of 18 according to the State but there is a different system. The Short Title, construction, collective citations and commencements of this Bill should include information to that effect.
If I had the time I would have tried to alter the commencement of the Bill to ensure it would not come into effect until the number of unemployed had fallen back to where it was four years ago and that poverty had been reduced to a negligible level. We did not have that opportunity because this Bill was produced when the Department was burning the midnight oil at a moment's notice. That can be seen by the fact that the Minister for Social and Family Affairs is even, at this stage, trying to introduce amendments.
The other point I wanted to make on section 1 but I did not have the luxury of time, is that this Bill should not be coming into operation unless every aspect of is poverty proofed. Deputy Shortall mentioned the Cabinet handbook instruction that all legislation introduced should be examined to ensure it does not increase the level of poverty. The level of poverty will substantially increase because of this Bill for the vast majority of people. There is, however, a small cohort in society who will continue to increase their wealth and who will get away with it scot free. The taxation system has not been made fair. That is what we should be addressing.
If this Bill addressed the huge wealth that still exists in this country, we might be able to support it but I will not stand here and support any aspect of this Bill because its intention is to screw the people, to rob those who are already poor of the little they have, to take meals from children and to make young people emigrate.
It is scandalous what it will do to graduates. I remember the brain drain in the 1980s, where those who came out of university went away, so the State lost all the investment it made in their education. That is what will happen again, we will forego the investment the State has made in education, even though it was not enough. The young people will leave. In this Bill, the Government is ensuring those graduates, who started their university education with a career path in mind for when they finish, can no longer follow that path because the jobs are gone and the Government did nothing to protect them or to ensure they would come back.
Where will those people go when they finish university? Straight on to the dole at €100 each. How will they survive to ensure they are still around if the economy comes out of recession in five or six years' time? It will be more than five or six years if this Government has anything to do with it because it has no stimulus package to put in place.
That was the intention of the amendment and that is why I am objecting to section 1. This section and the rest of the Bill should be rejected.
I oppose section 1. It clearly facilitates the proposed cuts to welfare payments for young people, cuts that are totally unacceptable. I ask the Minister to consider that these young people have been in education for up to five years, they have significant skills and if they cannot go to work, it is not because they do not want to, clearly they do. They want to get on with their careers, to begin saving and building their lives. Unfortunately the Government is now telling them they must take a six week course that is probably considerably below their skill levels.
We must ask, therefore, what is the motivation behind these proposals. It is clearly designed to facilitate these young people going abroad. Internationally, Canada is one of the few places where there might be employment, or indeed Poland. Any of the other traditional hunting grounds for work for the Irish - Britain, the US, Australia - are all under pressure themselves.
The Government is not just guilty in this Bill of forcing young people away from Ireland but of forcing them into further difficulties, something that is completely unacceptable. The courses on offer are largely short courses in FÁS and I wonder what will be the outcome of its budget cuts with regard to these courses.
Young people want to go to work; they do not want to be hanging around home or around the town because they did the training for work and pursued an education. It is the fault of the Government that they are unable to pursue a career because the Government sleepwalked through ten to 12 years of an economic boom during which little or no infrastructure was put in place. It allowed the property bubble to expand and this is what has us where we are.
I will conclude because other speakers are indicating and we will facilitate them even if the Government will not. One of the biggest hurts in this whole package of budgetary measures is the penalising of people with medical cards by forcing them to pay for medication when there was another way. The Government could have talked to the GPs who are writing the prescriptions for excessive medications and not the poor people on the other side of the desk. The Government is putting its hand into the pockets of people who demonstrably, are in need, by virtue of the fact they hold a medical card under very stringent criteria for its possession.
I mean the amendments to the Bill. Can we have a list of the amendments to the Bill, a proper final list with numbered amendments, as is normally provided? I appreciate this has imposed huge strains on the staff in rushing the Bill like this and that the normal procedures were not adhered to. This is part of the reason we were seeking to give this Bill adequate time. The Minister is clearly not ready.
Amendments could have been submitted up until the completion of Second Stage but I do not wish to argue the technical aspects.
I oppose section 3 of the Bill because the cuts being proposed in section 3 are unjust. It is timely that the latest set of inflation figures were published subsequent to the budget. When the Minister for Finance came to the House on Wednesday he was working on the basis that annual inflation was running at 6.5%. The European measure of inflation which is a far more accurate measure shows that inflation is running at 2.8% which is 1.2% less than the cut in the social welfare budget introduced on Wednesday and 3.2% greater of a cut has been proposed this year when the Christmas bonus is taken into account along with the cut announced on Wednesday. These cuts are unjust and unfair, especially to carers, the disabled, blind people and it is morally wrong to introduce a cut of 6%. As my colleague, Deputy Kenny said, this is the first Minister in eight years who has introduced cuts to the must vulnerable in our society. The cuts before us fail to recognise the important role of carers in our community. Carers are people who give up work to care for an elderly or disabled person in the home thus saving the State approximately €40,000 a year and now having made that decision to commit to the long-term care of an individual, the Minister is cutting their payments.
I have two questions for the Minister. The adult dependant allowance for those under 66 years is being cut. In the case of a person in receipt of a contributory old age pension, is the adult dependant allowance for a spouse under 66 years also being cut? If this is the case it is a misrepresentation to say that pensioners are not being affected by these cuts because we know they are being affected by the withdrawal of the Christmas bonus.
The Minister referred on Second Stage to the issue of fraud. I have a letter dated 9 September 2009 relating to an applicant who was signing on for credits for jobseeker's benefit. In this letter of 9 September she has been told that the next date for signing on is 7 July 2010. I am informed the reason it is being dragged out for so long is because there is a backlog of these cases and overcrowding in the local offices and the person is not in receipt of a payment. The individual in question, who is a non-Irish European citizen, is receiving credits for entitlement to some of benefit payments at a future date. If the Minister is focused on fraud, how is it possible for a person to be told to sign on again in 11 months at which point he or she will be given credited contributions for the intervening period? This contradicts her argument that she is tough on fraud. It is frustrating for people to see the Minister cut basic payments to vulnerable people while turning a blind eye to fraud.
In recent months, the Minister and her colleagues have repeated the mantra that their priority is to protect the vulnerable. While their media advice may be that people will start to believe something if it is repeated sufficiently often, their mantra is a patent and blatant untruth. The Minister has not fulfilled her responsibility to protect the weakest. Even in difficult times, her predecessors fought their corner on behalf of the least well-off. Thousands of people look to the Minister to protect their incomes but she has clearly bought into the right-wing agenda of cutting the incomes of those at the margins. Rather than protecting the weakest, she has protected the richest, the millionaires, while allowing savage cuts to the incomes of the poorest.
People have been completely misled by the Government spin we heard before the budget. If the Minister had any shame, she would think again about the position she holds. Perhaps her title should change to "Minister for Corporate Welfare" because she has protected the corporate welfare system. People with large incomes and substantial wealth are being entirely spared. The Government continues to facilitate those who have stashed away large amounts of money in pension schemes or property based schemes to avoid tax. The Minister, in protecting the strongest and wealthiest and hitting those on the lowest incomes, is engaging in morally indefensible and unacceptable behaviour. Her job is to protect those on social welfare.
Economically, it is stupid to cut social welfare benefits because recipients cannot afford to save them and, by and large, spend every penny of their payment in local shops and on local services. This helps the economy. The Government is proposing to remove from the economy 4% of all social welfare payments while leaving untouched those who are best able to carry some of the burden, namely, people who can stash away or spend large sums abroad. This does little to help the economy. The Minister's approach does not make sense economically.
The Minister referred to the consumer price index, CPI. While we are all aware of the headline CPI figures, it is necessary to drill down into them. For example, the figure changes significantly if one removes housing from the equation. Although people with mortgages have benefited from interest rate reductions, many of those in receipt of welfare benefits do not have a mortgage. For such persons, the deflation rate is, therefore, much closer to 3% than 6%.
The Minister decided to cut social welfare payments by 4%. In addition, the value of the payments has declined by 2% as a result of the abolition of the Christmas bonus. A significant number of social welfare recipients will also be hit by the increase in the threshold for the drug payments scheme. In real terms, the increase in costs from this measure is close to 2.5% because those affected by it will have to spend an additional €5 per week on medicines. Those in receipt of rent supplement will suffer a 4% cut. For a large number of recipients of social welfare payments, therefore, the cumulative effect of the cuts in payments will be approximately 12.5%. There is no defence for imposing a cut of in excess of 12% in the income of many social welfare recipients.
The Vincentian Partnership for Justice and other groups have done detailed research which shows that in most cases welfare payments are not sufficient to enable recipients, especially families with children, to live life with any kind of basic dignity. The reason we have a national anti-poverty strategy is to ensure Government Ministers should not introduce new proposals without first assessing how the proposals will impact on the poor. Every budget since 1998 has been poverty-proofed, as required under the national anti-poverty strategy. The Cabinet handbook states that memoranda for the Government involving significant policy proposals must indicate clearly the impact of the proposals on groups in poverty or at risk of falling into poverty. For the third time I ask the Minister to inform the House if she has complied with the requirement poverty-proof and assess the impact of these major proposals on people who are in poverty or at risk of poverty. Has this document been done and will she provide it?
I oppose the section. Starting salaries for Deputies are approximately €100,100 per annum. This is the salary paid to me, as I have not received increments or other payments. After the 7.5% cut is applied to my salary, I will still be paid €92,500, subject to income tax and other deductions. The reduction is extremely modest when compared to what will happen to people who find themselves unemployed in future, particularly those aged under 24 years.
While I appreciate the correct decision by the Taoiseach and Ministers to take a further pay cut of 5%, the reduction should have been substantially higher. Parliamentarians in Australia, for example, are paid AU $72,000 per annum. I am not sure of the precise exchange rate but understand this equates to approximately €50,000. Australia has a population of more than 21 million. As these figures show, Irish politicians are grossly overpaid and there is a case for making a substantial further reduction to their pay, certainly to €80,000 per Deputy per annum capped at €100,000. It is easier to target people earning in excess of €100,000 per annum than those with an income of €204 per week.
The proposition before us is disgraceful. I hope some of the Independent Deputies, prodigal sons or whatever they are called will rise up and reject the budget.
Deputy Naughten asked about the position of a pensioner whose spouse is a qualified adult aged under 66 years. The rates for qualified adults, whether aged over 66 or under 66 years, have been protected. My statement that pensioners have not been affected by the budget is, therefore, true.
Deputy Shortall asked about a poverty impact assessment. An assessment is being done. The Combat Poverty Agency always published it within a few days of the budget. That is now being done within the Department and it will be published.
The Minister does not understand what we are saying. Every year in the Budget Statement, there is a report from the social inclusion unit of the Department on the poverty proofing of the budget. It is published with the budget every year. Where is that document this year?
I am flabbergasted because clearly the Minister does not know what we are talking about. She does not realise that under the requirements of the Cabinet handbook every year since 1998 the budget is poverty-proofed officially by the social inclusion unit within the Department. The report of that poverty proofing exercise and the assessment of the budget in terms of the impact it is likely to have on people in poverty or at risk of poverty is included in the budget as part of the official documentation. Clearly, she does not realise this has been the practice.
Clearly, the Minister does not realise that has been the practice for the past 11 years. Why was it not done this year, when the budget has a vastly negative impact on people living in the margins, the most vulnerable people whom the Minister promised she would protect? Where is it? Has the Government completely forgotten about it this year?
Yes. I am well aware of what the Deputy is talking about. The poverty impact assessment is being prepared by the social inclusion unit of my Department which has incorporated the Combat Poverty Agency, as I indicated already. It is being prepared and it will be published over the next few days as has always been the case.
This is not done some days or weeks after the budget. It is done when the budget is going to Cabinet. Along with the memoranda for Government, there is a requirement that a poverty proofing document be prepared on any proposal such that the Cabinet can assess the impact of such proposals on people living in poverty. Was that done or not?
I will follow from Deputy Shortall's remarks. Will the Minister clarify if the poverty proofing document was presented to Cabinet? Was the Cabinet in the position that it made a decision on the details of the budget without such information being made available?
I will be brief because we should get to as many amendments and sections as possible. At the time of the establishment of the Combat Poverty Agency I was a Member of the Oireachtas. I observed and was involved with the evolution of poverty proofing while working in the area of social policy. The purpose of the poverty proofing exercise that made its way into the Cabinet handbook was such that as the budget was being prepared the Government would be able to test the impact of a proposal on the affected or vulnerable group. That is totally different from preparing a descriptive scheme after the fact. The essence of the original Combat Poverty Agency proposal was to test the impact before it happened. Therefore, to suggest there will be a description some days after the budget leaves open the question of whether the principle has been sacrificed. It is a fact that since 1998 poverty proofing, in accordance with the Cabinet handbook, has been integral to the budget. It was the evidence that the budget had been so tested. There is a real difference and this requires an explanation, especially in a budget with such an impact on the very groups to which the handbook refers, namely, those in poverty and threatened with poverty.
The Cabinet considered all elements of this budget including the impact it would have. We considered not only the rates and value of cuts in respect of social welfare but changes in other Departments that might impact on the same people. We also took into account the consumer price index, CPI, figures. I accept that not everyone has benefited in the same way from the change in prices. An analysis was carried out by the Department of Finance in respect of the decrease in prices during the year and how it has affected people. We examined that analysis carefully. The analysis suggested the CPI fell for retired households by 3.25%, one of our considerations in making decisions in respect of pensioners. Prices decreased by 5.75% for unemployed households and 7.5% for working households. Although the analysis shows the highest income people have benefited more from the drop in prices, the lowest income people have also benefited greatly from it. We considered the matter very carefully to establish the position in respect of the increases of 3.5% for this year. The process was carried out very carefully across Departments to establish the impact. Nevertheless, we found ourselves in the position of having to make these proposals.
The Minister has not replied to the questions put. We are within our rights to ask the Minister specifically about the fact that a document which normally appears and is published with the Budget Statement has not appeared this year. It is not only our right to ask the Minster. She is required to produce it under the national anti-poverty strategy.
The Government is required to produce it. When the matter was raised this morning by Deputies Jan O'Sullivan and Gilmore, the Tánaiste and other senior Ministers were in the Chamber. They were stunned because clearly they were not aware of the requirement. Now, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs has confirmed she is equally ignorant of the requirement to produce this document, because she has provided the House with some blather about something being done after the event. The Cabinet handbook is very specific about the requirements under the national anti-poverty strategy. It is not simply a matter of considering it. A statement of the likely impact on those at risk of poverty must be provided.
This is a requirement of the Cabinet and it relates specifically to the Minister for Finance, the person who produces the budget. Under the national anti-poverty strategy, the Minister is required to produce a statement which amounts to a poverty proofing of his proposals. That statement must follow the guidelines set down by the social inclusion unit of the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Was that statement produced? Did the Minister for Finance know that he was required to produce that? Did the Minister for Social and Family Affairs realise that such a document was required? It is clear from her response today that she does not seem to have been aware of that. Given that the Minister is not in a position to answer the question, can we take a short break or can the Minister arrange for the Minister for Finance to be asked that specific question, whether he has complied with the requirements of the Cabinet handbook under the national anti-poverty strategy to produce a document, a statement setting out the likely impact of his budget proposals on those at risk of poverty?
As I indicated, the Cabinet discussed the matter in full. We were well aware of what would be the impact and we were satisfied that the adjustments that were being made-----
Says who? It is not acceptable for the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, to say they are satisfied that the proposals do not impact on the poor. That is not good enough. The Minister cannot get away with that. She is required to produce a statement.
I beg your pardon. I reiterate, the Government is required to produce a statement. It is not a matter of the opinion of the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, or any other member of the Cabinet. The Cabinet is required to produce a statement outlining the likely impact of the budget proposals on those living in poverty or at risk of poverty. Has the Cabinet complied with the requirements in the Cabinet handbook?
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 80 (Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Bobby Aylward, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, Martin Cullen, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Michael Lowry, Tom McEllistrim, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Martin Mansergh, Micheál Martin, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)
Against the motion: 74 (Bernard Allen, James Bannon, Seán Barrett, Joe Behan, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, George Lee, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Alan Shatter, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Leo Varadkar)
Tellers:Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.
Question declared carried.
I oppose section 4 because of the unjust cuts proposed to all social assistance payments. We are talking about a 6% cut this side of Christmas, and after Christmas, to social assistance payments to those under the age of 66 and yet Ministers are only taking an additional 5% cut in their salaries. The types of cuts proposed for the most vulnerable people in society are immoral. It is disgraceful admission by the Government that the policy-proofing document, which should have been provided to the Cabinet prior to making and signing off on this decision, was not presented to it.
Will the Minister respond to an issue which has come to my attention in regard to the carer's allowance and the free travel scheme? I have a constituent who is in receipt of the carer's allowance for a child under the age of 16 but over the age eight. While the carer gets the free travel pass, the child does not and the carer must pay for the child to attend hospital in Dublin four times each month. Since the costs involved would be minuscule, surely an amendment could be made to the free travel scheme when it comes before us next year to deal with that limited number of cases
In regard to people who depend on social assistance payments, the scale of the cuts contained in the Bill are completely acceptable. The Government had choices about how it would make the savings of €4 billion. There was no need to hit people on the lowest incomes. The Government could have required those who are very well off, in particular millionaires, to make a contribution and share the burden in terms of balancing the books.
The Labour Party set out in detail how the Government could have done that, including ending the property reliefs available, the over-generous reliefs for pensions for millionaires and addressing the prospect of a third rate of tax for high earners. The Government had choices and the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, along with the rest of the Cabinet, chose to hit the most vulnerable rather than the better off or the millionaires who could have made a significant contribution to bridging the €4 billion gap. It was a conscious decision by this Government to hit the weakest and attack the vulnerable, which is utterly unacceptable on any level.
Given that the Minister has had an opportunity to speak to the Minister for Finance, will she clarify the reason we have not received a statement on the impact of this budget on the poor?
I have a short time in which to speak to the issue. I have been here for many years and it is the first time we have had to address a section of a social welfare Bill where we are taking money from people. Of all the cutbacks in the area, the most severe are the withdrawal of money from the visually impaired and, in particular, the half carer's allowance.
I had a mother from my constituency on to me yesterday with a cry from the core of her heart. This woman, a widow, is looking after a son who eight years ago had a serious road accident as a result of a brain haemorrhage. The man was 30 at the time and is almost 38 now, and he lives on his island home with his mother, who looks after him 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The man comes to Beaumont Hospital now and again; he spent 40 days at the hospital last summer. His mother accompanied him across the waves to Dublin and sat by his bedside in the hospital holding his hand day and night.
He is a brilliant man, the eldest, who helped his mother raise the rest of his family. They all have jobs now but he was the main breadwinner when his father died. The only person who this 38-year-old man can communicate with is his mother. I know these people and I was in the hospitals in Letterkenny and Beaumont when he was there. I hope to see him within the next week again.
The woman was in touch with the Department and got a very sympathetic hearing from whoever was there, although she wanted to speak to the Minister. She understands the difficulties and pressures felt by the Minister as well. I told the woman I would try to be her voice in Dáil Eireann today, when I would have the opportunity to put the case before the Minister. She is providing a service and it was a terrible knock to her the day before yesterday when she was told that her half carer's allowance was to be reduced. She told me it was not about the money she would lose, be it €4 or €5, although she could do with every euro she could get. She told me that what she has been doing for eight years does not seem to get any recognition or sympathy from anybody.
The care and dedication that woman has shown to that man is something only a loving mother could provide. If that boy was in hospital, it would cost the State hundreds of thousands of euro per year, and it would have cost €1 million over the course of the eight years. The consultant in Beaumont, who I will name to the Minister in private as I do not want to give names in the House, said that the man would have been dead years ago if not for the mother's loving and tender care.
She is under 66. We often overlook this area. I know this woman and her family and there are probably many such examples throughout the country. There is an 82-year-old grandmother in my constituency whose grandson had a serious accident a year and a half ago. He is a young boy not yet 20 but he cannot talk, walk, eat or anything else for himself. That woman is lucky because although she is giving the same kind of care as the first woman, she will not lose anything because she happens to be 82 years old. There is a discrepancy.
However, I told this Donegal mother that I knew the Minister very well and that she is humane and does not have a heart of stone. She comes from a good Christian family and I know her parents. I do not say this in a patronising fashion. I do not think the Minister would take this action deliberately against that woman. I told her if I had the opportunity during the debate of this Bill to put that simple case to the Minister, I would do so.
It is not the money that worries the woman but the fact that her dedication over the course of the past eight years, no matter whether her son is in Donegal or the hospitals in Letterkenny and Dublin, is not recognised. She is by her son's side. To put it mildly, it is very cruel for her to be deducted the €4 or €5 per week. She will continue caring for her son anyway and will never let him go to hospital. He will get the care which she gives in a professional manner; that has been recognised in every hospital from here to Donegal, including the one in Dublin.
I am very concerned about this and I know the Minister will demonstrate concern also. I do not know if the Minister can do anything about this but perhaps we can propose an amendment to the Bill. A mother of such dedication, or a parent or carer who has given that amount of time, care and nursing to people who cannot communicate or do anything for themselves, should not have the allowance cut. This House would not be living up to its reputation as a humane place or a democracy if we deprived that woman of these €4 or €5.
Ultimately, she wants some recognition for what she and others like her are doing. Only mothers give tender and loving care like this. I am thankful for the opportunity to put this on record. There is a discrepancy and perhaps the Minister will have the opportunity to put it right. This woman was on to the Department yesterday and very well received by whomever she spoke to, although she was emotional. Anybody who knew the case would also be emotional.
This is one of the more odious sections of the Bill and should not be take on its own. The effect is to substantially cut the payments of jobseekers, in particular, who are under 24 or 25. It also deals with the new rates for one-parent families, carer's allowance and the blind pension. I mentioned in contributions last night and earlier that the effect will be to drive people into poverty. There are many organisations which are set up to help people who are down on their luck or who have not had the required social investment and must avail of services of community groups or other groups set up to help them.
As news of the budget spreads, we will witness the full effects. Most journalists have not recognised the scale of the cuts. I received telephone calls, e-mails and so on all morning from project administrators in my area who have been informed by the Department of Education and Science that their funding will be cut next year. These include a family project on James's Street and Familiscope in Ballyfermot. Virtually every mainstream drugs project in receipt of funding from that Department has been informed it will suffer a 28% cut next year.
These groups have helped those who depend on social welfare to bridge the gap for many years. The poorest of the poor and the most disadvantaged are not only being kicked around by the Government through social welfare cuts but the projects on which they have depended to help them overcome years of non-investment are also being tackled. Great work has been done, and is planned, under the RAPID programme but its budget has been cut by 25% for 2010.
The new rates for social welfare recipients are outlined in section 4 and the Schedule. In some cases, those who become redundant or who cannot source employment are being asked to survive on €100 a week. By contrast, the remuneration of the chief executive officers of semi-State companies in 2007 was as follows: Bord na Móna, more than €300,000; An Bord Pleanála, more than €220,000; CIE, €270,000; ESB, more than €500,000; Enterprise Ireland, more than €200,000; Coillte - the planting of trees justifies a salary of €400,000, which is absolute madness-----
I have not mentioned the bonuses these people have enjoyed. That is the Government's fault, not theirs because they do not set the high level of remuneration. The Dublin Airport Authority was only established by the House a number of years ago, yet the chief executive officer earns almost €700,000. We know about FÁS because it has been in the news.
We have not heard everything. We recently heard about the nice bonus Professor Drumm of the HSE was paid on top of his generous salary. The chief executive officer of the Irish Aviation Authority has an annual salary of €350,000 while the national lottery chairman receives €280,000 a year. An Post will cut 1,300 jobs shortly while the chief executive officer earns €414,000 per annum to put people on the dole. If they are aged under 24, they will receive jobseeker's benefit at a rate of €150 per week or €100 a week if they are aged under 21. That is a disgrace and that is the scandal of this Bill.
I strongly oppose this section. It must be recognised that if it was not for the late Ernest Blythe cutting the old age pension 80 years ago, for which he has been condemned by Fianna Fáil ever since, the old age pension would have been cut by the Government. These cutbacks are even worse. Elderly people are reasonably well off in comparison to others. However, a widow with three young children who has a part-time job will suffer multiple cutbacks. Unless one has lived with a social welfare recipient, one will not understand. I lived with my mother, who was blind, for six years before her death. The fact that the payment to the visually impaired is being cut in the Bill to allow Anglo Irish Bank to be bailed out on behalf of builders, developers and bankers is extremely sick.
Will the Minister rethink these cutbacks? The weakest in our society, including the disabled, the handicapped, the carers, the blind and the widows will bear the brunt of the budget. I support the comments about young people. Fine Gael said their payments should be cut if they refused to take up employment or a training place but the Minister is providing that their payment will be cut regardless. She should examine how she can at least avoid cutting the payments of the worst off. I refer to a young man I know who is in a wheelchair. His allowance will be cut and his mother, who is a carer, will also suffer a cutback. She is a long way off 65 years and she needs some sympathy.
If those on jobseeker's benefit aged under 24 are residing with their parents, will there be a pro rata cut to reflect the parents' means? I have received more and more calls from parents whose sons or daughters recently left college and are living at home. They have a high dependency on the parental income to give them spending power. How will they be affected?
The reduction in income for claimants in this category will have a detrimental effect because the Minister's announcement about additional training places has not been set out in concrete form. We do not know what shape the places will take or whether a demographic or qualitative study has been conducted as to who in this category would slot into the places. We do not know how they will slot in or what type of course they will take up. This is ill thought out. The overarching philosophy of the Minister was to drive a coach and four through those who most need that marginal income without any thought or lateral view of how this might impact on them. Will the Minister outline how this cut will affect those people if their parents' income is above a certain level? I fear for them. For example, if a parent who works in the public sector has an income up to €40,000 per annum and has a son or daughter who has just graduated, it is most likely that son or daughter is now living at home because he or she cannot get a job. If that graduate son or daughter cannot find an adequate training place because, as has been stated, he or she is over qualified for the training position, will he or she now be penalised through a reduced payment because of refusing a training place? What negative effect will this have on their income if they live at home. These are issues of concern. In talking about active labour market mechanisms for people who are under the age of 25, the Minister should have thought a little more laterally about putting some well thought out schemes in place before effecting a cut.
The content of the budget delivered here on Wednesday has sent shock waves through those in the lower economic dependent sector of the State. The people affected drastically are those most in need. When one looks to a Government, no matter who is in Government, one looks for fairness, honesty and a sense of belonging. Significant trust is placed in those in positions of responsibility and we trust they will deliver fairness and equality for their people.
At some stage in our lives, all of us were inspired by the Proclamation of 1916, which expressly declared that the State would cherish all the children of the nation equally. I do not direct my comment personally at the Minister, but at the Government. It has totally betrayed the content of the 1916 Proclamation. The men and women who fought for equality and freedom for our country paid a huge price. They gave their lives and gave up everything they had and trusted us to live up to the Proclamation of the Irish Republic to cherish all the children of the nation equally. The Government, however, has discriminated against those most in need. It has discriminated against people dependent on invalidity pensions, illness benefit, blind person's pension, payments to one-parent families, carer's allowance, guardian payments and on non-contributory widow's and widower's pensions. It has discriminated against the most vulnerable in our communities. It has exacerbated an already drastic situation for people in need.
All of us work in our communities, as elected representatives should. Most of my work and that of my colleagues is in areas of most need, areas that are socially deprived and that have been abandoned by the systems of the State. These people have been discriminated against from a young age because of being part of a poor family. They are condemned to poverty by the type of system that ensures they will never have a proper, full education and will never let them realise the potential every child is gifted with at birth. The Government is now making matters worse for those who live on low incomes who depend on unemployment benefit and on the State. A Government should be judged on how it treats its citizens, in particular those who are most vulnerable. If that is the criteria, the Minister and the Government have failed miserably.
I wonder whether anybody in Government comprehends what it means to be dependent on farm assist. Farmers have struggled continuously, particularly small farmers who have been the soul and backbone of the country for generations. Irrespective of what part of the country Deputies come from, their roots go back to rural Ireland and to the small farmer communities. The small farmer community has survived without hand-outs. A few weeks ago I met a person from my parish who has seven cattle and who gets REPs payments of approximately €2,500 to €3,000 per year. At best, his income is less than €5,000 a year. When this was brought to my attention, I went to meet him. He shops less and has cut back on living expenses. He does not socialise and cannot go out and has lived that way for years now. The only communication he has on a regular basis is with his dog. That is what is happening in the rural community. We are struggling to get farm assist for this man. I am sure we will get it for him, but there is a significant backlog because so many people are so deprived economically.
On Wednesday, we saw, probably, the most disgraceful budget ever seen. We have all lived through the Celtic tiger, but that tiger did not help the small farmer, fishermen or people dependent on unemployment benefit. They are not unemployed by choice, but because unemployment was forced on them. More and more people are becoming dependent on the State to survive. What are we doing about that? My colleague read out earlier the incomes of CEOs. We saw sleight of hand in the budget with regard to the incomes of Ministers and junior Ministers. We were informed they took a 15% cut when, in reality, all they suffered was a 5% cut. The Government could not even be honest about this. At the same time it is taking over 4% from the unemployed. This is a significant amount to take from those with very little. Even if it was a 15% cut for Ministers, which it was not, that would be as nothing for those earning between €100,000 and €200,000 a year.
The system in this State operates to discriminate against the poor, those in need and those dependent on assistance. Neither the State nor the Government have any concept of what it is to be part of the marginalised poor, who are now becoming a bigger constituency here. The poor do not matter to the Government as most of them do not vote. This is how it appears the Government is operating currently. Its concerns are for the wealthy and those with money, people who exploited others to get that money with which they can control the political system. How much influence has the tent at the Galway races had on consecutive Governments, and, in particular, on the main party in the current Government?
I would like to quote from the principles of ethical conduct, as outlined by the Standards in Public Office Commission:
A successful ethics regime is one which provides mechanisms whereby the sensitivities of political/public life can be handled, where competing interests can be reconciled and where individual legislators/executives can be guided in their difficult decisions by reference to the general principle that the public interest should always take precedence over the interests of the individual and, perhaps more important, over the interests of a political party whether in power or in opposition.
These are the guiding principles of every person in the Government. Does that principle state that we can give huge salaries to CEOs such as Professor Brendan Drumm, while we take €8 per week off somebody who is living on €208? Are these the principles that guide the ethics of this Government? Reading the budget that has been presented to us, there is no doubt that such is the case.
The Government has betrayed the principle of ethical conduct. More important, it has betrayed the poor and the marginalised people in our society and in our communities. It has propped up and supported the big fat business class, the developers and the bankers. It has condemned future generations to pay off these huge debts in order to facilitate those who control the political system in this State, be it Mr. Tony O'Reilly's media empire, bankers or developers. This State has descended into providing power where the wealth lies. This power is provided at the expense of those at the lower rungs of the ladder, who act as cannon fodder to provide what is necessary in order to keep those fat cats in the style to which they are accustomed.
The Government has no mandate whatsoever to do what it did last Wednesday. It was not elected to penalise the poor. It was not elected to discriminate against those most in need. It was elected to be fair, honest and true to our people and their equal rights. Unfortunately, it has betrayed everything it was supposed to stand for. There is only one resolution to what is happening. The honourable thing to do would be to step down and let the people decide who they want to lead them through these most difficult times, which were created by the political establishment of this State.
Many of us are lucky enough to have children and grandchildren. The Government and the establishment have condemned them to decades of hardship to pay for what has been inflicted on them. The debts inflicted on them have been inflicted by the failed policies of this Government and the failed policies of rampant capitalism. The Government has looked after the wealthy and let the poor go to hell.
In 2004, the National Disability Authority and Indecon carried out research into the cost of disability payment. They maintained at the time that there was an additional cost of living payment for people with disabilities of about €40 per week. They recognised that a person with a disability has more costs, because he or she needs extra heating, extra clothes and possibly a special diet and so on. Since then, organisations such as the Disability Federation of Ireland have been lobbying for this payment for the special cost of disability. Instead of giving these people more, the Government has decided to reduce the payment by €8.30 per week, which is about €431 per annum. It does not seem like much, but for a person on €10,000 per annum, it is a lot. This is particularly the case when an advisory body set up by this House to advise on disabilities decided that an extra payment was needed.
Did the National Disability Authority give any advice to the Government? Was it asked for any advice on the impact of reducing this payment to people with disabilities? If this has not happened, does the Minister have any intention of consulting with the National Disability Authority on the impact of these cutbacks on people with disabilities, carers and so on? Many of these people are housebound and they are in need of support rather than being attacked.
Carers are often looking after these people, and their payment is also being cut. It will make it very difficult for people who are already on the edge. Many of these people with disabilities may have to go into institutions such as nursing homes and hospitals. This will be at an increased cost to the State, not at a reduced cost. I implore the Minister to look at this again. I will not be supporting this cut. It would have been bad enough to leave it as it was, but to reduce it is appalling. These people have already lost the Christmas bonus and many of them have seen rent supplement reduced. The Government also closed down the Combat Poverty Agency, which was an independent body that commented on issues like this.
People with disabilities are two and a half times more likely to be unemployed. The Minister for Finance has told us that anybody under 65 can get a job and supplementary income. That is not possible for many people with a disability. This is one particular group of people that has been singled out by the Government. Either Fianna Fáil is completely in the pockets of very wealthy people who have got off scot free, or else the country is in such a bad way that we are going down the Swanee very quickly. This Government has been in charge for the last 12 years, so it is responsible for that. We seem to be dealing with heartless Ministers and a heartless Government, but I appeal to anybody in Fianna Fáil with a conscience not to cut payments to people with disabilities such as blind people, many of whom have barely enough to continue.
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform shouted across the floor of the Chamber this morning that we opposed increases. We did not oppose the increases given by the former Minister, the late Seamus Brennan. We worked with him and supported him in much of what he did. We encouraged him to bring forward a policy to deal with young carers. That has not happened. These are children working at home caring for adults and others with disabilities. There has been no policy from the Government on this, nor on cohabitation, even though policy was promised on it years ago. These cuts are retrograde and I implore that they be rescinded.
I am reminded of Harold Wilson's phrase that a week is a long time in politics. A year is longer again and two years must be equal to an eternity. Two years ago, this Government was telling us that the country was fine. It repeated the mantra that the economic fundamentals were sound. We were told that we had a bright future. Something must have happened in the meantime, because the first soundings we heard in the long grass were that the public sector was a problem and had caused a serious dent in that economic boom.
Things have since moved on to the unemployed, including those who had never been unemployed in their lives. People with disabilities - such as those in wheelchairs - their carers and those who provide support services with disabilities are suddenly in the eye of the storm and are apparently to blame for what went wrong.
I appeal those Members of both parties in government who struggled manfully with their consciences in recent weeks - the finally overcame them at the last moment - to reconsider matters. When they sit down to eat dinner on Christmas day, they should think about what they have done to the most vulnerable at this particularly difficult time. Is it really being stated that those to whom I refer caused the bubble to burst? Previously, those in the public service were blamed in this regard.
There is another group of people, some of whom have been made unemployed for the first time and others who have yet to become unemployed, that is now being targeted. A decision has been made to the effect that if certain individuals have not been poor before, then those in power are going to work at making them poor. It appears that those in power intend to take pleasure in doing this. Every Member on the Government side who contributed on Second Stage indicated that they intend to vote in favour of the budget and this Bill because that is the right thing to do. On what basis is it the right thing to do? Is it because the people who have become the victims are to blame? Did they cause the difficulties in which we find ourselves?
We have been continually informed that social welfare payments here are higher than those which obtain in Northern Ireland or the UK. The Government has responsibility in this regard. After all, it was the Government which increased the rates of pay. People who are unfortunate enough to be on social welfare did not launch a campaign in order to obtain a bigger slice of the cake. It was the Government which increased the rates of payment. It is ironic that the Government is informing those to whom I refer that they may have had good times in the past but that those good times are gone. It is also stating that if people were of the view that they might enjoy good times again in the future, it is going to ensure that this will not be the case.
The Acting Chairman is a right-thinking and fair man. It must, therefore, seem a complete contradiction to him that in a society in which we have tried to be fair and honest to all the people and to treat all of the nation's children equally, it has suddenly been decided that the banking system must be protected, shored up and allowed to continue as before. The Acting Chairman soldiered in the same trenches in respect of this matter in the past. We recall the guarantees provided by those in the banking sector and we know that as soon as the latter left the building, the guarantees were forgotten. That is one of the sad aspects of all of this.
The saddest aspect is that those in the banking sector seem to have been rewarded. They received a pat on the back and a nod of approval rather than a rap on the knuckles. The old system of salaries has been retained. Why would that not be the case? These are important people who have done no wrong. What wrong have the unemployed, widows or people with special needs done? Why are they being punished. Where stands the concept of fairness in our Constitution?
The Members opposite who repeatedly and resolutely stated on Second Stage that they want to vote in favour of the budget - which contains the impositions to which I refer that will affect people who, with every day that passes, are becoming increasingly victimised - should carefully reconsider their position. Christmas is supposed to mean something to everyone. They should not allow Christmas to pass without once again struggling with their consciences. Perhaps on this occasion they might manfully overcome them and side with the people who will be made poor by this horrific budget and the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill.
I am completely opposed to this section. I agree with Deputy Ó Snodaigh that it is probably the most odious section in the Bill.
Do the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, and his colleagues on the Government benches - and the six Independents or whatever one might call them who are going to support the Bill - believe it is fair and reasonable to cut approximately €35 per month from the blind pension and of the order of €100 per week from young unemployed people who are on jobseeker's allowance? Do they think this is reasonable when Ministers are being paid approximately €200,000 per annum? Is it reasonable that when cuts are being imposed on low-income earners, Ministers' pensions are continuing to grow? Given that Oireachtas pensions are probably worth over €50,000 per annum and ministerial pensions are probably worth a further €70,000 per annum, Ministers are being well paid for the deeds they are perpetrating in this House. It must be remembered that the members of the Cabinet who are also teachers will receive pensions in this regard which will be in excess of €12,000 per annum.
These individuals, who will receive very large pensions, have no compunction with regard to taking €35 per month away from someone on a blind pension or in countenancing the other cuts that are being made across the board. We have been informed that payments to young people who are on jobseeker's allowance will be cut if they do not take up positions on training or educational courses. The Government indicated that it is to create approximately 26,000 additional training and education places. However, there are 425,000 people on the dole. As a result, there are not enough positions available on courses for those who are unemployed. In view of the fact that the number of people on the live register is going to increase during the next six months, why does the Government believe there will be an adequate number of positions available? The VTOS and back-to-education allowances are also being cut. As a result, there will be even fewer positions available.
It is unfortunate that the Minister for Social and Family Affairs is absent from the Chamber. On Second Stage she said, "Receiving the full adult rate of jobseeker's payment at a young age without a strong financial incentive to engage in education or training can lead to welfare dependency". Welfare dependency indeed. What is proposed will lead to welfare poverty. Young people have no option but to depend on welfare when they cannot obtain employment. They cannot obtain employment because the Government has wrecked the economy. The Government encouraged the type of property speculation which led us into the credit crisis and which has given rise to the difficulties we now face. It was aided in this by the corrupt bankers and greedy speculators who all form part of the golden circle. The Minister is now stating that these young people could become welfare dependent. How could she and the Government have got it so wrong? They should be more concerned with regard to welfare poverty.
There is no doubt but that this section is particularly obnoxious in nature. Deputy Durkan referred to a week being a long time in politics. It is clear that a minute is also a long time in politics, particularly when one considers that the person occupying the ministerial chair across the Chamber has changed from a female to a male. It is interesting that the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Calleary, has taken the place of the Minister, Deputy Hanafin.
I accept that. However, we are discussing legislation relating to social welfare. We are also discussing people who care for others, namely, the disabled, those in the poorest sections of society, the blind and individuals with myriad other problems. It is interesting that a Minister of State from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is in the Chamber, which gives the lie to how this Government is approaching the problem. It is all about bean counting, not prioritisation or realising there must be cuts across the public services to reduce costs. Instead of prioritising these cuts, a blunt instrument has been used. The Government has gone after blind people, the disabled and the people who care for them. They are on a pittance as it is and large sections of society remain untouched. Pensions in excess of €100,000 for disgraced public servants, in some cases, are untouched. That is hardly justice.
This seems to be a concerted attack on the poorest sections of society. People talk about those in the private sector having suffered, and they have, but it is quite clear that the Government intends for many more to suffer. The budget provides for 75,000 more people to lose their jobs, which means 75,000 more people in receipt of social welfare and 75,000 more people trying to get access to a medical card. There is a concerted effort to deprive people of medical cards. I have received telephone calls from people all over the country, including from people next door to the office in Finglas. Some 100 people per month are being taken from the local GP lists. People cannot access their medical cards and a security guard is at the office to stop people from inquiring. Elderly ladies are being blocked by burly security guards. This is ridiculous. God help those around the country who do not know where to go to find out about the medical card being taken from them. People can go to the GP, who will never refuse to treat them. What about the pharmacists? How will they give out medicine when the patient does not have a medical card? They will not get their medicine and they will end up in hospital.
Today I heard about the 97 year old lady from north Dublin, who has been waiting for two days on a trolley with a fractured hip. She cannot have her operation because there is no post-operation bed available. What about her carer? We wish her well and hope she will be home soon. The Government is further undermining her.
The new measures on drugs and prescription charges are another attack on the most vulnerable and the sickest in our society. When one thinks about what has happened in the past where some people are on a pension of €500,000, having wrecked a bank and the banking system in this country and another man is escorted to jail by two gardaí for not paying his dog licence, it is a damning indictment of the sort of society this Government has created.
The cap on the dental excess will create a waiting list for medical card holders. People will be in pain with toothaches and will need fillings. It seems so frustrating for people because they know that this €4 billion is already gone. Anglo Irish Bank is already waving a flag for another €5.8 billion and the money saved in this budget, and more besides, will go straight to Anglo Irish Bank. Speaking on "The Last Word", the Tánaiste said that this money was off balance sheet. Matt Cooper's reply took the words out of my mouth when he said that this is the clever, smart alec accountancy that got us into this mess in the first place.
I oppose this section of the Bill. As I left Lusk, the back of the car of one of my constituents displayed "NAMA -- Nursing Assets for Ministerial Associates".
The measure of any society is how well it looks after those less capable of looking after themselves. I refer to the Fianna Fáil slogan that cuts hurt the old, the sick and the handicapped. It is not often that Members can speak on one section of a Bill that encapsulates everything about the Government. These cuts will hurt the old, the sick and handicapped. They are absolutely shameful. The Minister for Finance said there was no alternative, a message that has been put out by a number of Fianna Fáil spokespersons, their colleagues in the Green Party and the backup cronies. Fine Gael and the Labour Party published alternative policies. Deputy Reilly referred to dental care, from which €30 million was cut. That was a €30 million cut from €70 million. It is one thing to cut a project but removing almost half of it is sabotage.
I cannot find reference in the Estimates to the family resource centres. I referred earlier to how well we care for those who are less capable of looking after themselves. In family resource centres, a huge number of people provide voluntary assistance. In the greater scheme of things the cost of these centres was not a lot. I do not know whether they are good but perhaps someone can tell me. The contributions bring in some €7 million, which is then disbursed through the system. How well these moneys are spent bothers me. It is good if they are spent well but if not, it is a continuation of the waste this Government championed. Totalling all administration costs of the Departments, there is less than 1% reduction, specifically 0.66%, out of €4.5 billion in all Departments. Where is the reform? Where are the people in Fianna Fáil who once were capable of reforming? Have they all sold their souls to the devil just to remain in government, in case there is an election and Members lose their seats? They want to stay in there, in the political comfort zone because they have been in government for too long.
I do not want to labour the point that this section is despicable. Every Member who passes through the lobbies this evening is despicable. They will cut the money that is given to blind people. They will cut the money given to carers, who are paid a pittance but save the State millions. Every Fianna Fáil, Green Party, Progressive Democrat or Independent Member who goes through the lobbies should be totally ashamed when the names are struck off.
In terms of delivering reductions in welfare, this section of the Bill is something to be ashamed of for Members on the Government side. It is presented as a cut of 4% in the social welfare rates for adults but no account is taken of the cut that cancelling the Christmas bonus represents, which will be repeated next year. This brings the amount to a 6% cut in the net disposable income of the people who have the least. People may argue that the rate of inflation is -6% but we all know that many people on these levels of payments from the social welfare system do not generally have high mortgages, nor do they benefit from the items that came down in price in the same manner as those at the higher end. They certainly do not benefit from the ministerial pay increases. Ministerial pay has been cut by 5% before tax in this budget. After tax, it is much lower. The axe is falling on these people, who are at the bottom of the pile, who need support and are dependent on the State to protect them at the time of enormous economic crisis. Instead of support, the ground is pulled from under them.
It is extremely distressing for anyone who is on a low rate of social welfare payments to find that the rate is to be cut even further. All social welfare payments are low in comparison with the cost of living. Every economic study shows that levels of inequality in any society grow considerably during recessions. One of the functions of a social welfare system is to protect society against the consequences of that inequality. Studies have also shown that typically in Ireland, without the social welfare system, approximately 43% of the population would be living below the poverty line but the effect of the system is such that approximately 14% to 15% are below the poverty line. We should be proud that the system does what it is supposed to do, redistributes wealth from those who have it to those who need support. We should work towards pushing that further.
Cutting the rates of social welfare for people to whom the economy gives very little while others in very well-paid jobs have not felt any impact in this budget is despicable. We will increase inequality and poverty. Studies show that 25% of people on disability payments live below the poverty line. The Government is cutting their income by another 6%. No thinking person would feel proud of this.
Recent reports have shown that arguably €2 billion is lost to the social welfare system through fraud. People who are clever are able to get fake PPS numbers, or to rent them. There were very few controls in the system. If the level of fraud is one in ten, as some people in the public arena have recently suggested, that would amount to €2 billion of social welfare spending going a-begging which has not been looked after, collected and on which no one has clamped down for the State. That the lowest payments for adults in the social welfare system are to be further cut while we let that waste go is despicable and not something of which we can be proud.
We should do our utmost to ensure that this section does not go through. It is hard to sell to people who feel that this country and society have given them so little. There are very few jobs being created for people on the dole. They may well find themselves trapped in unemployment and those with disabilities who find it hard to get jobs in the first place will find it even harder to do so. The situation is getting worse.
During the big recession, in the 1980s, 46% of those who became unemployed became long-term unemployed. It is a serious threat to people that the social welfare system, which they hoped would support them, will not do so. Many have paid for years into social insurance and received very little from it because the economy was booming. Now when it is not booming the benefits of their contributions are being taken away, not just their dental benefits but the core benefit, what they have to fall back on if they become unemployed, is subject to a deliberate and up-front cut by the Government. That is a disgrace and we should not support this section at all.
When I sat in this seat on Wednesday morning I caught the eye of four young people in the Visitor's Gallery who happened to be speaking through sign language. My uncle taught me sign language so I was able to engage with them. When I went up to see them the one question they asked me was whether the Minister for Finance would take money from them. I said that I did not think he would. I apologise to those people, and I will call out to see them in Cabra, because I was wrong.
When I came into this House five years ago I noticed the sculptures around the Chamber of the men who in 1916 declared a republic, and died for it. Part of that declaration states:
The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.
In the past six months we have broken that guarantee twice. The Minister for Finance has already accepted that NAMA will not work. This evening the Government will alienate the young people who stood in that gallery and those who are blind.
It took us all 48 hours to realise what was going to happen to us. I had to examine my income to see what I could cut but I can manage it. I do not care what I have to do. I could cut out another €1,000 and it would not worry me. Those people have very little. I ask Deputy Gogarty not to fly off the handle. I am capable of doing the same. He is a champion of schools. He knows how they will be hit. The people with disabilities are always left to last. Deputy Gogarty said last night that he did not like doing it but he was going to do it. The Ministers have betrayed the men and women who died in 1916. The backbenchers have a chance to stand up to this. Deputy Gogarty has an opportunity to do so as well. The Government cannot take money from people who are not in a position to help themselves. It cannot take money from the blind or from a girl called Eileen Carolan in my parish. It cannot take it from the people in St. Joseph's School for Deaf Boys. If power means so much to Deputy Healy-Rae so be it. I was elected to represent everyone in Ireland, North and South, Catholic and Protestant. Let Deputy Healy-Rae give up the hospital on which he made a deal, as have all the other Independent Deputies but do not take money from these people whom we are supposed to cherish.
I have said before that the Minister is doing a good job at getting back money that has been taken out of the social welfare budget but this money should not be taken. Anyone who walks up those stairs, as we do every day, should look into the eyes of the men represented by the sculptures, and ask whether he or she is doing the right thing. That is what I ask them. Whoever goes to the left is betraying the people who fought for this country so that everyone would be treated equally. I challenge every Deputy who says he or she is Irish not to accept this. I ask the Minister to reverse that simple decision to take money from the blind and the disabled. It is a simple matter but it is the one that will bring her down. I ask every Deputy if he is man enough or woman enough to stand up for young people who do not have the advantages we have. I ask that of the Deputies from my county too.
We never took a penny from the rich. I know they are the people who create the employment but they were prepared to give it. Every time a Deputy walks up those stairs he or she should look those images in the eye and ask that question and anyone who cannot do that should not be here. For once in their lives they should stand up. The front bench of the Green Party threw the party away when the NAMA Bill came before us. Now it will do the same again. I ask Deputy Gogarty to stand up to it. He knows right from wrong.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in opposition to this section. It is at the heart of this budget. It is a shameless budget that directly attacks the weakest and most vulnerable in our society. The Green Party is beyond redemption in this matter. It does not seem to appreciate what is being done in its name.
This will ring the death knell for Fianna Fáil, which at least traded in the past on being supportive of the less well off, the vulnerable, the poor and the sick. Now, it seems it has sold out everything to its high-flying financier, speculator, developer friends. It is people with disabilities, one-parent families, widows, carers, blind people and guardians who are affected by this section - the most vulnerable, the weakest, the poorest in our society. They have all been targeted with at least a €8.30 cut.
For young people aged 18 to 21, the jobseeker's allowance has been halved and it has been reduced substantially for those aged 22 to 25. The intention is that these young people are unwanted. These are the future of Irish society. Does anyone think this Government wants to cherish them, to keep them here? No, it wants to get rid of them as quickly as possible. It wants them out of the country, it wants them to emigrate. That is exactly what is in this budget - target the weakest and get rid of those who might be some sort of a burden at present because there is no employment, and make sure they are got rid of as quickly as possible. When one combines this with the cut to the Christmas bonus, it will be a very bleak Christmas for those people who were hoping to have that little extra cheer that made Christmas decent for the many who spend the rest of the year in very difficult circumstances trying to make ends meet.
It is still not too late to reconsider this. There are alternatives, such as in regard to the excise duty that has been reduced for alcohol, and in regard to the well off, who have not been targeted at all, and those identified by IBEC and The Sunday Business Post who had no reduction in their income in 2007 and 2008. All of the semi-State commercial sector, most of which has received increases, has not been targeted. Whole sectors of Irish society have not been targeted by this budget in any way. The most vulnerable sector and the public sector have been exclusively targeted. Fianna Fáil has sold its soul to those developers who were part and parcel of the Celtic tiger, and who Fianna Fáil cozied up to in the Galway tent and elsewhere. Now, we see it. When times get rough, they choose the simplest and easiest target that is available, and it is from this they are extracting all of the money to make the budget balance.
There are Members on both sides of the House, including on the Government backbenches and among the Greens and Independents, who are not happy with this budget, which they find hard to stomach. Deputy Paul Gogarty at least has the decency to listen to the debate, although others do not. However, they are not happy with this budget. The point is that there is an alternative. These people did not realise, not being part and parcel of the dealings that went on, how the trade union movement was drawn down the garden path by Fianna Fáil and how the rug was then pulled from under it at the last moment, or how this budget is being rushed through before Christmas. All of this has put a lot of pressure on them and they did not realise and tease out the implications of it. It is being teased out in the best way possible at present.
It is clear that this Bill attacks the most vulnerable sectors in society. From that point of view, it is impossible for any democrat to stand over and the fact there are alternatives makes it doubly impossible. If we do not hit these sectors at the bottom of the pile, there are other sectors at the top that can equally pay the amount of money and we can balance the budget in that fashion. I appeal to these Members to realise that it is not too late. Deputy Gogarty and Deputy McDaid did not vote on the first vote, but a second vote is coming up in a short while. I would hope they will either abstain or vote against this. Others are questioning their consciences at this point. They should continue to do so until such time as the vote, and they should listen to the arguments that have been put across the floor of this House.
They must see how threadbare is the Government's argument on this issue. This section is at the heart of what the Government is doing, namely, pulling the rug from the poorest in our society and making life miserable for them. The Christmas bonus is gone and a reduction of approximately 6% will bring people on the poverty line below it, when we should be doing our best to ensure they are pulled up above the poverty line and assisted in whatever way possible.
I make one final appeal. I do not believe there is any hope of getting the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs to redress his position. We heard him here this morning and he does not seem to care one way or the other. Certainly, there are good people on the backbenches, Independents and those who are semi-detached - the strays, as the leader of the Labour Party described them this morning - and some among the Green Party who are deeply worried about this measure. This is the opportunity for them to take a stand on this section, whatever about the other sections. I appeal to them to do so when the vote arises.
I suppose if I am sitting here, I am a target. My name has been mentioned by a number of speakers. Yes, it is hard for me, and I would hope for any other God-respecting humanist republican - you name it - to support measures that hurt the vulnerable. Of course, it is hard for me. It is hard for me to gratuitously insult many of my constituents who are public sector employees and tell them: "Listen, lads. It is necessary. I feel your pain but it is necessary". To them, it comes across as baloney, insincerity, political rant. We have had much of that in past the couple of days in this Chamber although I must acknowledge we have had much sincerity also.
I will take at face value the sincerity with which the Deputies on the opposite side of the House have expressed themselves although I know also that perhaps some of their colleagues were more interested in point-scoring and political opportunism than sincerity. If I was on the Opposition benches, not having access to the figures, not being involved in the negotiations for the programme for Government and not having been kept in the loop this year, which we certainly were not last year with the rushed budget, I would be clamouring for blood and pointing out the unfairness of this budget. It would be highly disingenuous of me and totally insincere, therefore, to say anything other than that this is a grossly unfair section and that the Bill is grossly unfair.
I have received God knows how many texts, including today, from constituents in both the public sector and those in receipt of social welfare. They say it is a shame and a disgrace, and ask "How can you hurt vulnerable people?" Unfortunately, this is what this debate is about. The Labour Party says there is a radical alternative. Those on the Government benches say there is no alternative. I believe there was an alternative in our society and there may still be an alternative. However, as far as this budget goes, there is not much room for manoeuvre. That is the problem. I stated on the record last night that approximately €3.2 billion is being paid in interest on our loans this year. If nothing is done by 2013 it will go up to €11 billion, a quarter of our tax take.
The Green Party argued for a number of things. Personally, even though I be shot by some sectors for saying so, I believe certain people over the age of 65, if social welfare is being cut, could also take a 1% or 2% cut, instead of the blind, the carers and other sectors. That did not happen, a judgment call was made. Some might say it was a cynical decision by Fianna Fáil to protect its electorate. Others might say that the pensioners were hurt last year, as the protest showed, and we should not hurt them this year. A cynic might say again that the pensioners can come out and protest whereas the more vulnerable cannot.
I am trying to look at this objectively. There are reasons for protecting our senior citizens. People got on to me before the budget saying they did not care about the pain but they did not want their mother or father to suffer a cut in their pension. There were reasons for that but the knock-on effect of not cutting pensions means the other areas of the welfare budget had to be cut instead.
We in the Green Party argued for a reduction in the overall level of cuts. I will not go into detail, I will leave that to someone else, but we succeeded in getting it reduced somewhat from what it might have been to the 4.1% it is now. That was a trade off from various sectors.
The trouble is, no matter where there is a trade-off, someone will get hurt. If a relatively low income earner in the public sector is being levied with a 5% pay cut, if social welfare is not touched when that pay cut is brought in, all of a sudden that person would probably be better off leaving his job, even with the pension security. If he has just started in the public sector and is on a low income, the pension is a long way off and he might say that this is a chance to get out if the offer comes for reductions in staff numbers.
If pay is reduced in the public sector, social welfare must also be reduced and it has been reduced by less than the lowest earners in the public sector. It hurts those on social welfare, and it certainly hurts those within the public sector, but if money is not taken out of the public sector, social welfare is increased and vice versa.
We have had a debate about the rich needing to pay more, and I agree with that. We argued in this budget and the Green Party is disappointed that a third rate of tax was not brought in this year, although we understand there is a commitment it may be brought in next year. We are disappointed the PRSI levy was not introduced this year, because we argued vehemently for that as well. We argued vehemently for many things, such as the introduction of a carbon tax and the protection of education and we got some of those things but we did not get everything. Taken as a package, however, we could not ignore the reality that we must make €4 billion plus in savings or else the interest rates we pay on our overdraft will go up.
I agree with the Minister for Finance on one point. He was overly conservative on the application of additional taxes. There is a strong case that if taxes are increased and revenue goes down and the €4 billion magic figure is not achieved, it is totally pointless. I agree, but he was a little conservative in terms of getting rid of the loopholes and areas where people make savings on their tax liabilities. More needs to be done and it needs to be done quickly. I acknowledge the levies that came into force in April affected the higher earners far more while those on social welfare were affected less.
Having said all that, I genuinely acknowledge the call to solidarity by Members on the Opposition benches and I take it as a sincere call. Like everyone in this Chamber, I am proud to call myself a republican. Far too often, however, republicanism in Ireland has been paddywhackery. I do not want to go off on a tangent but I remember sitting in a pub once and when everyone was pissed out of their brains, and the rebel band was playing the national anthem at the end of the night, as a naive 16 year old, I sat down because I thought this was an insult to our national anthem. Someone whacked me in the back of the head and asked if I was not proud to be Irish. I said I was proud to be Irish which is why I sat down.
It is like that now. I am damn proud to be Irish. I am not proud of what has happened, I am not proud of the fact the banks had to be bailed out, of the corruption and worship of mammon in this country that has brought us to this sorry state, I am not proud of that, colleagues,-----
It is most unparliamentary language and I now withdraw it and apologise for it but I am outraged that someone dares question my sincerity on this issue.
I do not like what has to be done, but I will take responsibility, take it on the chin, get the unpopularity and lose my seat because it is the only thing we can do to get this country out of the state we are in.
There are people playing the patriotic card, asking people to examine their conscience. I answer back in all sincerity that I have examined my conscience and I still think it is necessary. There is a basic lack of respect for those who may hold an opposing view. It is an important issue, it not one for playing politics with.
All right. We have seen what has caused the problem and I have mentioned it is largely the responsibility of the previous Administration, the over-heated economy, the tax breaks for developers and bankers and for councillors who have taken legitimate donations-----
The right thing for this country is make sure we have enough money to pay the social welfare and enough money to pay the public sector and to create the jobs. Unfortunately, I believe there is no other option from an economic point of view, even though I fundamentally disagree with the unfairness-----
Section 4 is the core of the issue as it deals with the cuts of practically every level of social welfare being paid to people under 66 years. We should remind ourselves who they are. In the first instance they are the jobseekers, 420,000 of them now, most of whom were working two years' ago. They are not, therefore, a group of people who do not wish to work but simply people who lost their jobs. They also include those people on disability benefits, those who are too sick to work, and their income will be cut. Not only will their income be cut but they will be charged for their medicines and some of them are on nine or ten separate medicines a week. They will pay 50 cent per item every time they are given a prescription. This will be a significant additional burden on them. The carer's allowance will be cut. The allowance for the blind will be cut as will allowances for single parents and all the other types of payments. I give full credit to the Government for increasing the amounts of money payable during the good times. This is an historic occasion in this House. A tiny amount of money was taken from pensioners by Ernest Blythe a long time before I was born. It has stuck in the folk memory of people that a Government took one shilling from the old-age pensioners, and that is how Ernest Blythe is remembered.
This budget, and this Minister in particular, will be remembered, for the fact that she has failed to find an alternative to taking money from the poorest people in society. All parties in the House, right across the board, agreed there was a requirement to find about €4,000 million to assist with the balancing of the books of this nation. Everybody agreed that amount had to be found and everybody then had a responsibility to say how it would be found. We brought forward our proposals; they were real, alternative proposals costed by the Department of Finance and presented. Fine Gael did likewise. None of those proposals suggested these cuts so there was an alternative to what the Minister did. Two separate alternatives to find the €4 billion required were presented in this House. It is nonsense, blather and rubbish to say there was no alternative. I am sorry I have to do it this way.
There were alternative sources of funding available to the Government if it wished to go after them. One of the alternatives we suggested was that people earning more than €100,000 per year - such as Members of this House - should pay tax at 48% in the euro. This was not accepted. We had a list of other proposals that added up to more than the €4 billion and we were to spend an additional €1.2 billion on job creation. That was our proposal. I do not want to hear again from the Government, their spokespersons or their spokespersons in the media, who seemed to swallow the Government line, hook, line and sinker, that there was no alternative. There were two very real alternatives, costed by the Department of Finance, put to this House by the two parties in Opposition and I will mention that Sinn Féin also put forward a proposal that was fully costed. There were nuances of difference between them but one common element was that the poor were protected. This is the common theme of the Opposition even though there are different ideologies in the Opposition.
We demonstrated this was possible. I notice the Minister is not here in the Chamber for this very important part of her Bill. She will go down in history as being the person who cut social welfare across the board and not just the shilling off the old-age pensioners. This will create very severe hardship.
People currently on social welfare are very poor. A single person on social welfare, some of whom may be 50 years of age, have lost their jobs and are on €204 a week, will find their benefit reduced by a significant amount relative to them. They will not receive any extra rent allowance because that is also being changed. It will mean a net loss to them. They live on loaves of bread and sausages; they do not buy fillet steaks because they cannot afford them. Steak is not on the menu for them. They will now be even poorer. The most vulnerable people are the blind, the disabled and the handicapped and they will all suffer severely arising from this.
I will contrast those we are arguing should have contributed with those whom the Government insist will contribute. People on supplementary welfare allowance, which is the last safety net provided by Government for people to stop them going hungry and to ensure they have a roof or some form of shelter, will pay, whereas the banker whom we recently funded with taxpayers' money - he is being paid out of the same kitty as the person on supplementary welfare allowance - thought he could not exist on €500,000 a year. He will pay nothing. That is what we are complaining about, the way the money was found. I take these two extreme cases as an example of the people who will pay and the people who will not pay, to demonstrate the point clearly.
It is a disgrace that the Government made a decision to target specifically and solely in this budget the poorest people in the country, the most vulnerable, the most in need and the people who are likely to suffer severely arising from the money that is being taken from them. The really galling aspect for them, particularly many of the recently unemployed, is that they are being forced to pay for the near criminal activity of bankers and speculators - in some cases, criminal activity - and the fact that the Government aided and abetted that activity by turning a blind eye, day in, day out, year in, year out, to their activities.
I will touch on the reason the Minister did not comply with the requirement in the Cabinet handbook to produce the poverty-proofing of her proposals or why the Minister for Finance, who is primarily responsible, did not do so and ignored that requirement on him to do so. The reason is plain as a pikestaff. Because such a proofing would demonstrate clearly that this would severely damage poor people and cause additional poverty, he skipped that requirement. That is the reason it is not included in the books we normally receive.
We heard much bleating and blather from the Deputy who interrupted me about how sad he was that the poor would be hurt by his decision to walk through the lobby tonight. If he walked in the other direction and convinced a few of his colleagues to do likewise, the measures would be rejected, we would have a general election and Deputy Gogarty would be a hero of the those he would save from the hurt that is proposed.
I ask the Government and its spokespersons to stop suggesting they have ensured the vulnerable have been protected. The vulnerable are being punished and will not be protected by these measures. They have been targeted exclusively, while the rich, the well-off and those who caused the problem escape once again. There are alternatives, which the Labour Party has outlined in detail.
Deputy McGinley referred to the half rate payment for carers. The rate will be reduced to half the new rate of the carer's benefit. Carers asked us not to abolish the half rate carer's allowance, as recommended in the McCarthy report. While I understand that no one wants the payment to be reduced by €4.25 per week, carers are relieved that the scheme was not abolished.
The case raised by Deputy Crawford provides me with an opportunity to highlight one example which could be useful to Deputies. A widow with three children who works part time and is in receipt of the contributory pension would receive €291 per week. Assuming she is working 19 hours per week on the minimum wage, she would receive a further €163 per week. On this income, with three children, she would qualify for the family income supplement under which she would receive a further €149 per week. This would make a significant difference to her income as she would receive a total of €725 per week, of which €562 would be paid by the State. I am not trying to justify a cut in her social welfare payment.
The purpose of the family income supplement is to support people on low incomes and acknowledge that they make a contribution through participation in the workforce but need to be supported by virtue of being on lower incomes than others. The case I cited is a good example of a person who can receive this support. A widow with an income of €725 per week would receive €562 from the State.
Deputy Sherlock asked whether there would be a pro rata decrease for young people. Given that young people living at home are means tested on the basis of their parents' income, there will be a pro rata decrease, with a minimum entitlement.
Deputy Ferris who focused on farmers and the farm assist scheme will have noted that a new environmental scheme has been introduced. The scheme, which has been welcomed by farmers, is designed to support farmers and keep them where they are.
Deputy Stanton asked about the policy on young carers. The Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs is working on this issue. As we did not have empirical evidence on the number of carers, the issue is the subject of a study.
Deputy Morgan asked about reductions in jobseeker's allowance and welfare dependency. Family income supplement, which bridges the gap between welfare and work, was introduced to minimise welfare dependency. This was also the reason we compensated recipients of family income supplement and social welfare for the reduction in child benefit.
Deputy Michael D'Arcy indicated that the Estimate does not refer to family resource centres. The centres are not a specific heading in the Estimate because they are included under the Family Support Agency. Funding for services provided by family resource centres has not been reduced. Funding for the support agencies, of which there are four, has been cut by €2 million and plans to expand them and increase their number will not proceed in the next couple of years. While we will cut back at that end, the services provided on the ground by 107 family resource centres will not be affected by the measures.
It was obvious from Deputy Lee's contribution in the House and on national media last night that he had not read the proposals on young people in the budget or the legislation.
Two statements the Deputy made in the House need to be corrected. First, he indicated that a young person who worked from the age of 17 to 24 years would only receive €150 per week. This is wrong because a person with a work record would receive the full adult rate of jobseeker's benefit. If the person subsequently dropped to jobseeker's allowance, he or she would continue to receive the full adult rate. Second, Deputy Lee stated that a young married couple with children would only receive €100 or €150 per week. That is wrong because anyone with dependent children will receive the full payment.
I am pleased Deputy McEntee raised the issue of deaf people. One could conclude from the contributions of Deputies that blindness was the only disability. While blindness is a terrible disability, in fairness to people with other disabilities I am glad Deputy McEntee specifically referred to deaf people.
Unfortunately, those who receive disability or invalidity payments will be affected by the cuts. Deputies have asked how much it would have cost if we had not reduced payments to those in receipt of disability payments and so on. The cost of not doing so would have been almost €108 million. It would have been necessary to find this expenditure in other Departments or in my Department's spending.
It is worth repeating that they placed greater emphasis on services on the ground and in the community. They want and need these services - Deputy Crawford is nodding his head - because they are very important to people with disability.
An additional €10 million has been provided to deliver more home care packages. The choice facing us was whether to reduce payments, bad as such a step is, or place the burden on the Department of Health and Children. I believe that if one reduced services by more - there are many with disabilities who would agree-----
-----it would have impacted upon such people more seriously. I agree with the remarks of Deputy Ó Snodaigh on the salaries of some people in the agencies to which he referred. The Government does not set those salaries. I fully agree it is outrageous for the head of a body such as Coillte or the ESB to receive a salary of €400,000 or more. It goes against everything that people in this House attempt to do and everything to which people throughout the country are trying to adapt. I trust they will take some leadership as well, in the same way - let me put this on the record - as those of us in the House, the Taoiseach and Ministers. We are very well paid and I recognise as much.
This 15% cut is formal, legal and permanent. There is a substantial difference between permanent legislation and a voluntary contribution. It is true to say the Taoiseach is taking a 20% cut and Minister's are taking a 15% cut. We are not making anything of it. I am not trying to excuse-----
I am simply setting the record straight because certain people in the House are trying to state it is something less than that. It was very important that we did that to give the type of leadership that the country needs and that is what we have attempted to show in this regard.
Certain Members have criticised us for making these choices. It was not a case of trying to generate more in revenue and therefore we could cut back on expenditure. In attempting to take out €4 billion from Exchequer spending, it had to come from our expenditure.
Revenue raising measures came to €8.5 billion from all income earners in the past two budgets. That was imposed on income earners in a very progressive way up to a high limit.
The pool of high income earners is becoming smaller and smaller because we rightly hit them in the last budget and the previous one. It is not true to say that one can concentrate on a tiny group of people and hope to save €4,000 million.
The choices had everything to do with cutting expenditure. It was about cutting the spending in each Department. Although it was very difficult, we have tried to minimise the impact of it.
People, including outsiders, urged us not to cut the rates and to cut the extras. The extras would have imposed more hardship on more people. Let us consider the respite care grant. It has grown from €245 to €1,700 and a change to that would have had a greater financial impact on thousands more people than simply cutting the rate. As a Minister it would have been easier to stand and refrain from cutting the rate and simply cut the grant.
However, it would have had a far more serious impact and it would not have been the right thing to do. These were the types of choices we faced. It is very easy for Opposition parties to call on us to bring in more revenue.
That is what the Labour Party stated. It was not simply about bringing in more revenue. It was about reducing expenditure. If we do not stabilise the finances of the country we will not have an economy.
-----but the State would not have the resources to support them. Certain Members may shout across at us that the Government does not have a heart or compassion, but we have heart.
Those difficult choices are short-term measures to restore long-term growth to the economy, to help people return to work and to afford the opportunities to some that the rest of us have had, rather than to condemn the next generation to a poor outlook or to bad prospects while the rest of us have seen benefits.
Words comes cheap. The Minister continues to engage in the spin in which all members of the Government have been involved in recent weeks. The Minister will be judged by her actions. Her actions show clearly that she set out deliberately to hit the weakest in society. Rather than protecting the vulnerable, she has protected the rich. The Minister has protected millionaires. Those people referred to previously who earn vast salaries will not pay one extra cent in tax, nor will those who can avail of various property reliefs. None of the property reliefs have been affected although the Government could have raised €430 million through such a measure. Those with vast pension schemes that attract tax relief on more than €5 million remain untouched, as do those that earn €300,000, €400,000, €500,000 and €600,000 or more per year.
The Minister set out very clearly to target the weakest in society such as those dependent on social welfare. As the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Hanafin should be ashamed of herself because she has done nothing to protect those people who look to her to provide some social protection. The Minister should stop trying to misrepresent the situation. It is clear she had choices. A fair budget could have been introduced which could have ensured those who had most would contribute something to solve the problems. She could have protected those at the lowest levels but failed to do so. She chose to hit the weak and those dependent on social welfare and chose to ignore those who have very large incomes and a good deal of wealth. The Minister decided to leave them untouched and she will be judged by her actions, not by her untruthful words.
I wish to put a question to the Minister. During the last vote she had an opportunity to ask the Minister for Finance why he did not produce a statement on the poverty proofing of the budget, as required under the national anti-poverty strategy and in accordance with the Cabinet handbook. Will the Minister provide an answer on that matter now? Was a statement produced and, if not, why not? Does the Minister believe the Government can simply disregard the rules and regulations in place which require it to pay some attention to the impact of its decisions on the weakest?
The Minister answered my query on resources centres and I thank her for that information. However, the main issue I highlighted was the cost of administration in each Department. Some costs have gone up, including those of the Minister's Department. I appreciate there are more staff and a good deal more work to do now in that Department. However, when the administration costs of the Department of Communications Energy and Natural Resources increase, it makes my blood boil to hear from some quarters that there is no alternative. The Minister is here representing the Government. There is a reduction of 0.6% in administration costs, but the Minister is taking money from the blind and from carers. Where was the reform the Minister should have been spearheading to try to ensure those people were protected? Was there any previous attempt to reduce administration costs? It is a fair question. The cost of administration in 2009 was €4.465 billion, but the book of estimates we received on Wednesday projected the cost for 2010 at €4.435 billion, a reduction of a little over 0.6%. Yet the Minister is cutting allowances for carers, blind people and widows. I would like an explanation from the Minister.
The Minister made provision for 75,000 people to become the new unemployed in 2010. That will bring us to 0.5 million unemployed. Am I right in saying that every euro knocked off the social welfare payment is worth €80 million to the Department?
What contingency plans does the Minister have in the event of an increase of 100,000 in the live register next year? I have been speaking to industry sources and small businesses - people who are hoping to get to Christmas. I have been involved in several cases recently in which businesses have been trying to prevent the sheriff from entering their premises and persuade the Revenue Commissioners to deal with them. There is a strong and forceful attitude within the Revenue Commissioners at present. Last Sunday's TV documentary "The Sheriff and Me" was not a true reflection of what is going on because the sheriff was portrayed as a very nice man. He probably is a very nice man, but the programme did not show what is happening out there. The Minister has made provision for an unemployment level of 500,000 this time next year. What contingency plans does she have?
My point relates directly to what the Minister has just said. I will be brief and I hope my point is understood. The whole thrust of our approach is that in the present circumstances, as many Deputies have mentioned, the Minister had an opportunity of recasting our approach towards social protection. I have said with regard the budget and other matters that we should attempt to establish a floor beneath which people would not be allowed to fall. I argued that strongly from the point of view of a citizenship model. That would have made the participation of citizens within this State, in terms of inclusiveness, welfare and safety, independent of fluctuations in economic growth. It is perfectly respectable for the Minister to differ with me on that issue, but she cannot just say there is no other way. That was said by one of the most reprehensible participants in political life of the last century, Margaret Thatcher. There are other ways.
If the Minister had taken that approach, she could have defined it in the following way. Any Minister for social welfare or policy makes a choice among three models. One is the distribution of whatever is available from surplus. The second is payments related to whatever a person has earned during his or her lifetime. The third model is one in which we consistently try to redistribute opportunities and security to those who are less well off. This is a redistributive model. There is no point in suggesting that any of us is lesser in our economic probity by simply advancing that model. I do it for a specific reason. The Minister gave us a precis of how we came to be here in terms of the public finances. However, we must consider the history of a series of budgets that provided tax reliefs. The bottom 20% of taxpayers used 1% of the tax reliefs, while 77% of the top tax reliefs - on such things as spas and car parks - were used by people on incomes of more than €100,000, while more than half, at 60-odd percent, were used by people earning more than €200,000. Those budgets provided massive opportunities for those with high disposable income.
What about the notion that the poor dears are shrinking in number and there are not that many of them to give us more money? The Minister for Finance said in his budget statement that he was doing something very radical by giving net high income earners - as adjudged by the Revenue Commissioners - an effective tax rate of 30%. He is doing this on the basis that people will throw millions in the faces of poor people around the country - he is simply saying that philanthropy will do what the State will not do. These people will have to pay €200,000. It is time to put a stop to this nonsense. We heard from the former Minister, Charlie McCreevy, that there was no money out there. What about all the money that was lifted out of the economy and invested abroad? What about all the money that was forked into pension funds for people earning a couple of hundred thousand?
I agree with one thing the Minister said. She said it was obscene for people to be paid €400,000, and I agree with her. Therefore, I find it obscene that people feel it is acceptable to earn a similar amount as a part-time non-executive director of a bank. We are agreed on that. However, it is simply not true to say there are no riches out there that could have been accumulated. There could have been a rake-back from those who enjoyed property reliefs worth €400 million. The Minister can defend her position as much as she wishes, but she cannot say there was no alternative. There was an alternative.
There was an alternative. The Government could have pursued this money through taxation or by reconfiguration with regard to forms of capital expenditure. However, the most important thing of all, which must be admitted even by people on the Government side and those who support the Government, is that there was an opportunity for an entirely new departure in social protection. Let the record state that when we were saying Ireland had the second highest incomes in the world and the best incomes in the European Union, we were never above the bottom three in the EU in terms of social protection. There was an opportunity.
I ask the Minister not to tell us there was no alternative. There was. It was costed and documents were printed by different parties - the Labour Party, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin. The Minister cannot use the Bill to try to extend the nonsense that was spoken during the budget. There was an alternative. We can make arrangements for after Christmas if required. When the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Finance, says the worst is over, what he is really trying to say is that we are going back to the old game all over again. The old game is over. Our function on the social welfare Bill is to make the case for the poorest people and make sure they are not the ones who carry the burden. That is why I wish we were not only on section 4. We must get on to all the other sections which deal with appliances and so on - all the basic things that people need to live decently, which are being attacked in this Bill.
There Minister said there are no alternatives, but there are. Fifty percent of the McCarthy recommendations were implemented in the Department of Social and Family Affairs, but only half that number were implemented in other Departments. Thus, there was ample room for savings. Only €55 million was achieved through taxes on the rich, one twelfth of what Fine Gael had proposed.
In regard to the widow about whom the Minister spoke, how much better off will that woman be if she works for 18 hours per week? What is the shortfall in regard to fraud this year? Is it not the case that the shortfall is in excess of the €108 million the Minister will raise from the cuts being imposed on the most vulnerable in society?
This is the key section because it deals with the rates for social assistance payments and it covers a wide range of issues. The Minister said she had been in contact with the disability groups. I do not know if she had the time since the Budget Statement to read what Inclusion Ireland said in regard to the cuts. It stated that it regards cuts to people on disability allowance and carer's allowances as an attack on the direct living standards and the quality of life of people with disability and that it is also at variance with the national disability strategy - which is often spoken about by the Government as evidence of its commitment to people with disabilities - and that the moratorium on recruitment and other cuts in the health care budget will impact directly on the services people with disabilities can expect to receive. It further stated that in addition, cuts to agencies which protect people with disability and prevent them from being discriminated against on the grounds of disability, such as the Equality Tribunal and the Health and Information Quality Authority, will further disadvantage people with disability.
The cuts affect the jobseeker's allowance. More than any other group in society, young people are being made unemployed and are starting to become dependent on social welfare. The National Youth Council of Ireland distributed a fact sheet in regard to the budget cuts. It stated that 74,100 young people under 25 years of age are out of work. The figure is probably higher because that figure is from September. It stated that youth unemployment has trebled since the fourth quarter of 2006, that Ireland has the second highest youth unemployment in western Europe and 51,700 young people out of work are aged between 20 and 24.
In what she has presented, the Minister is saying these people wish to become welfare dependent. That is not true because young people want work. Proof of that is the 60% increase in the number contacting FÁS this year as compared to 2008. Young people also want work experience but the Government only announced 2,000 places on a workplace scheme in April. Some 500 of those places were supposed to be ring-fenced for those under 25. That was welcomed at the time. The workplace programme scheme is not working. Only 129 people have been placed. That amounts to one workplace placement place for every 3,282 people on the live register.
Many young people have just completed college or will be due to complete it in June of this year. They are already well educated. They want work experience but it is not there nor are the jobs. To penalise them because the Government cannot get its act together and create jobs is the biggest scandal in this budget and that is why these rates of payments are a scandal.
We are differentiating on the basis of age. It would be interesting if somebody took a case on the ground of age discrimination in regard to the payments. This section which sets the rates is the most odious of all. I would like a lot more time devoted to this Bill in order that we could tease out some of the other odious parts.
Being young is not a safeguard against poverty. The Minister has pulled the rug from under many young people. I have received many telephone calls from young people in my constituency and outside it who are very well qualified, received a third level education and graduated but who cannot find employment. Many of them are in a dire situation because they are paying back debts incurred during their years of study. The Minister must protect those people who have done their utmost to find work. What this budget has done is morally wrong.
I would like to hear the Minister's views on reinstating the community employment schemes. They were a safety net for many people in bygone years.
I refer to widows under 66 years. It has always astonished me that somebody who finds herself a widow at a young age, in particular if she has children, does not get secondary benefits. Secondary benefits would be a huge advantage. For most women or, indeed, men with two or three children who find themselves in this situation, child care is not an option nor is going out to work until the children are a little bit older. Secondary benefits in such cases would be a huge advantage.
Many people over 66 years retain the widow's pension rather than take up the old age pension. They get the secondary benefits at that stage but I cannot understand how we can differentiate in terms of age when the younger widow or widower would benefit most.
A few years ago, we could never have foreseen the type of budget introduced on Wednesday. As a member of a Government party, it does not give me any joy or satisfaction to see social welfare payments being reduced. There have been very generous increases in social welfare payments in recent years and people in receipt of them have become accustomed to increased.
Were there alternatives? We live in a small country with more than 2 million people in receipt of some form of social welfare payment and where social welfare accounts for 33% of total Government expenditure in a year. That gives some indication of the amount of money we are paying in social welfare each week. The Minister and the Government were faced with a very difficult choice.
If one looks at people's habits, three or four years ago, they were saving approximately 2% of their disposable income but this year, it will have increased to 12%. It is purely out of fear of the future. People have little confidence in the future and are saving money because they do not know how rainy the rainy day will be. The Government must restore confidence at home in order to encourage people to spend and invest money. I know that is not possible in some cases. Equally, it is important to instil confidence in the people who lend us money, that is, that we are in charge of our destiny, we have a plan in place and we will be able to honour any debts which accrue.
In the budget it was very important to take not just the tough decisions but the correct ones. We can talk about alternatives but when we consider the level of expenditure in this State on social welfare, we were left with no option-----
I have no doubt that the decisions made last Wednesday will have a serious impact on many families and create difficulties for them. We must all play a part as much as possible. We are explaining to the people that although we appreciate that we are creating difficulties and there will be a certain short-term hardship, we believe it will result in a long-term gain. It is important to take the tough and correct decisions now.
We are fortunate because in our democracy every Member of this House has a right to contribute. I appreciate the comments of people coming from various perspectives and taking the time to consider all the elements of this legislation properly, which is what we are here to do this afternoon. People were here until 11 p.m. last night and were not disruptive, and those who were here spoke on behalf of the various constituent groups being affected by this legislation. That is important.
I did not answer a question from Deputy D'Arcy on the administrative budget. The administrative budget of the Department of Social and Family Affairs is 0.51% of total expenditure and we aim to keep it as low as possible. The same goes for other Departments but the administration of other Departments is also tied to the public pay sector, which will be affected.
A number of issues have been raised and there is no point in just talking about the overall economic position when we are dealing with specifics. Structural change had to be brought about, which meant expenditure had to be reduced, and that would have a bearing next year and the year after. It is not just a simple case of bringing all this in with revenue. We had to reduce expenditure across Departments.
This is about opportunities and security, and it concerns giving those young people hope for the future. There will not be jobs, opportunity or security for those young people unless we get this country's finances right. That is what we are endeavouring to do in this budget, although we appreciate the difficulties that has caused for the significant number of people who will feel its impact.
Deputy Kathleen Lynch has a genuine interest in many different issues surrounding disability and all welfare recipients. I respect that. The idea of giving more people secondary benefits is curious when there is much evidence showing that secondary benefits cause people who might be in a position to get off welfare not to want to get off it. Nobody will say that the rates will keep people on welfare but when welfare recipients know they can get household benefits, free travel, rent supplement and mortgage interest supplement they can become trapped.
I am not sure that extending secondary benefits to more people will help them to break aware from the welfare system, although it will assist financially. On the other hand, a person could be on the widow's contributory pension and be able to work anyway. I fully appreciate the issues involved for widows.
We are going back around the houses with the other issues brought up. Deputy Tom Sheahan asked about contingency. The figures for the Department were worked out on the basis of 460,000 people unemployed on average. On the one hand we are anticipating that, unfortunately, approximately 70,000 more people will lose their jobs but all the evidence indicates that the live register has stabilised. We were in a horrific position last January when 1,000 people per day were losing their jobs. I am sure Deputy Sheahan will be well able to ask his own questions.
Fortunately the position has now stabilised because that was an horrific position for everybody involved. The average figure for next year has been revised downwards. It is anticipated that if growth returns to the country in the second half of next year, employment will be a bit slower to follow. Notwithstanding the cuts being made in the budget, there is an additional allowance of €676 million in this Department. God forbid, if there should be any increased demand, the budget will have to grow because these are demand-led schemes. That is our best estimate.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 80 (Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Bobby Aylward, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, Martin Cullen, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Michael Lowry, Tom McEllistrim, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Martin Mansergh, Micheál Martin, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)
Against the motion: 75 (Bernard Allen, James Bannon, Seán Barrett, Joe Behan, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, George Lee, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Alan Shatter, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Leo Varadkar, Jack Wall)
Tellers:Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.
Question declared carried.