Tuesday, 12 October 2021
Financial Resolutions 2021 - Budget Statement 2022
A Cheann Comhairle, the last time I announced a budget in this Chamber, two years ago, none of us could have foreseen that the worst global pandemic in a century awaited. We knew well about the risks associated with Brexit and had prepared for it; we could not have predicted the devastation Covid-19 would leave in its wake. Both events have demonstrated the need for us to always prepare for the worst while striving for the best. Many lives were lost and many livelihoods were ruined. The Covid-19 pandemic was an unprecedented experience for all of us and, unfortunately, life-changing for so many.
It also brought out the very best in Irish society: the bravery, resilience and fortitude of our front-line workers, the commitment of those working in the community and care sectors and the determination of ordinary people across our country to get their loved ones through the pandemic as safely as possible. Our efforts have worked. Our solidarity and our common purpose saved lives and allowed our society and our economy to reopen. Our country now reaches for a better, brighter future. The Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, and I have worked together with all parties and all colleagues in the Government so that budget 2022 is a path to that future.
COVID-19: GOVERNMENT RESPONSE
The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the role of the Government in supporting both our economy and our society. While the response from the Government was unparalleled, with over €48 billion provided for over three years, it was also a response that was fully justified. Through the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, and the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, approximately €17.5 billion has been directed to individuals, families and businesses. Our supports worked. We responded in the right way at the right time. This response was strengthened by the solidarity of the European Union. It could only take place due to the careful management of the economy in the years leading up to the pandemic. We managed our affairs well in better times so we could support at a time of great national difficulty.
We are now entering a new phase where we will recover from the pandemic, restore our public services and living standards and repair our public finances. In framing this budget, the Government has been conscious of the cost of living pressures that are currently confronting so many citizens and businesses. As the recovery increasingly takes hold and as citizens get back to some level of normality, the Government also remains focused on our higher levels of debt, which my Department is forecasting will come in at just under €240 billion next year, with the real risks associated with that. Budget 2022 meets the twin goals of investing in our future and meeting the needs of today, and putting the public finances on a sustainable path.
Turning to our domestic forecasts, while the reimposition of Covid-related restrictions during the first quarter of this year led to a further contraction in the domestic economy, the decline in activity was not as severe as that seen during the initial lockdown in spring last year. Due to the success of the vaccination programme, restrictions were eased over the course of the second quarter with the domestic economy recovering strongly as a result. Modified domestic demand, which is the best measure of the domestic economy, grew by almost 8.5% in the second quarter and surpassed the level immediately preceding the pandemic for the first time since the start of the crisis. Having accumulated significant savings during the pandemic, consumer spending is leading the way. At the end of the second quarter, spending was just 3% below pre-pandemic levels. For this year as a whole, modified domestic demand is expected to grow by 5.25% and by 6.5% in 2022.
The strong rebound in domestic economic activity has been accompanied by rising inflationary pressures, with consumer price inflation expected to reach 3.7% in September, which would be the highest rate since June 2008. This recent rise in inflation is partly a result of temporary factors, which are expected to fade over time. This includes the normalisation of oil prices following their collapse in spring last year and the mismatch between demand and supply that has emerged following the reopening of the economy. However, acute supply chain pressures, including shipping capacity, shortages of raw materials, labour shortages in certain sectors as well as rising energy prices, mean that there are further risks to inflation and the cost of living. The Government also continues to be aware of, and prepared for, the risks and consequences of Brexit.
Strong tax receipts throughout the year, particularly VAT and income tax, reflect the positive momentum in the economy. These receipts were built on the back of the Government’s various support schemes over the past year and a half. Without these schemes, tax revenue would have plummeted as jobs would have been threatened and lost.
The jobs outlook has now improved significantly. PUP numbers are now under 100,000 for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, falling from almost 500,000 since early February.
The sharp fall in PUP recipients and improved labour market conditions have prompted the current Covid-adjusted unemployment rate to fall below 10%, the lowest rate since the onset of the pandemic. By year end the unemployment rate is forecast to be just over 9%. Employment is expected to grow by just under 8% or about 150,000 jobs this year.
Next year, we expect the unemployment rate to fall to about 6.5% by the fourth quarter. This is still higher than we were before the pandemic. Overall employment is expected to grow by just over 13% or 275,000 jobs in 2022.
Overall, more than 400,000 jobs will be added to the economy between this year and next, and employment is expected to reach and exceed its pre-pandemic level during the course of 2022. This performance, by any measure, represents a remarkable rebound in our jobs outlook.
We are recovering. The resilience of the Irish people, sensible fiscal policies before the pandemic and our economic supports during the pandemic are the ingredients in the recovery.
However, this recovery must also deliver more homes, better progress on climate change and help with a cost of living that is rising. The Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, and I know this; it has led to the important decisions in this budget.
Public spending next year will amount to €87.6 billion. The Government has been steadfast in its commitment to keeping this amount below the line laid out in the summer economic statement. Our medium-term strategy sets out that over the next two budgets we will restore our public services, phase out temporary Covid-related spending and repair our public finances.
This strategy strikes the appropriate balance between tapering supports and investing. In budget 2022 core current expenditure will grow by 4.6%, in line with the trend growth rate of our economy. By 2022, we will only be borrowing for capital spending.
It is worth recalling just how much this has changed and in particular, how we entered the crisis with a budgetary surplus of €2 billion.
In the summer economic statement earlier this year my Department forecast a combined deficit of just over €34.5 billion for 2021 and 2022.
I am revising that forecast to €21.5 billion for both years, a reduction of almost 40%.
This means that our debt as a share of national income is now falling. On this point, it is inappropriate to consider our debt burden in terms of gross domestic product, given the volatility of that measure associated with particular forms of economic activity. It will be more important to reference national income.
As a share of national income, our debt will therefore fall from 106% this year, to 99% next year, reaching 89.5% in 2025.
As such, we are now reducing our overall borrowing for this year and next. However, the amounts involved are still substantial.
The expenditure associated with budget 2022 will bring our overall national debt to just under €240 billion.
That means debt of nearly €50,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. This is not where we want to be when interest rates start to rise again. That is why we need to repair our public finances and put them on this footing.
BUDGET 2022 MEASURES
Today I am announcing a budgetary package of €4.7 billion. This is in line with the summer economic statement and has not been changed as a result of the improved Exchequer performance in recent months. This will be split between expenditure measures worth €4.2 billion and tax measures worth €0.5 billion, including revenue raising measures of approximately €230 million.
The pandemic is still with us. We have therefore made provision for temporary supports to continue in order to provide certainty for those most impacted and flexibility for the public finances, should the situation with the virus deteriorate unexpectedly over the coming year. To this end, a contingency fund amounting to €4 billion will be created.
FUTURE SUPPORTS – EWSS
With regard to the current supports, I have been steadfast in my commitment that there will be no cliff-edge to the EWSS, which has been an extremely successful policy instrument during the most challenging times and has greatly assisted us in maintaining the link between employers and employees. I am pleased to confirm this scheme will remain in place in a graduated form until 30 April 2022, six months after the lifting of most public health restrictions and two months after the PUP ceases.
The following are the broad parameters of the extension. There will be no change to the scheme for the months of October and November. Businesses availing of the EWSS on 31 December 2021 will continue to be supported until 30 April 2022. Across December, January and February, a two-rate structure of €151.50 and €203 will apply. For March and April 2022, the final two months of the scheme, a flat rate subsidy of €100 will be put in place. The reduced rate of employers' PRSI will no longer apply for these two months. The scheme will close to new employers from 1 January next year. These revised arrangements for this crucial scheme strike a balance between helping those businesses that continue to need support and recalibrating the scheme in light of the wider economic recovery.
The aviation sector has paid a particularly heavy price during the pandemic. I am therefore taking the opportunity in the forthcoming finance Bill to amend the taxation arrangements that apply to international air crews under section 127B of the income tax code. This move will support the sector in its recovery.
VAT - HOSPITALITY
The reduced VAT rate of 9% for the hospitality sector will remain in place to the end of August 2022.
As many have experienced over the past year and a half, remote working can become part of a better work-life balance. Government policy is to facilitate and support remote work and, in this regard, I am announcing an income tax deduction amounting to 30% of the cost of vouched expenses for heat, electricity and broadband in respect of those incurred while working from home. This will be formalised in legislation through the finance Bill. This will support living standards as the economy starts to recover and will also be kept under review from the perspective of its interaction with the national climate policy position.
As prices rise and inflation returns, the Government wants to ease the cost of living pressures that many people are feeling. I am therefore announcing today an income tax package to the value of almost €520 million. This will increase the standard rate band by €1,500 and increase each of the personal tax credit, employee tax credit and earned income credit by €50. These changes will benefit everyone who pays income tax. Along with other measures that will be announced by the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, and the Government, they aim to help citizens at a time when prices are rising.
UNIVERSAL SOCIAL CHARGE
The Government also accepts the recommendation of the Low Pay Commission to increase the national minimum wage by 30 cent to €10.50 per hour.
In addition, to ensure that the salary of a full-time worker on the minimum wage will remain outside the top rates of the universal social charge, USC, the ceiling of the second USC rate band will be increased from €20,687 to €21,295, a move which will give a benefit to workers whose income is above that amount.
I am also retaining the exemption from the top rate of USC for all medical card holders and those aged over 70 earning less than €60,000.
As everyone in this Chamber will be well aware, a core, if not the core, challenge facing the country over the next number of years is housing.
Recent figures show national property price inflation of just under 9% in July. The rise in prices is due to the imbalance between housing demand and supply, as well as the impact of some of the savings built up over the pandemic being directed into housing.
I appreciate the strain, anxiety and worry caused by the shortage of homes.
This is why the Government is determined to build more homes.
This is why total housing expenditure has more than doubled since 2016 and, as of 2021, it will be more than 40% above the peak level in 2008.
ZONED LAND TAX
The Government’s Housing for All strategy targets delivery of, on average, 33,000 new homes per annum out to 2030.
Housing construction has already rebounded rapidly this year and there were almost 30,000 housing commitments in the 12 months to August.
As part of Housing for All, I will introduce a zoned land tax to encourage the use of land for building homes. The primary objective of this measure is to increase the supply of homes rather than to raise revenue.
The tax will apply to land that is zoned suitable for residential development and is serviced, but has not been developed for housing. It will, therefore, target land in areas that are zoned residential, or are zoned for a mix of uses, including residential. I am not proposing to have any minimum size exclusion as I see the potential of the tax to incentivise the development of small sites in town centres.
In addition, to identify zoned land within the scope of the tax, maps will be prepared and published by local authorities in advance of the commencement of the measure. These maps will be updated on an annual basis.
The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has indicated a process will be established to enable any person to apply to their local authority to have the zoning status of their land amended.
The process will be aligned with normal local authority procedures and each case will be considered on its merits in the context of proper planning and sustainable development.
An appropriate lead-in time for the general application of the zoned land tax will be required following its introduction in the finance Bill this year. I am proposing a two year lead-in time for land zoned before January 2022 and a three year lead-in time for land zoned after January 2022. This will give scope to review the workings of the tax, to listen to stakeholders and to ensure it is effective and equitable. The tax will be based on the market value of the land and I have determined that the rate at the outset should be 3%. This aligns with the starting point for the vacant site levy when it was first introduced.
The introduction of this tax is a very important step forward in encouraging the release of land for building homes and, depending on its impact, I will be open to reviewing the rate in the future. There will be a number of exclusions from the tax, such as dwelling houses and their gardens, amenities and infrastructure.
Other exemptions will be defined in the finance Bill. The tax will operate on a self-assessment basis and will be administered by the Revenue Commissioners. Finally, it is worth noting that this tax will replace the vacant site levy when it comes into operation.
Ensuring that people have access to home ownership in this country is an absolute priority for this Government. Focusing directly on those trying to access the housing market, the help-to-buy scheme has been a significant support for first-time buyers of new homes. For 2022, the scheme is being continued at the current rates. Consistent with recent tax strategy group recommendations, I am also announcing that a full review of the scheme will be carried out in the course of next year.
PRE-LETTING EXPENSES FOR LANDLORDS
Also on housing, I propose to extend the relief for pre-letting expenses for landlords for a further three years. This will continue to encourage landlords in the residential rental sector to return empty properties to the market as quickly as possible.
I will now turn to one of the most important issues of our time, that is, climate change. Future generations will not tolerate inaction from the leaders of today. By "future generations", I do not just mean children yet to be born. Children, teenagers, and the younger adults of today demand action. They deserve action. They are clear in their arguments and the science is unambiguous: the world is burning, and the only chance we have to control those fires is through coherent and effective policies. This is why carbon taxation is so important.
The Finance Act 2020 provided for annual increments in the carbon tax of €7.50 out to 2030. This provides a clear signal for producers and consumers in terms of the price of carbon. Studies have shown that carbon taxation is likely to be the single most effective climate policy that can be pursued by Government-----
We have seen challenges around energy supply and prices. The Government is conscious of how this will impact on our most vulnerable. That is why new moneys raised in this change will be invested in targeted social welfare initiatives to prevent fuel poverty and ensure a just transition.
It is why the additional revenue from carbon tax will be used to invest in a socially progressive national retrofitting programme.
The 2019 climate action plan recommended the development of "an enabling framework for micro-generation which tackles existing barriers and establishes suitable supports within relevant market segments". To that end, I am proposing a modest tax disregard in respect of personal income received by households who sell surplus electricity that they generate back to the grid.
VEHICLE REGISTRATION TAX (VRT)
I made significant changes to the VRT system in last year’s budget to strengthen the environmental rationale of the tax in line with Government commitments to radically reduce emissions from road transport. The structure of new car sales for 2021 compared to 2020 is evidence of the success of this approach, with an increase in vehicles registered at the lower end of the VRT scale. I am proposing further changes in this regard to strengthen this approach. From January 2022, a revised VRT table is being introduced. The 20-band table will remain with an uplift in rates, as follows: a 1% increase for vehicles that fall between bands 9 to 12; a 2% increase for bands 13 to 15; and a 4% increase for bands 16 to 20. In addition, to continue to incentivise the uptake of electric vehicles, I am extending the €5,000 relief for battery electric vehicles to the end of 2023.
ACCELERATED CAPITAL ALLOWANCES
Finance Act 2020 extended the accelerated capital allowance, ACA, scheme for energy efficient equipment.
In accordance with wider Government policy to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, I am providing that equipment directly operated by fossil fuels will no longer qualify. The scheme seeks to support the transition to lower-emission fuels in the heavy-duty land transport sector. Therefore, I am extending the ACA scheme for gas vehicles and refuelling equipment for three years. As a transport fuel, renewable hydrogen offers significantly higher carbon savings than fossil fuels. I am also extending the scheme to include hydrogen-powered vehicles and refuelling equipment. This policy is aligned with wider Government policy to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Farming families have, of course, a central role to play in protecting the environment over the long term. Supporting the next generation of farming families is essential to guarantee the long-term future of agriculture and the agribusiness sector. They too have an important role to play in the national recovery from the pandemic. As such, I intend to extend the various farming stock relief measures.
General stock relief will continue to the end of 2024.
Stock relief for young trained farmers and farm partnerships, and the young trained farmer stamp duty relief, will continue to the end of next year.
These measures, designed to support young farmers, are deemed to be a state aid by the EU, allowable under the agriculture block exemption regulation. The current exemption is scheduled to expire on 31 December of next year. Therefore, I can only extend all three reliefs until that date.
However, I have been advised by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine that it is confident that reliefs of this nature will continue to be considered an acceptable form of state aid under the terms of any revised regulation. I am hopeful, therefore, that I will be able to provide for a further extension of this relief, as well as the stock reliefs for young trained farmers and farm partnerships, next year.
The reviewed and revised EU alcohol directive now permits the granting of up to 50% excise relief to independent small producers of cider and other fermented drinks products. I see this relief as having a similar positive effect as that provided for small independent producers of beer and have asked my officials to engage with the sector to allow for the implementation of this relief in next year’s finance Bill.
Supporting entrepreneurs and the wider business community will be central to our broader national recovery. They are indeed the backbone of our domestic economy, supporting tens of thousands of jobs across the country. This is why I am implementing a package of measures to support our smaller businesses and entrepreneurs.
EMPLOYMENT INVESTMENT INCENTIVE
The employment investment incentive scheme has the potential to become a real driver of investment in early stage companies and high-potential start-ups. Changes have been made to the scheme in recent years, but it has yet to reach its potential.
Today, I am announcing an extension of the scheme for a further three years and I am also bringing forward a number of important improvements, the effect of which will be to make the scheme more attractive to investors to the ultimate benefit of companies in their start-up years and to the economy through job creation.
More significantly, and following engagement with relevant stakeholders, I intend to open up the scheme to a wider range of investment funds and I am confident that this measure on its own will result in greater investment in early stage enterprises.
In addition, subject to certain conditions, I am relaxing the rules around the so-called "capital redemption window" for investors. I am also removing the 30% expenditure rule, which is unduly restrictive in the context of the self-assessment principles that now apply to the relief.
INNOVATION EQUITY FUND
In last year’s budget, I announced that the Government would commit a €30 million investment through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, to establish an innovation equity fund with a mandate to invest in domestic high innovation enterprises.
Today, I can announce that the Government intends to commit a further €30 million investment to this fund through Enterprise Ireland. This will be matched by €30 million from the European Investment Fund, subject to board approval.
Through a memorandum of understanding being agreed by all three parties, ISIF expects to participate with its €30 million as a co-investor, leading to potential investments of up to €90 million for predominantly early stage Irish SMEs. It will launch in early 2022 and will increase the availability of early stage funding for our entrepreneurs and youngest companies. It will be consistent with other priorities, such as promoting regional development, supporting female entrepreneurship and climate change initiatives.
RELIEF FOR START-UP COMPANIES
Today I am also announcing an extension of the section 486C corporation tax relief for certain start-up companies to the end of 2026. Data shows that this relief continues to support employment and businesses in a cost-efficient manner. In view of the challenges companies currently face in accessing the relief, start-up companies will now be able to avail of the relief for up to five years, in place of the current three years.
These changes will provide greater certainty to recently established companies and those seeking to commence or launch as we recover from the pandemic. Further details can be found in the review of the relief, which is being published today.
TAX CREDIT FOR DIGITAL GAMING
As I announced in my budget speech last year, I am introducing a new tax credit for the digital gaming sector. This sector has seen exponential growth across the world in the past decade. However, employment growth in the sector in Ireland has not matched this trend. It should.
The relief will support digital game development companies by providing a refundable corporation tax credit for expenditure incurred on the design, production and testing of a game. The relief will be available at a rate of 32% on eligible expenditure of up to a limit of €25 million per project.
There are synergies with our established film and animation sectors that will support quality employment in a creative and digital arts sector that has so much potential.
Full details of the relief will be published in the finance Bill. As European state aid approval is required for the introduction of the credit, it will be introduced subject to commencement orders.
To support public health policy to reduce smoking in Irish society, I am also increasing excise duty on a pack of 20 cigarettes by 50 cent, with a pro rataincrease on other tobacco products. This will bring the price of cigarettes in the most popular price category up to €15.
EXTENSION OF BANK LEVY
Since its introduction in 2013, the bank levy has been extended on several occasions and currently applies to the end of the year. The annual yield of this levy has been approximately €150 million.
I am extending the levy for a further year. However, as Ulster Bank and KBC are leaving the market in 2022 I intend to exclude them from the charge. In addition, I am proposing that the remaining banks will pay the same amount in 2022 as they did this year. This equates to approximately €87 million in total.
I have also instructed that the levy and its future be assessed over the course of the coming year.
ANTI-TAX AVOIDANCE DIRECTIVE
In accordance with our commitments to international tax reform, this year's finance Bill will complete our transposition of the anti-tax avoidance directives. I am providing for the introduction of a new interest limitation ratio and new anti-reverse hybrid rules, both of which have been developed over the year with the input of stakeholders through a public consultation.
This leads to corporation tax. The Government has taken the historic decision to join the global political agreement on the future of corporate taxation. The importance of our 12.5% rate is well known to the House. Budget speeches by my predecessors and, indeed by myself, made the case for this rate.
However, I strongly believe that our national interest is now best served by joining this agreement. It maintains our tax competitiveness and strengthens our position in the world. The agreement, which we shaped, is balanced and represents a fair compromise. While there will be a cost to the Exchequer, it provides long-term certainty for businesses and investors for the benefit of Irish jobs.
As a small open economy that depends on rules and order in global tax and trade, an agreement was in our interests.
The question of the rate was the biggest challenge for Ireland. We successfully made our case. Due to our efforts, the minimum effective rate was set at 15% for larger multinational companies. It could have been far higher. It could have been more uncertain. We avoided those risks.
That is why it is in our interest to be in.
When it comes into effect, Ireland will apply the new minimum effective rate of 15%. This will be still less than the rate of many of our key competitors.
Importantly, Ireland will continue to offer the 12.5% rate for businesses with revenues of less than €750 million. This means no change for 160,000 businesses employing 1.8 million people.
We will remain an attractive location for investment and we will continue to play to our strengths, centred on a highly educated and dynamic workforce that has consistently delivered innovation and profitability over many decades to businesses that have made Ireland their home.
I knowthis was a major decision. However, it is the right decision for Ireland, for our jobs, for our economy and for our ability to attract and keep investment in our country.
COMMISSION ON TAXATION AND WELFARE
On the broader challenges associated with taxation into the future, last year I announced the establishment of an independent Commission on Taxation and Welfare.
The commission was tasked with considering how best the tax and welfare systems can support economic activity and promote increased prosperity, while ensuring that there are sufficient resources available to meet the costs of our public services and supports over the medium to longer term. This work will be essential in continuing to put our public finances on a sustainable basis over the coming years.
The commission will have particular regard to the impact of the pandemic as well as long-term developments such as ageing demographics, the move to a low-carbon economy and the rise of digital disruption and automation.
We will continue with this work. A public consultation will be launched over the coming weeks and will seek input from our country. This will inform the commission in completing its important work.
I look forward to considering the commission's recommendations when they are published next summer.
I want to conclude by again paying tribute to the heroes of the Covid pandemic, both seen and unseen, including those involved in the roll-out of our vaccination programme. Without all of them we would not be where we are today, planning for the resumption of safer times.
For those whose jobs have not yet returned, let me again reiterate that this Government stands with you.
For those concerned about the rising cost of living, this budget will help you.
For businesses looking to the future, this budget will back you.
That future, for individuals, for families and for businesses, is based on secure public finances.
We make further progress to that goal in this budget.
Over the past year and a half we made the right choices at the right times. Let us now do that again.
I am an optimist by nature. I believe that as we move out from under the dark cloud of the pandemic, there are truly exciting times ahead for this country and for its people.
Yes, there are many challenges. Yes, there are many difficulties.
However, a good journey to a better Ireland is within our grasp for 2022 and beyond.
This budget, Budget 2022, sets the course for that journey. With this, I commend this budget to the House.
Each and every one of us can probably remember where we were when the realisation began to dawn that the global pandemic was not like anything we had experienced in living memory.
Overnight, the things we took for granted, the things we value the most, were taken from us. Our instinct and need to interact with each other was the very thing that put us most at risk.
For the past year and a half, we have walked a long road together. We did not know what we would encounter along the way. There have been many dark moments; times when it all seemed hopeless; times of great loss and suffering.
But we kept going, we dug deep, and we have stayed the course.
I want to thank the Irish people for their extraordinary efforts, for their selflessness, and for their solidarity since this terrible disease arrived on our island, stopped us in our tracks, and turned our lives upside down.
Never before in our history have we been so united in response to such a shared threat. We know our journey is not over, and the threat of Covid is very much still with us.
With more than 400 people in hospital today suffering with Covid, our resilience and togetherness continues to be tested, but we now have more hope than at any time since March 2020 because of our hugely successful vaccination programme.
We have truly learned the wisdom of the seanfhocal: Ní neart go cur le chéile.
AN ENDURING LEGACY
The Government believes recognition is needed for the extraordinary efforts of the many people who helped our country get through the past 18 months. I can confirm to the House that we will, following consultation with relevant stakeholders, bring forward proposals in this regard in the coming weeks.
As a nation, we must find a way of remembering those lives that were lost due to Covid, and indeed to acknowledge all those who died during the pandemic, whom we could not mourn in the way we would have liked.
Ultimately, I think we can all agree that the most important legacy of the past year and a half should be to make our country a better and a fairer place to live.
The budget that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and I are presenting today on behalf of he Government marks a significant step in that direction.
A BETTER QUALITY OF LIFE
Throughout that time, as we wrestled with the challenge of Covid, we developed a new appreciation of what we value in life: family and friends, community, nature, and the rich diversity our beautiful country has to offer.
We have also deepened our appreciation of the varied and valued roles played by so many across society.
For people right across our country, as we emerge from the pandemic, the priority is quality of life, our health, our home, our environment - things we perhaps at times took for granted, but have now come to value even more.
For Government, our priorities will be increasing the supply of new homes, improving access to healthcare and making a generational shift in the delivery of quality childcare. In other words, it is about the State being there for people when they most need it.
We will deliver this through investment in key front-line public services, recruiting additional staff, and delivering the largest capital investment programme in the history of our State.
RECOVERING FROM COVID
The Government's response to the pandemic has been unprecedented and, at the same time, warranted.
Since the onset of Covid, our singular aim has been to do all we can as a Government to protect lives and livelihoods.
To that end, we have made available €31 billion in direct expenditure measures.
This funding has enabled our health service to protect our community from Covid and to deliver a world-class vaccination programme, facilitating the reopening of our society.
The funding helped us to keep our public transport system going, support our sporting and community organisations, reopen our schools and give a basic income to people who lost their job due to Covid.
The funding has directly supported the incomes of 1.36 million people over the course of the pandemic, including more than 660,000 workers, who at different times had their wages paid in full or in part by the State through the wage subsidy scheme.
The Irish economy is now rebounding strongly.
The economic growth we are seeing, and the return of so many people to work, is evidence that the Government was right to step in and provide this exceptional level of support when our economy and our society needed it.
Now we have to harness the recovery to build a better quality of life for all our people.
Achieving this will not be straightforward, but the Government has agreed an expenditure strategy that will allow us to make real progress.
In the summer economic statement, the Government agreed a strategy for incremental and sustainable increases in public expenditure in the coming years.
Today, I am presenting an expenditure budget in line with this strategy – a budget that allows the Government to reduce the deficit in a managed way while delivering improvements in quality of life for our people.
Notwithstanding the improvement in the projected deficit this year as a result of our strong recovery, we are sticking to our plans. To those who believe we should spend more, I say that we owe it to our children and to future generations to be careful in how we manage the public finances. This budget strikes the right balance.
Next year, I am providing €87.6 billion for public expenditure.
€80.1 billion of this will be made available in core expenditure, an increase of more than €4.2 billion or 5.5% on this year, with capital spending increasing by more than twice the rate of current spending.
I am providing €69.2 billion for core current expenditure – an increase of 4.6% in line with the summer economic statement.
€11.1 billion will be made available next year under the national development plan, a 14% increase on this year’s capital allocation.
A Cheann Comhairle, I am providing up to €7 billion in Covid funding, inclusive of the national recovery and resilience plan, for next year. This funding will be made available as required to continue our fight against the pandemic.
It will fund public health measures, in particular the continuation of our testing and tracing capacity, and our vaccination booster campaign.
It will continue to support incomes and jobs through the employment wage subsidy scheme and will further support a range of sectors in their recovery from Covid.
Building on our experience of the pandemic, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and I will be holding approximately €4 billion of the Covid provision as a contingency reserve so that we can adapt if faced with the unexpected. This prudent approach served us well last year as we had the resources available to respond to the uncertainties presented by the pandemic.
Of the €4.2 billion increase in core expenditure next year, I am allocating €1.45 billion for new current expenditure measures.
Before turning to the measures in Budget 2022, I wish to inform the House that I am making €286 million in additional funding available immediately, in the current year, to support the recovery of our economy and society. This includes:
- €90 million for an aviation package to help us rebuild vital connectivity;
- €30 million for the protection and renewal of our roads;
- €50 million in ICT grants for primary and post-primary schools;
- more than €60 million to extend the commercial rates waiver for quarter 4, targeted at the hospitality, arts and certain tourism-related sectors; and
- €30 million, a Cheann Comhairle, for the Department of Health to provide further supports for the areas hard hit by the pandemic - palliative care, mental health services and disability services.
A Cheann Comhairle, the provision of housing for our people is an absolute priority for this Government.
Through the Housing for Allstrategy and the funding provided under the national development plan, this Government has placed the State front and centre in the provision of social and affordable housing in this country.
Combining funding through the Exchequer, the Land Development Agency and the Housing Finance Agency, an unprecedented €20 billion of public money is being made available over the next five years, which represents the single biggest housing investment programme in the history of our State.
By 2025, this will see on average each year:
- 4,000 new affordable purchase homes;
- 2,000 new affordable cost rental homes; and
- 9,500 new build social homes.
Next year, I am allocating a record €6 billion in Exchequer funding to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
This is an increase of over 15.6% on the 2021 allocation and a 48% increase over the last three years.
A total of €2.5 billion in direct Exchequer capital funding will be made available for housing alone, which will support the delivery of 9,000 new-build social housing units next year. To address affordability, €174 million in Exchequer funding will go to supporting the direct delivery of over 4,000 affordable homes next year. These homes include affordable purchase and cost rental, and will be delivered through a number of funding channels including the Land Development Agency and the First Home scheme.
I am allocating €50 million in Exchequer funding next year to commence the Croí Cónaithe fund to help service sites and refurbish properties in towns and villages across Ireland, and to increase owner occupier apartment development in city centres. We will invest €1.6 billion in water services next year, much of which will help to unlock further housing supply and improve the sustainability of the water network. In the period 2021 to 2025, almost €6 billion investment will be undertaken by Irish Water, of which €4.5 billion will be voted Exchequer funding.
Current expenditure supports will continue to play a necessary role in housing delivery. I am increasing the Department’s current budget by €168 million, or 7%. This will deliver an additional 14,000 HAP tenancies, bringing to 66,000 the total number of tenancies supported.
The Government acknowledges the devastation being experienced by thousands of households impacted by defective mica building blocks. Following consideration of the working group report from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Government will bring forward proposals in the coming weeks for a significantly enhanced scheme to address this important issue.
Over the past year and a half, our health service has been tested like never before. To ensure we continue to deal with the impact of the pandemic, I am allocating €1 billion in 2022 for Covid-related health measures, of which €200 million will be held in a central contingency. This funding will include €500 million for Covid measures such as testing and tracing, the delivery of a booster vaccination programme, and for PPE across the health system. As we look to the longer term, I believe that one of the most important legacies we can leave following this pandemic is a reformed public health service that provides for the people of this country based on medical need, regardless of income. To accomplish this, we need to significantly increase capacity with more hospital and community care beds and additional doctors, nurses and consultants. Budget 2022 provides further resources to drive this strategic reform of the health system in line with Sláintecare. It will see core current health expenditure increase by €1 billion, or 5.3%, to a record level of €20.38 billion. Including capital and the Covid provision, this brings total expenditure to €22.2 billion.
The progressive reform of our health system to implement universal healthcare involves three critical components: access, affordability and quality. In respect of access, a further €10.5 million has been provided for 19 additional critical care beds in 2022, bringing the total ICU beds next year to 340, a 33% increase in critical care capacity since the onset of the pandemic. Over 800 additional acute hospital beds have been added to the health system compared with before the pandemic, with further progress to be made over the remainder of this year and next year.
Addressing waiting lists is an urgent priority for the Government and I am allocating €250 million specifically to address this challenge to build further on the recently published acute waiting list action plan.
Accessing healthcare represents a significant cost for many families. In order to improve affordability, as part of a universally accessible healthcare system, I am pleased to announce the following measures: an extension of free GP care to children aged 6 and 7, with the intention to extend this to cover all children up to the of age 12; a lowering of the drug payment scheme threshold to €100; significant investment to improve dental access across a range of oral health measures; measures to reduce the financial burden of hospital charges for children under the age of 18; and a €30 million package for new drugs to ensure our citizens have access to the best high-tech drugs available globally.
In relation to quality of care, we will strengthen our National Ambulance Service, invest further in infection prevention and control, and advance the roll-out of nursing safe staffing programmes.
I am also pleased to announce a dedicated women's health package worth €31 million. This will include access to free contraception for women aged 17 to 25 from next August; a further investment in measures identified in the women’s health task force; progress regarding the period poverty implementation group; additional funding for sexual assault treatment units; and implementation of the national maternity strategy and the gynaecology model of care.
I am also confirming the following health measures: an additional €105 million for disability services next year, including supports for school leavers and for people with disabilities inappropriately living in nursing homes; an additional €37 million to fund the expansion of mental health services; and an extra €30 million to progress delivery of a number of national strategies, including the cancer strategy and investment in trauma centres and transplant programmes.
To underpin our commitment to the sector we are adding some 7,000 new posts across the health system. We will build on that by recruiting a further 8,000 staff next year, bringing the overall number of employees in the health sector to 144,000.
The invaluable role childcare plays in the day-to-day lives of thousands of families throughout the country cannot be overstated. Our early years and childcare workers, who care for and educate our children, deserve our support and should be paid a wage appropriate to the responsibilities they carry. We need more capacity in our childcare sector and more flexibility for working parents. We also need to address the cost of childcare.
Budget 2022 marks a turning point in the State’s approach to the early years and childcare sector.
We will invest a record €716 million in childcare next year. I am providing €78 million for additional investment in core funding for the childcare sector and to reform the national childcare scheme. This significant increase in core funding for childcare represents a statement of intent from this Government that the delivery of a sustainable service for providers, staff, parents and children is a key priority.
A new funding stream for up to 4,700 early years and childcare providers will be put in place from September next year onwards, at an estimated cost of €69 million next year, to support improvements in the quality of childcare provision.
This additional funding will, first and foremost, improve conditions for workers. We note that a joint labour committee for the childcare sector is due to report next September leading to an expected employment regulation order soon after. The funding the Government is allocating will support providers in attracting and retaining staff, will provide more options for parents and is linked to a commitment of no increases in fees to parents.
To address affordability for parents, we will extend the national childcare scheme universal subsidy to children under the age of 15 from September, benefitting up to 40,000 children at a cost of €5 million.
We will also remove the practice of deducting hours spent in preschool or school from the entitlement to national childcare scheme subsidised hours. This will benefit an estimated 5,000 children, particularly from low-income families, at a cost of €4 million.
These reforms, and the very significant increase in core funding, demonstrate the Government’s commitment to the sustainability of the childcare sector and the inclusive provision of childcare for all children.
Short-term measures, backed up with Covid funding of €37 million in 2022, will be put in place to support the transition of services to this new model.
I will also allocate €28 million to support the Department to commence the roll-out of the White Paper to end direct provision and implement a new approach to support the needs of international protection applicants in Ireland.
The evidence of the climate crisis is clear for all to see. The national development plan, along with the upcoming climate action plan and carbon budgets, will set a path for Ireland to reduce its emissions by 51% by the end of this decade.
Next year will see €700 million in capital investment by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. This is a record level of funding for that Department but next year's allocation is merely the start of a ramp-up in capital spending that will see almost €13 billion of direct capital investment by that Department over the lifetime of the national development plan to deliver on the promise of a connected and sustainable Ireland.
Some €202 million of this funding will be spent in 2022 on supporting people to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. It is estimated that this will support over 22,000 home energy upgrades, including support for those in, or at risk of, energy poverty. Permanently reducing a household’s energy needs is the best way to tackle energy poverty and to protect people from the impact of high energy costs. It will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create thousands of additional jobs. To ensure that workers can avail of these jobs, additional funding is being provided through the The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to expand training programmes and apprenticeships in this area.
As with previous years, every single euro raised by the increase in carbon tax will be returned to the people of Ireland in a progressive manner. An additional €174 million will be made available in 2022 for energy efficiency and to protect the most vulnerable in society. Some of these measures will be included in the social welfare package which I will outline in a few moments. These changes ensure that the net impact of the carbon tax is progressive, just as we promised in the programme for Government. Households in the bottom four income deciles will see all of the cost of the carbon tax increase offset, with the bottom three deciles being better off as a result of these measures. This is a tangible demonstration of the Government’s commitment to achieving a just transition.
DELIVERING THE NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN
Through the €165 billion national development plan, NDP, the Government is matching its commitment to improving day-to-day public services with the largest capital budget in the history of the State. The NDP is an infrastructure plan for the twenty-first century. It will help us to address the housing crisis, deliver on our climate ambitions, and promote economic renewal. Next year, I will allocate €11.1 billion under the Plan, and along with further non-Exchequer investment, this will bring Ireland’s investment in capital to almost 5 per cent of GNI*, well above the European average.
Transport will be a key part of the NDP and I am allocating €3.4 billion inclusive of current expenditure to the Department to support the delivery of a range of projects next year. Over €1.4 billion will be provided to further develop our public transport networks and to support the transition to a decarbonised and climate-resilient transport system. This funding will help to progress major investments, including: BusConnects, MetroLink and the DART+ programme; electric vehicle, EV, grants and other carbon reduction measures.
In order to promote a modal shift in the transport sector, I am providing €25 million for the introduction of a youth travel card. This card will be available to any person between the ages of 19 and 23 and will allow them to avail of a 50 per cent discount on fares across the transport network.
Some €360 million is being provided for active travel and greenways. This will deliver projects right across the country.
Some €1.4 billion will allow for the progression of some of the new major road schemes identified in the NDP.
In aviation, a €60 million allocation provides for a number of capital and operational grant schemes as well as providing the necessary funds to support regional public service obligation air services.
Some €108 million in maritime funding will mean increased investment in safety-related training, equipment and systems for the Irish Coast Guard.
For generations, investing in education has provided opportunities for social mobility and increased quality of life for our people. I am allocating €9.2 billion to the Department of Education in 2022, including a capital budget of almost €800 million. This allocation will support the Department’s school building programme which involves in excess of 200 projects. Once completed, these will deliver over 30,000 school places.
This Government’s commitment to children with special education needs will allow for the hiring of 980 additional teachers and 1,165 additional SNAs, supporting those with special educational needs in special classes, special schools and mainstream settings. With over 19,000 SNAs, this will bring investment in special education to the highest level in the State’s history.
I am providing an additional investment of €30 million for the school transport scheme.
I am also providing funding for a schools package including: 350 additional teacher posts enabling a reduction in the staffing schedule for all primary schools by 1 point, which is a reduction in class sizes; some €18 million to increase the number of schools and children benefiting from the DEIS programme and €4 million to extend the hot schools meals to more DEIS primary schools; additional administrative principals in special schools and mainstream schools with two or more special classes; and additional funding for voluntary secondary schools in the free education scheme.
Other measures in the education sector include progress on a pay deal for our wonderful school secretaries, subject to agreement on the outstanding elements.
I am allocating €3.7 billion for the higher education, further education and training, research and innovation sectors, reflecting the Government’s commitment to supporting all learners in their education and recognising the key role these sectors play in our economy and society. I am providing €68 million in additional investment in the higher education sector, including for 3,320 additional CAO places arising from this year’s leaving certificate. The Minister will shortly bring a report on the future funding of the sector to the Government for consideration. We will ensure our decisions in respect of future funding for this sector reflect its vital role as a cornerstone of our economic model.
I am also providing €35 million in additional funding to support students in meeting the costs of going to higher education and dealing with the impacts of Covid. With this, the maintenance grant under the Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, system will be increased by €200. This will be the first increase of the rate of the ordinary maintenance grant since 2012 and will benefit about 60,000 students. This funding will also improve eligibility by expanding the qualifying income thresholds by €1,000 and reducing the qualifying distance to qualify for the non-adjacent rate grant from 45 km to 30 km. In addition, the €200 contribution fee for post-leaving certificate courses will be abolished and I am providing a further €3 million to support lifelong learning and, in particular, literacy and digital numeracy skills for adults.
While our investment in education has provided a gateway to improved living standards for many in our society, we know that many have not fully enjoyed the economic and social progress our country has experienced. Over a long period, our social welfare system has sought to redress this balance, supporting the most vulnerable among us. To allow us to make progress next year, I am pleased to announce a social welfare package worth €558 million. This allows me to increase by €5 weekly payments for working-age recipients, with proportionate increases for qualified adults and those on reduced rates of payment. This includes a full €5 increase for young jobseekers.
The increase for qualified children rate in respect of children under 12 will increase by €2 and by €3 for those aged 12 and over. I am also pleased to confirm a €5 increase in weekly payments for pension-age recipients, with proportionate increases for qualified adults and those on reduced rates of payment. I am increasing the living alone allowance by €3 to ensure the well-being of many thousands of our older citizens will be protected in the years ahead. To support families, I am increasing the duration of parent’s benefit by two weeks to seven weeks from July of next year. From June, I am also increasing the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance by €10, equalising the income thresholds for the allowance for one and two-parent households and increasing the income threshold for the working family payment by €10 for all families.
To support carers and people with disabilities, we will extend the period during which domiciliary care allowance can be paid for children in hospital from three to six months, and the rate of the wage subsidy scheme for people with disabilities will increase by €1 per hour. From June of next year, I am increasing the income disregard for the carer's allowance from €332.50 to €350 for a single person and from €665 to €750 for a couple; I am increasing the capital disregard for the carer's allowance from €20,000 to €50,000; the earnings limit on the disability allowance will increase from €350 to €375; and I am increasing the general weekly means disregard for the disability allowance from €2.50 to €7.60 per week. I am also reducing the number of contributions needed to qualify for treatment benefits from 260 to 39 for those aged 25 to 28, inclusive.
We are all acutely aware of the impact on households of increasing energy costs. To directly address this, I am increasing the weekly rate of the fuel allowance by €5. This increase will apply from midnight tonight. I am also increasing to €120 the level of means allowed above the maximum contributory State pension rate for the fuel allowance means test and reducing the qualifying period on jobseeker's allowance and the supplementary welfare allowance from 15 to 12 months. Taken together with the changes I have announced to weekly core welfare rates, the increase in the living alone allowance and the qualified child increase, the cumulative effect of this package will be to protect the most vulnerable in our society. Finally, I am pleased to announce a 100% Christmas bonus for 2021, which will assist many families with outgoings over the festive period.
LABOUR MARKET SUPPORTS
There is significant mobility in our labour market. It will surprise many to learn that 115,000 people who have come off the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, to return to work have moved to a different sector from that of their previous employment. The Government’s Pathways to Work strategy will be a critical element of supporting people who need help finding new jobs after Covid as well as those unemployed pre-Covid.The plan does this through a range of measures, including a new work placement scheme, additional places on the community employment and Tús employment programmes, and 20,000 new further education and training places. I am also making available a further €34 million for apprenticeships, which will include off-the-job training places for 7,000 apprentices impacted by Covid and a new employer grant for apprentices to be introduced from January next year.
A competitive, innovative and resilient enterprise base is essential for the recovery and future prosperity of our country. We need a strong economy to pay for all the public services and the supports we want to provide as a country. In this regard, I am allocating almost €900 million to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. This will provide funding for a number of new measures including the establishment of the new corporate enforcement agency. I am increasing core capital expenditure by more than €90 million, or 21%, next year. In addition, as part of the Covid contingency reserve, I am allocating an additional €17 million for once-off Covid capital enterprise supports next year.
The next decade will see a number of profound changes in our economy and society. The allocation I have provided for today will go towards helping our enterprises transition through these changes. A new funding call for the disruptive technology innovation fund will support projects across a range of sectors including environmental sustainability, artificial intelligence, AI, life sciences and medical devices. The creation of a digital transition fund will help encourage the development and adoption of data analytics and AI.
TOURISM, CULTURE, ARTS, GAELTACHT, SPORT AND MEDIA
The tourism, culture, arts, Gaeltacht, sports and media sectors have been hit particularly hard by Covid. The upcoming easing of restrictions will assist these sectors. I am conscious, however, that further support will be required to underpin their recovery. In this regard, I am providing €50 million for further business continuity supports and €39 million for enhanced tourism marketing and product development. The arts and culture sector will benefit from a pilot basic income guarantee scheme for artists and €25 million for the continuation of live entertainment supports. I am also making an additional €6.3 million available to promote and develop the Irish language and support Údarás Na Gaeltachta. An additional €4 million of funding is being provided for TG4 and €5.5 million will go towards the establishment of the new media commission. Finally, I am providing additional funding for the sports capital grants programme.
I am allocating €1.85 billion for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine next year, an increase of €32 million on the 2021 budget allocation. This funding package will maintain critical supports throughout the sector while also providing for a number of new measures, including providing for a second phase of the soil sampling programme in 2022, fully establishing the food ombudsman and delivering on the programme for Government commitment to doubling ex gratiafunding for animal welfare organisations next year.
In addition to these measures, I have been in discussions with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in respect of the indicative allocations for the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, Strategic Plan 2023-2027. He is finalising the details at present and will soon publish them as part of a further public consultation on the plan, which is required to be submitted to the European Commission by the end of this year. In this context, both the Minister and I are conscious of the special position accorded to agriculture in the programme for Government and the commitment made in regard to the allocation of carbon tax receipts.
RURAL AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
Covid has highlighted the value of community. As we move forward, we must carry this with us and continue to empower and support vibrant, inclusive and sustainable communities throughout Ireland. To support this, I am allocating €376 million to the Department of Rural and Community Development next year, including an additional €12 million in current expenditure. Some €4 million of the additional €12 million will be provided to the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, targeting groups which are currently under-represented. This current funding package is being provided alongside a €23 million increase in capital funding for this Department next year. A total of €5 million of this will provide for the establishment of a new small capital grant scheme for community centre upgrades.
Our experience through Covid has given us all a renewed sense of community, at home and abroad, and an appreciation of the important work of safeguarding our society. The budget I am presenting today includes an additional €145 million for the justice sector, an increase of 5.3% on the allocation for 2021. Next year, An Garda Síochána will celebrate 100 years since its foundation - a century of service to our country and our people, ensuring the security of our State and the safety of our communities. We remember the many gardaí who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty over the past 100 years, often defending the State from those who would seek to subvert it. In An Garda Síochána’s centenary year, I am making provision for the recruitment of 800 extra gardaí and 400 extra Garda civilian staff in 2022, a further commitment by this Government in prioritising visible policing in both rural and urban communities.
Regrettably, the year to date has brought with it a rise in antisocial behaviour in some communities. I am making €6.7 million available in 2022 for the youth justice strategy, which will seek to develop and deliver programmes and early interventions for children and young people. As stated in the justice plan 2021, future generations will look back on the scourge of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and ask why it was tolerated as a lesser form of crime or abuse for so long. The funding package I am announcing today will extend legal aid for victims, fund awareness campaigns and give An Garda Síochána the tools it needs to help victims and punish those responsible.
I am also providing additional funding to progress the courts modernisation programme and improvements in the Prison Service. I am also making funding available for the gambling regulatory authority.
I acknowledge the work of the Defence Forces in supporting the public health strategy over the last 18 months, through contact tracing, logistics and medical support, to name a few examples. I note that the work of the Commission on the Defence Forces is ongoing and that the commission is due to report by the end of this year. The Government will carefully consider any recommendations it makes and I very much look forward to engaging positively in this process.
OUR SHARED ISLAND
This Government continues to progress the shared island initiative and to deepen co-operation and connection across the island, underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement. To match the scale of our ambition to deliver for the people of the island through all-island partnerships, the Government is allocating €50 million to the shared island fund to advance key projects in 2022 and will commit a total of €500 million to this fund out to 2025.
I am particularly pleased that we have secured EU and UK support for a special new PEACE PLUS programme, with a total value of €1 billion, that will build on and continue the work of previous PEACE and INTERREG programmes.
The lifetime of this Government will see Ireland mark 50 years of membership of the European Union. Our membership has played an important role in Ireland’s social, economic and political development in the intervening five decades. Throughout that period we have benefitted from the solidarity that comes with EU membership. This solidarity has never been more evident than in the Brexit negotiations. Ireland will receive just over €1 billion of funding from the Brexit adjustment reserve, the biggest single allocation for any member state, representing just over 20% of the total fund. As the member state most impacted by Brexit, we will use this funding to help to counter the adverse economic and social consequences of Brexit in areas such as enterprise supports, supports for the fisheries and agrifood sectors, reskilling and retraining, and checks and controls at our ports and airports.
At the heart of NextGenerationEU is the recovery and resilience facility under which Ireland will receive almost €1 billion in EU funding. The overall objective of our national recovery and resilience plan is to contribute to a sustainable, equitable, green and digital recovery.
Ireland will receive a total of €1.3 billion in cohesion policy funding for the period from 2021 to 2027. National match funding will mean Structural Funds programmes with a total value of almost €3.5 billion.
As we move through the pandemic and deal with the consequences of Brexit, we continue to look to the future. That is why the programme for Government sets out a vision of Ireland at the heart of Europe and global citizenship. The provision next year of an additional €69 million for foreign affairs reflects this vision and the Government’s commitment to serving our citizens at home and abroad. Our focus will continue to be on expanding and deepening our response to Brexit; enhancing Ireland’s global presence across our overseas mission network; our continued membership of the UN Security Council; and delivering a modern and efficient online passport service.
As a country, we have long demonstrated a very strong commitment in the area of international co-operation and development. I am pleased to announce a cross-Government official development aid, ODA, package of over €1 billion next year. This is the largest quantum of ODA ever provided by Ireland and represents an important step towards delivering the programme for Government commitment to double the Irish Aid programme’s investment in climate action by 2030.
PROGRESSING PUBLIC SERVICE REFORMS
The allocations I have announced, while significant in themselves, must be matched by a commitment to deliver value for money across all areas of government. This will mean further embedding digitisation and new ways of working across our public services. It will mean implementing reforms to the public spending code to ensure that it is compatible with the Government’s enhanced climate ambition and that projects are delivered on time and on budget. It will also mean enhancing our understanding of the impact of budget decisions from a climate, equality and well-being perspective and conducting spending reviews so we can improve how our policies and resources are targeted.
A Cheann Comhairle, as I said at the outset, the past year and a half has seen us all walk a long road together. Some led the way along the road, and we salute them. For many, it was a difficult road as they suffered loss of loved ones and of livelihoods. However, we all walked that road in solidarity. Nelson Mandela told us:
Our human compassion binds us the one to the other - not in pity or patronisingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.
Now, with the overwhelming majority of our citizens vaccinated and as we move to ease most of the remaining restrictions, we can begin to hope that the worst of the crisis is firmly behind us. Now we can begin to turn to the future, a future we can face with a new sense of hope, but also acknowledging that the road ahead is uncertain.
The budget that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and I are presenting will help us to secure social and economic recovery. It is anchored in a conviction that we can take the lessons from Covid and help to build a country with a better quality of life for our people. I look forward to a time when the crisis will be in the past and a distant memory for our children. I look forward to a time when the historians will conclude that we rose to the challenge, we learned the lessons and we emerged in a better place. I commend this budget to the House.
This budget is a reflection on the Government that delivered it - out of touch, out of ideas and out of time. Never has so much been spent to achieve so little. There are no answers, no urgency and no leadership. Rents are out of control and the Government has done nothing. Some 1 million people are on waiting lists and there is no real step change. Energy prices are spiralling and the Government's plan is to increase them further with carbon taxes.
Budget 2022 should have responded to the major challenges we face as a society - challenges in housing, healthcare and the cost of living crisis.
It should have responded to the crisis in housing. It should never be normal or tolerated that average rents in this State are now €1,350, with the average rent in Dublin city €1,800 per month. It should never be accepted or normalised that students need to couch-surf or defer entry to college. They are queuing up for food banks in Cork, for God's sake. All of this is down to the crisis in accommodation and the sky-high rents they are faced with. It should have responded to the challenges facing patients and the staff who work in our health service, with more than 900,000 people on waiting lists, including nearly 100,000 children. It should have responded appropriately to the cost-of-living crisis, with parents facing childcare fees that amount to second mortgages and households facing rising energy bills.
Budget 2022 should have been a budget with vision, a budget that was targeted, a budget for change. We should have heard a Minister stand up today and say to renters, couples setting out to purchase their first home, parents struggling with the cost of childcare and families struggling with the cost of energy prices, "We hear you and we are responding back." However, that is not what we heard today and instead we heard more of the same. It needed to be a budget for change. It reflects a government that is out of touch and out of ideas. I will shortly evaluate some of the specific measures in the budget, but first I want to set out what could have been done, what should have been done and what would be done if Sinn Féin were in government.
Bhí gá le buiséad 2022 freagra a thabhairt ar na príomhdhúshláin atá romhainn mar shochaí, na dúshláin tithíochta agus sláinte agus an costas maireachtála atá ag ardú. Bhí gá leis an Rialtas seo freagra a thabhairt ar na dúshláin atá roimh theaghlaigh agus oibrithe. Bhí gá le freagra a thabhairt ar an ghéarchéim tithíochta agus ar an dúshlán atá roimh othair atá ag brath ar an fhoireann a oibríonn sa chóras sláinte. Bhí gá le freagra a thabhairt ar an chostas maireachtála atá ag ardú arís agus arís. Bhí gá le buiséad 2022 a bheith mar bhuiséad le tuiscint agus mar bhuiséad ar son an athraithe. Bheadh an cíosaí, an chlann atá ag iarraidh an chéad teach a cheannach, an tuismitheoir atá ag streachailt le costais arda chúram leanaí nó an teaghlach atá ag streachailt le praghsanna fuinnimh atá ag ardú in ann a bheith muiníneach gur aithin buiséad mar seo an dúshlán atá rompu agus gur fhreagair sé an fhadhb seo chun a saol agus saol a leanaí a fheabhsú. Bhí gá le buiséad ar son an athraithe. Tá easpa uaillmhéine leis an bhuiséad. Theip air dul i ngleic le scála an dúshláin atá romhainn. Is Rialtas é seo atá gan chiall agus gan smaointe a bhfuil a chuid ama istigh.
This budget presents an opportunity not just to look forward to the year ahead, but also to look back at the year that has been. I acknowledge the hardship that so many have felt over the past year and a half, whether as a result of bereavement, isolation or job loss. In particular, I pay tribute to our healthcare professionals, our carers and our essential workers without whom the country could not have come through this pandemic. I also recognise the role and efforts of our public service workers who through the introduction of measures, such as rolling out the PUP and the wage subsidy schemes, demonstrated that at times this State can innovate and respond back the needs of our citizens. We can learn from this experience in the knowledge that when great reforms and innovations are required, the State can deliver. It is a warning for the cynics who tell us that nothing can change. They can change and for the better.
We face many challenges as a society, but we also face opportunities. Noise and distraction from the British Government should not deter us from finding practical solutions to ensure that the protocol can work effectively and smoothly. I welcome allocations in the Brexit Adjustment Reserve that will help mitigate the impact of Brexit. We should build on the growth of North-South trade to develop our all-Ireland economy and benefit all the people and regions, a crucial task as we begin the great project of national unity and reconciliation.
With 136 countries and jurisdictions now signing up to the OECD agreement, we face great changes on the international tax landscape to ensure that multinationals pay their fair share in a globalised and digital age. Under this agreement, our economy can remain competitive, but only if we invest in those areas that are just as crucial for inward investment and job creation as our tax code is such as housing, childcare, infrastructure, research, education and skills. We face the great challenges of climate change, which also brings opportunities to create new and well-paying jobs while improving the quality of life for all our people. We can meet all these challenges, but it will require ambition and will require making the right choices.
The pandemic exposed weaknesses in our society, in our public services and in our economy. During the general election campaign in 2020, people voted for change. That desire for change was only strengthened during the pandemic. It is through budgets that governments can pave the way for change or consolidate the status quo. That is the measure against which we will assess this budget.
For some time, workers and families have been dealing with the rising cost of living, with unaffordable childcare costs, rip-off rents or mortgage repayments, and the cost of basic goods and services remaining stubbornly high. The cost-of-living squeeze is set to continue with a further surge in gas and electricity prices expected in the weeks and months ahead. It is now expected that the average household will see energy bills increase by €400 or €500 over the next 12 months. We know this will hit the poorer households hardest. Given this prospect, what does the Government do? It has decided in its wisdom to increase energy prices further. Anybody will say that is simply wrong. It is wrong for the Government to plough ahead with another increase in carbon taxes as people are seeing increases in energy and fuel prices. These increases will put additional financial pressure on households already struggling with utility and home heating bills.
Let me say this clearly. An increase in carbon taxes will not provide a single alternative fuel source or means of travel for already hard-pressed households. It is a con job. Over the past 12 months, the Government has increased these costs twice. According to the Central Statistics Office, home heating oil increased by 40% in the past year. According to an AA survey price, petrol and diesel increased by 25% last year. Over the 12-month period, the Government has decided in its wisdom to increase the cost of filling an oil tank by €40. Every time we fill a car petrol or diesel tank, it is another €3 and every time we buy a bag of coal, it is another €2. It is a con job. It is about penalising, not incentivising. Sinn Féin would not increase the carbon tax at a time when workers and families face an income squeeze and energy price hikes in the time ahead.
The Government claims to have responded to the rising energy prices by increasing the rate of fuel allowance by expanding the threshold. Of course, it is not telling the full story. In reality, only a small number of people get the fuel allowance. The Government has allocated just €3.4 million in the budget to expand eligibility which is not enough. In our alternative budget, we have shown how we would have allocated €30 million, nearly ten times that amount. The Government's measures are a poor compensation for its own carbon tax increases, not the wider increase in energy prices.
As I have said, it is a con job. The Minister is taking with one hand and giving with the other. As I said in the House last year, increasing this tax will simply make families poorer and increase the cost for people in rural communities to get around. It is not about dealing with the issues of climate change, which are real and need to be tackled in head on.
A Sinn Féin government would also have established a utility debt fund to help many families who are locked out of the fuel allowance and are also struggling with rising utility costs. Crucially, what we would have done, and what the Government should have done, was to increase core social welfare rates by €10, but unfortunately once again it has not adopted these proposals.
As a result of the pandemic and public health restrictions, tens of thousands of people became unemployed overnight and saw their incomes plummet. Immediately the PUP was introduced at a rate of €350 per week. This alone showed us that the basic rate of €203 was not enough to get by for the many people who rely on the social protection system. Even before the pandemic, energy and child poverty were among the greatest challenges we faced as a society.
A recent report by Social Justice Ireland found that 190,000 children currently experience poverty, with 630,000 of our citizens living below the poverty line. We must change that. Nevertheless, we tolerate a social protection system where each and every payment is below the level of the poverty line. The budget announced by our Ministers will continue that pattern.
Sinn Féin has long called for an end to the political football surrounding social welfare rates during the budget season by bringing forward social welfare rates that are above the poverty line and come to the minimum essential standard of living. This budget could and should have started that work. A Sinn Féin Government would have increased working-age payments by €10 a week as a first step in the path reform and to revitalise our social safety net for workers and families. The Government, we regret, has taken a very different approach.
It is important to put all this in context, given that core social welfare rates have seen no increase since March 2019, despite the rise in the cost of living and recent energy hikes. Instead, the Government has increased core social welfare rates by a fiver, an increase that does not even keep up with the 3% rise in prices over the past 12 months. Earlier this year we had a report from the European Disability Forum indicating that 38% of people with a disability in this State are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. We must protect and support our citizens with disabilities and ensure they do not only get by but that they thrive. Sinn Féin would have furthered that objective by increasing the disability allowance and the blind pension by €10. Again, I regret the Government did not follow our lead and implement that proposal.
We welcome the €5 increase in the State pension, which Sinn Féin has called for. This Government has committed to increasing the pension age, forcing those who have worked all their lives to work longer into the future. There is no measure in the budget to restrict the generous tax reliefs that exist for gold-plated pensions. Let me be clear and I am putting the Minister on notice in this respect. Sinn Féin will oppose tooth and nail any attempt by the Government to increase the State pension age and we will defend workers' rights to retire at 65 with access to a pension.
The Government claims to have responded to the cost of living with a tax package it argues would ease the burden on households but let us drill into the details. The Government has decided to increase the standard rate bands by €1,500 at a cost of more €300 million. This is a tax measure that excludes 80% of income earners, as eight out of ten people will not benefit from this measure, which will cost taxpayers more than €300 million. That equates to 2 million people who will not benefit from this because the measure is designed for those who earn the highest. It means that, yes, people like the Minister and many others will benefit; in reality, does he really need an extra €400 in his back pocket? This is not a targeted measure and it is a bad use of resources at a time of crisis in so many other areas.
The reality is that according to the Minister's tax package, workers will see approximately €2 per week in their pockets. As I said, those on the higher end, including the likes of the Minister, will receive more than €400 per year. It is not a good use of resources and it means nothing in reality to somebody who is paying €1,800 a month on rent in this city or €1,300 in other places across the State. It does not mean anything to the family paying €800 in childcare fees. The Government could have used a targeted approach to reduce the cost of living for those people who are hit hardest by it increasing.
The Government claims this tax package is designed to protect households against rising inflation but renters will scratch their heads about that claim. The Government has introduced a tax package that will protect the highest income earners against rising inflation but at the same time it brought in legislation that allows landlords to increase rents with inflation. Rents have risen by an average of 7% across the State, with the average rent in Dublin now standing at €1,800.
We in Sinn Féin have called for a ban on rent increases for the next three years. Beyond that we want real relief for renters. There are 300,000 people who see their rents go up every single year and we want to ensure they can have money back in their pocket, with up to €1,500 made available in a refundable tax credit. Why, in the name of God, did the Government collectively decide to ignore the hardship that renters face? Are those Members not aware of what is going on or do they not understand the pressure and anxiety that families face every week in trying to make ends meet?
No challenge threatens the living standards of our citizens more than the housing crisis. The housing policy over the past decade has failed under Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. A dependence on private developers and institutional investors to deliver supply has not worked for those renting or trying to buy a home. Nearly everybody, bar the Government, accepts that now. Even the millionaires are now saying this approach served the big developers, landlords and institutional investors. Over the past decades, rents have increased by two thirds and house prices continue their rapid climb towards their height of the Celtic tiger madness. Who are the victims in all of this? They are the ordinary workers and their families.
A dysfunctional housing market can be fixed and the people need to know that. They must have hope that there are solutions. Sinn Féin, similar to the ESRI, has proposed the doubling of State investment in social and genuinely affordable housing for rent and purchase. We have shown what could and should be done, with a target of 20,000 social and affordable homes in 2022 and the following years. This level of ambition is not aspirational but absolutely necessary if we are to meet the needs of citizens and avoid future hardship.
For several years we have been calling for an end to the scourge of dereliction and vacancy through the introduction of a vacant property tax to put vacant homes to use for workers and families who need affordable accommodation. For years we have called for an end to the lucrative tax breaks and incentives that have not only facilitated but encouraged bulk-buying of homes by investment funds, locking aspiring buyers out of home ownership and driving up rents for everybody else. The Government has ignored this.
The Government has instead provided exceptions and loopholes that have kept this process in place, ensuring homebuyers and renters continue to be at a disadvantage to property investors, whose only interest is profit and price hikes. There is no tax for them but by God if you are trying to keep a family warm this winter, there is a tax hike for you. That demonstrates the priorities of this Government. Our policies provide real solutions that will deliver for the housing needs of our citizens. We want to increase the supply of affordable homes while cutting rents. The Government refuses to bend on this, allowing property investors to run riot all the while.
In this budget the Government has continued with demand-side measures such as the shared equity scheme, and these pour more fuel on the fire by locking in unaffordable house prices and rents and propping up the economic position of landlords and developers. This is the sixth housing budget produced by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and it underpins the new housing plan from the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. That plan is an extension to, not a departure from, the previous plans from the Government. It is a dysfunctional housing system that is in crisis.
We in Sinn Féin have brought forward proposals time and again to provide relief for renters and affordable supply for homebuyers. Everybody accepts that we need fundamental change in our housing policy, or as I said, everybody bar the Government. Today's housing budget is very disappointing. There is only an additional €420 million in capital funding for housing. A Sinn Féin Government would double the investment, equating to an additional €1.6 billion. That is what the ESRI has called for and it is four times what the Government has provided. It would deliver 20,000 social and affordable houses. That urgency is required because if we believe there is an emergency, we must step to the plate and deliver. The Government has not done that today.
The Government is continuing with the same unambitious budgets from the past. It is subsidising landlords and developers with absolutely nothing - zero, nada - for renters in the budget. The Government has announced a zoned land tax but it will not be introduced for another two years. Seriously, does the Government not get the urgency in this? Worse than the delay to its introduction for two years, it will be introduced at a rate of 3% while the 7% levy on the same land is being eliminated. You could not make this up. Again, it is a sneaky little policy that benefits those with land not in productive use. The cost of land and sites is increasing by more than 3% per year so there is no disincentive and they can just sit and do nothing. This demonstrates a Government that is out of ideas and ambition while lacking the will to deal with this. It is out of time on this matter and the public has moved way beyond it; people know this Government cannot fix the housing crisis.
There is nothing new set in stone to deal with vacant homes. There is only €60 million for redress for the families and homeowners who have been victim of the mica and pyrite scandal. There is nothing for people affected by fire safety defects.
The Minister did not mention in his speech - it is in his budget book - that there will be €20 million extra to address the issue of defective concrete blocks, which will bring the total up to €40 million. That is an insult. As a person from Donegal, I proudly marched in the protest but I was not alone. Thousands of us, throughout the State, knew the right thing had to be done by those homeowners who are in those homes because of the light-touch, non-existent regulation when the Minister was in government. This is the Fianna Fáil era that is crumbling around these homeowners' heads and the Minister announced an extra €20 million today, which is an insult. The Minister needs to rectify that very quickly, bring reprieve to those families and say there will be 100% redress and they will not be waiting for long times into the future. He needs to make an appropriate allocation, which we have argued should be €200 million next year, not the €20 million he has proposed as an increase.
This budget is a disappointment for renters. They are being provided with no relief and no answers. It is a disappointment for aspiring homebuyers who, in light of the measures announced and adopted by the Government, face another year of rising house prices and a lack of affordable supply. Our message in Sinn Féin is clear. The housing crisis can be fixed, but only by a government with ideas and the will to deliver regardless of the opposition from vested interests who are served by the status quo and this Government.
As so many struggle to secure a mortgage for their first home, others struggle with the cost of childcare. There is a clear difference between Sinn Féin and the Government when it comes to this issue. The Government parties have faith in the private market and the profit motive to deliver goods and services that we in Sinn Féin believe are best delivered as a public service. Families are being fleeced by the cost of childcare. The average full-time fee stands at €750 per month. Childcare costs in Ireland are the most expensive in Europe, with a recent United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, UNICEF, report stating that childcare here is among the least affordable in the developed world. That is on the Minister's shoulders. He knows this because it is not by accident but a direct result of Government policy. This Government invests less in childcare than anywhere else in the developed world. As a result, many families are crippled by childcare costs, with many parents who would like to work forced to stay at home. Others face more fundamental choices, such as whether they can even afford to start a family. These are the real and damaging consequences for children, parents and, indeed, for our economy. We have a dysfunctional childcare sector where fees are too high, wages are too low and not enough places exist.
Sinn Féin has called for a new model of childcare provision, one that is delivered and operational in other countries across Europe. A Sinn Féin government would establish a public childcare and early years service, making investments to deliver accessible and affordable childcare to parents. We would do this by assuming the wage bill and additional overheads of the sector, while, at the same time, reducing fees. This new direction in childcare provision could, and should, have started next year. The Minister could have adopted our policy - we would give it to him and would be glad if he announced it - which would slash fees by a third in 2022 and by another third in 2023. What has he done? Instead of grasping that challenge and moving forward with bold reforms, the Government has stolen our policies and made a dog's dinner of them. That is the reality of it. It is ridiculous. Instead of bringing forward a plan to significantly reduce childcare fees for families hit the hardest, families with children under the age of three, it has brought forward measures that have locked in these unaffordable levels of fees. This is crazy stuff. This is one of the biggest pressures on people at this point in time and the Government has not reduced those fees by a single euro. That is again a demonstration of the lack of a targeted approach by the Government. If the Minister has not heard it from parents, let me tell him: childcare fees need to be reduced and not locked in.
In this budget, the Minister has decided to reduce the banking levy by €63 million. I noted he had a different set of words in his written speech, in which he talked about excluding Ulster Bank and others. He is reducing the levy by €63 million despite the fact the taxpayer is still on the hook for a lot of this money. Some €64 billion was ploughed into the sector to bail these banks out a decade ago. I would say I cannot understand this measure, but this is a Minister who has again decided the banks do not have to pay any tax on their profits for the next couple of decades and, therefore, it should not be surprising he is reducing the banking levy. Sinn Féin would have extended it and would have ensured the banks continued to pay €150 million to the Exchequer next year and in the years beyond.
I welcome the budget measure to reduce public transport costs for 19- to 23-year-olds by 50%. This approach has been advocated by Sinn Féin, including proposals to provide free fares for all under-18s. It is obvious the Minister read our alternative budget because, last week, he said we should not do this and that we needed to increase capacity. However, this measure needs to coincide with increased capacity for it to be effective. It is something that my party and I will scrutinise in the budget.
We welcome the decision to relax the means test for carer's allowance. This is something Sinn Féin and carers campaigned for, but the Government has not gone far enough with this measure. It has postponed the move until June and allocated just €10 million for the purpose. If we were in government, we would have opened the payment to many more carers, allocated €50 million for it, further addressed the inheritance issue and introduced what is a crucial measure - a pension for long-term carers.
Our health service has gone through 18 months of unprecedented crisis and challenge. On behalf of my party, I acknowledge the heroic efforts and dedication of healthcare staff who have gone above and beyond to keep our patients and country safe. Despite their heroic efforts, and the widespread support of the public and this Dáil, there is nothing in this budget to deliver fair pay or allowances for student nurses. That is absolutely disgraceful. I cannot believe the Government has not responded to that issue. Every day our healthcare staff have pushed through long hours and have saved lives. They have done so despite our badly managed and underfunded healthcare system. Like their parents, they deserve a budget that responded back by increasing capacity, reducing waiting lists and putting a plan in place to improve conditions and care outcomes for staff and patients. They now face the prospect of a fast approaching winter and are not convinced the Government has the appropriate resources and planning in place. There are already more than 450 people on trolleys State-wide, with emergency departments overflowing and understaffed. There are now 900,000 people on hospital waiting lists, nearly 100,000 of whom are children. This budget should have met the scale of that challenge faced by staff and patients in our hospitals but the Government is again reliant on outsourcing to the private sector, agencies and private hospitals.
The Government health measures are disappointing to say the least. They will not deliver any new acute hospital beds above pre-committed levels and only 19 ICU beds will be delivered next year. These measures fail to respond to the difficulties faced by patients and staff in our hospitals. We called for funding to deliver 600 additional new public beds and 34 additional ICU beds. That is the ambition, energy and determination that was needed and should have been delivered. The Government will blame Covid-19 but we know that is only part of the story. Waiting lists have been increasing to unacceptable levels for a number of years. We needed an unprecedented level of investment targeted at more hospital beds, safe staffing levels, theatre capacity and diagnostics. We needed a phase change and a new direction. We needed to see commitment to building an Irish national health service.
Trust in the Government's commitment to universal healthcare is at an all-time low. Sláintecare, which was to be the roadmap for universal healthcare at the point of need, called for the rolling out of free GP care by 2022 for everyone in the State. Today, the Government has provided for the extension of GP care for 6- and 7-year-olds. Is it any wonder that every Tom, Dick and Harry is jumping ship from the Sláintecare implementation advisory council? It is difficult to blame them. The Government should have invested properly in targeted measures, boosting hospital capacity and delivering an additional 4,000 acute beds by 2028, starting with 600 to be funded next year. We recognise that investing in community services is essential to making healthcare work better and to cut waiting times. We would have invested €200 million on improving the accessibility of primary and community services.
I will raise the issue of the €24 million in additional funding for mental health. This is one of the biggest crises facing young and old in this State, worsened by the lockdowns and the pandemic. That is again an insult and it needs to be revisited by this Government. We needed to ramp up investment in mental health services by putting an additional €110 million into child and adolescent mental health and primary mental healthcare services, expanding counselling to universal coverage and investing in dual diagnosis.
This is the thirteenth time I have responded to a budget and each time there have been different needs in society. This budget has failed to recognise the crisis in housing and the pressure people and renters are under, because there is nothing there. The Government has locked in unaffordable childcare prices when it could have done something completely different.
Increasing the costs of petrol, fuel and home heating at a time of rising energy costs baffles me. This Government is out of touch and out of ideas. We are willing to give the Government the ideas or, better still, perhaps it should leave the job to us.
Politics is about choices and rarely is that clearer than on budget day. A Government's budget is a fiscal expression of its policy priorities. Does it tackle sky-high rents? Does it tackle unaffordable childcare or a health system bursting at its seams? It does not. The crises we face in each of those areas did not come about through some act of God. They were the direct results of political decisions made by the men seated across from me in this Chamber and by their Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party predecessors.
A budget delivers on a Government's priorities and the interests it serves. Does it deliver for the young worker trying to pay extortionate rents on a meagre wage, the family desperately trying to pay their childcare fees, the couple living in their parents' box room, waiting for their lives to start while they scrimp and save, and watch in despair as house prices inflate beyond reach? What about the elderly woman living alone and trying to heat her home while anxiously watching the energy bills go up and up? What about the man lying in agony on a trolley in a hospital corridor while exhausted nurses tell him they are sorry but he still cannot be seen? What about the 65-year-old who has worked all her life and wants to retire but is forced to keep working long, tiring shifts on her feet all day?
I cannot remember a Government led by either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael ever delivering on affordable housing, accessible childcare, a fair day's pay for a day's work, a national health system or, indeed, a sustainable environment. For too long, this Government's priorities have been the priorities of the well-heeled special interests, the vested interests who pull the strings, including the vulture funds whose interests are served by ever-increasing rents, the large private developers whose interests are served by ever-increasing property prices, the private health insurance industry whose interests are served by stymying the roll-out of a national health system, and the data centre lobby whose interests are served by generous capital allowances which allow them to write off much of their construction costs while the cost of heating our homes increases. They are the insiders who are always taken care of by this Government while ordinary families and workers are pushed to the back of the queue.
Let us be clear: the crises we are facing in all of these areas are a direct result of Government policy. The good news is that what has been done by the Government can be undone. It can be undone by a very different type of government, one with a very different set of policy priorities; a government which delivers for communities, families and workers, puts ordinary people first and stands up for them; a government for change. We in Sinn Féin stand ready to form such a government. Until we have a government that is prepared to do just that, politics in this State will merely be the shadow cast upon society by big business.
Bíonn roghanna le déanamh ag na hAirí chuile lá beo sa Teach seo ag a mbíonn tionchar nach beag acu ar dhaoine. Tá rogha acu seasamh le gnáth-theaghlaigh agus leis an gcosmhuintir, le daoine atá thíos ag costais mhaireachtála, leo siúd atá ag íoc cíosanna ró-arda sna cathracha nó nach bhfuil in ann na táillí ollmhóra do chúram leanaí a chlúdach, agus le muintir na tuaithe a bhíonn fágtha ar an trá fholamh go mion-minic mar gheall ar easpa seirbhísí, easpa infreastruchtúr agus easpa deiseanna fostaíochta. Nó, mar atá déanta ag rialtas i ndiaidh rialtais cheana, is féidir leis na hAirí seasamh leis na baincéirí, na creach-chistí agus na forbróirí móra. Is mór an trua gur shocraigh siad cloí leis an tsean-pholaitíocht agus gan tabhairt faoi na géarchéimeanna éagsúla atá an goilleadh ar an bpobal. Tá bealach eile ann. Tá slí ann sochaí níos cothroime a chinntiú dár bpobal agus tá muidne sásta na hathruithe sin a chur i bhfeidhm. Bheadh Rialtas faoi stiúir Shinn Féin in ann stíleanna polaitíochta sa Stát a athrú ó bhun.
This year is the tenth anniversary of Fine Gael entering government, so comhghairdeas libh. Not only that, it is a sixth housing budget jointly delivered by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, so comhghairdeas libh beirt. They have somehow managed to push house prices back towards 2007 levels and out of the reach of many. Our renters pay the highest rents in Europe. They have also presided over the largest increase in homelessness in the history of this State, and not only that, they have helped to create new situations that put people at risk of homelessness. I am talking about the workers whose wages have not kept up with the cost of rent, students who cannot find somewhere to stay, and pensioners on fixed incomes whose landlord is selling up and who cannot find somewhere they can afford. This economic insecurity has bred misery for many, and misery breeds anxiety and mental health changes. The housing and mental health crises are joined at the hip.
There is no mystery about how this happened. This was not an act of God or the subject of some strange forces; it was the deliberate result of the Government policy. It fashioned a housing model which rests on the three pillars of vulture funds, large private developers and taxpayer subsidies for both. These vulture funds were welcomed with open arms. The former Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, said that such funds played an important role in the ecology by cleaning up dead animals. Is that the Government's view of workers, pensioners and families? To many, that is clearly how it feels. The chief executive of one large vulture fund said rent increases were so dramatic that he truly felt bad for the Irish people. Criticism of the Government's policy has come from across the spectrum and across the world. To the great embarrassment of the Government, even the UN has criticised its favourable treatment of vulture funds. When there is public outcry, what does the Government do? It takes an idea Sinn Féin put forward last year to stop vulture funds bulk-buying homes, but then provided exceptions if properties are leased back to local authorities at crazy costs to taxpayers. That is, of course, a great deal for vulture funds again.
While Fine Gael helps with the rents, Fianna Fáil helps with the prices. Meanwhile, the Green Party falls asleep at the wheel. The much-hyped shared equity scheme of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy O'Brien, will further push up prices, as my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, has pointed out. If it is such a good idea, where did the scheme come from? I did not read it in any Fianna Fáil manifesto. Here is a clue. The two big property lobby groups, one of which happens to involve a former leading member of Fianna Fáil, published shared equity scheme proposals. The light bulb suddenly went off in the Minister's head and he had an idea for a shared equity loan scheme. Who does he think he is kidding?
The measures that have been put to us here today are not the radical departure we need. Are they a break from the failed model? A lot of numbers have been bandied about. Every year on budget day it is interesting to hear big numbers that might seem impressive to many people. We must point out that a significant part of the increase has arisen from capital carry-over. That capital carry-over is massive. That is money that was previously available to the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, but which he was unable to spend. That, in effect, is not new money. The Ministers have outlined an extra €468 million for social housing. I wonder how much of that will be capital carry-over. The actual increase in capital spending for housing is approximately €420 million, in comparison with Sinn Féin's proposed additional capital spend on housing of €1.6 billion. The Government is well short of what the likes of the ESRI were calling for.
The next thing we need to do is to separate what the Minister is proposing will be built for affordable and social housing and what is just another developer subsidy scheme, because these things work in different ways. The building of social and affordable housing is how we tackle this crisis. These developer-led subsidy schemes at best lock in high prices and at worst push them even higher. The schemes are the shared equity scheme, the help-to-buy scheme and the new Croí Cónaithe fund. When we look at those schemes, it is clear the Government is providing more funding for developers than people trying to gain access to affordable housing. Both Ministers mentioned that housing is the crisis of the time but have done little to address it. Sinn Féin would end the tax breaks for the vulture funds and developers, and deliver genuinely affordable homes for ordinary people to buy. We would ban rent increases and put a month's rent back in people's pockets. We would deliver a functioning vacant site levy immediately and not in a few years' time. We would not delay it and allow more land banking and price increases.
Successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments have commercialised, commodified and financialised what should very obviously be a public good. They have turned housing from something which families and workers can call home into something completely different. They have turned it into an asset of speculation for large investment funds, something concerned with the rental yield on assets, capital appreciation and dividends for shareholders. What kind of gross distortion is this that the Government has allowed to try to normalise something so frighteningly abnormal?
This pandemic has exposed the cracks in our health system as well as those in housing. It has exposed and exacerbated the cracks in our health system but it did not cause them. Those causes far predate the onset of Covid-19. They were present when Deputy Varadkar was the Minister for Health, when Deputy Harris was the Minister and even when the Taoiseach was. Today, there are more than 900,000 people languishing on waiting lists, almost 100,000 of whom are children. That is simply outrageous. We have all heard stories of people, and especially children, who are languishing on these waiting lists. On this morning's "Today with Claire Byrne", we heard about Adam. Children like Adam have been let down time and time again by glossy budget launches which provide photo opportunities and praise for Ministers but which do nothing for the ordinary people being failed utterly by our healthcare system.
Yesterday, there were 477 people on trolleys in our hospitals. According to the INMO, this was the highest number of patients on trolleys since the onset of the pandemic. I recall the Minister shouting loudly last year about all the additional capacity the Government was going to provide for the sector but nothing has changed for ordinary people. Let us be clear, as things are reopening, so too are the old wounds in our health system. These are the results of the failure to ensure that there are enough doctors, nurses and beds. We need to build capacity in our health system and to build a national health system that finally puts an end to the two-tier health approach and which can deliver affordable and accessible health and social care. This Government's budget does not go nearly far enough to address this crisis. It proposes free GP care for children under eight but, as my colleague said, we were expecting universal free GP care by next year. Unfortunately, I will not be able to hold my breath on that one.
Despite a few additional ICU beds, there are no additional acute or community care beds over and above what was provided last year while only €311 million is allocated for new measures. We have lengthening waiting lists, crises in our emergency departments and rising trolley counts. There is no vision to make healthcare work and no delivery. There are no additional acute or community beds on top of what was funded and only €250 million to tackle waiting lists. It is simply the same old, same old.
A Sinn Féin Government would deliver 932 additional beds comprising inpatient beds, critical care beds, neurorehabilitation beds and special community beds for mental health patients. We would expand theatre capacity, modernise our ehealth system and upgrade and replace equipment. We would also deliver fair pay and allowances for student nurses and midwives. This Dáil voted on a motion, which the Government did not oppose. The fact that the Government has done nothing about it is absolutely shocking.
The pandemic has taken many physical tolls on our society and on healthcare but it has also had a significant impact on the mental health of many of our citizens. As a society, we have finally become more open about mental health struggles. It is now time for major investment in this area. If Sinn Féin was in government, we would today be launching the biggest mental health budget in the history in the State. The Minister has outlined an additional spend of €24 million on mental health. We would provide €114 million in additional funding for mental health. We know there has been a rise in eating disorders since the onset of the pandemic. We need an adult eating disorder team in each community healthcare organisation, CHO, area. At the moment, there is only one, in Dublin. That is not good enough. I hope the Minister listens to that point.
What our rural communities learned today is that this Government has no plan and no vision. It has no fís d'aon chineál for our family farms. We proposed almost €220 million in funding to provide for our suckler and sheep sectors, supporting smaller and poorer farmers. What the Government has delivered is an accounting exercise, a simple rollover, and no measures that would come close to meeting the needs of a sector in crisis.
I have heard many times from both Ministers that tackling the cost of living has been their aim, and the aim of their predecessors, for a long time. We have been hearing this for so long that I genuinely believe the Ministers are trolling us because this State regularly ranks as one of the most expensive places to live in the entire world.
When it comes to addressing some of the most fundamental aspects of the cost of living, the Government's measures seem, at best, ineffective and, at worst, to be exacerbating the problem. This Government is basically telling us that it is sorry but that it cannot deal with housing, healthcare or childcare. It is giving us a couple of quid and suggesting that we all forget about it and move on with our lives. That does not wash with people any more. If the Government cannot tackle the big systemic crises that we face, what, in the name of God, can it do? Let us take childcare for example. It is like a second mortgage for families. The current model has utterly failed families, early childhood educators and crèche owners. One can tinker with it all one likes, but a failed model is a failed model. The Government is providing additional funding of €78 million. This is, of course, welcome. In exchange for extending the universal subsidy to the age of 15, fees are to be frozen, but the fees are to be frozen at already inflated levels. It is not a reduction. This sector has been starved of funding for years. The Government has increased that funding but this will not negate the need for fundamental changes in the sector. It has provided additional funding for wages, which is to be ring-fenced. That is, again, welcome, but no wage scale has been provided. Staff will have to wait to see what kind of increase they will get. I will look with interest at the detail of the Government's announcement and what it will mean for the sector because I am concerned that the devil will be in the detail.
While I welcome this element of the budget, it seems more like plans on paper. So many people, particularly women, are locked out of the workforce by the unaffordability of childcare. We need to tackle that. We have a vision for childcare. It is backed up by a detailed plan that would deliver for parents and for those working in the sector. Over the course of two budgets, we would cut the costs for parents by two thirds because that is what is needed.
While many women are locked out of the workplace as a result of the cost of childcare, many who are locked out of third level education will also look on with despair. Since Fine Gael came to power in 2011, it has implemented harsh cuts and commercialised this sector. Not only did it commercialise housing, but it is also doing the same with this sector. It pushed an ever-greater share of the financial burden onto students and parents by doubling fees. While funding levels have been rising incrementally since 2017, this has only barely covered the cost of additional student places. It has again chosen to provide pre-allocated funding, which makes for good soundbites, rather than providing adequate core funding for higher education institutions, which need such funding to deliver for students and wider society.
The Ministers have regularly talked about the need for catching up in primary and secondary education after the impact of Covid but this budget means that many DEIS schools will still not have access to hot meals. There is no additional funding for school completion officers or home-school liaison services. There is nothing of any significance to help secondary schools and the reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio is inadequate. There is nothing regarding educational psychologists and no movement on free books, despite this being a commitment in the programme for Government. Our schools will also remain underfunded because there is to be no increase of any scale in capitation grants, which will force schools to ask for voluntary contributions from parents and hungry children.
If we are serious about tackling the climate crisis, we need to take radical steps to reduce carbon consumption. That is a fairly straightforward concept but it is not fully understood by this Government. We all know that we have a car culture in this State but, let us be frank, in many areas people are forced to own cars. The two key issues are accessibility and affordability. We need to get people on public transport but how are we to do that in light of those two key issues? Last week, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, suggested that fares would not be reduced for a number of years while today it was announced that they would be halved for those aged 19 to 23.
I welcome that as a first step, but it clearly does not go far enough and is not fast enough. We would deliver free public transport for those aged under 18 over the course of two budgets. That is the kind of vision we need. We need to change the culture of the youngest generation and that is where we will start. It is imperative we incentivise the use of public transport to try to tackle transport emissions and instil the habit of using public transport from an early age.
What about all of the areas where people have no public transport available to them? I am thinking of those areas between Galway and Dublin on the No. 20 Expressway bus route. The Government is telling the people of rural Ireland to get out of their cars, but is not willing to provide additional public transport. What does it expect of those people? Build it and they will come.
We were told that the purpose of carbon tax was to help us reach our climate targets. The latest increase will mean an additional €40 on a fill of oil. Yet, the Government allowed more than 70 data centres to be built. The Taoiseach only recently called for the fast-tracking of more. The average data centre, as we know, uses the same amount of energy as a small city the size of Kilkenny. The Government has allowed the energy equivalent of 70 Kilkennys to be built, which places incredible pressure on the energy grid. Ordinary people have to pick up the cost in terms of rising energy prices.
When we hear about energy price inflation, know this: the inflation has largely been imported. The overwhelming majority of the data held by data centres in Ireland is from other jurisdictions. The reason they are here is because when companies build data centres, they can essentially write off much of the cost of construction through generous capital allowances. That is why our budget wants to put a stop to this. The taxpayer is essentially subsidising the cost of construction. Data centres can use up huge amounts of energy which means higher energy costs and that pushes out further our carbon emissions targets.
The capital expenditure laid out in the budget pales in comparison with what a Sinn Féin Government would do. Not only do we believe this is appropriate, we think it is absolutely necessary to tackle the scale of the crisis in our public infrastructure. That is by no means a niche view. The IMF and the EU Commission have said in recent times that the poor state of our public infrastructure is an underlying weakness in our economy.
As has been outlined, we have signed up to the OECD process which will see our corporation tax rate move to 15% for companies with revenues above €750 million. It was said our 12.5% rate was seen as the cornerstone of our economy and a chief plank in our industrial strategy. It should be clear that to remain competitive, we need to invest. This competitiveness will have to be built on the strength, accessibility and affordability of our education system. It will be built on the skills, talent and hard work of our labour force. It will rest on how affordable, accessible and desirable a place to live this is. It will be dependent on the quality, connectivity and accessibility of our public infrastructure. All of this requires investing for the future in our future.
The scale of our capital expenditure needs to be commensurate with the scale of the challenges we face. We believe the Government's budget fails in this respect. The housing crisis will continue to get worse. We will continue to see the construction of office buildings and hotels and very little in terms of affordable and social homes. We have proposed the building of 20,000 affordable and social homes because that is what is needed.
With regard to health, Sláintecare is foundering on the rocks with a lack of Government follow-through. More than 900,000 people are languishing on waiting lists. We are calling for significant capital investment and now is absolutely the right time to do it. Investment is something that can create an asset which can generate a return. Public investment creates public assets from which we can all benefit. It is time to invest in our people and-----
Tá mé ag iarraidh cúpla rud a rá. Tá an Ghaeilge agus an Ghaeltacht fágtha in áit na leathphingine le €6.3 milliún agus gan ach €1 milliún dó sin mar mhaoiniú caipitil. Níl aon tagairt do choistí cobhsaíochta a bhí geallta do choláistí samhraidh Ghaeltachta atá i mbaol. Níl aon athchóiriú ar na ciorruithe a bhí curtha i bhfeidhm ar an nGaeilge agus an nGaeltacht leis na blianta anuas, ar nós scéimeanna agus eagras ríthábhachtach a thabhairt ar ais, ina measc, scéim labhairt na Gaeilge, Gaeleagrais nó an choimisiúin logainmneacha. Níl faic sa bhreis don Choimisinéir Teanga in ainneoin go bhfuil freagrachtaí breise air anois faoin mBille teanga. Go bunúsach, níl aon rud ann a thugann aitheantas don ghéarchéim atá ann don Ghaeltacht nó don dainséar atá aitheanta ag saineolaí an Rialtais go dtiocfadh deireadh leis an nGaeilge mar theanga labhartha sa Ghaeltacht roimh dheireadh na deich mbliana amach romhainn. Is mór an chodarsnacht é idir an easpa uaillmhéine atá anseo agus an €41 milliún de bheartais dhearfacha molta ag mo chomhghleacaí, an Teachta Ó Snodaigh.
We in Sinn Féin want to build a stronger, fair and united Ireland, an Ireland that is a good place to live and that offers youth a future and old age security. We have a new vision for Ireland. Tá fís nua ann d’Éireann: tír láidir fhéaráilte agus aontaithe. On this, the people are ahead of the Government, like they have been on many constitutional issues in the past, namely, divorce, marriage equality and a woman's right to choose. The conversation on a new Ireland has begun. It has begun in people's kitchens, local shops and hairdressers, but we do not see the Government leading on this. It is a case of lead, follow or do not stand in the way.
We need a Government that will prepare for Irish unity and seize the opportunity that unity brings to build a fairer Ireland. We need Ministers to start these preparations and deliver a citizens' assembly which will be inclusive of all views and opinions and start an inclusive debate on the constitutional future of our island. They should have made provision for this in today's budget.
For this Government the golden rule is that he who has the gold makes the rules. It is time for a new Government which follows the rule of the people, by the people and for the people and that delivers budgets which can deliver the transformative change that will fix the socioeconomic problems we face. This will ensure our political system is responsive and capable of responding to the needs of voters.
Our budget puts workers and families first. It wants to invest in our people and public infrastructure. It wants to make housing a right and not an asset class. It wants to make healthcare accessible on the basis of public need and not private greed. Some of our critics like to dismiss our arguments. They say we are unrealistic and, indeed, they actually say we are populist. We should not listen to the naysayers and defenders of the status quo. These are the people who see things as they are and ask, "Why?" We are a party that is planning for things that never were and we are asking, "Why not?" Ministers, change is coming; your time is up.
It gives me great pleasure to say that I am sharing my time with my colleague, Deputy Bacik, something I could not say this time last year.
This budget takes our State into the second century of its existence. In 2022, we will mark the centenary of the foundation of the State, and that in itself gives us cause for reflection. Coming out of this phase of the pandemic, the need for a deep assessment of where we are, where we have come from and where we are going to is even more acute. What should our priorities be? How can we do things better? What kind of country should we strive to be?
The pandemic has exposed some stark and uncomfortable truths about our society, economy and environment. We have a health system with yawning gaps that could only be filled by taking control of beds in private hospitals. We have a precarious housing system unworthy of a modern republic, where it took a ban on evictions to slow the rise in homelessness, the figures for which are once again increasing. There is a two-tier economy of extremes.
There is the reality of low pay and job insecurity for far too many people. This is a country well behind in its climate commitments.
Thanks to the resolve and downright courage of our front-line and key workers across our society and our innate qualities of community and solidarity, we have come through this unprecedented challenge. It would be churlish not to recognise the decisive impact unprecedented State supports had on securing jobs, incomes and businesses and, importantly, protecting lives at the very worst of times. We should never forget that 5,000 lives have been lost since March 2020, and our thoughts today are with those people's families and friends. We must remember them and honour the dedication of those who put their lives on the line for all of us through a determined effort to make Ireland anew, to reimagine this country, to make a new republic, to shape something better as we approach our second century, to fulfil the early promise of this country, when the Tricolour was raised in Dublin Castle almost 100 years ago, and to translate the values of Tom Johnson's democratic programme into action to make our country finally more fair and more equal. That would be a real pandemic dividend worth more than an extra day off or a once-off cash payment.
History shows us that global crises like the pandemic usher in era-shaping change. It is up to us to determine what that change should look like. Coming out of Covid, this budget was a chance to deliver a new deal for a fairer Ireland. It does nothing of the sort. The four wasted years between 2016 and 2020 were years of missed opportunities. Suffocating economic and fiscal conservatism and a lack of ambition prevented the country from seeing its hard-won new prosperity build the homes we need, design the free education system on which opportunity for all depends and right the wrong of low pay. Based on the evidence of this anaemic and directionless budget, the lessons of those lost four years have yet to dawn on the Government parties. Nothing short of a new deal for a fairer Ireland is needed. Instead, all we get is tinkering around the edges, with a few euro thinly spread here and there.
It is reassuring to see that this Government retains the title of world-class leakers. A strong record on leaking has been taken to new heights in recent weeks. We have had more leaks than we would find in a Welsh greenhouse.
This, in truth, is a budget by committee, and you can see the join. It is incoherent and there is no single, overarching theme, no ambition, no real vision and no real unifying purpose, just like the Government that has produced it. The Labour Party will oppose this budget. It utterly fails to meet the tests we have set down. This budget will not fully tackle the soaring cost of living for workers and those on low incomes. It takes us no closer to the reality of the creation of a single-tier Irish national health service. We are still as far away from free education and a public childcare system as we were yesterday. The budget moves us only gingerly to a real national retrofitting effort for our homes and to a real just transition for workers. Its housing pledges will do little to fix this crisis in the here and now. Tomorrow rents will still rise, waiting lists will still grow, our carbon emissions will not fall quickly enough and the gap between the minimum wage and a real living wage of €12.90 will only widen. The Labour Party will not support the budget.
Last month the Taoiseach could not guarantee my party leader, Deputy Kelly, that the lights would stay on this winter. Miserly Michael's €5 a week on social welfare payments will not keep the bills paid either. Did anybody do the maths? A €5 hike in jobseeker payments barely meets the rate of inflation. A fiver on the contributory pension is below the rate at which the cost of living is rising. The Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, was here earlier. His report for Fianna Fáil is right, and today it is official: Fianna Fáil is out of touch. This is the party that once prided itself on championing pensioners and the small man and woman, as the party would put it. Is it any wonder Fianna Fáil has an identity crisis? Nobody knows what Fianna Fáil is for any more, and that includes many of its own Deputies.
The Government failed to do the single most important thing it could do in this budget, which is to protect fully those who are least well off from the escalating energy and food prices they can do nothing about, and no spin can hide that reality. A fiver a week, after two years of standstill for hundreds of thousands on social welfare, is scandalous. Only those with the hardest of necks will defend this slight perpetrated against the least well-off. In the head-to-head between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, Fianna Fáil lost, and that is the truth of it. Any notion that there is a whit of difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has been buried today. The Ministers, Deputies Michael McGrath and Donohoe, are now virtually philosophically inseparable. You rarely see one without the other. They are the Ant and Dec of Irish politics. They are two very decent guys in their own right, guys I like, but politically indistinguishable one from the other. Pretty soon the Ministers will have to stand one to the left and one to the right to make sure we know what the difference is between them and which one is which.
Fianna Fáil Deputies' failure to convince the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, that the pension must go up by more than a fiver must hurt. Of course, the Sunday Independentdid not refuse Deputy O'Dea's ink this week. He nearly drowned my radio this morning with his crocodile tears on "Morning Ireland". This is what he said in the Sunday Independent. This is good. "Anything less than €10 per week means allowing more and more people fall ... behind." A truer word was never said. I wonder whether Deputy O'Dea and other Fianna Fáil colleagues will have the courage to join their fellow democratic socialist colleague, Deputy MacSharry, in Fianna Fáil purgatory for the next six months in protest at this snub for pensioners. They can always, of course, vote against the budget, but I doubt that will happen.
This package, as it relates to core social welfare rates, is abject. Increases of at least €7.50 a week are required for jobseekers, for example, to cover the rising costs of the basics and the fuel and energy that nobody can do without. With wage rates set to rise by about 5%, it looks to me that this Government has no issue driving a wedge between those who are at work and those who are not and whose jobs may have gone through no fault of their own. That is shameful. In truth - and I hope Ministers will agree with me in the round - we have to end this annual charade which strikes fear into those on social welfare. This is an experience with which I am not unfamiliar from periods of my childhood, my real lived experience that informs my world view and my politics. Will the payment go up? Will it go down? How will I be able to manage? The stress on families is enormous.
It is core rates that do the heavy lifting, the real work of narrowing the gap. The line that pensioners will be better off by €13 a week was bought hook, line and sinker by the print media. It is €13 all right - €13 if you are living alone, are on a pension and qualify for the fuel allowance. Not everyone will, even after the eligibility changes that were referred to today. Every year in this House successive governments fall over themselves to give certainty to big business on corporation tax. When will we give the same kind of certainty to pensioners and others on social welfare? I would like to see a link to the rate of inflation or, better still, a minimum essential standard of living. We must also help the lower paid to meet their rising fuel and energy bills. This is even more important given that the tax changes announced today do nothing for the lower paid outside of a welcome small change to the USC for those on the minimum wage. Nobody who works for a living should have to make a call between food and bills, but that could be the harsh reality for some working families this winter.
As we have proposed in our alternative budget, eligibility for the fuel allowance should be broadly expanded to an extra 130,000 homes and the allowance should have risen, as it did today by a fiver a week, but, crucially, with four weeks added. That has not happened. I note there is no extension in the budget. The Government's plans do not go near what is necessary to help ordinary working families because energy prices will just keep rising. That is why we have called for a new carbon tax credit worth €200 a week for households with incomes below €50,000 and a low energy rating on their home. That would have been a real signal from this Government that it really gets the struggles of decent, hard-working families who slog day in, day out in the everyday economy. It would be a real signal that the Government is on their side.
The working from home relief is really hard to fathom. It is nothing short of a massive subsidy for big companies. There are now about 875,000 remote workers, 95% of whom want to keep working remotely, according to surveys. That is fine. What is proposed, though, is cumbersome, and workers may prefer, for example, a tax credit. I know that was referred to in the tax strategy group papers. The key point is this: why is the State stepping in to take on a responsibility that should be an employer's? This move needs explaining. The tax strategy group advised caution here and said it should be the firm that carries the cost and reimburses the worker through an additional allowance or a pay rise.
When the lights are off in the office, they are on in employee's homes, generating profit for the firm. When we look at the profile of the firms where most remote workers are represented, they are not SMEs; they are major corporations for the most part and they have been let off the hook in this regard. The question is what will be next. Will the State be buying new office chairs for workers' box rooms? That provision needs further explanation.
This is no budget for the ordinary worker. Where is the sick pay scheme that was legislated for in the Dáil last year and proposed by Senator Sherlock in a Private Members' Bill? Why are workers still waiting for it? Why is Ireland still one of only five European states where employees are without the statutory right to sick pay when the pandemic is all but over? We anticipated that the pandemic would be over before the Government would legislate for the type of sick pay scheme that is taken for granted in the EU countries against which we like to compare ourselves. The small increase in the minimum wage leaves us a long way off the living wage of €12.90. In fact, the gap has now widened. If the Government were serious about a living wage, it would lead by example. All State workers and those in all the firms the State engages to do work would be on the living wage. The Government needs to lead by example and stop the tokenism and the vague promises so beloved of the Tánaiste. More than 20% of all Irish workers are on low pay. This is not a new problem. We need to make work pay and value work properly in all its forms. That means making Ireland a living-wage country. This would be a pandemic dividend that is truly worth something.
The Minister knows that I am up for a informed debate on how we should pay for the things we all say need to be done. We need a serious, grown-up conversation about tax, but it is a conversation the Government seems unprepared to have. If the Minister does not want to listen to me, I ask that he heed the warnings of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, listen to the ESRI and hear what the Central Bank has to say. We need to learn the lessons of our recent history. One euro in every five collected by Revenue is from corporation tax. This is sometimes presented as a reflection of our success but I see the risk and danger in it. The windfall is great but it is precarious. Corporation tax is the stamp duty of the 2020s and we know where that ended up and the price that is still being paid in that regard. The Government drives on with tax cuts, however, bribing the average worker with a fiver of his or her own money, when the real value will be drawn from affordable housing or public childcare.
A total of €500 million would make education free overnight. It seems that everyone except Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party can think of a better home for that sum. IFAC has noted that this budget package and the longer-term trajectory under the summer economic statement are at the edge of what is prudent. I will decode that for the House: we cannot spend billions and cut taxes at the same time. The risk to our economy in doing so is enormous. Hundreds of thousands of workers and thousands of businesses paid the price the last time Fianna Fáil tried that three-card trick. The question is whether anyone ever learns. I urge the Government to take the advice of IFAC and ditch the tax cuts for now. It should not insult the intelligence of the Irish people by telling them small tax cuts are good for them. The tax break that has been announced today will not see any benefit whatsoever derived for a retail worker, for example, on the median wage. Where is the truly transformational pandemic bonus for him or her?
It is worth reminding the House of what the Governor of the Central Bank said recently, namely, that "permanent increases in current spending" should be "balanced with revenue-raising measures elsewhere in the budget". Outside of VRT and carbon taxes, there are virtually no new ways proposed today by the Government to raise the money that is needed to treat the sick and house our people. It is relying instead on existing revenue streams and heavy borrowing. The danger here should be obvious, but the Government seems to be blinded by ideology. The Governor, whom we would all concede is hardly a lefty, has proposed the broadening of the tax base and the reduction of certain reliefs to achieve sustainable spending and investment. Yet again, however, the Government refuses in this budget to tax wealth and non-productive assets seriously. It really is beyond belief at this stage, given all the pressures on our public services and the State.
Where each of us stands on the fundamental issues of taxes on wealth, fairness and economic inequality should define our politics over the next decade. Here the stifling conservatism of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael again shines through. For the second year running, the Department of Finance has flatly refused to cost a net wealth tax on assets of more than €1 million. Such a tax is doable; it has been done elsewhere. Research by the London School of Economics, LSE, has proven it can be done but the political will is just not there. This is, again, an ideological blind spot. I get that the Government does not want to tax work overly. Nor do I and nor does the Labour Party. However, wealth should be another matter. The top 20% of Irish citizens wealth-wise have a median wealth of more than €853 per person more than the other 80% combined in terms of the total. The ESRI has shown that €248 million could be generated from a 1% wealth tax on assets of more than €1 million, and double that for a couple, with a mere 1% of total households affected. What is the Government afraid of?
All the research shows that most Irish wealth is held in assets, including development land, investment portfolios, shares and so on, with much of it passed down through the generations. This concentration of wealth hammers social mobility and copper-fastens many privileges in this country. Children born into the top wealth decile in Ireland will be fine, no matter what. Everybody accepts that. There really is no meritocracy for people in this country when we look at it from that perspective, regardless of how early most of us get up in the morning. That is not how a republic should work but it is how this one does. It is incredible that it can take five generations for some children from poor families in Ireland to reach the average income, compared with only two in Denmark. This is an indictment of our system and it should ask questions of us all.
We have another missed opportunity in this budget to make Ireland that bit less unequal. Major reliefs such as capital acquisitions tax are left untouched. A 3% increase in that tax, for instance, would have netted €42 million. This would have doubled the catch-up fund the Government has proposed for the educational development of children whose education was disrupted by the Covid pandemic. My party has shown how an additional €1 billion in revenue can be raised through targeted reductions in expensive reliefs and marginal increases in taxes on wealth, yet the Government has again turned a deaf ear in this budget. We showed how a 0.3% increase in stamp duty on shares - there has been much more activity in the trading of shares over the past two years - could provide €120 million to the Exchequer, with no impact on the everyday economy. There is no argument in favour of keeping schemes for highly paid multinational employees to encourage them to set up home here. The special assignee relief programme, SARP, is a millionaires' scheme. I understand new figures are being released today for the operation of the scheme in 2019. The previous figures we saw suggest that 18 people earning between €1 million and €10 million benefited from it in a single year. That really is some hustle and it has been supported by the State. The scheme needs to be reviewed; in fact, it should be closed down, which would save €42 million that could be better spent on the provision of public services for everyone. The story of SARP is one of fewer jobs propped up by an ever-increasing cost to the Exchequer.
The system of tax breaks and reliefs is stacked in favour of high rollers and those in the know. For a large part, they are not the wealth creators. The evidence shows they are the wealth keepers and it seems the Government plans to keep it that way. It is our view that we need to move to a new national industrial strategy that focuses on developing high-potential, innovative Irish firms to export more and grow globally from here. A wholesale review of how that can be done must be undertaken, including a review of the effectiveness of many of the existing reliefs, which are anachronistic and outdated, if they were ever required at all. That review is especially needed on foot of the welcome signing up by the Government to both pillars 1 and 2 of the corporation tax reform agenda. Our excessive reliance on foreign direct investment for high-quality jobs and tax receipts has been exposed by this process and it should serve as a wake-up call for us all.
A headline in The Irish Timesyesterday, "HSE and private hospitals in talks over tackling 900,000 waiting list", made me shudder. The people who run the private hospitals are rubbing their hands together. They have the HSE over a barrel and they know it. They can see the HSE coming and can name their price. This is not what Sláintecare, four years on, was supposed to look like. I note that the Government plans to spend €250 million on an initial plan to clear some waiting lists. In truth, it would be better off taking Deputy Kelly's advice and buying two private hospitals outright, thereby accessing an additional 200 to 300 beds. It would be more cost-effective in the long run. It would be a bold move, which would act as bridge to Sláintecare, and a real signal that the Government is committed to the single-tier Irish national health service we got a flavour of in 2020 and early 2021.
Unfortunately, the Government seems intent on sidestepping its obligations in respect of the evolution of Sláintecare.
The Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, is expecting a clap on the back for announcing that those aged seven and under will have access to free GP care. It is a scolding that he should get. It was Alex White, my former colleague, who in 2015 brought in free GP care for those aged under six. Six years on, the age limit has gone up by a year. At this glacial rate of progress, it would take 400 years to get free GP care for all and a universal primary care system but still the Government goes for tax cuts first. It is a source of real shame that Ireland is the only country in the European Union without a universal system of free GP care. Bringing all children, not just those aged seven and under, under the umbrella of free GP care would cost just €80 million for next year. That would be a real pandemic dividend and bonus for children and working families but again in this budget the Government has shown a paucity of ambition for public healthcare. How can we take the hollow commitments of Sláintecare seriously if the Government refuses to fund the very foundations of a universal basic care service in the community?
Now that the days of cut-throat corporation tax competition are at an end, this country needs to look seriously again at how it can be competitive. A good start would be to make the education system genuinely free. As the Taoiseach will accept, given his record, education is the great social equaliser, but only if one can afford it. I note that the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, got herself a piece of the budget action with her dramatic plea at the so-called last minute for 1,000 special needs assistants, SNAs. That is nothing to be proud of. Why was it last minute? Is it not important enough to have been boxed off early? It is more spin - it is all spin - and we can see through it. What the Minister should clarify is how many of those positions are to meet demographic demand and how many are real additional places to meet unmet demand. As Deputy Ó Ríordáin has pointed out, for an extra €40 million, schoolbooks could have been made free for all primary and secondary school students, but the Government chose not to do this. It is more tinkering around at the edges and no real vision for education and public services.
Of course, any positive changes that make it easier for young people from less well-off families to reach and stay in third level education are welcome. That is a given. Some changes have been made today in respect of the grant and so on and many people will benefit from that. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment to backdate the changes announced today to September of this year, or will the changes be coming in next year? All present know the experience of third level students in the past two years. It has been horrific. We need to invest in them and support them. Our future success depends on research and development, innovation and collaboration between third level and fourth level education and industry, as well as on a steady stream of talented and ambitious graduates coming through the system. The colleges need to know where they stand in the context of funding. They are currently running to stand still. Of course, biting the bullet on how third level and fourth level education is funded is not easy to squeeze into a TikTok video. The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, opens his social media accounts more often than he opens the Cassells report. That is the sad reality.
The EWSS has been a really successful initiative. It has kept people in work and tied them to the firm for which they work when there was a real risk that people would lose their jobs and be forever lost to that sector or firm. The scheme runs out in December but I note the Government has announced that it will continue to fund the scheme, at least until April next year. It is an expensive, albeit necessary, form of what might be described as corporate welfare, but here is the rub. There is not a single condition attached to an employer for usage of the scheme. This budget offered a chance to attach conditions to the scheme in return for a wedge of taxpayers' money - it will cost an additional €1.26 billion, according to the detailed figures in the pack distributed today. The Government could have attached conditions, such as that nobody on the scheme could lose their job. It could have attached conditions to create a new German-style wage subsidy scheme that would enable those who may be working part-time and being resourced and supported by the EWSS to upskill and retrain for the jobs of the future. That is a significant missed opportunity and, frankly, it is really poor public policy-making.
Similarly, it was announced that the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector will be stretched out into next year. It will remain in place. I understand the motivation of the Government is to support that sector but, again, no conditions whatsoever have been attached in the context of a sector that is absolutely obsessed with low pay and insecurity. There is something at the Government's fingertips to which it could have reached. In 2012, the Dáil legislated for a joint labour committee system to allow for employers and workers, represented by their trade unions, in the hospitality sector to come together to set basic minimum pay above the rate of the national minimum wage and set decent terms and conditions. However, employers' groups consistently refuse to engage. They essentially veto the law of the land. That is an abject failure of Government policy.
I note that I have approximately three minutes remaining for my contribution. I refer to the Government's actions or lack thereof in respect of housing. It is interesting that it has announced a new zoned land levy involving a reduction from 7% to 3%. All present are aware that the existing levy is being operated by the local authorities but is not operating well. This levy will be operated by the Revenue Commissioners. I am interested to learn more about the evolution of the levy.
There is zero support for renters in the budget but there is the extension of some reliefs for landowners. There is no reference whatsoever to a vacant homes tax to bring more homes into use. As my colleague, Senator Moynihan, constantly reminds us, there is a demand for such a tax to make sure we can use the properties we have to get people into the houses we have now. We are being asked to wait until the end of the Housing for All strategy to deal with a housing problem that needs to be dealt with today. A tweak here and there to the housing assistance payment and to rent supplement will simply not do the trick. Some weeks ago, when the House was debating the renters Bill brought forward by Deputy Bacik, I appealed to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, to adopt a three-year rent freeze as Deputy Bacik has proposed. That would act as a bridge between the here and now and the end of Housing for All when supply will be improved.
Again, no ambition has been shown in respect of local authority houses. The Labour Party would have provided additional capital allocations to build at least an additional 2,000 public homes on public land this year, building on what is already committed to in Housing for All, and would have focused on seed funding for an additional 8,000 affordable homes and homes that would be introduced into the build-to-rent scheme. The budget shows very limited ambition in respect of the biggest social issue facing the country at this moment.
I welcome the changes that have been made in respect of overseas development aid. Those changes will be welcomed by Dóchas and others working in that space. It is important that we use our wealth to support the less well-off across the world and take seriously our contributions as a very active member of the United Nations and the UN Security Council to fulfil our obligations to the developing world. The increases in question are very welcome indeed.
Coming out of Covid-19, we had a real opportunity to introduce transformational change and to bring Irish public services up to a European standard. Instead, we are going back to the status quoand the old way of doing things, bribing Irish workers with their own money - a fiver here and a fiver there - when, in fact, we would be much better off using the resources we have to invest in the public services that everybody needs. It seems to me that lessons have not been learned from Covid-19. The Labour Party will not be supporting this budget.
I am glad to be responding for the first time in this House to a budget. I wish to follow the lead of Deputy Nash by approaching the budget in a constructively critical manner and welcoming what is positive in it while noting, however, that much of the positive change is so piecemeal that, although the budget has been largely and widely leaked in advance of its publication, with a drip-feed of selective positive piecemeal news, the reality is that it has failed to deliver. It has raised expectations without delivering any real change. The tax cuts announced today could have been invested in real and radical change in public services.
What we have seen instead is a lack of a grand vision, some tinkering around the edges and a failure to address the real structural needs of people.
There has been some good news in the budget for sure, for those who are perhaps cider drinkers or digital gamers. That is welcome. However, there is not so much good news for renters, or indeed, parents seeking to access increasingly unaffordable and scarce childcare places. This Government lacks a grand vision. What this budget lacks, and what Labour has proposed, is a new deal for a fairer and more equal Ireland and a new deal on care, climate, housing and work.
This budget lacks a progressive pathway for delivering real change on these issues. On care and climate, the two issues on which I want to focus, as Deputy Nash stated, there is a lack of transformative vision. This is all the more a shame, given that we have come through Covid and we have seen what solidarity and a collective sense of purpose can deliver. We have seen the loss of so many thousands of lives to Covid and the devastation it has caused to so many, in terms of lives and health and also livelihoods. Through this time, we have learned the real value of public services and the need to ensure good, decent and adequate investment in our healthcare, education and childcare systems. That is what we mean when we talk about a new deal for a fairer Ireland. We are talking about the sort of moment we saw in Britain coming out of the Second World War, with the creation of the National Health Service. We are talking about the sort of transformative vision that was expressed by Dr. Kathleen Lynn in this country, when she talked about a new vision for children's healthcare, and that was exemplified by the former Minister for Education, Donogh O'Malley, when he announced free secondary education for all children 55 years ago, stating: "We will be judged by future generations on what we did for the children of our time." That is the sort of transformational vision that could have been delivered in this budget, but the Government has failed abjectly to do so.
On care, we need to see a commitment to change to tackle the piecemeal, laissez-fairesystem that has emerged out of the failures by successive Governments to introduce a system of universal public childcare and a high-quality system of community- and home-based supports for older persons. We need a new fair deal, which I have been calling for, to move us away from the prioritisation of nursing home and institutional care and to instead reconfigure the system of subsidy to ensure that older people are given access to supports in their own homes to enable them to stay there instead of having to move into institutional care. This budget fails to introduce a system that delivers for those with disabilities, those experiencing chronic disease and those who need supports. It fails to introduce a new green deal - a radical vision on how we get to a point where we achieve our carbon emission reduction targets.
I have called for a transformational moment in respect of childcare, which we are not seeing in this budget. Although it was well flagged that there would be much in it for parents, what we see instead is a disappointing failure to meet those expectations. A sum of €78 million is proposed in additional investment in core funding and to reform the national childcare scheme, which is below the €100 million that was flagged in advance. We have seen, in the words of the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, a promise of a turning point, but we have seen promises of turning points each year for childcare, without any tangible effect for those involved. We see some fine words in this budget, but no sign of any reduction in costs for parents who are now paying effectively a second mortgage in fees to crèches, with fees for children aged under five running at approximately €1,000 a month in my constituency in Dublin Bay South and throughout Dublin. There is also a lack of places. Therefore, it is not just affordability that is the issue; it is also a scarcity of places. I am hearing from providers in my constituency about the difficulties they have in keeping childcare services going. We are also hearing from those professionals and early years educators about low pay. Serious concerns have been raised about low pay in the sector. SIPTU's Big Start campaign and the New Deal for Early Years coalition are telling us that 42% of professionals are actively seeking work outside the sector now, with 78% saying that if conditions remain the same, they intend to leave within the next year. Low pay is the biggest factor driving people out of this profession. We are hearing from managers and providers who cannot recruit new staff and, therefore, cannot keep childcare services open.
We are failing everyone. Our childcare system - or lack of one - is failing parents, professionals, providers, and most important, our children, who do not have access to quality early years education as a matter of right. That is why we need that Donogh O'Malley moment. We must ensure that children under school age who require deserve it, should be entitled to a free early years place in this modern Ireland. That is what we in the Labour Party have called for. I was proud to launch, with Labour Women, our call for a universal public childcare model, which we would have commenced in this budget, starting with a €60 million pilot. We would adopt a new approach defined by equality for children, affordability for parents and fairness for professionals. We put forward a clear and costed proposal of how this would be rolled out. It is built around the vision of a universal public childcare scheme. That is what is lacking in this budget. We do not see any commitment to a pathway to a future where there will be a universal public scheme. We do not see that absolute commitment to equal early years education provision for children in this budget. We welcome the changes proposed to the national childcare scheme. Indeed, my colleague, Senator Marie Sherlock, has led on that, but we do not see where it fits into the overall structural reform that is needed to fix a system that is failing everyone and is currently reliant on piecemeal private sector provision. Some questions remain. Why is it proposed to extend the scheme to under the age of 15 and how is that to be done? Why are we seeing such delay on the implementation of decent wages for childcare workers?
There is failure to meet expectations in the care and disability sector as well. As outlined in the recent disability capacity review, an investment of €350 million is needed in 2022 just to meet demographic and unmet demand. The additional funding of €105 million announced today is welcome but it is not enough to meet the serious needs of those with disabilities. The Disability Federation of Ireland has pointed out how increases in carer's allowance and the income disregard will not meet the needs of carers and will not help those carers who are not in employment. During the pandemic, we have seen how carers and front-line workers are unsung heroes who need supports. Not enough is provided in this budget.
I welcome commitment in the budget to provide additional SNAs, but I know, from my constituency, just how short we are in terms of the allocation of places for SNAs in schools.
Finally, on the catch-up for children fund that Deputy Ó Ríordáin and I have proposed, I do not see a commitment in this budget to ensuring that there is adequate resourcing put in place, particularly for those children who have additional needs and most need resources for catching up.
On climate action, the budget lacks a sign of commitment to delivering a radical vision on climate. Climate should be front and centre. This should be a green new deal budget. That is what we had all expected, but again, the delivery in this budget fails to meet the expectations that have been raised. The UN Secretary General described the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was published in August as a "code red for humanity". Indeed, the Minister for Finance himself said that the world is burning. However, there is no sense of that urgency, the need for immediate action or the grand vision to take that action when we look at the small print of this budget on climate.
We know that the political will is there. We see it in the school strikes for climate outside the gates of Leinster House every week. We see it the citizens' assembly on climate change, 100% of the attendees of which recommended that the State should take a leadership role and address climate change. It must be at the centre of policymaking in Ireland for all Departments. However, we do not see that in this budget.
We needed to see plans for a more ambitious retrofitting programme and a commitment to a national recruitment campaign to ensure that we have adequate numbers of workers to deliver that programme. We also need to see more on just transition. We must ensure that income will be adequately redistributed for those who are going to be most hit by carbon tax increases. Labour called for a new carbon tax credit to be introduced to be refundable and allocated on a household basis and available up to a particular income limit and those living in homes of a BER rating of less than B2. We also called for increases in the weekly fuel allowance, and the announcement of such increases in the budget is welcome.
We would have gone further and restored the extra four weeks that were paid in 2020. We wanted to see more expansion of eligibility for more households. Again, we did not see this in the budget.
On transport, we called for a more ambitious programme and for free public transport for children and for all students instead of the half-hearted change we have seen. Certainly it is welcome to see reduced prices for those aged under 23. There is a question about how this can be rolled out logistically. We have a lack of public transport in many areas outside the major urban centres. It would appear that what we are seeing with the Government proposal on public transport is that it is encouraging people to use unaffordable, or sometimes unavailable, public transport before it can be made free to incentivise them to do so. We might call this putting the cart before the horse, or putting the Leap card before the bus or train where Leap cards do not extend or where there is no public transport available.
The budget is short on completion dates for flagship public transport projects. There has been serious concern in Dublin about when the MetroLink will be rolled out. We should have seen front-loaded investment in active travel and city bike schemes. For years, I have been calling for the introduction of a bike to school scheme modelled on the bike to work scheme that would encourage more schoolchildren to purchase bikes for their commute to school and to move away from an over-reliance on private cars for that crucial school journey. The Labour Party delivered on the Dublin bikes scheme. We have seen strong public infrastructural schemes for cycling along the Grand Canal and in other areas in Dublin but too many infrastructure schemes are piecemeal. What we are lacking in the budget is a sense of a grand vision for a move away from reliance on private transport and a move to active travel and public transport measures. We need to ensure the infrastructure is there to enable people to make this move. Some of the changes proposed are simply inadequate. A measure refers to extending the €5,000 scheme for electric cars. Again, it is not enough to enable and support people to make the change and move to electric cars. We see a lack of provision for electric car charging points. This is a serious issue for people who actively want and desire to make a change away from fossil fuel reliance in their everyday lives.
Overall, what we have seen in the budget is too much that is piecemeal. There is too much based on short-term thinking, of which we in the Labour Party have been critical. There is too little in terms of a commitment to the structural changes that are sorely needed in many areas, particularly in the crucial areas of childcare, care for older persons and care for those with disabilities. We have also seen tokenistic and piecemeal change put forward in the budget in many other areas, including climate, education and health, as Deputy Nash said. We are calling for a grander vision and a new fair deal for a fairer Ireland and a new fair deal for a more equal Ireland, in which the funding invested in tax relief is put instead into the delivery of high-quality public services. The budget we needed for 2022 was a budget that delivered real change for people throughout Ireland. This is not what we are seeing in this inadequate, flawed and underambitious budget.
It is regrettable that not a single Cabinet Minister is present in the Chamber for the debate. Apart from being disrespectful, it is a disgrace that nobody had the time to participate in the debate and to come in here and listen to what those of us on this side of the House have to say about the budget. It is wrong.
The budget has been billed as an effort by the Government to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, which everyone agrees is completely out of control. How accurate is this assessment? If we peel away the bluster, spin and recycled promises and look at the fine print of this document we find these assertions are entirely threadbare. What we have is a budget that is full of smoke and mirrors, which is only tinkering at the edges and making minor changes but no substantive differences. Where is the ambition? Where is the vision? Where are the bold ideas?
As the Social Democrats pointed out ahead of the budget, the cost-of-living crisis is a direct consequence of decades of underinvestment in our public services, and in housing, healthcare, education and childcare in particular. This year, a major spike in the cost of energy poses an enormous danger to those living on the margins who are already struggling to get by. If we truly want to put money back into people's pockets and improve people's quality of life, then we must address in a serious and credible way the chronic deficits that exist in our public services.
In our party’s alternative budget we talked about the concept of universal basic services and the idea that everyone is entitled to a range of public services that are free at the point of use. It is the notion that in progressive societies there is a minimum standard of living below which nobody should fall. This is the social contract. We wanted to see budget 2022 taking concrete steps towards this modest goal. Sadly, it will not move us very far along the path we want to go. The Government just does not seem to get it. It does not grasp the scale of the challenge so it cannot even begin to determine how to rise to it. Even before the recent spike in inflation, Ireland was the second most expensive country in the EU in which to live. The cost of living here is 36% above the EU average; our housing costs are the highest in the EU; the price of goods and services is the second highest in the EU; and our fuel costs are the fourth highest in the EU. Marginal increases in the fuel allowance or pension payments and minor tinkering to tax bands will do nothing to address this imbalance.
The Government was focused on including income tax cuts in this budget. More than €500 million was given over but the regressive nature of the Government's priority is evident in its own estimations of the results. For example, single people on middle incomes earning between €25,000 and €35,000 a year will get the sum total of €2 per week, which is a quarter of what someone earning €100,000 will get. Couples with one income earning between €25,000 and €35,000 a year will also get a fraction of their better-off counterparts. They will get €1 per week if they are earning €25,000 and €9 per week if they are earning €100,000. It is even worse for the self-employed. The Government speaks a lot about encouraging people to set up small businesses and do apprenticeships to set up as self-employed. If self-employed people earn €20,000 or less, they get nothing at all in the budget. If self-employed people earn €25,000 they get approximately €1 per week. Self-employed people do not seem to benefit unless they are earning more than €50,000. The scale of this disparity between low-paid and better-off workers is stark. It is clear where the Government's priorities lie.
The budget fails ordinary workers and families but it particularly fails those on low and fixed incomes and not only when it comes to its regressive tax cuts. The minimum wage will increase by a paltry 30 cent, barely enough to cover inflation, to €10.50 per hour. We have heard a lot of platitudes from the Government about the importance of those front-line workers who worked in sectors such as retail and others throughout the pandemic, putting their own lives and health at risk. Where is the recognition of this selfless work in the budget? An extra 30 cent in the minimum wage? Is that all the Government believes these workers are worth? The living wage was increased by 60 cent to €12.90 at the end of September. This figure represents the bare minimum required to meet people's physical, social and psychological needs and enable a life with any kind of dignity.
Housing costs in Dublin now account for 64.7% of the living wage, net of salary, based on this new rate. One in five workers in Ireland earn less than the living wage. How does this Government expect people to afford a roof over their heads? Rents have doubled in a decade and renters have received no support whatsoever to insulate them from these extortionate price increases. Since 2013, we have listened to a succession of Ministers condescendingly say, "You can’t build houses overnight". During that time, the crisis has become immeasurably worse. It is not that they cannot build houses overnight; they cannot build houses at all. Every single target for the delivery of homes has been missed. Despite a €310 million affordable housing scheme being unveiled in October 2018, no affordable homes were built in either 2019 or 2020. Just eight affordable homes will be built this year. This abject failure to address the housing crisis is causing untold stress, trauma and hardship to tens of thousands of men, women and children all over the country. It is ruining people’s lives and this Government, and the previous Government, are enabling that.
"Liveline" recently heard from a woman in her 50s who was living in a garden shed with no running water. Sandra broke down in tears as she said she felt so ashamed about her appalling living conditions. The interview was distressing to listen to. Sandra did not want to say where she was living as she did not want to get the person who was renting her the shed, with no running water, into any kind of trouble. She sounded grateful to have the shed to live in. It is disgusting that people are being forced to live like this in one of the wealthiest countries in the world in 2021. Sandra and other victims of the housing crisis should not feel shame. This Government, and previous Governments, should feel shame that they have presided over failed policies that have resulted in the infliction of this misery on so many people for such a long time.
I was pleasantly surprised when I read in one of the newspapers that the Minister for Finance was increasing pensions by €13 per week. That was just another sham, however. It was spin from the Minister's Department to try to disguise the completely inadequate increase in the rate of core support. Pensions, and other social welfare supports, are increasing by just €5 per week. This is despite the fact that welfare rates have not been increased in two years. Since January 2019, the consumer price index has increased by 4.3%, meaning the purchasing power of the pension has fallen by €10.40 per week. Age Action Ireland said an extra €5 per week for pensioners is "not a serious gesture". Pensions need to increase by €10 per week just to stand still. Instead of recognition of this fact, we get spin.
We are told the fuel allowance is going up by €5 per week, but just 30% of pensioners are entitled to this and it is paid for just 28 weeks a year. The living alone allowance will also go up by €3, but a minority of pensioners receive this allowance. So pensioners get €13 extra a week. No, they do not, but they had better read the small print before they start spending that money. One in ten pensioners lives below the poverty line and one in nine experiences material deprivation. They will be rightly irate at this attempt to spin the budget as providing them more core support than it actually does.
An additional fiver a week is not going to do much to help others in receipt of core welfare payments either, particularly one-parent families, who are four times as likely to experience income poverty than couple-households and five times as likely to experience material deprivation and consistent poverty.
Those on the disability allowance have also been forgotten. Once again the Government failed to acknowledge the additional cost of living that comes with having a disability and ignored calls for a cost of disability payment. People with disabilities consistently experience the highest poverty rates of any group in Ireland at three times that of the general population, while more than two in five people with disabilities experience deprivation at any one time. On average, EU countries spend 2% of their GDP on social protection expenditure for disability. Ireland’s expenditure is just 0.8%, the second lowest in the EU. The Department of Health's, Disability Capacity Review to 2032: A Review of Social Care Demand and Capacity Requirements to 2032, was published in July 2021 following a long delay. It is an important report, which details the entrenched levels of unmet need across several types of disability services. While the report is not perfect, it serves as a stark reminder of just how far behind people with disabilities have fallen in terms of basic community and residential services. The disability capacity review estimated that a further €550 million to €1 billion investment in disability services is required over the next ten years. I do not see this acknowledged at all in today's budget.
The Social Democrats welcome the overdue moves to support carers. However, while the means test for carers is finally being changed for the first time in 14 years, we regret that nothing has been done to fund a dedicated long-term carers’ pension scheme. Given the contribution made to society by people who spend decades caring, the estimated cost of €3 million for such a pension scheme is paltry by comparison.
It is time for the Government to accept evidence-based benchmarks of what people need to live a decent standard of living. Pensioners and carers and others on fixed incomes should not have to depend on arbitrary decisions from governments when they try to figure out how much they have to live on. These rates should be evidence-based and benchmarked. The living wage and minimum essential standard of living, MESL, research provides a benchmark for what the Government should aiming. In the Social Democrats' alternative budget, we published a suggested pathway that would bring core welfare rates to a level of adequacy over the next five years. Will the Minister commit to such a target or are these just once-off decisions and figures just plucked out of the air? Why does he not set out a clear pathway to get us to adequate incomes for those who are currently vulnerable in terms of survival?
Will the Minister acknowledge that the increases in the qualified child increase, which are paid to families in receipt of social welfare payments as an essential support for children, are wholly inadequate? Of those dependent child increases, the increase is €2 per week for a child under 12. For children aged 12 years living in the poorest families, who are in their teenage years with the same kind of needs as adults, needing the same amount of food as an adult in the main together with the clothes that have the same cost as adult clothes, as well and other expenses, the increase announced earlier is a miserly of €3 per week, which is insulting.
The MESL benchmark research I referred to earlier shows that it is more expensive to maintain children when they are in their teens than when they are younger and there is little or no acknowledgement of that.
For a rich, developed country, Ireland has a terrible record on the alleviation of child poverty. Given the targeted nature of the qualified child payments, this was surely a missed opportunity to make a major difference to the lives of some of our most vulnerable children.
The pledges made in this budget in regard to healthcare sound familiar. Indeed, they are familiar, given they have been made before. The exact same promise to prioritise waiting lists was made last year. Back then, when 800,000 people were on hospital waiting lists, the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, announced the creation of a fund to tackle these lists. A new €210 million access-to-care fund to buy private care was announced. That figure garnered many headlines, but what happened behind the scenes? Just €97 million of the €210 million allocated for 2021 was spent. Today, more than 900,000 people are on waiting lists, children are being offered dates in 2035 for hospital appointments and we are again told this is actually a priority. The Minister can forgive the people if they do not believe him. Waiting lists will not be truly tackled until the health service is restructured and Sláintecare is implemented in full. Under the Government and the Minister, however, there is, sadly, little chance of that, it seems.
The other big measure in the budget is the extension of free GP care to the under-eights. While this is certainly welcome, it is long overdue. In 2019, Fine Gael prioritised free GP care for under-tens by the end of 2021 and for under-12s in the following year. Do the Government and Fine Gael recall that promise? Did it mean anything at all? That target was abandoned, of course, and free GP care for those aged under eight was supposed to be rolled out in September 2020, but that month it was announced this promise was being shelved indefinitely as discussions with the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, had not even started. Can we now assume free GP care for children under the age of eight will actually be introduced in the coming new year or will it be later in 2022?
The extension of the PRSI dental scheme will do nothing to address the crisis in the medical card scheme, from which dentists are withdrawing at an alarming rate. In 2020, one quarter of dentists withdrew from the scheme. That scheme will pay for just two fillings a year, no matter what the patient’s needs are - that is just incredible - but the patient can have as many extractions as he or she likes. This is a grotesque but apt metaphor for the manner in which our health service is managed generally. There is no long-term care or evidence-based planning but an overarching strategy for the provision of services that is archaic, arbitrary and extremely damaging long term.
We learned last month that €10 million allocated for pandemic-related mental health supports in February had not been spent. It is extraordinary that when faced with a crisis in mental health services, the HSE could not figure out how to spend €10 million over the course of most of the year. Attendances at emergency departments for mental health issues jumped by 58% over the second half of 2020 compared with the same period the previous year, according to Children’s Health Ireland, yet the HSE could not spend its €10 million budget. Did it even try? It is extraordinary, given the level of unmet need that exists. Spending on mental health constitutes just 5.1% of the health budget, while the World Health Organization recommends 12%. In the UK, mental health spending accounts for 13% of the total health budget. Our low level of spend in this critical area is the reason 2,000 children and young people are waiting to be seen by child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, and 10,000 people are waiting for primary care psychological treatment, the majority of whom are children.
The number of admissions for children and adolescents with eating disorders has also escalated, with a 66% increase in the first three months of this year. Meanwhile, there are just three specialist adult inpatient public beds for those with eating disorders in the entire country. That is an indictment of the manner in which we treat mental health issues in this country. There have been many plans to improve mental health services - Planning for the Future in 1984, A Vision for Change in 2006 and Sharing the Vision in 2020 – but not adequate implementation. We must move from plans to action if we want to see improved services for mental health.
We know our health service can react with speed and efficiency when it has to, as we saw during the pandemic. The pandemic highlighted how quickly resources, energy and funding can be mobilised when necessary. It is time to devote those same resources, energy and funding to fully implementing the Sláintecare plan. The Social Democrats call on the Government to lay out a ten-year funding programme for Sláintecare and to include this cost in the pre-committed element of the annual budget process, as happens with the national development plan and public pay agreements. Only then will we believe the Government is genuinely committed to reforming our public health service.
Small and medium businesses, especially in our hospitality and events sectors, have suffered extensively as a result of pandemic-related restrictions. Those sectors, which have been particularly affected by the pandemic, will continue to need support in the short term. About 320,000 jobs in approximately 27,000 companies are still being supported via the employment wage subsidy scheme. We must try to save those businesses and jobs that remain viable and we welcome targeted supports for those sectors worst impacted by the pandemic.
Transport is another area where, like in the case of pensions, the Government’s spin is more impressive than its policies. Discounted travel on public transport for those aged up to 24 has been billed in the media as a measure designed to get people back on public transport. Was that ever a problem? The central problem with public transport is capacity. There is simply not enough of it to cater for the existing demand, not to mention that of the future. The Government, instead of tackling this underlying structural issue, has failed to commit to constructing the vital public transport capital projects that are required to truly expand services, that is, projects such as MetroLink and DART+. Reduced rates for young people are welcome, but public transport should be made more affordable for everyone, and more accessible. This can be done only by sustained capital investment in projects, some of which have been promised for more than two decades and to which the Government failed to commit in its national development plan wish list published last week.
There are some positives in this budget in respect of how families will benefit from it. The investment in childcare provision is essential, particularly if we are to stem the tide of staff leaving the sector. Ensuring staff in the childcare sector have decent wages, benefits and job security that reflect their qualifications and the considerable social importance of their work is critical to its sustainability. Investment of €100 million in this area is a progressive move but we need clarity on the long-term strategy. Moving away from the current model, with its focus on privately provided care, and towards a system of public provision must be the overarching policy. While today's commitment is welcome, as is the suggestion that next year the investment is to be €200 million, although that was not stated today by the Minister, we would like to see that pathway to funding childcare fully, but it has to be in the context of moving to a public model for childcare. The State has let parents pick up the bill for childcare for decades. Other countries do it very differently. They understand that every €1 invested in early childhood education saves the state between €9 and €17 in the long term. That lesson has yet to be learned in this country.
Equally important is the element of parental leave. We have consistently called for a new deal for families and for the Government to meet its target of providing paid leave to parents for the first year of a child’s life.
This budget has increased paid parental leave by two weeks. The additional two weeks of parental leave means that for every child born in Ireland parents get a total of 35 weeks paid leave when all types of leave are accounted for. We are still only two thirds of the way to meeting the target that was set out in the First 5 policy document and which was reiterated in the programme for Government. In the Social Democrats' alternative budget, we called for an additional five weeks of paid parental leave. If we keep going at the rate this Government is proposing, it will be the end of this decade before Ireland is in line with our European peers on this. Budget 2022 also contains no mention of moving us to the European average of two years total leave per child, combining paid and unpaid.
With regard to education, the budget commits to reducing the pupil teacher ratio and providing additional SNAs. That is welcome. However, there is little or no mention of the cost of education for parents. Part and parcel of that is the need to increase the capitation grant for the cost of running schools in order to remove what is called the voluntary contribution. It is not acceptable at this stage of the country's development that sending children to school imposes such a massive financial burden on parents.
The Social Democrats have supported the principle of a carbon tax, as long as it is designed to truly incentivise behavioural change and that people have genuine options which allow them to make those behavioural changes. We believe the full revenue from carbon tax, not just the additional revenue from tax increases, should be ring-fenced to fund just transition measures, such as retrofitting homes. Most importantly, there must be significant financial mitigation for those on the lowest incomes. It is regrettable that there was no recognition of this in today's budget in respect of low-income families. Why was the fuel allowance not extended to families in receipt of the working family payment? There are no mitigation measures that I can see in the budget relating to that category of low-income families. Just €48.9 million of a budget of €221.5 million has been spent to date on retrofitting. Allocating funding is apparently easy, but the Government has difficulty in getting the money to those who desperately need to retrofit their homes. What must be done in this regard, in addition to retrofitting council houses, is a complete restructuring of the grant scheme. The problem is that many people on low and medium incomes simply cannot afford the upfront money that is required to draw down the grants for retrofitting their homes. The Social Democrats have set a very clear plan for doing that. It is regrettable that the Government has not gone with it.
This is a budget which set out to please everyone and will instead please nobody. It is short-sighted, lacks ambition, rehashes failed promises and presents them as original and fails to prioritise investment in our public services. The Government does not invest in public services. Instead, it seems to favour regressive tax measures. Overall, the budget will do little to address inequality in Irish society and certainly will not address the increased cost of living for so many families.
I refer to the sum of €246 million, which can be found in a footnote on page 116 of the expenditure report. That is the amount of capital funding which was supposed to be spent on housing in 2021 but is being carried over to next year. That tells one everything one needs to know about how this Government treats the housing crisis, despite the urgency it requires. Think of what could have been done with that €246 million this year, if it had been spent, for people who are experiencing homelessness, who are sleeping rough or who are living in terrible conditions in emergency accommodation, for the more than 100,000 households in insecure HAP tenancies or on housing waiting lists, for people who are renting and are fearful of the next time there will be a rent increase or are fearful of eviction, or for people who are trying to buy a home. It is inexcusable that €246 million in capital funding for housing that should have been spent this year to ease the housing crisis is being carried forward into next year.
The fact is that if one looks at the number of affordable homes that were promised for this year in the last budget only eight homes were delivered. It was not the Minister of State's party but Fianna Fáil that promised 10,000 affordable homes per year in its election manifesto. It delivered eight. I appreciate there was a pandemic, but it is not excusable to have that amount of capital funding unspent going into next year. It is not excusable when the sites were open to build social homes, and it does not explain the lack of delivery of affordable homes and cost-rental homes.
If one wishes to see further evidence of the lack of urgency in the Government's approach to housing, one need look no further than what the Government is proposing in respect of vacancy. Despite a commitment given by senior Ministers at the launch of Housing for All that there would be a vacant homes tax in 2022, and they signalled it would be announced in this budget, there is no mention of a vacant homes tax. They gave that commitment at the press conference at the launch of Housing for All in Dublin Castle when they were pressed on this by journalists. Where is that vacant homes tax? As regards vacancy, there are more than 90,000 vacant homes around the country that could and should be brought into use. In addition, there are thousands of vacant commercial buildings that also could be brought into use for housing.
Look at what the Government is doing about vacant zoned lands. Yes, it says it will introduce a tax, but it will not be implemented for another two years. Where is the sense of urgency in that? When it comes to the rate at which it will be set, while the current vacant sites levy is at 7% the Government is saying this new tax will be set at only 3%. Where this tax is needed most and where vacant zoned land needs to be brought into use most, the land is increasing in value by well beyond 3% per year, so the level of 3% will be insufficient to ensure that where we most need to bring zoned land into use to provide housing it will not be enough to mitigate against the increased value that land accrues when landowners with zoned land sit on it. It will be no surprise that this measure is insufficient to deal with the current amount of zoned vacant land sitting idle which should be brought into use.
Dr. Rory Hearne has done some excellent work by publishing testimonies from people about their experiences renting or trying to buy a home. This is what one person had to say:
I'm a 31 year old, single, primary school teacher living in Dublin. ... I'm quitting my permanent job in Dublin to move back home to Mayo because I can't afford to buy in Dublin. ... It could take me years to get a permanent job, and therefore a mortgage in Mayo, but I'll never afford to buy in Dublin so I have no choice.
This is the reality for many people who have good jobs but simply cannot afford to buy a home. This is the reality this budget fails to address. The Government is promising just 4,000 affordable homes in the budget. That is far short of the 10,000 affordable homes that were promised by Fianna Fáil in the last election, and it is far short of what is required. However, even this number of 4,000 homes is fiction. Almost half of these homes will not be affordable at all, and are due to be delivered under the proposed shared equity scheme. Even with that, we must ask how confident should we be that the Government will meet its targets for delivery in 2022.
In last year's budget, the Government promised 750 affordable homes in the shared equity scheme. Not a single home has been delivered under that scheme to date and it is not clear a single home will ever be delivered under that scheme, given the very stern warning issued by Central Bank that the shared equity scheme will inflate house prices and fuel house price inflation. In last year's budget, a further 1,850 homes were promised under the serviced sites fund and the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, but only eight affordable homes have been delivered so far this year using those funds. Promises of affordable homes are of no use. Photo ops of Ministers turning sods are of no use. We need actual affordable homes to be built.
In The JournalMichelle Hennessy recently published real-life testimonies from renters that give a powerful insight into the reality of renting in Ireland today. Here is one testimony:
I am 50 years old. I moved back to Ireland in 2015, after 20 years abroad. I pay €1,200 a month for a one-bedroom flat in Dublin. I earn €50,000 per annum.
I can afford a mortgage on a house worth €200,000. There are no available properties in my budget. I am looking to emigrate again as I do not wish to be a homeless pensioner in Ireland. The lack of protection for renters in this country is disgusting.
Since Fine Gael took office a decade ago, rents have almost doubled. The rent pressure zones brought in by the previous Government have failed. The latest figures show that the 4% rent caps have been breached in every county in Ireland. What does the budget do for renters? Nothing. This budget fails renters. What would the Social Democrats do? We would introduce a three-year ban on rent increases. We would take up to 20,000 households out of the private rented sector through building social, cost rental and affordable homes. We would introduce the deposit protection scheme which was legislated for years ago but is still to be enacted by the Government which is sitting on it. We would increase funding for inspections in the private rental sector for €2 million. We would establish a rent register to create transparency for renters and prevent illegal rent increases.
The latest figures show the number of children and families living in emergency accommodation is increasing, with two children becoming homeless every day. More than 8,000 people are living in emergency accommodation. In this context it is hard to believe the Government is cutting the amount spent on supporting people who are experiencing homelessness. Under the budget and as announced in Housing for All, there will be a very modest increase the number of Housing First tenancies, rising from 220 new Housing First tenancies this year to just 240 next year. Is this really the best that can be done? We know the Housing First tenancies work and we also know the Housing First is very is cost effective. It is a good use of resources and is much better than continuing to plough millions of euro into emergency accommodation. Why are we not radically increasing the number of Housing First tenancies when we know it works and there is cross-party agreement on it?
The Social Democrats have published fully costed proposals to double the number of Housing First tenancies and to introduce Housing First tenancies for families with complex needs. As I know that people in government agree on this, I appeal to the Government to increase radically the number of Housing First tenancies. That could be done if we had not cut the funding for homelessness in this year's budget. I know there was additional funding last year due to the Covid pandemic. If we use that money this year for Housing First tenancies, we could make large inroads into homelessness. I do not understand why it is not being done. I appeal to the Minister to look at that. It could be done and there would be cross-party support for that measure.
The international funds are having a laugh at the Irish Government and making a lot of money in the process. They are not my words or the words of Deputies Shortall, Whitmore, Catherine Murphy or anyone else from the Opposition. They are the words of the billionaire, Dermot Desmond. In letters to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, he stated:
...leasing social housing from private developers and investment funds is a criminal waste of public money ... this misguided strategy has left housing in Ireland prey to greedy developers and international investors ... you might as well hand out blank cheques
It should not take the words of a billionaire to get the Government to wake up and listen. Many of us have warned that facilitating international investment funds and giving them sweetheart deals on long-term leases is a terrible misuse of public funds. Across the country thousands of people are asking if the budget will address that. These are the words of Elizabeth Weir from Ennis, County Clare:
I’m in a good job, I’m on a good career path but housing is just too expensive.
The Government absolutely has to build more affordable housing. There needs to be a stop on large companies buying up all the properties and renting them back to us.
However, this budget provides more money for long-term leases through investment funds. The budget provides funding for 2,620 leases to be done next year. Despite the Government promising to phase it out, it has actually been ramped up.
The Government approach on housing has been nothing short of a disaster. Rents and house prices are among the highest in Europe. The Government is turbocharging house prices and rents. The focus has been on stimulating and attracting the wrong kind of investment, the kind of investment that pushes up rents and prices to unaffordable and unsustainable levels, the kind of investment that crowds out and pushes out individual buyers, the kind of investment that chooses to leave homes empty instead of reducing the rent to make them more affordable. That is yet another reason to have a vacant homes tax and we need it now.
This budget continues with the failed policies of subsidising landlords, providing tax breaks for investment funds and giving taxpayers' money to developers. Under this budget, subsidies for landlords will continue. Almost €1 billion will be spent next year on subsidising rents in the private rented sector through the housing assistance payment, HAP, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, and long-term leasing. That is almost €1 billion in subsidies to private landlords that will actually drive up rents. Instead we need to build thousands of publicly owned homes to end the reliance on these subsidies to private landlords. Under this budget, the favourable tax treatment of investment funds remains intact. These tax locals loopholes need to be shut down to give individual buyers a fair chance to buy their homes. The budget provides for more than €100 million in subsidies for developers, delivered through the proposed shared equity scheme and the Croí Cónaithe fund. The ESRI and the Central Bank have warned consistently that the shared equity scheme will fuel house price inflation. A similar scheme in the UK led not only to an increase in house prices, but also a surge in profits for developers.
What matters most is not promises made by Government but actual delivery. Last year's budget promised 350 cost rental homes. This year only 25 homes have been delivered with the possibility of another 50 before the end of the year. Last year's budget promised that 170 vacant homes would be renovated under a repair-and-lease scheme. In the first six months of this year, only 33 were. Despite all the promises made last year on affordable homes, this year only eight affordable homes are being delivered. The Government's record is abysmal.
We need to end wasting hundreds of millions of euro on subsidies for developers and investment funds. We need to invest this money instead in directly building housing that is genuinely affordable.
The senior Ministers who delivered the budget have scuttled off. We did them the courtesy of listening to their diatribe of propaganda to justify their budget, but they could not do us the courtesy of listening to our response. That says everything about this Government because it does not listen. The people will not be fooled by this budget. Despite all the leaked strategy, all the spin and all the interviews where no doubt Government Members are trying to sell this budget, the people will not be fooled.
The truth about this budget is very simple.
It is hopelessly inadequate. It is pathetic for the most part and, at times, it is downright insulting in how it deals with the problems that ordinary working families, vulnerable people, pensioners and students are dealing with out there. The truth about this budget is that the Government has decided to unload the cost of the Covid-19 pandemic on working people rather than ask the very wealthy and the corporations that did very well during the pandemic to pay their contribution to the bill for the pandemic. That is the truth about this budget.
This is obvious when we look at it in the round and even when we consider the Government figures. There is a totally insulting €5 per week for pensioners and social welfare recipients. It is a 2% increase as against inflation which is running at just under 4%. We can add to that the energy price hikes, the carbon tax increases coming down the road and the local property tax increases, all of which fall much more heavily and disproportionately on the less well-off and working families. Through inflation, we are asking ordinary working people to pay the bill for the Covid-19 pandemic so the Government's wealthy and corporate friends can continue to live on the pig's back. That is the truth of this budget.
Housing is the major concern being faced in this country and successive governments have consistently failed the basic task of putting an affordable roof over people's heads. The Government has been trumpeting a figure of €4 billion in Exchequer funding going to housing but when we look at the budget figures, although we can see there is some additional money for capital expenditure on housing, it is nowhere near the €4 billion figure. It is just not in the budget. The additional money put into the housing budget will be more than accounted for by the rising inflation costs in building materials in the construction sector. We will see similarly abysmal delivery figures for social and genuinely affordable housing to those that brought us to the desperate housing crisis we are currently experiencing. All of that is because the Government just does not want to break its addiction to filling the pockets of corporate landlords.
Even after all the talk of a step change in housing policy and the direct delivery of public and affordable housing by the Government, next year there will be 14,000 new HAP tenancies and 13,000 new public and affordable homes, if the latter is even delivered. That is the truth. There is no change and the big money continues to pile into the pockets of corporate landlords. There are 66,000 people to be taken off the housing lists as if the problem has been solved but in reality they are in insecure tenancies paying extortionate rents, with public money pouring into the pockets of corporate landlords. That is the truth of what is going on in housing.
The zoned land levy, which is a nod to the urgent need to deal with the rampant land hoarding and speculation of property investors and big property developers, is an utterly pathetic and meaningless gesture. The vacant site levy, which was a 7% annual charge on sites that should have been used to deliver public and affordable housing, has been replaced with a 3% charge that will not come into force until 2024. The shenanigans that allowed people to get around the vacant site levy in any event made it completely meaningless and ineffective. The same people will be able to do the same with this new levy. In any event, the levy equates to a fraction of the enormous profits these people are making just by sitting on empty properties and vacant land as they watch the value of their assets climb through the roof.
Again, this is not rhetoric. The Central Bank's recent quarterly figures on net household wealth are staggering beyond belief. The accumulation of wealth in the past year in the hands of the richest in our society is simply beyond the comprehension of anybody because those figures are so staggering. We now have national household wealth that jumped €89 billion last year to a record €883 billion. The 5% comprising the richest people in this country, which owns all those land and property banks, are 85,000 people with €331 billion between them. That gives them an average household income of €3.8 million and that figure is rising. There are no wealth taxes on them or capital gains tax on the accumulation of profits from the extortionate rents being charged to people who can barely afford to put a roof over their heads. These wealthy people are not being asked to pay the bill for Covid-19 but the ordinary people who are struggling to pay the rent are being asked to do so, all while the housing crisis is continuing to spiral out of control.
I can provide the simplest of contrasts if those big or macro figures on household wealth boggle the mind. They tend to boggle the mind, which is why they are never debated. People do not look at the shadow budgets taking into account the accumulation of the wealth of rich people and their tax reliefs. They are never discussed on budget day but amount to €17 billion in corporate tax expenditures. We can see them described on Revenue Commissioners documentation as costs to the Exchequer. It is €17 billion in public money going in tax breaks to the big corporations.
If all that is too mind-boggling, I can provide my simple contrast. The special assignee relief programme, SARP, is a tax break only available to those with salaries higher than €75,000 but up to millions of euro. There are 50 people in receipt of SARP earning in excess of €1 million, according to a document that the Minister for Finance helpfully provided to us this morning. They get a tax break of 30% of the income they earn between €75,000 and €1 million, for example. It is not taxed at all. They get reliefs to send their children to private schools and go on trips back to America, Britain or wherever else. I ask people to imagine having a particular relief only for those with the highest of high incomes, including millionaires, but which is not given to ordinary workers. People should consider that figure.
The figure equates to €38.2 million for the highest earners in the ongoing SARP but how much additional funding has been given for mental health this year? It is €36 million. We can think about all the people suffering in the mental health crisis, which worsened exponentially over the past year. They get less than 1,500 of the wealthiest earners in this country. There are tens of thousands of people suffering from a mental health crisis and the Government has provided an additional €38 million this year for those wealthy people. It gave them €42 million last year and it will continue to fund that relief for years to come. Meanwhile, the Government has provided only an additional €36 million for mental health services that are chronically underfunded. Even with this increase, less than 6% of the health budget will be going to treat mental health when the World Health Organization indicates it should be 12%. We would need an additional €1 billion to reach the World Health Organization's recommended levels of health expenditure on mental health. Instead, the Government has given a miserable €36 million while giving more than that to 1,500 of the best-paid executives.
There is another contrast with a similar amount of money. How much did students get in additional grants? We have nearly 250,000 students in this country and they got €35 million extra in the budget.
Nearly 80,000 students are in receipt of SUSI grants, but they get less in extras from this budget than 1,500 of the best-paid executives in the country. That says it all about this Government's priorities, which are to line the pockets of the rich with tax reliefs while working people are asked to pick up the bill for Covid. They will struggle, as students are, to put a roof over their heads or they will sleep on couches. Elderly and vulnerable people will shiver in the cold and make decisions to turn off the heat because they have not got enough money to buy food, but the Government thinks it is okay to give more in public money to millionaire executives in this budget than to those vulnerable people. It is nothing short of shameful.
There are some other issues worth looking at in this budget. I am a nerd and I love going through the Estimates books, where you get the truth of what is actually going on as against all the grand statements, the propaganda and the spin. The Green Party will save the climate, but what has actually happened? There is less money for forestry this year than last year. Our level of afforestation to address the climate crisis is abysmal. We have not hit our forestry targets for decades. They are far short of what was recommended by the Council for Forest Research and Development, COFORD, nearly a decade ago and are absolutely abysmal, but €99 million was allocated for forestry last year and €96 million is being allocated this year, which is an actual fall in investment in afforestation.
Last year, €2.4 billion was allocated for the transport capital budget, sustainable mobility, carbon reduction and public transport; this year it is €900 million. It is a dramatic reduction in capital investment in public transport and climate-related transport. It seems we got the cycle lanes and that is it. That is what we are getting in radical transport measures to address the climate crisis and to increase the capacity of our public transport system in order to take people out of their cars. There is no money for the additional buses we need in the bus fleet to provide more public service routes in this city and in rural areas, in particular. There is no significant increase. In fact, there is a dramatic reduction. There is a similar reduction under the climate action and environment leadership heading; there is a big drop in the amount of money allocated to that.
The people in arts and culture who carried us through the pandemic by making the music we listened to and the films we watched on streaming services, etc., were hammered by the public health measures and restrictions, which they are still affected by. What was the budget for 2021 for current expenditure on arts? It was €65 million. What is the budget for 2022 for the arts? It is €65 million. There is not a cent extra. For all the lip service and rhetoric about how much we care about our arts and entertainment workers and our musicians, there is not a cent extra in the current expenditure budget.
One could go on. On ICUs, for example, you would think that after the Covid pandemic the Government would realise the critical and urgent imperative of getting the intensive care capacity of this country up to at least the European average level. What will happen after this budget? We will still be below half of the intensive care capacity level of the rest of Europe. We have just under six ICU beds per 100,000 of population, whereas the average in Europe is 12, which is twice what we have. Other countries such as Germany have multiples of that. People should understand the implications of that. If we are compelled back into further lockdowns, it will be because our health service, especially our critical care capacity, is not adequate to deal with a public health emergency. Is there an increase to bring capacity up to the sort of levels where we can potentially cope with a public health emergency? No. The details are not clear in this budget as to the situation with our public health teams, but I will remind people that the public health teams we need to cope with these sorts of public health emergencies had one third of the recommended staffing levels before Covid and, from what I can see, there is no sign that those teams will be brought up to the recommended levels. There is some marginal increase in recruitment in some areas, but it is still way short of what is necessary.
The budget boasts of additional money going into the health budget overall but, again, when medical inflation is taken into account it will be more or less wiped away. Demographic changes mean we have an older population and more vulnerable people using the health service. We are so far short of the capacity necessary to clear the waiting lists of nearly 1 million people waiting for procedures, some of whom are waiting two or three years for vital procedures. We are nowhere near clearing those. If you look at what is happening in hospitals this week, as we talk there are 20% and 30% staff deficits in many of the emergency department, ED, units. The overcrowding we had pre-Covid is coming back with a vengeance.
I am sure every Deputy, including the Minister sitting in the Chamber, is hearing the horror stories that are starting to come back again of elderly, vulnerable people sitting in ED units for hours and hours, not being seen because staff are overrun and completely demoralised, and because we have not given the capacity and we have not recruited the staff. Why are we unable to recruit staff? Why are student nurses running out of the country in large numbers after they qualify? Why do more than 70% of them want to leave after they qualify? It is because the Government will not pay them on placement and when they do qualify they cannot afford the rent as it will not control rents. The Government cannot deliver public and affordable housing and there is nothing in this budget to suggest it is serious about doing so.
I was asked by the students' union in University College Dublin, UCD, to speak at the protest that will happen tomorrow outside Dublin City Council's offices, following the shocking comments of Owen Keegan. It is not just about Mr. Keegan. It is about the marketisation of housing even down to the level of student accommodation. We warned, as did many others, when expensive student accommodation was being built by investment firms that no ordinary student could afford it and it would end up as the tenements of the future. That is what will happen. Change of use is now being given for that student accommodation, while thousands of students have nowhere to go. They cannot afford that accommodation, but we will allow change of use to turn it into something else so investors can make profit. No problem. What change of uses will come after that on all these developments that have shot up all over the place, in order to ensure these investors can make their pound of flesh off the back of the housing crisis and a property market that has gone out of all control? It is a feeding frenzy for the rich and for the people who own multiple properties.
We suggested in our alternative budget, among many things, that the inequality in how these issues are treated should be addressed. People are getting their property tax bills through the letter box at the moment. Many of them are quite worried about the increases they are seeing and the increased valuation of their property, which is just the family roof over their heads. The anger is beginning to build on this one. There are very worried people on very low incomes seeing significant increases, in many cases, in the property tax they will be charged. It would be a simple measure not to punish people for the roof that is over their heads, to abolish the property tax on the principal private residence and to levy it instead on people who have multiple properties. By definition, if you have two, three or ten properties, you can manage to pay a property tax. If it is just a family roof over your head, you are reliant on a pension and your energy costs are going through the roof, how the hell are you supposed to pay it? Even for that simple measure, the answer was "No". We costed it in our alternative budget and have done so every year for multiple years.
In this year of all years, we should be thinking about that when we see what is happening in the property sector. That would be a fair measure to claw back some of the extortionate profits that are made by people with multiple properties and who are renting them out at extortionate rents to people who are struggling on basic or low incomes, rather than punishing those on low incomes with additional taxes and charges on the roofs over their heads.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy English, for at least having the courtesy to be here. It is a pity the senior Ministers would not stay to listen to the spokespeople from all the other party groups who listened to them as they delivered their budget speeches.
The simple summary of this budget is that the majority of working people will be worse off at the end of next year after this budget because the Government has done nothing to address the spiralling cost of living and accommodation, and other price hikes that people are suffering. The wealthy will continue to get wealthier. It is the same old same old from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, who look after the people at the top while ordinary people pay the price. People will not be fooled. They will see through this budget for what it is. The increases of €5 and 0.5% are insulting and people know that. The Government will feel the wrath of people, particularly after the pandemic because there is no reward for people. In fact, not only is there no reward, the Government has punished people for their considerable effort, sacrifice and endurance during the course of the pandemic. The Government has now asked the people to pay the bill with a completely unjust budget.
The Government spin is that this is a back-to-normal budget after Covid-19. It is that. We are going back to the capitalist normal of reliance on the market, which means a further deepening of the housing crisis when rents are completely out of control, prices are going through the roof and 10,000 people are homeless. It means a further growth of the hospital waiting lists when there are already close to 1 million people on them, while public money continues to be funnelled to private healthcare. It means continuing to fiddle while the world burns and climate catastrophe approaches.
During the pandemic, the Government was forced to take action it previously said could not be done. It was forced, given the inadequacies of our public healthcare system, to take the private healthcare system into the public system, although, of course, it did that at extortionate and outrageous cost. The Government stated that a rent freeze and a ban on evictions not only could not be done but that they were unconstitutional and yet it was forced to do both. It was forced to introduce a pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, at a level designed so that people could survive on it. It is back to normal now. Payments for carers, pensioners and unemployed people are at a level below the poverty line. It is national fiver day. The Government wants a pat on the back for giving all these vulnerable groups of people a fiver. The irony is that in the Minister's own speech, he admitted the inflation rate is going to be 3.7%. The Government is, therefore, not giving people a fiver. Do the maths. The people I am talking about are on a payment of just over €200 a week. A €5 increase is an increase of 2.5%. What is being given to people is less than the rate of inflation. The Government is, in real terms, imposing a cut on carers, pensioners and the unemployed with this budget.
On housing, we have returned to the normal, that is, rule by landlords for landlords. There is nothing here for renters. There is not a single item in the budget for renters. On the other side, for big landlords and developers, there is a full suite of tax breaks. There is another extension of the help-to-buy scheme, which would be better named the help-to-profit scheme. It was originally lobbied for by the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, and the construction industry. It was designed simply to push up prices and to put money into the pockets of private developers and it has now been extended yet again.
The pre-letting expenses relief for landlords has been also extended. That is another tax relief for landlords. Most horrifying of all is the pathetic zoned land tax. Fianna Fáil campaigned in the general election on the basis of increasing the vacant site tax to 14% from the 7% at which it currently stands. It has since come to power and has the Ministry of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, but instead of following through on its promise to double the vacant site tax from 7% to 14%, it has cut it from 7% to 3%. What is it people say about campaigning in poetry and governing in prose? That is a generous way of describing the gap between the promises and the reality. This move is going to put more money into the pockets of speculators and developers, and will not incentivise land-hoarders to give up land. The 3% is not only below the inflation rate, it is substantially below the increase in land prices. There is, therefore, no incentive at all for these people to stop hoarding land.
On healthcare, the big headline is the Government is going to increase the number of intensive care unit, ICU, beds by 19. Fair play. We have one of the lowest rates of ICU beds in the OECD per 100,000 people. It was one of the reasons we had such long, extended lockdowns. Our healthcare system was badly exposed to Covid-19. An extra 19 beds will still leave us at the bottom of that table. It is completely inadequate.
The Government will try to make much of an extra €37 million for mental health. Weight that against the extra €1 billion-plus that is actually required if we are to reach the WHO recommended level of 12% of our overall health budget. It is pathetic. At the same time, contained in the same budget, is an extra €50 million for the National Treatment Purchase Fund. In other words, more money will go out of the public system and into the private system, as opposed to being invested to build a national health service that is free at the point of use, which is what we need.
On climate, there was an incredible line from the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. He said, "Studies have shown that carbon taxation is likely to be the single most effective climate policy that can be pursued by government." He has no source, citation or anything like that to back up that ridiculous, untrue notion that is not based on evidence. The evidence is clear. Carbon taxes have been introduced in multiple jurisdictions. One study looked at 19 jurisdictions and found that the impact on carbon emissions was modest at best. The study also found that if one relies on that measure, it will take 110 years to do what is necessary. We do not have that time. We have ten years. A country such as Ireland should be hitting zero carbon emissions by 2030. It is a regressive measure, as even the ESRI admits, that will hit working class people hard. It will make their lives harder in a context when people, in many circumstances, do not have an alternative. This nonsense idea that studies have shown that a carbon tax is the most likely policy to make an impact is an excuse for not doing what is necessary and standing up to the big polluters and big agribusiness in this country. It is an excuse for not standing up to the fossil fuel industry. It is an excuse for not dramatically shifting policy and implementing the kind of radical eco-socialist policies that are necessary for a democratically planned economy and the rapid transition we need. Instead, what we have, in addition to the carbon tax, is the very definition of a half measure in the offer of half-price public transport for 19- to 23-year-olds. In the face of climate catastrophe, with the Green Party in government, that is pathetic. We need free green and frequent public transport. We have been arguing that for years and including it in our budget statements. There was no reference in either of the Ministers' speeches to the biodiversity crisis. Is that any surprise? The Government is, yet again, going to fund the greyhound industry more than it funds the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
It is going to give €19 million to the greyhound industry. That is absolutely incredible. My jaw almost hit the floor when it was announced that the Government is giving an extra €63 million tax break to the banks. With KBC and Ulster Bank pulling out of the Irish market and laying off thousands of workers, the Government is going to give them a parting gift of an exemption from the bank levy. I wonder what sort of lobbying took place. On what basis was the decision that these banks would not have to pay the €63 million they would otherwise have to pay justified? That €63 million would be enough to abolish all inpatient and emergency department charges for public patients. It would be enough to hire 100 speech and language therapists, 100 psychologists, 100 occupational therapists and 100 physiotherapists while still having enough left over to restore housing adaptation grants to 2010 levels. Instead of improving our health services and supporting people with disabilities, the Government is striving to give another tax break to the banks. The Government's approach is back to normal all right.
In this budget, the Government made the choice to protect the rich. Every year, People Before Profit proposes a millionaire's tax on the assets of the super-rich and every year Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael reject it. This year, that millionaire's tax would raise more than ever before because the amount of wealth held by the millionaires in this country is higher than ever before. Household wealth increased by almost €90 billion in one year. It is now almost €900 billion. The top 5%, all of whom are millionaires, hold almost 40% of that, more than €350 billion between them. A millionaire's tax of 2% on assets worth more than €1 million would provide enough money to fund free college education for all, free school meals in every school nationwide, free public transport for all, a reduction in the pension age to 65 and the building of 10,000 extra homes. The point is that the wealth is there. However, to build these universal public services, we will need to kick out the Government and fight for a left government committed to ecosocialist change.
I will make a final comment on the promises around free contraception because the fine print attached to the proposal is quite scandalous. After years of saying it could not be done, the Government has agreed to fund free contraception. However, if you look at the fine print, you will see that the Government is sneaking disgraceful and sexist restrictions into the measure. According to what was announced today, free contraception will only be available to women under 25. I am sure it is not news to the Ceann Comhairle that people over the age of 25 also have sex and do not all want to have children. Most importantly, why on earth is looking after contraception to be solely the woman's responsibility? Why will the measure not apply to condoms, which not only prevent pregnancy, but also tackle sexually transmitted infections? This should be corrected now and the free contraception plan should be opened to all.
What did the Government do this afternoon? It tweaked the system a little bit. It gave a few crumbs from the table but the rich will stay rich and the poor will stay poor. Many will die preventable deaths frozen in their homes this winter. Let us start with that. An extra €5 on the fuel allowance, which is payable for 28 weeks, means a total increase of €140. We know that, because of market madness, energy costs are due to rise very sharply. They are already rising. They are to rise by €500 or perhaps €1,000 over a year. For every extra €5 or €6 the low-income household has to fork out, the Government plans to compensate that household to the tune of €1 through this budget. This country has the highest excess winter death rate in Europe. There are more than 1,500 such deaths every year. As I understand it, the figure refers to the number of people who die over the winter months in excess of the average number of deaths in any other three months of the year. Those people are not killed by cold alone. They are killed by fuel poverty. The Government's measly measure will not lift people out of fuel poverty. The increase in the fuel allowance should be at least three times what the Government has brought in today. It should be at least €15 per week.
When the pandemic arose, it was determined that the minimum a worker made unemployed by the pandemic should have to live on was €350. As the pandemic recedes, the Government is driving back to the same old, same old. Its budget says that the unemployed worker should be able to survive on a little over €200 per week. Now we have national fiver day. That €5 increase is less than the rate of inflation. The Government is cutting the incomes of people on social welfare and it is cutting the living standards of the poorest people in society.
The low-paid received enormous praise, including from the Government, during the pandemic. Our heroes and heroines in retail, our cleaners, our home helps, people in nursing homes and so on took risks to bring society through the pandemic while on wages that are hardly sufficient to pay the rent. There was an opportunity in this budget to introduce a lasting Covid bonus for those workers. The Government could have introduced a national minimum wage of €15 per hour. Instead, it chose a measly 30 cent per hour. That will be more than wiped out by rent increases alone. In only one society in the entire OECD is a higher percentage of the workforce low-paid than in Ireland. The Government seems determined to keep it that way. I appeal to low-paid workers to organise. If the Government is not prepared to intervene from above to abolish the scandal of low pay through this budget, workers should organise from below to end it. I encourage them to do so.
There is to be a 50% reduction in public transport fares for those aged 19 to 23. That is welcome enough in its own right, but is it enough? No. It is not nearly enough. Half price is a half measure. This is not the time for half measures. We face a climate emergency and need emergency action. Emergency action would mean free public transport for all in our society. That would not come cheap although it would not be expensive as many might think. It would cost €670 million. It is a step worth taking and a price worth paying. It would be far better than the half measure the Government has put before us today.
I bet that every property speculator from one end of this country to the other let out a loud cheer when they heard today's budget speech. The Government's zoned land tax is to be introduced over a period of two to three years. They could not have dreamed the Government would be as generous as that. When it comes in, it will kick in at a rate of 3%. That is pathetic. The vacant sites levy is more than double that at 7%. It is a smack in the mouth for people desperate for affordable housing. It is a gift to the speculators and it shows, if proof were needed, that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are the parties of the speculators and the rich rather than those of working people and the hard-pressed.
I will raise two issues relating to health. Mental health has been the Cinderella of the health service. Some 6% of the public health spend goes on mental health. That is less than half the equivalent percentage in other European countries. Emerging from the pandemic, we are seeing, and will continue to see, a tsunami of mental health issues. What is the Government's proposal? It proposes to increase mental health spending, which is very good, but only by €37 million. The Minister must be embarrassed sitting there. He must realise that this is totally inadequate and that he is failing people who are desperate for help for themselves and for their children.
On the issue of sexual health, many will take a degree of pleasure from seeing an Irish government introduce a free contraception programme aimed at young people, including teenagers. Who could have imagined that back in the day?
The changes that have led to that have been led by the people, not by the Government. The Government has lagged behind the people. It is lagging behind on this one too. Why only 17- to 25-year-olds? Why not other women? Why not men too? Is the Government saying that contraception is solely or first and foremost the responsibility of women? That is completely wrong. The Minister knows he needs to go further on this issue.
The Minister said budget 2022 was a turning point on childcare. It is nothing of the sort. A total of €75 million extra was injected, but we spend a third of the percentage of GDP recommended by UNICEF for adequate and decent childcare. Last year, 28% of net household income in the State went on childcare. Does the Minister know the equivalent figure in Germany? It was 1%. A real turning point would be to meet UNICEF targets and link that to the establishment of something new, namely a free public childcare system. Instead, the Government has chosen to tinker with the existing system and prop up a failed privatised market model. The measures will not work.
The money is there to pay for free public childcare, a free Irish national health service that is free at the point of use, free public transport and so on. A 2% millionaires' tax on the richest 5% in society, even if one deducted €1 million for the principal residence in each case, could raise €4.9 billion.
The Government has ignored the fact that some corporations have made hugely disproportionate financial gains from the pandemic. The pharmaceutical sector is one such industry. Private hospitals are another. A levy of 4% on those two sectors would raise €800 million.
I have not seen it myself, but I have been told there is a programme on Netflix that has become enormously popular called "Squid Game", which is set in Korea. It is about a dog eat dog society where people are forced to face off against each other and compete over scarce resources, which even results in the deaths of people. Why is this such a popular programme at the moment? Is it down to people's interest in Korean culture? No, it is because people get it. That is the reality of life for millions of people in this country and tens of millions of people in other countries who recognise the reality of a dog eat dog capitalist society under the dictatorship of the market.
What I am saying on budget day is that it is not enough to tax the rich and spend the money on social projects, important as that is. It is also a question of who controls the levers of the economy and is in an economically powerful situation to dictate to society. The capitalist market has failed. It has failed on housing, childcare, energy prices and many more things besides. It needs to be ended. We need a socialist alternative and budget. We need a left-wing Government with socialist policies that will not back down from policies of that kind and go right to the end of that particular road.
I better not waste any of my time. I am delighted to be able to speak on the budget. First, I want to do is recognise the fact that the Regional Group produced our budget submission and met with the Ministers, Deputies McGrath and Donohoe, prior to the Budget Statement. They listened and have taken on board some of the issues we raised. I want to acknowledge that because if every issue raised by everybody was included in the budget we would be here six days of the week to read it given that there are a lot of asks.
In particular, I am delighted that the help to buy scheme has been extended to 2022. That was a cause of concern for a lot of people who had money sanctioned, but were not in a position to draw it down due to the fact they could not get a builder on site or their planning permission was delayed. I thank the Ministers for that.
I will not hog all of the issues, but another issue addressed in the budget was remote working. Given that my constituency is rural and has the potential for remote working, it is important that we produce some incentives for people who are working remotely. The fact that there are tax measures in the budget to do that this year is to be welcomed. It is important that we take advantage of that, in particular in rural constituencies where we can bring new life into our parishes by having people working from home and relocating from more pressurised areas, and dealing with that in a way that makes things very efficient.
There are a number of other areas I would like to discuss. As a member of the Joint Committee on Disability Matters, and given that the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, is present, I want to welcome the social protection measures that will be introduced to increase the capital disregard for carer's allowance from €20,000 to €50,000. It is disappointing that the measure will not come into effect until June 2022, but it will come in in any event. The weekly disregard for the carer's allowance has been increased to €350 for a single person and €700 for a couple. It is important that the same happens with the domiciliary care allowance.
In respect of the disability allowance, the wage subsidy paid to employers who employ people with disabilities will increase from €5.30 to €6.30. That is something our committee asked for. The EmployAbility Service is very important for people with disabilities, as the Minister of State knows. It is important that we fund that disability service in such a way that it becomes effective and we get people who have disabilities, and can and want to work, back to work. We need to ensure the measures are not just a stopgap but involve long-term careers.
We can raise a number of issues regarding disabilities that are not right. I am a bit disappointed with the overall funding increase. I know the Minister of State worked hard on that, as did committee members. I am disappointed with the additional money that has been secured. There will be an increase, but we need to knuckle down as a committee and Department to make sure that we increase funding to the level the Government's own research has shown is needed. Some €350 million is needed to bridge all of the gaps.
There are a number of other issues in respect of the budget. The Minister happened to come in while I am talking about east Galway. He knows that we lost bus services in east Galway in Loughrea, Kilreekil and other areas. Bus Éireann services are being taken out of the equation. The problem people have is that they cannot now get to colleges. They have to travel because they cannot get places to live in Galway, Limerick or Athlone. Bus services are scrambling to provide capacity. We do not have a proper public transport service.
One young man got a place in college in Limerick and has to get his parents to drive him to Athenry so he can get a train to Limerick. He then gets a bus from there to his college. He then has to travel back. I understand he gets a bus from Athenry to Tuam and his parents pick him up. He does that every day of the week because he cannot get a place to live in Limerick. He has bought a car and applied for a driving test, but will have to wait 15 weeks for it. They are the challenges our young people are facing when trying to access education.
Our problem is that we are introducing a carbon tax and penalising people who have cars by charging them extra because they have petrol or diesel cars on the road. It is wrong that we are penalising people who have no other choice.
We all talk about climate action and a just transition and anything and everything about it, and they are all lovely words, but there is not one iota of a just transition when people are penalised for having no other choice but to have a car or maybe two cars at the house. I know many people who would love to be able to take public transport or to take the bus into Galway to work from the east of the county. They cannot do so because the service is not available or, when it is available, the bus lanes are not in place. We are putting the cart before the horse. It is important we revert and make sure that whatever we do we do in a just way. We do not want to penalise people for something that is not of their making or doing. While we talk about carbon tax, it is important we also put a just transition first and understand what that means.
The wealth of a nation is said to depend on the health of its citizens. There are many aspects of the budget today that I welcome. There are also aspects of the budget that we as rural Ireland would have huge concerns about. In the short time available to me I will focus on the health service.
When taking into account that line, "The wealth of a nation depends on the health of its citizens", Irish citizens are among the poorest in the world. In fact, we rate 80th out of 89 countries in providing health services to our people. While we continue to pour money into the HSE, our health system seems to get poorer. The HSE is simply not fit for purpose. It is top-heavy with managers while way too few hard-working healthcare staff struggle every day to provide care at all levels across the country. Sláintecare is running into the sand. Reform is obstructed by vested interests within the system. It screams "Do not disturb" and "Hands off". Too many people within the system are determined to throttle and to choke change because it would impact the current arrangements they have. The HSE has wasted scarce resources. There is constant duplication and overlapping. It is impossible to get through the layers of bureaucracy. There is little or no transparency or accountability. Issues are dealt with in such a way that they are everybody's problem but nobody's problem. The public dealing with the HSE finds it frustrating, irritating and incredibly time-consuming. It is obvious to most people that the HSE is dysfunctional. The catalogue of neglected patients is rising sharply. Our courts are busy with medical litigation. Thousands of new challenges to hospital management are inevitable. Staff in our hospitals are working under extraordinary pressure. The stress and strain of the workload is resulting in sick leave and acting as a deterrent to recruitment. The consequences for delivery of proper healthcare are stark and alarming.
Today the Government allocated €22 billion to health. That should be good news for people, yet the reality is that people right across Ireland live in abject fear of needing healthcare. The funding is there; the ability to manage it is what is lacking, and people out there know that. Year after year, the funding allocated to the HSE fails to deliver the services the people need. In 2017, a record budget of €14.6 billion was allocated to health. The lion's share of that was destined for the National Treatment Purchase Fund to tackle waiting lists. Some €35 million was allocated for mental health services on top of the same amount allocated the previous year. The question has to be asked: what have we to show for it? Where are the results of that additional expenditure? Year after year, the Government throws good money after bad. Not once have I seen the HSE deliver value for money, and I deal with the public every day about the health system. It is time the HSE was checked and time we had accountability. That hard-earned money comes from the taxpayer the length and breadth of Ireland. It should have shown results by now. We have not seen them.
Going through the system, the shortage of GPs and the inability to recruit new ones means that the basic health needs of our people are suffering. Waiting lists for primary care and hospital care for adults and children are growing. Mental health services remain chronically deficient. Elderly people cannot get home care due to an inability to hire and to retain staff. The worries and fears and elderly people about being evicted from their nursing homes is, as in the case in my constituency of Dean Maxwell, in Roscrea, both pitiful and totally disgraceful to witness. The ambulance service has become a joke as ambulances criss-cross the country to attend to patients' emergency needs. It was revealed last week that there was an underspend at the Department of Health for the current year. The reason given is that the hiring of staff by the HSE was slower due to both the pandemic and the hacking of the HSE data system. Yet the HSE comes out and claims it has hired more staff this year than ever before. The figure still fell short of its target of 14,000. In fact, it fell short by 10,000 and only 4,000 healthcare jobs have been filled. It sounds incredible, but the HSE has claimed it will hire between 7,000 and 8,000 people before the end of the year. We are now in October. How can the organisation stand over such a ridiculous statement?
While the HSE continues to hold the purse strings, we are simply squandering vast amounts. We are getting the lame excuses we have always got as to why funding is not available for vital services and community health projects. Hiding behind the pandemic and the data breach is not an acceptable excuse for the dismal state of our health services. While those events can be held partly accountable for the backlog of patients on waiting lists since March 2000, figures I obtained go back to more than 18 months before the pandemic. In County Tipperary, 449 adults have been awaiting treatment at Nenagh Hospital along with 26 children for more than 18 months. University Hospital Limerick had an inpatient day case waiting list of 400 adults as well as 20 children.
The ambulance service is in a serious state of disarray. Too few people know or understand exactly what is happening. A massive shortage of paramedics in many areas, particularly the south east, is at the root of the problem. Recently in that area there were at least 78 shifts without cover, while in the same week there were 55 shifts without cover in the mid-west. In addition to the shortage of paramedics, the agreement to have a 20-minute turnaround at hospitals is a farce. Crews are spending up to four hours outside emergency departments waiting to hand over patients, leaving them unavailable to respond to other calls. The current priority dispatch system is not fit for purpose. The only key performance indicator measurement in the ambulance service is the time between the receipt of a call to the dispatch centre and the mobilisation of an ambulance crew. The European standard deems that this should be within 90 seconds. Once a crew anywhere in the country responds within that 90-second timeframe that it is mobile, the call is deemed to be 100% successful. The time it takes to arrive at the scene is not reported or recorded. The ambulance service, therefore, applauds itself for working 100% efficiently, yet the patients, particularly those in rural Ireland, are left waiting unacceptable times for urgent medical care.
Today Ireland is divided not just by partition but also by income, access to healthcare, access to housing, background, whether you live in Dublin or regionally and by whether you operate as a domestic business or in the foreign direct investment sector. The rising cost of living is eating away at people's ability to live. This Government has shown by this budget that it still does not understand the magnitude and urgency of the crisis that is engulfing up to half the population.
Approximately 1 million people in this State are in some form of housing distress, either grappling with spiralling rents, on housing lists, priced out of the market or potentially still in mortgage distress from the previous crash. Rent was mentioned on two occasions during the 45 minutes of Government speeches today. It is incredible that so little focus should be given to such a phenomenally difficult experience for so many people. The Government announced a zoned land tax today but said it will not be implemented for two or three years. This new tax will, in fact, be a reduction from the existing 7% vacant site tax it will replace. The new 3% tax is less than the increase in the value of the sites that are being hoarded at this time. It will not change the decisions of the people who are hoarding those sites. There is nothing in the budget regarding the 180,000 vacant homes in the State. Our towns and villages are festooned with empty homes but the Government is doing nothing whatsoever to get those properties into use.
The total undertaking in terms of extra Government investment to deal with hospital waiting lists is something to behold. There are nearly 1 million people on waiting lists at this time and the Government says it is going to spend €250 million on trying to reduce them. That works out at €250 per person on the lists. The average cost of one day's care in a public hospital is currently €899. That level of investment will not scratch the surface of the needs of the people in seriously bad, and worsening, health who are waiting on those lists.
On carbon tax, we in Aontú have proposed that there be a carbon tax plus market price ceiling for energy. The whole purpose of a carbon tax is that it should increase the cost of fossil fuels and push people away from their use. However, if the market has, through inflation, already increased prices to that level, what is the logic of a carbon tax? In fact, it is just a penalty on families. Moreover, introducing a tax several years in advance without taking into consideration the circumstances in which impacted families may be living is a punitive and cruel measure. A tax should only be imposed on a society when there is an understanding of the circumstances of the people living in that society at the time of its imposition. On the flip side of that, the funding for energy prices is another incredible aspect of this budget. A total of 22,000 houses will undergo a deep retrofit next year, but there are 1.6 million houses in the State. At that rate of retrofitting, it will take 72 years to achieve completion. The budget also includes a 50% reduction on travel fares but only for 7% of the population, and it will only benefit those among that 7% who have access to public transport, which many do not.
Budget 2022 is also very damaging in what is left out of it. There is no provision for regional-proofing and no effort to rebalance the skewed spatial development that is leading to the lopsided nature of the country in which we live. Ireland has an overheating capital, a sprawling commuter belt and rural areas that are emptying out of young people. We in Aontú called for a 2:1 investment ratio as between rural areas and Dublin. This would mean that for every euro spent in Dublin, at least €2 would be spent outside the capital to make sure there is some effort to redress that spatial imbalance.
Measures in the budget for rural Ireland include a €5 million upgrade for community centres. Given there are 2,500 parishes in the State, I will do the maths again for the Minister. That allocation will give €2,000 for each parish that is included in the investment. That might stretch to a couple of double-glazed windows or a couple of Burco boilers if people can get a good deal. Meanwhile, farmers in the beef sector, which has been on its knees for several years, have been offered a tax break on a feed-in tariff for microgeneration of energy that does not yet exist. Ireland is the only country in Europe without a feed-in tariff for microgeneration of energy. To be clear, the Government is giving a tax break on a tariff that has not yet been introduced.
There was no mention in the Ministers' speeches of Government waste. Given the colossal impact waste has on our budgetary expenditure, that is unacceptable. Aontú is calling for a commission to prevent Government waste and root out the spiralling wastage that is happening. It seems that if you put the word "national" into the name of a project in this State, you can be guaranteed the spending on it will overrun. The national children's hospital, national maternity hospital, national convention centre and national broadband plan are some examples of that. I learned today from the reply to a parliamentary question that the Government is locked into a contract for a Covid-19 testing centre at the Citywest Hotel until 2022, at a cost of €37 million for a building that has hardly been used over the past year and a half.
On the other side of that equation, every man, woman and child in the State now owes €50,000 as part of the national debt. A good chunk of that is because Ireland has been a radical outlier in terms of the restrictions the Government has imposed during the Covid pandemic. Indeed, the State spent twice the European average on Covid-related costs because it imposed longer and harder restrictions than any other country. We spent €40 billion on those outlier restriction policies, a figure that is comparable with the bank bailout. Shockingly, Aontú is the only political party that is challenging the Government in that regard.
The Government has included nothing in the budget to deal with the mica crisis. There is no chunk of money identified for that purpose in the budget. Despite the fact the Minister from Donegal was at the rally on Friday and committed to 100% redress, this omission means nothing is going to be spent on that next year.
Ireland is also an outlier on childcare. We are spending 0.3% of GDP on childcare provision and the measures in the budget will bring us nowhere near the OECD average or the EU recommendations. The sector is on the brink and it must be sorted.
If we were to measure Ireland in terms of the cost of availability of housing, healthcare waiting lists, spatial imbalance etc., this budget does not address the magnitude of those crises.
This is the second budget I have addressed as a Member of the House. Last year, I focused on a number of crises that had developed over the course of the previous years. I mentioned the problems in housing, tourism, hospitality, physical health provision, mental healthcare, transport and agriculture. Unfortunately, in the 12 months that followed, very few of these issues have seen any progress. The policies of spending unprecedented billions, much of it in a wasteful manner, while at the same time putting the brakes on our economic activity have resulted in soaring levels of debt and soaring bills for the future generations that will have to pay the price, which will be in the region of €50,000, as I understand it, for every person.
There are many measures in the budget today that sound like they should be welcomed. However, when the reality is explained, they sound very different. Taking the extra €1 billion announced for the health budget, there is currently an underspend in the health service and treatment for every imaginable illness has a waiting list in some regard. If there were a proper management structure that ensured accountability for the wastage of public moneys, we might see changes. Witnesses from the HSE recently appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts, of which I am a member, after which I received a lot of correspondence from fairly high-level HSE employees. The following is a flavour of what they had to say about spending in the HSE:
I saw your questioning of the CEO of the HSE. Every consultant in Ireland knows the ventilators ordered during Covid are junk but they cannot say it because they work for the HSE. No western country uses them.
The questions that must be asked are:
(1) Who exactly ordered them?
(2) Was any consultant anaesthesiologist or critical care doctor consulted?
(3) What does a civil servant know about ventilators? If an Air Corps plane needed an engine, would a civil servant order it without talking to a pilot or aerospace engineer? Ventilators, like aircraft, are made by a certain few reputable, well-recognised companies with outstanding track records and credentials.
(4) Who decided we needed 2,000 ventilators? We do not have 2,000 critical care beds, let alone nurses, technicians or doctors trained to use them. It is like a civil servant buying 2,000 helicopters for air-sea rescue and then being asked where are the pilots, the ground crew and the technicians to run them.
It is just farcical. Saying it was done in a hurry is a complete cop-out. It could have been sorted with a couple of phone calls but, like everything in the HSE, there is no accountability. What was not asked at the Committee of Public Accounts was about the PCR equipment bought in a certain country that does not work, and there is no end to this type of waste.
When a Minister announces €1 billion extra in funding, we must have confidence it will be well spent, with a return on investment and giving value for money to the taxpayer who provided the money in the first place, and not go down a black hole of spending, with no accountability.
I refer to the announcement of free GP care for those aged under eight at a time when there is a chronic shortage of GPs and no locum cover. Some 700 GPs are due to retire this year but there are only 295 in training. That is a significant deficit that even the Minister for Finance should be able to calculate. The truth is this announcement is spin and nothing more. False hope.
The announcement that the Government will increase home care support hours is more spin. The hours are available but, due to chronic staff shortages, 540 families in Wexford alone have been granted the home care support package but are waiting for a carer to deliver it. There are no carers available. It would be far more beneficial to have a plan to reduce waiting lists and ensure hospital capacity will be permanently expanded, including the provision of 340 ICU beds to care for the most vulnerable. How will the gaps in the numbers of GPs and other medical staff be filled? We need a plan with clear objectives and accountability that can be measured as a success or a failure within a couple of years.
I believe €6 billion is to be the spend on housing. Housing supply has been in crisis for the past nine years and it is still in crisis. A major contributor to that crisis in rural Ireland is the crazy minimum density issue that has been well aired by me on the floor of this House but decidedly ignored by the powers that be. They continue to whisper in the ears of county managers, who are encouraged to keep command of councillors and ensure that high densities are passed and catered for in the county development plan, no matter what. As the saying goes, that will be the rock they perish on.
To return to the subject of waste, An Bord Pleanála is currently implementing policies that do not exist. The strategic housing development, SHD, process has yielded no houses, but it has yielded legal bills of in the region of €20 million as a result of the failure to recognise that the planning policy it is implementing is illegal. It is clear that this is another area of unnecessary waste. I have only addressed two instances of waste. There are probably 1,002 areas where moneys are being wasted and there is no accountability. This has to change.
I am disappointed that the help-to-buy scheme was not extended to include the purchase of existing second hand homes. These incentive schemes are useless to buyers unless the supply of housing is adequate. There is some availability of derelict or second-hand homes on the market and these might be the only affordable option for many first-time buyers, so I hope an extension of the scheme will be given serious consideration in the review announced by the Minister today. I hope the review is intended to enhance the scheme and not to do away with it.
The budget included a rise in carbon tax. Carbon tax will disproportionately affect dwellers in regional and rural Ireland. They have no public transport alternatives. There is no alternative to fossil fuel in the countryside or in cities. No significant effort has been made to ameliorate the poverty this will impose on so many and no account has been taken of the increase of approximately 30 cent in the cost of a litre of fuel in recent months. Carbon taxes are effectively an attack on the poorest in society in order to make many politicians feel better about themselves.
The people who will need help heating their homes are the marginalised and the low income earners. The €5 given to pensioners does not cover that and neither does the €5 social welfare increase. Age Action has stated that the buying power of the pension has reduced by €10.50 in the past three years. That leaves a deficit of €5, not an increase. The Government may need reminding that only 30% of pensioners receive the fuel allowance and only 50% receive the living alone allowance. That leaves 50% of the aged population with an increase of €5, rather than the increase of €13.50 referred to today. I hope that provision will be made to alleviate fuel poverty if the weather is very poor this winter. I suppose the Government's crazy climate policies are having some positive effects. For example, peat producers in Latvia are absolutely delighted with the behaviour of the Government. You would have to laugh if it were not so serious.
There are a variety of other issues that I have consistently raised in my 18 months in the House. I expect to see action as a result of the budget. There is no denying that County Wexford, in spite of being the largest county in Leinster in terms of area and in the south east in terms of population, has been neglected.
This budget is an exercise in treading water. Most of the measures it contains involve frantically trying to keep up with the increase in the cost of living. Inflation is running at 3.7% and is likely to head towards 4% in the new year. One can talk about gross income or net income but the only income that really matters is discretionary income at the end of the week or month. That is the only metric that matters. If the cost of living is increasing faster than your take-home pay, you end up worse off. When we consider this budget in 12 months' time, it may be the case that there was actually a regression in those 12 months, at least in the context of pay.
I do not wish to be overly negative because there are some good things in the budget, including socially progressive measures that I will address. First, carers are finally getting at least some of the recognition they deserve. As Members know, carers are the invisible health service. They admit patients to their own bedrooms and they look after them 24-7 without a day off. They are not getting half of what they need but the measures in the budget are a step in the right direction and offer them a degree of recognition.
Second, parents are getting some assistance in the context of childcare. The increase in paternity leave from five weeks to seven weeks is a good thing. There are parents in this Chamber who got no paternity leave at all. Seven years ago, it was three days, but now it is seven weeks. It is not going as fast as we would like but direction is more important than speed. We would like to see further progress in that regard in the lifetime of the Government.
I welcome the increased resources for the disability sector. Obviously, it is not even half of what is needed, as the Minister knows as well as anyone else. We are almost halfway there but we need to finish the process next year and get these really deserving people the resources they need.
I also welcome the increased funding for mental health supports. However, I share the concerns of Deputy Lowry regarding whether there will be an outcome at the end of it or it will just be throwing more money into a black hole.
Aside from the points I have mentioned, this will be remembered as the energy crisis budget. We members of the Regional Group here are all rational, reasonable and constructive people and we recognise there are things that are beyond the control of the Government. The world economy is picking up after the pandemic and we know there are bottlenecks in the supply chain system and geopolitical tensions all over the world that are stoking up the price of energy. Those matters are beyond the control of the Government but there are measures that are within its control and I am not convinced that the measures it has brought in today will be adequate. They will help, but I am unsure whether they will be adequate to address the crisis. I welcome the increase in the fuel allowance. It is a good thing but its effectiveness will have disappeared when we get to the far side of Christmas because it will have been offset by the rise in energy costs.
I welcome the tax credit for remote workers that has been suggested. We need to see the granular detail of that proposal. The Regional Group actively advocated for and championed that cause and I am glad that our constructive views have been taken on board in partnership. It shows how constructive politicians can influence and shape Government policy and I welcome that. Tax relief of 30% is a drop in the ocean. In 12 months' time there will be an opportunity to increase that incrementally.
The youth travel card is probably the best innovation in transport public policy since the free travel scheme was introduced for old age pensioners many decades ago. The youth travel card proposal is not ideal but it is a significant start and demonstrates the acceptance of the principle that public transport costs are too high and the Government should, at least, look after those under the age of 23 in that regard. Now that the principle has been accepted, in 12 months' time that number can be pushed up from 23 to 25 and beyond, up towards 30, until every citizen in the country has access to reasonably priced public transport. This issue is very important in Kildare South, my constituency, because Kildare is a commuter county. We should not wait for 12 months to address this issue. Iarnród Éireann has the opportunity to put downward pressure on its prices. The short hop zone from Heuston Station in Dublin finishes at Sallins but there is no reason it cannot continue through Newbridge, Kildare town, Monasterevin, Portarlington, Portlaoise and beyond if necessary. We can do it. If we want to incentivise people to get out of their cars and use public transport, price is a very good motivator.
I welcome the increase in the SUSI grant for students. We know that people in the extremes of age - the elderly and the young - were disproportionately affected during the pandemic. The increase in the grant is the least the student population deserves, particularly when students cannot afford accommodation in Dublin city.
If they are going to be commuting, at least their commuting costs are down and their grant is up. Is it ideal? Absolutely not, but it is better than nothing. It is a small step and at least half a step in the right direction.
The issue of deep retrofitting is a most important one and I welcome the increase in funding for it. However, I have concerns about the implementation. I wish to make a suggestion. The farming community will be outside this House tomorrow protesting for the same reasons they have been protesting over recent years. They are looking for a true just transition. I think the SEAI grants should be higher for the farming community. We are asking them to carry a disproportionate burden in relation to the just transition and climate action. Why can the SEAI not give a higher grant to farm houses for retrofitting? I suggest a similar approach in respect of microgeneration. A number of farmers have told me that they microgenerate. They have told me they have massive roof spaces that are south-facing with solar panels lined up and they are giving energy to Electric Ireland and the grid for free, but they are getting nothing in return. People should not be afraid of their electricity bill coming through the letter box. They should be looking forward to it because it should be a cheque, not a bill. If the Government wants disproportionately to help the farming community, it should introduce those two measures, namely, superior SEAI grants for retrofitting and microgeneration.
The final point I wish to touch upon briefly relates to defence. There is not enough money in the defence Vote that was passed today. Even in a normal year, it is not enough, but it is not enough this year in particular because the Commission on the Defence Forces is publishing its report in a few weeks' time. I mean it sincerely when I say there will be a requirement for a Supplementary Estimate in January if there is any hope of implementing the recommendations of the Commission on the Defence Forces. It is an absolute must. The overseas development aid budget is almost as big as the defence budget currently. It is ironic we actually give more to international charities than we do to our own Defence Forces. What is really ironic about that is we rely on the charity of other nation states to fly our troops around and look after and sustain them in theatre, which is certainly not a good look and is very demoralising from a morale perspective.
The budget provides for an extra 800 garda and additional civilian staff in the Department of Justice, which is a good thing, but there is no mention of the guards of the sea, the members of our Naval Service. I visited the Naval Service last Friday. There are absolutely no improvements planned in that area. The service is looking after our home waters and the high seas, but there is no package available to improve its lot. It is in desperate need of assistance. The Minister has said he is looking forward to receiving the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces so that he can engage with the process. We have had enough process at this stage. We have had five years of process. We need product, delivery and outcome.
This budget has been eagerly awaited to help us chart our way out of Covid, position the economy for the future, ensure we transition to a zero-carbon economy over coming decades and we bring the whole population with us. To that point, the €17.5 billion provided in Covid supports has been most welcome. Employment is expected to grow by 275,000 jobs in 2022, with an unemployment rate of 6%. That is welcome news, but it is all dependent on the return of many businesses to full trading and profitability. Many SMEs and sole traders have taken advantage of the debt forbearance offer from Revenue. We must remember debt forbearance is not debt forgiveness. To that point, I wrote to the Minister for Finance, asking him liaise with Revenue to reconsider making private tax demands of company directors where companies had engaged in the debt forbearance scheme provided by Revenue. It is hoped that will be looked at.
The Minister has signalled the phasing out of employment subsidies, the PUP and EWSS, in April 2022. I presume that remains dependent on us actually exiting the Covid pandemic and what NPHET decides on 22 October. Insurance and admin lite were suspiciously not mentioned anywhere in the budget. There has been no mention of further initiatives in these areas, despite the fact that many companies are still facing challenges. I ask the Minister of State to bring that point back to the Department of Finance.
In our Regional Group's budget submission, we asked the Minister to consider a tax incentive to encourage remote working for employees and employers. Unfortunately, the Minister did not make such a provision in the budget, but he has allowed for some subvention on various expenses. Not enough was done on that. We also asked Departments to outline in their annual reports actions to achieve the 20% target that has been set. Perhaps the Government can provide reports of the monitoring of that to the House in the coming months and years.
On the delivery of 33,000 new homes per annum to 2030 as part of the Housing for All strategy, we are a very long way from that delivery point at present. In the Regional Group's submission, we asked for an extension under the help to buy and Rebuilding Ireland home loan schemes to include second-hand properties in the refurbishment programme. The Minister declined to look at that, which I think is a serious mistake. It is part of revitalising and regenerating our towns and villages. It could have been delivered easily and would have been something very welcome. Unfortunately, the Government could not extend itself to do so.
I welcome the announcement of the extension of the relief on pre-letting expenses to landlords in the hope of returning properties to the rental market more quickly. Perhaps the Government could also target holiday homes within that, which might encourage holiday home owners to switch their properties into the private rental sector.
I also note the reform of the current vacant site levy and the switching of zoned land tax to the Revenue Commissioners. That is probably the right thing to do, but reforms are needed in terms of the collections of our local authorities for rent accruals. There is €22 million outstanding at present for Dublin City Council while we are trying to find millions in the budget.
The increase in the adaption grant numbers for local housing is welcome, but it is not working. I can say that, certainly in my own local authority area, people are waiting many months and it is very difficult to get adaption grants done. Announcing money does not solve the problem; we need the capacity to deliver.
I welcome the changes proposed to the employment investment incentive scheme, EIIS, which we in the Regional Group lobbied for. I also welcome the extension of corporation tax start-up relief to new entrepreneurs. However, I wish to make a point about the introduction of an innovation equity fund in association with Enterprise Ireland. These funds have to be workable and must be properly thought out. The recent Regional Enterprise Transition Scheme 2021, which was provided for capital infrastructure development, had a three-month window from the time it opened to the time it closed. In other words, if you made an application to do significant advancement work in your factory, you had to have the whole job done and dusted, paid for and expended in three months. That is not a workable scheme.
Under agriculture, I welcome the extension of the general stock relief programme and the young farmer stamp duty relief. However, as I have told the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, I would like to see a portion of the carbon levy being directed towards research in the area of renewable energy and energy production on farms. There is a lot going on in the country that this could be allied to. A portion of the fund should also be directed towards research projects of our third level institutions into farming and other areas of business. In addition, part of this fund should be used to develop applied research to estimate properly the amount of carbon sequestration presently taking place on farms, which farmers are getting no credit for currently.
Regarding independent brewing and the extension of excise relief that may possibly come under the new Finance Act, I thank the Minister for introducing it. I would like to see it expedited now.
Under education, I welcome the announcement of 350 new primary school teachers, along with the 1,165 additional special needs assistants, SNAs. However, I should point out, as the Minister of State is well aware, that access to psychology services to identify autism or for special educational needs remains a significant problem for parents. I would hope the Government will have some new concrete initiatives to announce around that shortly.
The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform also mentioned capital budgets for new school builds. These are taking far too long and costing too much. Projects must be fast-tracked, with on-the-table designs available for new schools. It should be done and costed so that all that is required is planning permission and the price is agreed.
I welcome the increases announced in higher education and training courses, but they need to be targeted at the needs of the economy.
In respect of the targeted funding of healthcare, I have already pointed out how our category 4 hospitals are completely underfunded, particularly University Hospital Waterford. More front-line positions must be created. We do not need time and motion people or managers but front-line health service people. Integrated technologies must be introduced.
All in all, in terms of this budget, I think I will use Fianna Fáil catchphrase: a lot done; more to do.
This is a very anti-rural Ireland budget. To be honest, reading the many emails I received this evening about the budget from various organisations, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael politicians should be wary when they go back to their constituencies because they are going to get it in the neck. Farming organisations and rural people are furious. They working hard. Why is this happening? The Green Party is wagging the tail of this Government. Where better to get the money for its pet projects than from rural Ireland? Carbon tax is a direct attack on the people of rural Ireland.
The prices of car fuel, home heating oil and coal have gone through the roof. Speak to agricultural contractors tonight. Speak to lorry drivers. Speak to the mothers and fathers who try to take their children to school in the morning and try to go to work every day in rural Ireland. They do not have public transport. Speak to them. What do they think about the budget? I can tell the Government they will make it very clear what they feel about the budget. There is an extra fuel allowance for people, which is desperately needed at this stage, but I see a huge increase in the number of people coming to my constituency office who are looking to get on the fuel allowance scheme but cannot do so. They fall between cracks because no expenditure is allowed on the scheme. It is all based on earnings but not on expenses and this is terribly unfair. The Government had an opportunity to have 0% on insulation products. This is something the Rural Independent Group wanted to put forward to encourage people to insulate their homes. The Green Party is in government, but this is being left as it is and the people are being punished. They are not being encouraged to insulate their homes. This was the Government's opportunity to do so.
What was announced for agriculture today? Did the Government read the emails from the IFA, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, the ICMSA and Macra na Feirme? They are in disbelief. They are baffled by what the Government has done. It has done nothing for farmers. This is what they are saying. It is not what I am saying. The Government is keeping payments more or less at the same levels. We can forget about the Green Party because agriculture has been off its agenda since long ago. Are Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael deaf? Did they not hear the plea from the organisations for the survival of suckler farmers? They need €300 for each suckler cow to give them any chance to survive. They did not get it. They need €30 extra for a ewe.
The only increase in the budget for farming is being given to animal welfare groups. That is fine if that is the future for Irish farming. There is nothing for dairy farmers. The men and women now facing double the price for bag manure are looking at fuel crisis costs on their farms. They do not know when this will end. The Government is out of touch completely. It will know it when it faces the farmers and country people in the next election. This is a shocking blow for Irish farmers. The great Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil plan, hand-in-hand with the Green Party, is to squeeze the life out of Irish agriculture. As one Fine Gael Deputy said in the Dáil last week, agriculture has to take its cuts now for other sectors to survive. If we needed reminding, today is a glaring reminder of what is happening.
There is nothing in the budget for Irish fishers, whom Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party ruined as they took millions from their income only a few months ago. This was an ideal time to put together a package but again there is zero as the Government continues to show it contempt for this industry.
The disability sector said it is baffled the budget is not meeting its minimum investment of €350 million in disability services. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, should listen to this because it is his area. I assume pay parity will be off the table once again for those in CoAction and other such organisations. Residential homes such as those in Castletownbere will be closing their doors in November because they cannot get staff because of pay parity issues. This is what CoAction tells me. These organisations cannot compete with the others.
Was any budget set aside by the Government in health or disability to encourage people to work in remote communities? We need to do this. This is the real world. These are the facts. SouthDoc in Castletownbere is collapsing because it cannot find anybody to go there. This is what I am being told by the health board. CoAction states it cannot get workers throughout west Cork because of pay parity issues. It is one issue on top of the other. Now we are seeing residential units closing. I contacted the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, at the end of September with regard to the closure of the residential unit in Castletownbere. He came back to me in an email on 29 September saying he would look into the matter and come back. The clock is ticking. Residential homes are closing. People with intellectual disabilities are being asked to go 100 km away from their homes. This cannot happen on the Minister's watch or anybody's watch if there is any respect for them. I appeal to the Minister to do everything in his power to resolve this issue.
There are 1 million people on waiting lists and many of them are in serious pain. The budget will not tackle the issue. We laid it out in the Rural Independent Group's budget submission. For us to tackle the issue we need hospitals open 24-7 and not a few hours every day. In Bantry General Hospital the surgical unit is open only two days a week. This is a scandalous carry-on. People are suffering and in serious pain. People are going blind. Pain is pain, be it to the hip or wherever it is. Some people might require very small surgical procedures and more might require very important surgical procedures. They are not happening and 1 million people are waiting. It is a crazy, insane situation. There is nothing for student nurses in the budget. I hate to say the health system in the country is on the verge of collapse because it has almost collapsed and blind people can see that. There is no SouthDoc service in rural communities several nights a week. It is incredible.
The €5 increase in the pension for elderly people is very welcome and I would be a fool not to welcome it but we must remember it was the first increase for many years. They have fallen €15 behind because the Government failed to increase the pension in other years. They are now €10 behind. It is a terribly unfair situation.
I welcome the youth travel card, which will lead to a 50% cost decrease for young people travelling on public transport. It has to be welcomed. There is one small problem. We do not have transport in rural Ireland. It will be brilliant for people in Dublin, Cork and Galway. I would really like to see the people in rural Ireland having a proper transport service so those children could go on the bus, link with another bus and get to college on the day they start the journey, and not three or four days later. This is a serious issue.
There is €1.4 billion for the national development plan. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste were kicking a ball around Páirc Uí Chaoimh last week. They did not kick the ball down to west Cork. No road there will get a brown cent. There is not one bypass. Twenty years ago was the last time money was spent on the roads in west Cork. The Government forgot to kick the ball down there this time. The ball has been kicked up the road somewhere. The Government has certainly left west Cork hanging once again. This will not be forgotten. A total of €1.4 billion has been put into MetroLink and the DART link. In rural Ireland we do not have either. We have none of them. It looks as if we will be spending masses of money on carbon tax and on our fuel so we can buy more and more fancy buses such as the last three the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, bought in Dublin for €2.4 million. Where are we going to stop? As I said in the Dáil last week, the people of rural Ireland cannot keep carrying the country on our back. The budget was an ideal opportunity to try to turn this around, but the Government failed miserably to make any movement on it or to help the incomes of the people in rural Ireland.
With regard to the 980 SNAs, last night I attended a board of management meeting in west Cork. I received a call from another school that needs three SNAs but it is getting half an SNA. This will not scratch the surface. I wish to God it would but it will not.
With regard to the 800 extra gardaí, the Government forgot to remind the people that 400 gardaí have been gone since last year so we were 400 down already. This is an increase of only 400. An increase is an increase and it is important that gardaí are on the street and I hope they will be on the street. This budget will not be accepted in rural Ireland and I certainly will not support it.
Any increase in social welfare is to be welcomed but it is like a three-card trick. Look at what the Government has taken from the people. Pensions have been increased by €5, the living alone allowance has been increased by €3 and the fuel allowance has been increased by €5. Look at what has been taken from those very same people through the carbon taxes. They are already hitting people through the massive increase in the cost of electricity, petrol, diesel, gas and the basic things people need to live and move around. The prices have been increasing enormously, particularly over the past 12 months. What has the Government done to help with this? Nothing. The Government is really taking very much with one hand and giving back very little except tokenism.
In certain aspects of the budget the Government has tinkered with trying to help but there is no real or meaningful help. I and other Members in the Rural Independent Group brought forward a very comprehensive and workmanlike alternative budget and suggestions. Funding is now being given to the dental service through the medical card. In County Kerry, which I represent, we have been inundated by people who need the most basic dental treatment but have not been able to get it because their dentists have not been seeing them. This is not the dentists' fault. It is because they are not being funded.
I would, therefore, welcome any funding in that regard.
Some €250 million was provided for the waiting lists. Considering that there are nearly 1 million people on waiting lists and that yesterday I, and other Oireachtas members from Kerry, met with management of our hospital, University Hospital Kerry, UHK, Tralee, and from Cork to discuss the crisis that we have in our hospital, which nobody in government is taking on board or realising how serious it is. I have continuously said that I do not want our university hospital to be downgraded to be what I would consider a glorified community hospital. I do not want that but I do want a vibrant hospital and a new hospital in Killarney. I also want the beds upstairs in Kenmare Community Hospital to be opened. I want enhanced services and money to be spent on Cahirsiveen and Listowel hospitals. The reason is that if our community hospitals are well-financed and well-resourced with adequate staff and budgets, this will take pressure off our university hospital. That is not happening at present because the sensible very cost-effective things that could be done, like what I am suggesting in those community hospitals, are not actually happening.
On our hospitality sector, my phone nearly blew up today when the confirmation came through of the schemes that will be shut down and fact that the VAT rate will increase next year in this sector. I am proud to represent the tourism capital of the western world, County Kerry, the finest county that God put any place on this planet. We have a great record of dealing-----
-----with the hospitality sector. No, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, it is not Galway. Galway would be coming down along the ladder and the people there are also great. Our hospitality sector is reeling tonight at the fact that after having come out of the pandemic when they were shut for so long and went through so much, its representatives are now asking how they are going to manage next year when the VAT rate will go up. That shows a complete lack of understanding of what is happening on the ground.
With regard to education and the SUSI grants, I was inundated again over the past number of weeks by people asking what was going to happen and whether there would be a major overhaul of the SUSI grant system because of the fact that it has not been touched for so long. Instead, the Government has just tinkered with it. I welcome the additional funding for DEIS schools because that is a matter that I have been raising over a long period and I welcome any additional supports for them.
With regard to farming and our fishermen also, they have lobbied in an excellent fashion and I compliment every farmer and fisherman who took time off from trying to make a living to come here to Dublin and to attend meetings all around the country. They went to a great deal of effort to highlight their situations. They have received extremely little back in this budget because many of the measures that we were looking for in the Rural Independent Group were not delivered upon because there seems to be a complete disconnect between the heart of Government and agriculture and fishing. The fishermen have been sold out and the Government seems to forget that we are still a proud farming nation. While we are grateful for every other industry, for tourism and for everything that we have, we must remember that at the backbone of Ireland is agriculture. Was that recognised in this budget? No, because since the last proper REP scheme went out the window. Nothing has replaced it and this is only tinkering again with the system.
I welcome the gambling regulatory authority, which is an issue I have been raising a great deal.
I raised the issue of horticulture when the peat industry had been shut down. What did this achieve only to show that the Government completely forgot about it because nobody in government realised what was going to happen when we needed peat and that we would then not have that excellent resource. What is the Government doing only importing it from Latvia at a rate of 4,000 tonnes a number of weeks ago. This will happen twice a month over the next number of months, otherwise, the 17,000 jobs in this sector will be in danger. This seems completely crazy to think that we are allowing this to happen. The Government shuts down the peat industry without having any sensible alternative or having thought it through. If the Green Party was serious about its business or if it was operating on the real planet it would realise that in pushing for the closure of our peat industry, all this would do was to create more harm than if the industry had been left open.
We have many working hubs in Kerry such as in Kilmurry, Kenmare, Sneem and in other parts of the county. These hubs are vitally important because we want to encourage people to live in these rural areas where housing might be more affordable, whether that is renting or buying, and where hubs would be made available to them. Was there recognition given in this budget to that and to trying to promote, enhance and grow it? No, but I welcome the small allowance that is there for people working from home but we have to do everything to promote those hubs. We have many more of them throughout County Kerry and I want to see them grow, being used and being viable.
Returning to education for one moment, I forgot to say something which was very important. This year we had a crisis in places like Limerick, Galway, Cork and all throughout the country with regard to accommodation for students. Parents and students themselves were in an awful way in trying to get affordable accommodation on time. This is a matter that has to be tackled. There is nothing to enhance or help that sector grow more than improving accommodation and having it there for people in the coming years, as this has become a big problem. I welcome the reduction in class sizes because this, again, is a vitally important issue. The additional 350 teachers that will be provided is a welcome step in the right direction for children to be educated properly and for teachers to have a proper working environment. If retirements, illnesses and different are taken into account, we are probably only standing still, in the same way as the Minister has done with the gardaí.
The Government is trying to confuse the nation by saying that it is taking on all these additional gardaí but it is saying nothing about the gardaí that are retiring, or who, unfortunately, are sick. It is, of course, saying absolutely nothing about the outrageous decision that was taken by a certain individual to suspend highly respectable gardaí in County Limerick and putting them at home. This is something that should not have happened in the first instance but that is a different story for another day.
I also welcome in a very special way the 50% reduction in travel costs to students and younger people. That is a step in the right direction because when Charlie Haughey brought in free travel for older people, it certainly proved to be a great success. I could not see why, following on from that initiative, it could not be tried at the other end of the age spectrum.
I believe I still have another minute; I am down to-----
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. For the information of the Minister of State, my name is Richard O’Donoghue and I am an independent Deputy who represents Limerick County. It is past the Red Cow and the Minister of State is quite welcome to visit us any time.
This Government insulted the most vulnerable by giving them an increase of €5 a week in their pension where the cost of living has risen by approximately 20%. That is not to mention that on two previous occasions, the Government was supposed to give them an extra €10. Pensioners are €10 behind plus they have a cost-of-living increase of approximately 20%. The Government further insults them then again by taking it back off them, and more, through the carbon tax.
I want to give people an account, in case they do not understand, of what carbon tax means for a person living in the country. I will break it down for them in simple mathematics, like I learned when I went to school. For every €100 of fuel that is manufactured, do the people of Ireland know what the Government take from that is? The manufacturer of petrol receives €39.92; the local shopkeeper gets €3.08 for every €100 of petrol in a person’s tank; and the Government, which has nothing to do with manufacturing or putting the petrol into the cars, gets a whopping €57 out of every €100 of petrol that goes into every person in Ireland’s car.
Let us turn now to diesel. The manufacturer, per €100, receives €44.38. The local shopkeeper still gets nothing extra.
He or she will get €3.08, or between 4 cent or 5 cent per litre, to fill his or her car. Meanwhile, the Government will come away with a whopping €51.94 of every €100 of fuel bought. I often hear people say the shopkeeper is robbing them through fuel. The shopkeeper is not robbing them through fuel; the Government is. They are the most robbing, thieving people and they are so anti-rural.
What does this mean for a rural person as opposed to someone living in a city? I am talking about towns, villages and rural areas. In every town, village and rural area, families have on average between three and four cars per household in order that they can get their children to school, do the shopping and go to work. Everyone in cities such as Dublin has on average either one or two cars because there is a cycle track, the Luas, taxis and bus services. For God's sake, they could almost lift up their children and take them to school themselves. In rural areas, however, people have three to four cars to do this.
In brass tacks for the Government, this means a rural person burns twice the quantity of fuel, at a minimum, as a city person. Even so, the Government spends the rural money on city projects to build infrastructure for the cities. That is where the problem lies. As I have always said, this is a city-led Government. It listens to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, when he is awake, but that is all it will listen to. It is led by the Green Party. The county areas want to make the same contribution, but how can we do that when the Government takes all our taxes and carbon emissions and puts it into the cities? The money it spends on infrastructure in the cities should be doubled for the county areas because we pay the most. That is simple mathematics, but it has taken a long time for that to get through to the Government.
Turning to the SUSI grant, I welcome the additional €200 in respect of maintenance grants but let us examine why the Government has done it. I welcome also the increase to the income threshold of €1,000 but, again, let us examine why it has been done. Finally, I welcome the reduction in the eligibility limit from 45 km to 30 km to allow students to avail of the grants. The reason these changes have been introduced relates to the fact all the polls show that the youth of this country have seen through the Government, and it is now trying to bring the youth with it. The youth of this country will not be fooled by this small token because it saw last year what the Government is about when it penalised people for being 100 yd short of 45 km. It penalised them with no rental accommodation for them when they were going to college. The jig is up. Everyone in this country knows what the Government is doing.
As to provisions for hauliers, a total of 98% of the goods coming into this country come into Dublin Port. When I was driving up this morning, I met countless trucks going down that road from the port, burning 7 miles to the gallon. They have no alternative because the Government will not get the infrastructure into Foynes Port fast enough. Limerick is very central. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae said he loves Limerick because it is the best hurling county. It is a brilliant hurling county because there is a management system and a structure and it works well together, like a family. The Government comprises three different parties trying to run in three different directions, and they are penalising the people in the county areas.
Two Ministers of State were elected by the Limerick County constituency to represent the people of County Limerick. In almost every other county, there are Ministers, Ministers of State and Deputies who sit on the Government benches. They are there to represent their counties and the infrastructure thereof, and they will vote for the Government's budget. I want a warning to go out to every Deputy from those counties. They should be careful what they wish for because when they come knocking on the doors, the young, middle-aged and older people of this country will make them accountable for what they have done to rural Ireland - towns, villages and rural areas. They have taken all our taxes and they are putting them into city projects. They say they give to the vulnerable, but they give with one hand and take back double on the other side. When the election comes, nobody in this House, no matter what party or none, should be safe going to the doors. In my county, I hear people saying one Deputy or another is in trouble but that is just to create spin. Everyone in this House should be elected on the merits of what they deliver for their county. I hope that when Deputies in my county go to the doors, the people will elect them on the merits of what they deliver and not on how they have sold out to the Government.
I am happy to contribute to the debate. I do so from a rural perspective, as part of the Rural Independent Group and as a rural Deputy from Laois-Offaly. I raise the severe defeat for Ireland in regard to our 12.5% rate of corporation tax. That loss is conservatively estimated to be in the region of €2 billion annually to the economy but, of course, that is just the beginning. Almost as important as the fact we have lost something vital to our national interests when it comes to the public finances, this is a loss of any kind of meaningful sovereignty in the context of determining the shape and form of our taxation policies.
EU solidarity has shown itself to be a total fiction. International solidarity and respect for the right of sovereign nations to determine legitimate taxation policies has been shown to be a myth. In recent weeks, Ireland has been strong-armed into surrendering the jewel in the crown of its foreign direct investment policy and I am very concerned about that. The Government has the gall to try to sell this as a win for Ireland's finances and for our international standing, but it is far from that. That is the kind of apologetic tone and shrinking regard for the destructive views of other nations' political and economic interests that has just lost us billions of euro in potential revenue.
As for future budgets, it means we will now have to operate within a more confined fiscal space. This will trickle down to the ordinary people in the shape of a loss of service supports, a loss of funding and a more uncertain economic future for their children. This is all the more striking in the context of what the Parliamentary Budget Office, PBO, previously noted as the necessity to maintain the resilience of the tax system, an important factor in the sustainability of the public finances. The PBO has rightly pointed out that important questions are starting to arise as to how resilient the tax system is to unexpected and systemic shocks, such as the financial crisis of 2008 to 2013 and the pandemic crisis of 2020, which we are still experiencing.
This makes it all the more difficult to understand or fathom why the Government, for all its rhetoric, seems determined to actively endanger and threaten the capacity of rural Ireland to maintain employment levels within formerly strong indigenous sectors such as forestry, horticulture, farming and agrifood production, not to mention the threat to thousands of jobs in our agricultural merchant sector because of the interpretation of EU regulations that, as usual, the Government and the Attorney General seem to go over and beyond to appease our EU masters, for some reason selling out our country. The fishermen, for example, were sold out. We are seeing it now in agriculture and our businesses; the Government is not standing up for the people. It is a disgrace and it is shameful to the legacy of the leaders of 1916, who fought for the freedom of this country.
The Government is happy to sell out every sector, no problem. All it does is sell it out at the stroke of a pen, time after time. It is a job in all those sectors, not the type of showpiece budgets we are witnessing today, that is the greatest security against poverty and increased risks of intergenerational deprivation. It is not just a job, of course, but meaningful, well-paid and stable employment that Irish people deserve. Instead, what we have seen from the Government since it took office is no respect whatsoever for rural Ireland, with anything but the dedicated support for rural employment that we and the communities of rural Ireland that are struggling so richly deserve. I will again mention my constituency of Laois-Offaly, which has been badly treated by an unjust transition. No alternatives were put in place. It was foisted and imposed on my constituents; it is shameful. We want to have meaningful employment or a rollback of those measures. We have been treated harshly and unfairly in regard to transition.
The entire forestry sector has been completely destabilised. I remind the Minister present, and I raised this issue with the Tánaiste and, indeed, the Taoiseach, that 10,000 jobs in the forestry sector are at stake. The economy in rural Ireland is at risk of collapse. I sometimes wonder if the Government is waiting for the collapse of the economy before it is going to act. What is it going to do about this crisis? The Rural Independent Group brought forward amendments relating to a forestry Bill that has not served or done any good. There is still a backlog of thousands of licences, and jobs are at risk. It is not good enough. I call on the Government, yet again, to please take action.
In tandem with that, there are 17,000 horticulture jobs at serious risk. Thousands of tons of peat are being imported from Latvia. What the Government has done is an insult to the Irish people. The Minister for Transport and the Government collectively must explain to us and our constituents how it makes sense to have thousands of tons of inferior-quality peat imported into this country, while there are 17,000 jobs on the brink of being lost. I do not understand it. The carbon footprint is increasing. It makes no sense. The climate action policy that was put before us was fit for the recycling bin or the shredder. It was not fit for purpose and had no alternatives. It made ludicrous statements that cannot be backed up. The Government must take collective responsibility here now. We need to know how this makes sense.
Again, I call on the Government to introduce emergency legislation. I have explained the problem a number of times to the Tánaiste, as have the stakeholders in the forestry sector. The Government is well able to introduce emergency legislation at the drop of a hat when it suits. Why not do it for the people of this country and for the 17,000 people who deserve no less than that? I am stating that quite strongly tonight because there is no mention of any supports for those people in the budget. The Government must explain the logic of what it is doing. As far as I am concerned, there is no logic. It is absurd to think that after the theatrics of today are over and the Government's various commitments to support employment and the rural economy fade away, sections of our community will remain under threat because of the same Government. There is no meaning or substance to anything it is saying.
In addition, we have an energy policy that is creating the foundation for a dramatic loss of confidence in this country as a destination that can be relied on to keep the lights on. We all are going to be in the dark fairly soon. Again, I call on the Government to show a little cop-on and common sense and to roll back the ludicrous policies it has decided to pursue with regard to employment in rural Ireland and the Irish people, which are to the detriment of the people. How on earth have we arrived at this point? It is nothing short of a point of stupidity. Until the underlying threats to basic areas such as energy are dealt with, all the budget commitments in the world about growing investment will amount to little more than the Government shouting in the wind. It needs to prove itself here.
There is also a social housing and health emergency in the State that today's budget is unlikely to solve unless there is a total reversal of the approaches that have brought us to this point. There has to be a wake-up call here. I welcome any positive small steps in the budget to alleviate the chronic needs of our people, but I passionately believe in the values of the 1916 Proclamation by true statesmen who served this country, in the importance of cherishing all the children of this island equally and in serving the Irish people.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on the budget this evening. It will be remembered as a frightening budget because of the increase in the carbon tax. Many people would have thought that the carbon tax, which was put in place last year and is to last for another seven or eight years, would be paused this year in light of the increased cost of fuel coming into this country caused by worldwide prices. However, the Government is adding to the cost by ensuring that people pay this carbon tax. They will be paying it from midnight tonight or shortly afterwards.
This is going to affect every man, woman and child in the country, especially people who are working. It will affect people who get up early in the morning to drive long distances to work, mothers taking children to school and farmers. A chairman of one farming organisation said to me tonight:
All we can do, Danny, is keep putting the diesel in and keep paying the cost until we find we have no more money to pay. The way it is, we will go as far as we can but it is hard to see that we will be able to continue in any fair way for months longer into the future.
Then there are the transport costs for commercial vehicles. Can one imagine adding to their woes by imposing a carbon tax on them again today? Let us consider the passenger buses and the cost that is being added for them. It is a diminution of their income. The same applies to taxis. Any man or woman who has a wheel turning at all will be affected in a desperate way.
It is clear that the Government is staying in power with the support of the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth's, party. It is pandering to the party every day and everywhere. It is terrible that this is being meted out to people. The people in rural Ireland are affected most. What are the alternatives? The Government talks about wind energy from turbines out at sea. We are ten years away from that. In the meantime, people must live and try to stay warm in their homes. We are importing briquettes and peat moss for the horticulture industry. We have no alternatives. However, the Taoiseach said the other day that two gas burning electricity generators are broken down at present and it is hoped to get them working. Imagine we have reduced ourselves to that - close Shannonbridge and Lanesborough, forget about the 10,000 acres of bog in Littleton and let the people perish in their homes for the winter or, perhaps, have no light.
With regard to retrofitting and insulation, there is a wait of two and a half years. All we will see is new big shiny buses in Dublin and the people in rural areas suffering. The price of diesel and petrol has gone to €1.65 per litre and it is almost €1 for green diesel.
Then there is health. I do not accept that what has been suggested for health here today will resolve the problems we have been highlighting in UHK in Tralee.
People aged 90 years and more are waiting for three days in corridors on trolleys. The ambulance service we are getting at present is not acceptable. The ambulance service was reconfigured in 2012 or 2013, but now there is often no ambulance to be found in Tralee, Killarney, Kenmare or Cahersiveen because they may have been sent to Cork, Kinsale or somewhere else around the country. People may be left on the side of the road following an accident. I am aware of a farmer whose fingers were cut off and another farmer who had been attacked by a bull and no ambulance was to be found.
Nurses are worn out from working so hard with fewer numbers. Nurses are leaving in their droves for Australia. We need more doctors and consultants in our hospitals along with the teams that go with them. It is no good appointing a consultant without the team to accompany him.
I welcome the extra assistance to be given to childcare workers and the college students being allowed to travel on buses and trains for half fares. However, the big problem for students in Killarney and the Kerry area is that they need to drive to Cork and other colleges because they cannot get accommodation. There is another thing and it is a simple thing. Students should be allowed to work and earn more than €4,500. I welcome the reduction of the qualifying distance from 45 km to 30 km.
On housing, I ask the Minister to go back to the old model of buying sites and giving the funding to the local authorities to build social houses, as was done in the past and which was successful. We should go back to rural cottages on an applicant's own land. We should give funding to local authorities for demountable homes and raise the cap for families to qualify for council houses. For a couple with two children, the cap is €33,600. How could they afford to buy a house of their own?
Planning for one-off houses is restricted. An Bord Pleanála refuses 95% of the applications that are granted in rural parts of Kerry. When some nosy good-for-nothing objector appeals the decision of Kerry County Council, An Bord Pleanála does not recognise our county development plan. When Kerry County Council grants application, An Bord Pleanála refuses it.
Then we have another boyo, the planning regulator. He is dictating that less land should be zoned. How can we build houses if we do not zone land?
The Government let the fishermen down in the Brexit talks and let down the farmers. Macra na Feirme, the IFA and all the farming organisations feel they have been let down in this budget, through the reduction in the herd, the felling licences and in many other ways.
A man driving his own machine is now paying €250 more since the middle of the summer because of the extra cost. The Government is adding to that man's woes by increasing the carbon tax.
Here I stand on yet another budget day, disappointed once again and frustrated at the many missed opportunities and the regressive nature of this budget.
The pandemic showed that the provision of proper healthcare services and the eradication of homelessness is actually achievable, despite decades of governments telling us differently. For the Government to recognise the benefits of this but yet revert back to a pre-Covid type budget shows just how backward looking it is. It shows where priorities truly lie and it is not with the people it represents.
Privatisation of essential services has failed us time and again and will only continue to do so. However, despite these negative consequences, we carry on catering to the private sector. We only need to look at the mess that is National Broadband Ireland to see these consequences. Constituents of mine in Donegal have recently been told that the earliest they will have access to fibre broadband is 2025. This simply is not good enough.
Effective ways of increasing revenue include introducing a wealth tax and getting rid of tax reliefs which tend to benefit higher income households rather than lower income households. As Dr. Tom McDonald states, a good tax system would have zero tax reliefs. Investment in public services would be much more effective than tax cuts.
It is nothing short of ridiculous that we are here discussing the budget of 2022 without having any clear indication of what will be offered to families suffering the effects of mica. The document states that funding for the remediation of homes affected by defective concrete blocks has been increased to €40 million. I think it was also €40 million last year so I do not know where that increase came from. I would love to know what exactly this means. If this is all the funding that will be allocated to these families, it is not nearly enough to provide them with the 100% redress they are entitled to. These families deserve answers now and it is downright shameful that this is not a major focus of budget 2022.
I see no real commitment here to tackle the housing crisis properly. Much like Housing for All, this is watery and lacks any sort of vision. We need proper action on the crisis and on tackling homelessness, especially rural homelessness, which is so often ignored. The Department refused to fund a north-west Simon Community rural homelessness project that would have focused on helping those in hidden homelessness. If the Government were serious about that, it would have taken that on.
The decision to reduce the vacant site tax from 7% to 3% is a joke and needs some serious reconsideration. A Bill introduced by the former Deputies, Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, in 2018 would have set it at 25% and Fianna Fáil promised 15% but we have ended up with 3%. It shows who runs policy within the Government.
I have been inundated with calls regarding the student accommodation crisis, yet this budget does not seem to reflect this issue at all. Providing €200 in student grants will be a drop in the ocean for hard-pressed families.
I strongly disagree with the Minister’s allocation of funding to the treatment purchase scheme rather than investing this in public health services. The constant funding of the private sector over the public sector needs to end, but this seems to be a theme of Government policy.
The allocation of €24 million for mental health services is just not enough. Investing properly in mental health services is more important now than ever before. I support Mental Health Reform’s call to invest €85 million in these services, which is little enough.
We need to invest properly in disability services and to recognise the incredible work of our carers, especially during the pandemic. I would have liked to have seen investment in a carer’s pension for our long-term carers.
While my expectations of this budget were very low, I am truly appalled to see there has been no mention of the fishing industry at all. Fishing has taken a significant hit in the past year due to the pandemic and Brexit. I had expected to see the budget recognise and address this urgently. The industry and the communities that depend on it have been repeatedly let down by the Government, which refuses to fight for Ireland’s fair share of fishing quotas in Europe.
A very important area we need to address, and which I feel is missing in this budget, is overseas aid. Ireland spends just 0.31% of GNI on overseas development, which is well below the international target and is not good enough. If the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it is the importance of our global community and ensuring nowhere is left behind.
Local authorities could have real potential to solve the housing crisis if we changed the way we treat and fund them. They should have increased responsibility and accountability to the people. The need for this is reflected in the retrofitting programme for estates. I have constituents from Clós Naomh Chonaill, Glenties, Ballybofey and Castlefinn who have been waiting years for new windows and doors. They are now being forced to endure another winter in a cold house.
I support the increase in the fuel allowance but the increase is pointless for houses that cannot keep in heat. This is an area that must be seriously addressed and local authorities could provide many solutions if we gave them the opportunity.
Investing in rural development and the rejuvenation of our town centres is incredibly important. An essential way of addressing this is by increasing the minimum wage to €15 per hour and encouraging employers to offer permanent instead of casual contracts. Minimum wage jobs are a major feature in rural communities and ensuring those employed there are paid well and offered permanent employment is an important way to have people stay in rural areas, thus rejuvenating town centres.
The development of rural transport is also incredibly important and I was very disappointed with the comment from the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, stating that not every road project in the national development plan is guaranteed to be constructed. This comment refers to projects in my county of Donegal, no doubt, which is constantly left behind in every area of development but which is totally dependent on its road network. I was also disappointed to see an increase in fuel prices, which would disproportionately affect rural communities that do not have access to public transport, especially in Donegal, which has the highest rate of forced car ownership.
An area that has been totally left behind in the wake of Covid-19 is the arts industry. I welcome a universal basic income for artists, but a Covid-19 fund should be set up for those in the arts community to allow them to get back up and running. They play a major role in our public life and this should be recognised.
It is clear this budget is not about transformative change in any way. Everything is spread too thinly, with no real difference made. There may be small gains but there are very few important changes. The process is instead regressing back to what is seen as a normal, pre-Covid budget but "normal" is not nearly good enough. "Normal" was high rates of homelessness, a crumbling health service and a country that prioritised foreign investment over the needs of its own citizens. This is not the normal I want for this country and this, in my eyes, is an incredibly regressive budget.
Earlier today I had a look at some of my comments about last year's budget and I was especially critical of Government inaction on support for family carers and the provision of childcare. Today, I am happy to say I am really pleased to see a long overdue increase to the income disregard for accessing carer's allowance. That has increased from €665 to €750 per couple per week. We can add to this the increase in the capital disregard from €20,000 to €50,000 and such changes will ensure a greater number of families will be able to access carer's allowance.
That means test was called "the mean test" and it penalised so many full-time family carers, many of whom were lifetime carers. The capital disregard of €20,000 meant so many middle-aged and older carers could not put money aside either for their pensions, which the State did not provide, or a nest egg to support the person for whom they cared. Today's news is good news for those families.
It is worth noting that approximately half of the 90,000 people who currently access carer's allowance, a figure of approximately 45,000, can only draw down a half rate. The increase in both disregards today means many of those 45,000 people will be able to increase the carer's allowance they can access. However, the other 45,000 who are accessing a full rate of carer's allowance now will see very limited benefit in today's budget. I was most disappointed that carer's allowance was not recognised as a qualifying payment for fuel allowance. All families in the State are being hit with very significant increases in the cost of energy but family carers, especially those caring for older persons, will see increased energy bills as we head into winter. This is an example of where we are not connecting the dots and helping to ensure those who care within the family home do not sometimes have to make impossible choices between heat and food.
I also mentioned childcare, and over the past 12 months I have many times asked the relevant Minister to support the sector. The increased funding for childcare is welcome but it falls well short of the €75 million that would be needed to guarantee a living wage to those working in the sector, 95% of which are women. Retention of workers in this sector is a major concern. A further €75 million would be needed to ensure access for parents to the service. Having said that, today's investment is significant. If the Minister could guarantee this is the start of a multi-annual programme, I would be satisfied with that.
There are a number of other matters I wish to raise and I will get to some of them tomorrow. Above all else, however, I cannot express enough my real disappointment that budget 2022 basically ignored agriculture. This is the single most important economic and policy statement of the year but it has ghosted agriculture, so to speak. From the perspective of policy direction or agricultural supports, budget 2022 is a non-event. Given that climate change is a central plank of this budget, why was agriculture, a sector that is expected to do much of the heavy lifting in reducing emissions, basically ignored?
Macra na Feirme summed up the Government's commitment to agriculture when it said the Minister for Finance had told young farmers "to go gaming instead of farming" because there are tax credits for gaming but rollover for agricultural programmes.
There is much talk about just transition but the reality is we have a carbon tax that penalises rather than incentivises. If anybody suggests to me the next Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, will deal with such agricultural matters, I may lose the will to live. As it stands, the CAP budget will hold the same as the preceding CAP budget, so in the context of increasing prices, it will amount to a decrease. Additionally, Pillar 1 payments across the board will see a cut of 25%, and that money can only be recouped when farmers avail of two of the five proposed eco schemes.
There are two concerns. The first is that for 25% of the income, farmers will have to do much more just to maintain the income and there is no new money. I was at a meeting in Carrigallen last Friday night and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, was there. It was made very clear to him that many of the proposed eco schemes will simply not be suitable for farmers in that region, and that is my second concern. There is a real concern that a quarter of the Pillar 1 income will not be available to some farmers. There is also the question of the agri-environment schemes under Pillar 2 and whether Pillar 1 eco schemes will be a benchmark for them. How much more will farmers have to deliver to access Pillar 2 agri-environment schemes?
Added to this is the huge and disproportionate impact of carbon tax on farmers and rural people. The carbon tax is meant to incentivise people and we all agree with it. In today's context, however, it is seen to penalise. It is meant to encourage a switch to cleaner fuels, electric vehicles and public transport but in rural areas, very often there are no alternative fuels to oil, coal or peat. We do not have gas lines running beside our homes and there is little infrastructure for electric vehicles. Whatever there is in towns and cities, there is none in rural Ireland. I do not need to tell the Minister about the dearth of public transport in rural areas.
I was delighted to hear the Minister proposing a 50% cut in the cost of public transport for those aged between 19 and 23. It is good, and if they are going between Sligo and Dublin that would be fine. If they are trying to get to the institute of technology in Sligo from Geevaghor perhaps Mohill in south Leitrim, they will not be able to avail of that 50% reduction because public transport is not available.
It is quite clear, and the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, analyses show, the carbon tax will cost rural and agricultural communities more. Farmers are being promised a just transition, but there is no evidence of it.
There is nothing extra for the suckler cow, which is the mainstay of the rural economy in the constituency I represent, and nobody is talking about the fact that there is drop of 46,000 in the suckler herd. There is nothing for the ewe premium, no front-loading for areas of natural constraint, ANC, and no light at the end of the tunnel for those who are frozen out of the results-based environment agri pilot, REAP. There is nothing around support for microgeneration and solar panels and there is no greater access to the grid. I do not know how this happened.
The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, said today that:
Farming families have...a central role to play in protecting the environment over the long term. Supporting the next generation of farming families is essential...[for] guarantee[ing] the long-term future of agriculture and the agribusiness sector.
In the context of today's budget, those words are meaningless, hollow and empty. This budget bypassed agriculture.
This is my sixth budget since my election in February 2016. Each year I have heard some good suggestions in the budget and some that are not so good but, increasingly, there is an utter failure to realise the immensity of the challenges we are dealing with, notwithstanding the lovely language used. Over and over we have heard we need transformative action and that we cannot go back to where we were. This is the language we have heard from members of the Government, and me, but they said it today. It lifted my heart to listen to this language of "we are all in it together, we have learned from climate change and the pandemic that we cannot go back to doing things the way we have done them."
I could pick many years, but 2015 was a turning point because the Dáil passed the first climate plan. We also signed up to the UN sustainable goals. Here we are now, nearly seven years later, having declared a climate and biodiversity emergency and having had the Covid pandemic. I will put this into perspective, and I will praise the good things that are in the budget because they are there, but the background is very important, so we can judge how good the suggestions are. Between 2013 and 2019, the social welfare budget was €20 billion every year. Last year, as the Minister of State knows, it went up to €31 billion. The pandemic highlighted the importance of the social welfare system in a functioning society. Social Justice Ireland state that:
Poverty data from the CSO, released in October 2020, demonstrated how adequate social welfare payments are required to prevent and address poverty. Without...social welfare [and this is a staggering figure]...41.4 per cent of the Irish population would have been living in poverty in 2019. Such an underlying poverty rate suggests a deeply unequal distribution of direct income. ...[and] even after...social welfare payments...630,000 [of our residents and citizens were]...living below the poverty line. Of...[which] 190,000 were...under 18.
I know a commission is looking at taxation and welfare. I mention this, and there will be more to come, to point out that the system was not working. The market system was being helped and abated because the ideology that it could provide for a civilised society based on profit was totally faulty. The Department of Social Protection had to come in with €20 billion per year to keep society functioning.
When the pandemic struck, it did so in the context of a crisis that was already there in the health system. I remember, before voting for the emergency legislation at the time, which is the only time I voted for it, I read out a letter from SIPTU - I will have to check what union it was - that put us on notice that the health service was at crisis point. That was prior to the pandemic. We know the public health system and public health doctors were simply not there. They could not advise us on the pandemic and could not foresee it. If they did, the structure was not there to allow them to tell us.
The Simon Community told us in February 2020, prior to the Covid pandemic, that 10,148 people were homeless and in emergency accommodation, which, in my view, was a direct result of policy. In July 2021, it had gone down to 8,132. However, that was the second month of increased numbers. Any intelligent government or any government that was open to listening would realise that the market and the profit-driven approach was causing problems, not solving them, enriching a small group of people and impoverishing quite a substantial number of our people. As a result of those policies, we faced into a pandemic utterly unprepared. We still have a housing crisis and the Government's policy is still utterly based on the market. I have said this repeatedly.
Today, in the budget, the Government is clapping itself on the back for providing more spaces under the HAP, which was introduced by Fine Gael and the Labour Party in 2014. They said it was the only game in town and that was the interpretation of the local authorities. We now have more than €6 billion going straight into the hands of private landlords. We need landlords. I am not here to give out about them but about the Government policy that stated the only game in town from 2014 onwards was HAP, utterly creating a situation that was unsustainable. That is what we are facing. The Government is clapping itself on the back that more places are being provided. I understand we might need more places temporarily, but that should be done in the context of saying we must finish with HAP, give a deadline for finishing it and build public housing on public land. I make no apology for that and I am no ideologue. The ideology is totally on the side that states the market will provide. When it does not provide, we will finance the market in every single aspect.
In that context, we upped social welfare and other payments a little today, but we did not look at the overall picture of the jigsaw, which, in the words of the Minister is that "the world is burning, and the only chance we have to control those fires is through coherent and effective policies." I absolutely agree with him. He went on to say, "[that] is why carbon taxation is so important." That is why carbon taxation should not be there at all because it is utterly divisive. It is leading us to believe that the ordinary person on the ground is the polluter. While we increase social welfare and we make it slightly easier for carers, which I acknowledge, at the same time we are punishing people. We are not punishing the data centres and the aviation industry. There is nothing in the budget but a package for the aviation industry, which is good on a temporary basis, but there should be taxation for the polluter. When we talk about polluter pays, the biggest polluter never pays. I know that from Galway because 20 years ago the people led us in saying "no" to incineration, but not in an NIMBY fashion. The people of Galway said they would produce a plan, which they did, stating they wanted to recycle, reduce and reuse. That was in 2000. A book was written about it, The Burning Issue. There were monster meetings and we showed the way. What was the response of the Government? To privatise the refuse service and to take away our power under the waste management Act. That was the response.
I can understand if people get tired because I am getting tired, despite the salary I am paid, listening to the same thing over and over, which is a narrative that is insulting and unacceptable. The people want us to do things differently. They want an equal society. The word "equal" is not good enough. It makes sense that everybody has equal opportunities. It makes for a much better economy. When we look at carers, domestic violence and mental health, and we give a little, we are utterly failing to value the importance of carers, for example, to the economy. No market-driven economy can function without functioning on the backs of carers, the vast majority of whom are women.
I see the Minister has issued a detailed statement on domestic violence.
The review into refuge spaces for victims of domestic violence that we asked for has not yet been published. There has been no clarification on that, although the Minister referred to it. I will stick to economic terms. I understand that, at a most basic level, the cost of not dealing with domestic and gender-based violence is €2.5 billion. I am like a broken record. This is the sixth budget day on which I am asking that we look at things differently by looking at the cost of not doing something. I read the newspapers and see the economists and the usual people saying we cannot afford to take action, or asking can we afford it. I ask how can we afford not to do it. How can we afford not to give mental health services in the manner laid out in the new document for which we waited a long time? At what stage will it dawn on economists that there is a much bigger picture where the economy serves society? When we do it like that, and we roll out services as basic units of a civilised society, the economy will truly thrive but that is not what is happening today. We have little bits of positive news without any overall strategy, so the Government introduces half-price tickets on public transport for the young people without realising that we must introduce free transport. We have no choice because that is ultimately the cheaper way to do it. We must look at school transport and broaden it out so it is there for rural areas. We must stop the division between rural and city life and put meaning on it.
I had the privilege of reading the national development plan. It took me about eight hours to read the whole thing. I read the lovely language in that document, including terms such as "sustainable" and "empowering communities" and I wondered what I was missing in this lovely document. The actual reality is so far removed from that language that it is not funny.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on budget 2022. To me and many others, this will, in many ways, be summed up as the "fiver budget" of 2022. I would call it the "lousy fiver budget" of 2022. Let us consider the State old age pension. Age Action Ireland has shown that when inflation is taken into account, the real value of the State pension has fallen by more than €10 per week in the past year. That is €542 in a year. To lose that much money is a considerable drop in income. Age Action's pre-budget submission called for a €15 increase to offset the exasperating rise in prices, particularly energy costs. Instead, we have a measly €5 increase. The recommended benchmark for a State pension is supposed to be set at 34% of average earnings. It is currently at 29%. That is a weekly shortfall of €43.84.
Those on social welfare are to receive a similar insult. There was no increase in basic welfare payments in budgets 2020 and 2021. A fiver increase means being left behind for three years running. At the absolute minimum, there should be a €10 increase. At the recommended benchmark of 27.5% of average wages, the basic social welfare payment should be €222 per week. A €5 increase to the €208 weekly rate is still €14 short of the benchmark. The people affected are the 400,000 people who experience fuel poverty. They are people on low incomes, the unemployed, single people who live alone, lone parents, pensioners, Travellers and low-paid workers. It can cost up to 26% of income to heat a caravan. Fuel poverty means a household must spend more than 10% of its income on energy. The measly €5 increase in this budget will easily be eaten up by the price rises and the €7.50 increase in carbon taxes on fuel. I am not opposed to the carbon tax outlined earlier by other speakers on the basis of a polluter pays principle. The manufacturer, and not the customer, is the polluter and should be paying the cost of the crisis in the environment.
There is an overemphasis on individual household consumption, as opposed to the high polluting industries, which will, quite rightly, be seen as unfair and will alienate people from action on climate change. The fuel allowance should also have been increased by €15 and extended by four weeks to cover 32 weeks. It should also have been extended to include all those on welfare and working family payments. We need substantial investment to provide affordable public transport links across the country. We need a properly funded retrofit programme starting in public housing and public buildings.
I will now come to the health service. This morning, on RTÉ radio, I heard about a heartbreaking situation facing a ten-year-old boy, Adam Terry from Cork. He needs surgery for scoliosis. If he had got the necessary treatment four years ago when he was put on the urgent list for the operation, it would have been less complicated. The family still have not received a scheduled date for his treatment from the HSE. He is one of many children facing the scoliosis crisis and waiting lists. That is just one example of the 908,000 people on waiting lists. That figure, just short of 1 million, may be heading towards 1.5 million.
In a recent debate on health in this Chamber, I referred to the pre-budget submission from the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, according to which we have fewer than 1.5 consultants per 1,000 of population. That is the lowest number of specialists in the EU; the average is 2.5 per 1,000. The IMO has stated the number of consultants needs to be doubled to meet present needs and a growing population. In terms of bed capacity, at three acute hospital beds per 1,000 of population, we are significantly below the EU average of five. We have five critical care beds per 100,000 of the population, which is well below the EU average of 12. This budget is not going to deal with those issues.
The IMO also called for an additional 5,000 acute beds in the public system and a doubling of critical care beds to 550. It also sought an urgent review to assess needs in terms of diagnostics, radiology and laboratory requirements. The Government has only applied a sticking plaster. There will be no transformational change without a substantial increase in funding. It does not only apply to bed capacity, staff or stand-alone elective hospitals. We need substantial investment in GP facilities to enable a shift to greater care in community, greater investment in women's health, mental health, e-health, IT infrastructure and to meet the care needs of older people in an aging population. This budget simply does not deliver.
The other key crisis in our society is the inability to provide affordable, good quality housing with security of tenure. The budget will change nothing in that regard. These should be the priorities, not tax cuts that benefit the better-off, as always. This budget has failed to address any of those priorities.
The Disability Federation of Ireland, DFI, has issued a statement to the effect that it is baffled that the Government, in its budget, is not meeting the minimum investment of €350 million in disability services. It goes on to state that the Government has estimated that €350 million to €600 million will be needed from budget 2022 to address unmet needs in the disability services. Today's budget shows that the Government is ignoring its own advice, which is baffling to the DFI.
I welcome the opportunity to speak. It is welcome that the thresholds for the carer's allowance have been lifted a bit. My honest opinion is that anybody who gives up a job to mind someone belonging to them as a carer should not be means tested because the service such a person does for the State is unbelievable.
I also welcome the move on childcare. The devil will be in the detail and we will see who will get what. I also welcome the stamp duty relief for young farmers but we are still at the stage where a young farmer to the Department of Finance is 35 while a young farmer to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is 39. Someone would have to be a fair operator to be two different types of farmer to those different Departments.
The Government needs to rectify that. I know there is extra money for retrofitting and all of that. That is welcome but the reality is that the money available to give to people in Roscommon who are retrofitting their houses and so on ran out three months ago.
Today's budget abandoned the agriculture sector. It has wiped it off the face of the earth. It does not seem to exist in today's budget. I will go through the figures. The increase in the carbon tax on agricultural diesel, which is used on farms around the country, will bring in approximately €9.1 million. The change in VAT will make a difference of approximately €8.2 million. That is €17 million. It was said that the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine's budget is to be increased by €30 million but, in the context of a total budget of €1.85 billion, that is inconsequential. It is actually worrying. I do not know if Deputy McConalogue was below in the hills of Donegal when the Ministers were preparing the budget but, by God, the agriculture sector has been left behind. It has been left behind at a time when all the talk in here is about climate. It must be remembered that the only people who can help in sequestration and who are willing to put their shoulder to the wheel are those in the agriculture sector. They have been left behind today.
For the life of me, I cannot understand some of the announcements today. As Deputy Harkin pointed out, bus fares are to be reduced by 50% for young people but we are not even able to bring kids to school in rural Ireland. We are leaving more and more children behind every year because they do not have concessionary tickets. Let us do the simple things right first. Let us put the money into that and give every schoolchild a bus to school from the stop up or down the road rather than having mammy bringing him or her in her SUV. That might be a better way to tackle climate action than this headline-grabbing 50% fare reduction. It is hard to get 50% off a bus ticket when there is no bus in the area. People have to thumb lifts instead. These are the things to be looked at with common sense.
I looked at the figures for people on low incomes, for example, €20,000. Such people are approximately €2 a week better off as a result of the €100 tax credit. Those on higher wages, for example, €40,000, who also need to get more, are approximately €8 a week better off. When adding up all the bits for a person on €20,000 or €21,000, you have to remember that people start paying PRSI from €18,000. People on €21,000 will pay PRSI on their whole income. It is like a tax of 23% or 24%. When you add up all the figures, such people are better off by approximately €4 a week. A pensioner or someone on social welfare will get €5, which they need, and they will also get the fuel allowance, an extra €2.70. That is €7.70. That is needed. However, how do we expect to draw people back to work?
If I were unemployed this minute, I would get a medical card. People should get medical cards; no one is disputing that. However, if I work and get €203, which is the same as I would get on the dole, I will not get a medical card. Even if I were to earn €170, I would not get a medical card. Are the lunatics running the asylum? Did they draw this up? Are we trying to tell people not to work? That is the message being sent day in, day out. We talk about a shortage of labour across the country. Small businesses are crying out. The issue of the minimum wage will be thrown at us. I have done that up and it is something like €11.70. When the tax is paid, it works out that the person on €20,000 is the worst off of the lot.
In case the Government did not know, over the last year, people who live in rural areas and who have to use a car to go to work, buy a drop of oil to keep the house heated and pay the electricity to keep the lights on are down €1,200. That is the figure now but energy prices are going to increase further.
We talk about bringing people back to work. These figures are not exaggeration. I got a person who has a degree in accountancy to do them up to make sure they were right. That was the figure for the person on €20,000 because the PRSI kicks in at €18,000 and increases from there. It is paid from bottom to top. No one has brought in a common-sense measure like a stair to make sure people are not screwed. These people are paying something like 23.5%. If we want to get people back to work, we need to make sure we have people who think things out. The genius who came up with the figure for what people will pay for home heating oil based it on a 900 l tank. I have never seen a tank of that size in my life. It is always a 1,000 l tank. That just shows how removed the people who write many of these documents are.
Why have we abandoned agriculture? I would love to know. When this country had to borrow a lot of money, when we were in trouble, when there was no cement on the boots and when people were taking the boat, the farming sector stood up to the mark. These are the same people who we are going to ask to put a few trees here and there and to do X, Y and Z to help Ireland Inc. Today, we treated them like they had disappeared. They do not even exist in the document. I read through the document and even read this new fancy handbook that has come out and could not see agriculture mentioned at all. Everything else was mentioned but agriculture was not. I smiled to myself today. Deputy Donohoe talked about the world being on fire. He must have meant a different world from mine because after this budget and with soaring energy prices all I am fearful of this winter is the poor devils who live in the rural areas of this country not burning, but perishing to death in their houses.