Dáil debates

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Other Questions

Equality Proofing of Budgets

10:15 am

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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8. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if budget 2015 will be equality-proofed with respect to proposed increases and decreases in expenditure allocations; and, if so, if he will provide the process involved. [38187/14]

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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This question relates to equality budgeting. The Minister is aware I have raised the matter with him and some of his colleagues consistently over the past number of years. Through the budgetary process, the Government has the power either to address inequality or foster deeper income divisions in society. I know the Minister is familiar with the concept of equality budgeting. In three previous budgets there was the opportunity to address best practice but the Minister failed to do so. If the Minister is committed to equality, as I hope he is, he has the power to take action, so will he tell me why he has not done so?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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The key priority of recent budgets, as everybody in the House and the country knows, was to return a stability that had been fractured to the public finances, while seeking to spread the required adjustment in as fair and equitable a manner as possible and protecting the most vulnerable. While implementing the required budgetary adjustments to ensure that Ireland successfully exited the troika programme, the Government has prioritised expenditure on social protection, health and education, with expenditure in these areas now accounting for over 80% of gross voted current expenditure.

Primary core social welfare rates have been protected and remain unchanged since this Government came into office. The educational needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities have been prioritised by protecting funding in respect of DEIS resources. More of our young people are entering education at all levels and the number of people in receipt of medical cards has increased significantly. In order to meet these additional demands, the Government directed resources towards these areas. On budget day, proposals in respect of expenditure allocations will be underpinned by the reforms introduced to the budgetary process. These reforms bring greater focus in deciding how we use our limited resources so they can have the greatest impact.

The revised budgetary timetable, with earlier publication of the Revised Estimates volume, REV, allows for timely consideration by all Oireachtas committees. Performance budgeting information is published in the REV. As part of the second Comprehensive Review of Expenditure, Departments have assessed expenditure with a view to effective prioritisation of resources. These reform initiatives and the analytical work being carried out across all Departments, in particular as part of the second Comprehensive Review of Expenditure, allow careful and due consideration of the impact of every spending proposal on gender equality, preventing further or any marginalisation of socioeconomic groups and greater inclusion into society and the labour market of people with disabilities.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister's use of terms like "fair" and "equitable" and the claim to have protected the most vulnerable simply marks how out of touch he is. Outside these walls, when one meets people in vulnerable positions, one can see the Minister's budgets have had exactly the opposite effect. For example, families headed by a single parent have been hammered over the past number of budgets. All of that is documented. It seems the Minister is of the mind to continue that trend. The Government has penalised young people and is just short of packing their cases and driving them to the airport. The Minister specifically mentioned education and we understand the Government is heading towards another cut in the capitation grant to primary schools. That would be of no assistance to any child and particularly to children in disadvantaged positions.

The Government's approach is not working and there is a clear issue of political will. There is also an issue with process and how the Government is making its assessments. We should not have to take these matters on the Minister's word and we need a comprehensive, objective and transparent budgeting process.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy's party is doing very well in today's opinion polls and it is peddling the notion that we can make substantial reductions magically, without impacting on expenditure. I note the party is in favour of the quantum of reduction. I have explained to the House that more than 80% of our current expenditure goes on the three pivotal social areas of health, education and social protection. We have protected those to the greatest extent possible and our focus has been on getting people back to work. We have been very successful with that. As I have indicated, there are 76,600 more people at work; they are not leaving or packing bags to go. We are not massaging figures, and there are now more people at work than at any time since 2009. We will continue this strategy for young people and everybody else, including single parents, who should not be confined to receiving social protection. They should be given an opportunity to use all their talents and work in this economy. We are determined to help such people break free of any dependence and allow them express their talents to the full by having a job in this society.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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What the Government is proposing for lone parents is not nearly as noble as that articulation suggests. It is proposing to force many parents with very young children into a position where they have no option but to work outside the home, irrespective of the type of job they might find. Did the Minister notice that the OECD ranked us second, just above the United States, in terms of low-paid employment? Will that be the legacy of the Labour Party as part of the Government? That does not shout "equality" or "quality employment" loud and clear.

Of course, there is no magic in any of this.

Specifically, I put it to the Minister that the reason the equality budgeting idea is so important now as he speaks of recovery is the notable gallop by his Government the minute there is any notion of recovery to head straight for reductions in the higher tax rate. That suggests to me and to the broader public that, far from being interested in repairing the damage the Government has inflicted on communities or taking any equality measures, the Labour Party, true to Fine Gael form, will go along with a taxation measure that clearly has not been equality proofed. Equality is the last thing on the Minister's mind as he floats this idea before the general public.

10:25 am

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy is fanciful in her notions. The facts speak for themselves. Our first action was to restore the minimum wage.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Did the Minister read the OECD report?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Our first action was to take 300,000 people out of the universal social charge net that was visited upon them by the previous Administration. This was in the teeth of the worst economic climate in our history.

I do not regard the minimum wage as a great wage. That is the reason we have now established the low pay commission to ensure that people have a liveable wage. That is the priority of the Labour Party in government as we get people back to work and allow them to escape from dependency. The notion that we thrive on failure is being peddled by some of the parties opposite; they are fearful of success as we emerge from a broken economy but job creation is taking place-----

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Low pay and slave labour in the case of JobBridge.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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-----we will have well below the European average rate with people back in work. We can now begin to give back to hard working people more of the fruits of their labour because we know the pressure that has been on families for the past number of years, but the alternative would have been ruination. The position of the Deputy's party in the last general election was to tell the troika to get lost and take its money with it, but if we had taken that approach, we would have been destroyed. We would have been like Zimbabwe or Argentina now. Thankfully, we travelled a different route-----

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Thankfully, we have lots of poorly paid people - people on yellow pack schemes.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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-----a route that has brought us recovery and a real prospect of providing decent social provision for all our people.