Tuesday, 27 September 2022
Financial Resolutions 2022 - Budget Statement 2023
I welcome the opportunity to present budget 2023 to this House.
When we gathered in this Chamber for budget 2022, we were emerging from the very worst of the Covid-19 pandemic. We now face a further economic challenge. If you are an older person, you are having to spend more of your pension on heating your home. If you are looking after your family, you are now facing higher grocery bills. If you are running a small business, you are trying to cope with increases in the cost of energy. This is why budget 2023, presented by the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, and I today, is and must be a cost-of-living budget focused on helping individuals, families and businesses deal with rising prices.
As we have seen all too clearly over the past few years with Brexit, with Covid and now with the war in Ukraine, unforeseen risks and challenges are becoming more frequent in their occurrence and more severe in their impact. As one of the most open economies in the world, we benefit when things are going well internationally but, when they reverse, we are also one of the most exposed. As such, it is imperative that we are prepared for these shocks.
Our recovery from the pandemic is testimony to the value of that preparation. We faced the pandemic with our finances in good shape and this ensured we could both respond and recover in its aftermath. Therefore, budget 2023 helps with the challenges of today but it will also ensure that we have sufficient reserves for what the future may bring. We must also be aware of the danger of making inflation worse through decisions that we could take.
The onset of the war in Ukraine has sent shockwaves throughout the global economy. This is most evident in energy and commodity markets, where prices surged at the onset of the war and have remained high. Energy price inflation intensified over the summer as concerns grew regarding a complete shut-down of Russian gas supplies. The wholesale price of natural gas is now around eight times its average level in the years preceding the war. The inflationary pressures relating to energy have been further compounded by the imbalance between demand and supply that emerged as economies reopened.
Consumers released substantial pent-up demand as restrictions were eased, while supply chain bottlenecks prevented firms from keeping up with that demand.
As a result of these factors, headline inflation in Ireland, similar to many other economies, is now running at highs not seen in many decades. My Department now updates its forecasts to headline inflation of 8.5% for 2022, and just over 7% for 2023.
Non-energy, or so-called core inflation, is also experiencing high levels of growth, suggesting effects from energy and commodities markets to other sectors such as food, consumer goods and services. I am now revising our forecasts for core inflation to 5.25% this year, and just over 4.5% for next. These developments reflect the increasingly broad-based nature of our inflationary challenge.
The pace of growth in the economy is expected to slow throughout the rest of this year as mounting inflationary pressures reduce our ability to spend. This will see firms hold back on investment. As a result, my Department is now revising down its forecast for modified domestic demand, which is the most appropriate measure of our domestic economy, to 1.25% for next year.
I acknowledge that these are not just abstract economic figures. The Government understands, and I understand, the worries small business owners, farmers, pensioners and those who work so hard to get by, feel. That is why the Government will help, and by helping our country we will overcome this challenge.
We can do this because our economy has strong foundations. Due to the immense work of the Irish people, the labour market has made a remarkable recovery over the past year, with well over 2.5 million people in employment in the second quarter, the highest level on record, and an unemployment rate of 4.3% recorded in August.
Looking ahead, while we expect employment growth to slow in line with the changes in our outlook for domestic demand, we also expect the unemployment rate to remain at relatively low levels.
While the war in Ukraine poses the most immediate threat to our economy, we remain vigilant of other risks on the horizon. Notably, Brexit could yet bring further challenges.
This is why our public finances matter. They have recovered strongly from the effects of the pandemic. Much of this recovery is due to the careful management of this Government in undertaking appropriate responses to the unique challenges our country faced.
The recovery in tax receipts is broad based. At the end of August, tax revenues stood at almost €50 billion, up by over €10 billion on 2021. Income tax continues to perform well, and reflects the resilience of our jobs market and people, and the success of the Government’s employment schemes during the pandemic. The strong performance of VAT receipts confirms the rebound in consumer spending once public health restrictions were lifted.
As a result, I can announce to the House that we will register a general Government surplus of €1 billion, or just under 0.5% of national income this year, and €6.2 billion or 2.25% for next year.
To put these figures in context, last year we recorded a general Government deficit of €7 billion.
This is extremely welcome news. However, the headline figures do not account for the fact that much of the change is due to excess corporation tax. These receipts could change significantly in the future. They amounted to €12 billion at the end of August. We expect these receipts to exceed €20 billion by the end of the year. I will return to this point shortly.
It is essential that we use our surpluses wisely. We should not spend everything today. This will ensure that we are ready for tomorrow. It is what we did before Covid arrived. It worked and this is what we must do again. Because of this, we could help during Covid and because of this, the Government can help again today.
While conditions have been favourable to us in recent years, the Government knows that borrowing costs for countries have also changed significantly since the start of the year and are now rising. The yield on ten-year Government bonds, which is the rate of interest, has increased by over two percentage points since January. While markets continue to view our bonds, which is our debt, favourably, we know how quickly things can change. The best way to be safe and to insulate our public finances from the higher cost of debt is to ensure that our borrowing remains in line with other small open EU member states, which is what we are doing.
While the Department’s economic projections envisage a softening in economic growth next year, due to the phasing out of our exceptional Covid supports and the upward revisions in our tax forecasts, we are now in a strong position.
If we continue to follow our current strategy, we should see a stabilisation of public debt at approximately €225 billion. It is also important to acknowledge that public debt amounts to around €44,000 per capita, which is among the highest in the world. However, we will achieve a continued decline in the debt:national income ratio over the coming years by delivering these surpluses and by 2025, this ratio is projected to be 73%, which is the lowest level in our country since 2009.
We simply do not know what we could face in the future. When we face these challenges, I believe we will prevail. A crucial economic foundation of this is managing our debt safely. It matters.
Managing our public finances allowed the Government to act swiftly and decisively to provide support to households and businesses. We are especially mindful of the fact that the rising cost of living has hit hardest for those on the lowest incomes. In drafting budget 2023, the Government is aware of its responsibility to strike a balance between helping with the cost of living pressures but, on the other hand, not making them worse by adding fuel to the inflationary fire. The summer economic statement set out the parameters for this budget, as well as our medium-term budgetary framework.
In response to the increase in energy and other prices, the Government amended our budgetary strategy for 2023 to double the size of our tax package and to increase public expenditure in order to protect the real value of public services.
For future years, we will aim to stay within the parameters of this approach. It will allow for steady improvements in public services and sustainable reductions in personal taxation while ensuring that our public finances remain on a positive trajectory.
BUDGET 2023 MEASURES
To help families, individuals and businesses deal with the rising cost of living, the Minister, Deputy McGrath, and I are today announcing a package of once-off measures worth €4.1 billion. This will be accompanied by budgetary measures for 2023 worth €6.9 billion. This brings the total size of this budget to €11 billion. In addition, there will be a further €300 million in public service support measures funded from the contingency reserve fund.
I recognise that these are significant figures. However, I also appreciate that the needs are also significant. The strength in tax revenue has allowed us to have the means to undertake such a response.
As mentioned a moment ago, at the end of August tax revenues were approximately €10 billion ahead of the same period last year. While much of this is due to corporation tax, €5 billion was due to income tax and VAT. This growth is reflective of the domestic economy’s strengthening and this figure is what has guided the scale of once-off measures for this year. Further, given the urgency of the situation, these measures will come into effect this year and will be detailed by the Minister, Deputy McGrath, shortly.
VAT AND EXCISE EXTENSIONS
On the taxation side, I am extending the current excise reduction of 21 cent per litre in respect of petrol, 16 cent per litre in respect of diesel and 5.4 cent per litre in respect of marked gas oil, and the 9 % VAT rate for electricity and gas until 28 February 2023. I will be introducing the necessary financial resolutions to the Dáil this evening in order to give effect to these extensions.
As I have stated previously, one of the core objectives in budget 2023 is to help workers not to find themselves in a position where they pay more income tax solely because of inflation. There are so many people who work so hard but whose earnings push them outside of access to social welfare benefits. We need to help them too. We need to put money back into their pockets. I am, therefore, announcing an income tax package to the value of over €1.1 billion. I am increasing the standard rate cut off point by €3,200 to €40,000, with proportionate increases for married couples and civil partners. I am also increasing the main tax credits for personal, employee and earned income credit by €75. I am also increasing the home carer tax credit by €100, to support stay-at-home parents.
UNIVERSAL SOCIAL CHARGE
Further, I am increasing the second USC rate band of 2% from €21,295 to €22,920 in line with the 80 cent per hour increase in the national minimum wage recently agreed by the Government. The increase in the band will ensure that full-time workers on the minimum wage will remain outside the top rates of USC, while giving a modest benefit to workers whose income is above that amount. In addition, a concession applies to those who have a medical card and earn less than €60,000 per year, such that those individuals pay a reduced rate of USC. Given the broader challenges facing so many this year, I confirm the extension of this concession for a further year.
INCOME TAX – THIRD RATE
The recent report of the tax strategy group, TSG, examined the impact of introducing an intermediate or third rate of income tax. Further analysis from the TSG process would give options to Government on additional policy levers in future budgets to make our income tax system more balanced and effective.
It is agreed that this analysis will commence immediately and conclude prior to the publication of next year’s summer economic statement and will take into consideration the overall macroeconomic and fiscal context. This analysis will assist the Government in arriving at an informed decision in a timely manner.
Were the Government to opt for the introduction of a third rate of income tax, it would require considerable change to the systems in both the Revenue Commissioners and payroll providers; changes that will need significant lead-time to implement. We are advised that this could be done for January 2024. As a result, my Department will engage with the Revenue Commissioners on the necessary preparatory work, in advance of a policy decision being made by Government.
The Government is also committed to developing a medium-term roadmap for personal tax reform, taking account of the recent Report of the Commission on Taxation and Welfare, and will consider a range of measures across income tax, USC and PRSI together with other related personal taxation issues.
As everyone in this Chamber is well aware, housing is the central challenge facing the country over the next number of years. Too many people cannot afford to buy their own home, or are paying too much of their income in rent. Too many people have no home at all. Hundreds of thousands of homes will be required over the next decade across all sectors, social, private and rental.
The Government has made unprecedented levels of investment available to-date and we are seeing results. Some 25,000 new homes were built in the last 12 months, 28,000 have begun construction, and a further 44,000 have been granted planning permission. Despite this progress, it is clear that Government can do more, and will do more.
The help-to-buy scheme has been a significant support for first time buyers of new homes. Since its inception in 2017, 35,000 people have benefitted from the scheme. However, as with any tax expenditure, I will keep the scheme under review. Earlier this year I commissioned an independent review of help-to-buy and I am publishing this report today. There are a number of recommendations within that report which the Government will consider for future budgets. In the meantime, I am going to continue the scheme, at current rates, until the end of 2024.
RENTAL TAX CREDIT
For those taxpayers who are paying rent on their principal private residence, I am introducing a new rent tax credit valued at €500 per year.
This measure, aimed at those who do not get any other housing supports, will apply for 2023 and subsequent tax years but I am providing that it may also be claimed in respect of rent paid in 2022. Approximately 400,000 persons are expected to benefit. Further details are contained in the Budget documentation.
I have also decided to enhance the pre-letting expenses regime for landlords by doubling the amount that may be claimed per premises to €10,000 and by reducing the period for which a premises must be vacant from twelve to six months.
VACANT HOMES TAX
Maximising the use of existing housing stock is also a key objective of this Government. Accordingly, I am introducing a vacant homes tax to increase the supply of homes for rent or purchase to meet demand. The tax will apply to residential properties which are occupied for less than 30 days in a 12 month period. There will be a number of exemptions to ensure that owners are not unfairly charged where the property may be vacant for a genuine reason. The tax will operate on a self-assessment basis and will be administered by the Revenue Commissioners. The tax will be charged at a rate equal to three times the property’s existing basic local property tax rate.
RESIDENTIAL ZONED LAND TAX
In budget 2022 I announced a residential zoned land tax. In order to identify zoned land within the scope of the tax, maps are currently being prepared by local authorities and they will publish their first draft maps on 1 November this year. Following the publication of the maps, people will have the opportunity to apply to their local authority to have the zoning status of their land amended as part of a variation process. In the finance Bill 2022 I will bring forward a number of amendments to streamline the operation of the residential zoned land tax and ensure it is efficiently administered.
RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT STAMP DUTY
I also propose to extend the residential development stamp duty refund scheme to the end of 2025. In place since 2017, this is a scheme whereby a portion of the stamp duty paid on the acquisition of non-residential land is refunded where that land is subsequently developed for residential purposes. The net minimum stamp duty payable after a refund is 2%, whereas the normal rate for non-residential property is 7.5%. To the end of 2021, this scheme had been availed of in respect of projects that have delivered over 15,000 homes.
DEFECTIVE CONCRETE PRODUCTS LEVY
Earlier this year the Government agreed a comprehensive redress scheme for those owners who have been affected by the issue of defective products used in the building of their homes. This redress scheme comes with a significant cost and therefore I am bringing forward a levy on concrete blocks, pouring concrete and certain other concrete products. The levy is expected to raise €80 million annually and will be applied from 3 April 2023 at a rate of 10%.
I want to turn to one of the other key challenges of our times, climate change, the effects of which are more frequent and more destructive. Protecting our environment is the responsibility of us all and Government is acting to reduce emissions and support newer and cleaner technologies, particularly in energy and transport. The additional funding needed for measures, such as retrofitting and more sustainable modes of travel, comes in part from carbon taxation. This is appropriate and will continue under the Government.
The rate per tonne of carbon dioxide emitted for petrol and diesel will go up from €41 to €48.50 from 12 October-----
-----as per the trajectory set out in the Finance Act 2020. This will mean that there will be an increase of just over 2 cent, VAT inclusive, per litre of petrol and diesel. However, I also recognise the sharp cost-of-living challenges currently faced by society. The Government is therefore proposing to help offset this carbon tax increase with a reduction to zero of the National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA levy. The NORA levy which is collected at a rate of 2 cent per litre, VAT exclusive, will offset the carbon tax increase which means that the price at the pump will not go up as a result of taxes or levies.
We know the challenges-----
-----farming communities face as they deal with rising input costs while moving towards a sustainable future. A number of other important agricultural reliefs are due to expire at the end of 2022. These reliefs provide important supports to our young farmers and the farming sector generally. I will extend five agricultural tax reliefs expiring this year: the young trained farmer and farm consolidation stamp duty reliefs; the farm restructuring capital gains tax, CGT, relief; and the young trained farmer and registered farm partnership stock reliefs. The duration of these extensions is dependent on the outcome of negotiations at a European level on the agricultural block exemption regulation.
I am making provision in the budget for a time-limited scheme of accelerated capital allowances for farmers for the construction of modern slurry-storage facilities. This will assist the sector in adopting environmentally positive farming practices.
I am today announcing specific measures to support business and enterprises in Ireland through these exceptionally challenging times. Small and medium businesses are the backbone of our domestic economy and support thousands of jobs. The SME sector requires a range of supports as it deals with the immediate impact of the current crisis.
TEMPORARY BUSINESS ENERGY SUPPORT SCHEME
I therefore am introducing a temporary business energy support scheme to assist businesses with their energy cost over the winter months.
The scheme will be open to businesses that carry on a case 1 trade, are tax compliant and have experienced a significant increase in their natural gas and electricity costs. The scheme will be administered by the Revenue Commissioners and will operate on a self-assessment basis. Businesses will be required to register for the scheme and to make claims within the required time limits. It is proposed that the scheme will operate by comparing the average unit price for the relevant bill period in 2022 with the average unit price in the corresponding reference period in 2021. If the increase in average unit price is more than 50% then the threshold has passed and the business is eligible for support under the scheme. Once eligibility criteria are met, the support will be calculated on the basis of 40% of the amount of the increase in the bill amount. A monthly cap of €10,000 per trade will apply and an overall cap will apply on the total amount a business can claim. The scheme is being designed to be compliant with the EU state aid temporary crisis framework and will need to be approved by the EU Commission in advance of making payments.
This is a significant intervention by the Government in the Irish economy to protect employment. This scheme forms a large part of our once-off measures. We must weaken the ability of a shock to income becoming a loss of jobs. This new policy will help employers with their rising bills and will help to save their businesses.
SMALL BENEFIT EXEMPTION
The small benefit exemption allows an employer to provide limited non-cash benefits or rewards to their workers without the payment of income tax, PRSI and USC. I am increasing the annual limit provided for in the exemption from €500 to €1,000 and I will also permit two vouchers to be granted by an employer in a single year under the exemption. I propose that these changes will apply in the current tax year, so that additional benefits can be paid this year if an employer wishes to do so.
EXCISE - CIDER
Deputies should also note that I will be following through on the statement from last year in relation to the production of cider, by implementing the option in the revised EU alcohol directive to grant up to 50% excise relief to independent small producers of cider and pear cider, also known as perry.
EXCISE – SPECIAL EXEMPTION APPLICATION
The Government is committed to supporting the night-time economy, not just our hospitality sector but our musicians, venues, event operators and organisers who are fundamental to creating a vibrant cultural life. In line with a commitment in the programme for Government to modernise our licensing laws, I am today announcing that we will halve the cost of applying for a special exemption order, which late-night venues require in order to open. This will reduce the excise fees for a special exemption application order from €110 to €55. This aligns with a number of measures we have taken to support the night-time economy, and ahead of longer term reforms which will be announced when the general scheme of the sale of alcohol Bill is published within weeks. A financial resolution will be brought in tonight to enact this measure.
VAT – HOSPITALITY
As I have previously stated, the 9% VAT rate, which is currently in place to support the tourism and hospitality sectors, will continue until 28 February 2023.
VAT – NEWSPAPERS
The Government is also aware of the critical role that newspapers play in our society, from reporting on local communities to holding those in power to account.
For that reason, I will reduce VAT on newspapers from 9% to zero from 1 January 2023. This is in line with the Government’s commitment to supporting an independent press and the Future of Media Commission's recommendation on this matter.
VAT – HEALTH PRODUCTS
Many Deputies have contacted me seeking the removal of VAT on defibrillators. I told them on many occasions that doing so was not permitted under the EU VAT directive. However, after much negotiation, it is now possible for member states to apply a zero rate. I am happy to announce I will apply this rate to these life-saving devices from 1 January. I will also apply a zero rate of VAT to hormone replacement and nicotine replacement therapies, as well as the small number of period products that are currently subject to a 9% rate.
Turning to the various business-related tax credits, I am extending the knowledge development box, which encourages companies to develop intellectual property in Ireland, for four more years. I am also providing for amendments to the payable element of the research and development tax credit to ensure it aligns with new international developments. In recognition of the long production cycle for audiovisual productions, I am legislating to extend the film corporation tax credit beyond the current end date of 2024 to December 2028.
In recent years, Ireland has emerged as a location of choice for new and innovative multimedia industries, such as animation and digital gaming. To continue building on these successes, I have asked my officials to explore the opportunities for Ireland in the so-called unscripted production sector to encourage international firms to locate here and help sustain employment in indigenous businesses.
As well as extending the key employee engagement programme until the end of 2025 and commencing some 2019 provisions following approval from the European Commission, I propose to make further important changes to this measure. Collectively, these steps represent progress that can be further built upon in 2023. I am also extending the special assignee relief programme until 2025, but increasing the qualifying income to €100,000.
WINDFALL ENERGY TAX
Turning to revenue-raising measures, much work is under way in the EU on capturing the windfall gains of energy companies. It is not fair for some companies to earn excess profits from the current volatility in the energy market while so many other companies are suffering. Ireland aims to be part of this EU-wide response to high energy prices. If this is not possible, the Government will bring forward our own measures.
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 this year. The current annual yield of this levy is approximately €87 million. I am extending it for a further year. Following the publication of the report of the retail banking review, I will consider the long-term future of this levy.
To support public health policy to reduce smoking in society, I am increasing excise duty on a pack of 20 cigarettes by 50 cents, with a pro rataincrease on other tobacco products.
COMMISSION ON TAXATION AND WELFARE
A Cheann Comhairle, I would like to take a moment to look beyond these immediate issues of today and to consider some issues we will face over the medium to long term. I welcome the recent publication of the report of the Commission on Taxation and Welfare and thank its members for their hard work. They considered how the overall balance of taxation might shift to sustainably fund public services over the long term.
Its recommendations are clearly not intended to be implemented immediately, but suggest a clear direction of travel for this and future Governments around how the sustainability of the taxation and welfare systems may be improved. The report has already fed into a number of policy actions being announced today.
As referenced earlier, I have requested that the Department of Finance consider the proposals relating to a range of recommendations across PRSI, USC and income tax in the coming months with a view to developing a medium-term roadmap for personal taxation reform to address these and other related issues.
In the area of property, I welcome the commission’s proposals on changes to the local property tax and a site value tax but these reforms are wide-ranging. They require careful consideration and consultation across government. I am also committing to commence a review of the real estate investment trust, REIT, and Irish real estate fund, IREF, regimes.
Institutional investment has played a key role in the provision of housing in recent years. This review will consider those structures and how best they can continue to support housing policy objectives. In addition, I also intend to commence a review of the use of section 110 regimes and to establish a working group to consider the taxation of funds, life insurance policies and other investment products.
Another area which the commission considered in great detail was corporation tax.
The pace of international tax reform over the past 12 months has been intense. In October of last year, Ireland, along with 140 other countries, signed up to a two-pillar solution to address the tax challenges arising from digitalisation. We have committed to the two-pillar agreement and I have engaged intensively at OECD and EU level to deliver that commitment.
The agreement is in line with the long-standing practice of our country position that co-ordinated multilateral action is the best approach to ensuring the international tax system keeps pace with changes in how business today is conducted. Work is continuing to develop the multiple new elements required to give effect to the pillar 2 minimum effective tax rate.
This work will continue over the coming months in conjunction with serious consideration of options for a move towards a territorial corporation tax system. Needless to say, our tax regime is a core element of the economic policy mix of this country and a long-standing anchor of our offering to attract foreign direct investment, FDI.
In addition to our current 12.5% headline tax rate, we will also ensure that we continue to play to our strengths, such as a forward-looking business environment and educated and dynamic workforce. As I acknowledged earlier, however, we need to be mindful of our reliance on corporate tax.
My Department has undertaken significant work on these vulnerabilities, showing that approximately €1 in every €8 collected by the State in tax comes from the corporate tax payments of a small number of firms. At the same time, our income tax system is heavily reliant on a small number of employees; just over 500,000 workers and ten companies account for one third of our revenue.
My Department estimates that so-called excess receipts - the amount which could be more vulnerable to a shock - could amount to €8 billion to €10 billion even in this year. While these receipts are extremely welcome, we are not using them to fund permanent expenditure. To do so would repeat the mistakes of the period of the global financial crisis.
It is, therefore, imperative that we treat these excess receipts differently, which we are doing first by identifying them, as my Department has done, through our recent paper entitled De-risking the Public Finances: Assessing Corporation Tax Receipts. Second, to provide a clearer picture of the underlying health of the public finances, my Department will now employ a new metric called GGB star to monitor the public finances, including any excess receipts. For example, for this year it would indicate a deficit of €8 billion compared to the surplus of €1 billion.
Third, and most important, I intend to start replenishing the national reserve fund with some of these excess receipts now to build up our economic resilience.
NATIONAL RESERVE FUND
Following so soon after Brexit and Covid, it is a major achievement for our country to be in a position to put additional resources aside in order to prepare for future challenges, and to run a surplus. Let me be clear; there are major challenges which we know are coming, and which we know will be very costly for the future: an ageing population, the digital transition, and climate change. Second, we also know that challenges which are largely unforeseen happen more often and they have a big impact. It is, therefore, imperative that we prepare our public finances appropriately. This year I will be directing €2 billion into the national reserve fund, and €4 billion in 2023. These contributions effectively mean that we will have banked a large share of additional corporate tax revenues; that they do not fund additional permanent expenditure; and it will supply our State with additional firepower to respond to the challenges of the future. I will be introducing the necessary Dáil resolution tonight in order to give effect to the transfers to the fund for this year and next.
I want to conclude, therefore, on an optimistic note, and that is because despite the many challenges facing our country, this Government is confident that we will be able to continue to support individuals, families and businesses. This confidence is based on the fact that we approach this test from a position of strength. We have a record number of people at work and a budget surplus and we are reserving money for the needs of the future, inside – not outside – efforts to reform global corporate tax and we are intervening today to help homes and businesses with rising costs.
We know we have many risks and we know how quickly they can develop. I know we need to do more, to build more homes, continue to improve public services and respond with courage and resolution to our defining challenge of climate change. We can and we will. The political centre of Ireland, that is pro-European, supportive of enterprise, committed to a sustainable future for our public finances and our environment has, with the hard work of the Irish people, helped get us ready for today, so soon after confronting a pandemic.
Many are looking at this budget today for confidence and help. We can, and we should be confident about our future. We know our citizens need help, we know our employers need help and this budget aims to give this help. I commend budget 2023 to the House.
Once again, we stand to deliver a budget against an extraordinary backdrop of uncertainty and challenge.
We know that many of our people are finding it very difficult to make ends meet, face difficult choices in their daily lives and are seeing their household bills rise, seemingly by the day. We know that many are genuinely worried about what lies ahead in the months to come. We know too that many of our businesses that survived Covid, with the support of Government, now face a new and serious threat in the form of dramatic energy price rises.
Our experience over the last three years, and the manner in which we collectively responded, demonstrates our resilience as a nation. We continue to navigate the uncertainties of Brexit and we got through the long, dark days of Covid.
We are responding with compassion and resolve to the dreadful invasion of Ukraine. We are doing this together, both here in Ireland and in co-operation with our international partners. These are not normal times. The war in Ukraine continues to have far-reaching ramifications across so many areas of life as we know it. We have not experienced inflation like this for 40 years. Broad-based inflation, such as what we are currently experiencing, impacts negatively on living standards across the board and requires a carefully balanced response. At times such as this, people understandably look to their Government for direction, for reassurance and for meaningful help. Today, we are responding. This is a budget for its time, a budget that seeks to respond with unprecedented resources, with a breadth of measures and with a speed of execution we have not seen before. We do not suggest that this budget will meet every need. That would not be possible. It is in everyone’s interests that our national finances are managed carefully and that we guard against current and future risks, but this budget will make a difference, and people will see that difference quickly.
We should not forget that the scale of response we are bringing forward today is possible only because of the strong and swift rebound in our economy and our public finances. We should never put at risk or take for granted the pro-enterprise policies that underpin Ireland’s economic success.
RESPONDING TO COST OF LIVING CHALLENGES
This Government has proactively responded throughout the past 12 months with a range of tax and spending measures, totalling €3 billion, to alleviate pressure on households and exposed sectors of our economy. Today, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and I are announcing further winter cost-of-living, business and public service support measures totalling €4.4 billion, comprising €1.7 billion to be administered through the tax system, and €2.7 billion of spending measures, with €300 million of this amount being funded from the contingency reserve. This is in addition to a core budget 2023 package of €6.9 billion; €5.8 billion in expenditure and €1.1 billion in tax.
The expenditure measures I outline today are threefold. They comprise immediate assistance for individual households and businesses; a package of support for public services, sports clubs, community and voluntary organisations to be provided this year to help with energy and other costs; and a comprehensive range of new measures for 2023.
Turning first to the measures to be implemented this year, every household is impacted by rising energy prices and, in addition to targeted measures, we believe it is important that we provide a level of support to all households. I am providing for electricity credits for all households totalling €600 to be paid in three instalments of €200. The first payment will be made before Christmas with two further instalments in the new year. The total cost of this measure is €1.2 billion. To provide further assistance with energy bills to the most vulnerable, in addition to the normal weekly fuel allowance payment, a lump sum payment of €400 will be made before Christmas to recipients of the fuel allowance. To support those in receipt of a weekly social welfare payment, I am providing for a once-off double week cost-of-living support payment to all qualifying social protection recipients. This will be paid in October and will include pensioners, carers, people on disability payments and jobseekers. I can confirm to the House that the normal Christmas bonus will be paid in early December.
To support low-income working households, I am providing for an additional lump payment of €500 to those in receipt of the working family payment. This will be payable in November. Also, in November, we will make a double child benefit payment to all qualifying households. This is worth €140 per child in addition to the normal monthly payment.
To acknowledge the additional costs that carers, who provide invaluable support, are incurring at this time, we will be making a payment of €500 to those who qualify for the carer’s support grant in November. We will also make a once-off payment before Christmas of €200 to those in receipt of the living alone allowance. In addition, it is important that we acknowledge that persons living with a disability face additional costs. In this regard, a once-off payment of €500 to those who qualify for disability allowance, invalidity pension and the blind pension will be made in November.
To support students and their families, I am announcing a range of measures that will benefit young people in this budget, including a once-off reduction in the student contribution of €1,000 for eligible students in the 2022-23 education year, and a once-off double monthly payment for those in receipt of the SUSI maintenance grant. There will also be a once-off €1,000 increase to the postgraduate fee contribution grant. In addition, I am extending the 20% public transport fare reduction and the youth travel card discount of 50% on all operators' services to the end of 2023.
The total value of the new cost-of-living measures for households is €2.2 billion and will provide much needed help to individuals and families. This package of measures has been designed to help alleviate the financial burden faced by all households, but in particular to provide extra assistance to those who need it the most.
SUPPORTS FOR PUBLIC SERVICES AND COMMUNITY ORGANISATIONS
In addition to the need to provide cash support for households, I am also acutely conscious of the pressure that rising prices, especially energy costs, are putting on the delivery of vital public services. Therefore, I am allocating additional funds this year across a number of different areas in order to ensure continuity of service delivery. I am making €100 million available in 2022 to ensure schools are supported in dealing with the energy cost pressures they will face in the months ahead and to support school transport providers. An additional €10 million will also be provided for further and higher education institutions. I am allocating €60 million this year to local authorities and €110 million to a range of health-funded bodies, including nursing homes, hospices and section 39 organisations. This additional funding for the health sector will provide further once-off support in the coming months, this year, for organisations that deliver important services across areas such as disabilities, older persons and mental health, in the context of the significant challenges being faced currently.
Not-for-profit and voluntary organisations in the arts, sport, Gaeltacht and the community and voluntary sectors are woven into the fabric of community life across Ireland, but they are very vulnerable to the severe impact of increased energy bills. I am making €60 million available in 2022 to ease the pressures in these sectors. The framework for this assistance will be put in place in the next few weeks to ensure that they benefit this year.
In addition to the measures I have already outlined for the remainder of 2022, I am also providing significant support throughout 2023 through the social welfare system. It is appropriate that we target our resources most strongly to those who need it the most. To that end, I am pleased to announce a social protection package for 2023 worth €1 billion to support households and families across Ireland. For an individual in receipt of a weekly social protection payment, I am providing for an increase of €12 per week with proportionate increases for qualified adults. Recognising the pressures on working families, I am increasing the working family payment thresholds by €40 per week. To further support families through this time, I am raising the qualified child increase for under 12s to €42 per week and for over 12s to €50 per week.
The fuel allowance, as we all know, is a very effective means of targeting support at people who need help with energy bills. We have made significant additional payments to people in receipt of the allowance this year and I believe it is important that we extend the allowance to other vulnerable households. From 1 January, the qualifying income threshold for the fuel allowance will increase from €120 to €200-----
-----above the relevant rate of the State pension contributory. For over 70s specifically, I am increasing the weekly fuel allowance means test limit to €500 for single people and €1,000 for couples.
I am increasing the rate of domiciliary care allowance by €20.50 to €330 per month and making this allowance available to parents of babies who have to remain in hospital for six months. I am increasing the top-up payment to participants on the community employment, Tús and rural social schemes by €5 to €25 per week. I will also provide funding for access to the higher rate of JobsPlus subsidy for employers hiring candidates from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds.
Taken together, the measures we are rightly introducing this year and in 2023 represent very substantial State support for the most vulnerable.End of Take
By means of example, a single pensioner living alone and in receipt of fuel allowance will receive an additional €2,375 between now and the end of 2023 as a result of the announcements I am making today.
COST OF CHILDCARE
Childcare is a basic necessity for tens of thousands of families throughout Ireland. The cost of childcare for many of those families is too expensive and at a time of rising household bills, the pressure this cost places on many families is considerable. Today, I am providing the funding to support a reduction of up to 25% in the weekly fee for those availing of the national childcare scheme costing €121 million. This measure will put up to €175 a month or over €2,100 a year back in the pockets of parents next year. I am making a further allocation of €59 million to the recently established core funding model which will provide for extra hours and enhanced capacity in the sector. Under the new employment regulation order, those working in the childcare sector will see improved pay and conditions to better reflect the importance of the work they undertake in providing quality care for our children. In 2023, the childcare budget will reach €1 billion five years ahead of target. Alongside the measures announced last year, this funding will help to make childcare more affordable, improve the wages of staff and help ensure the sustainability for childcare providers.
FURTHER AND HIGHER EDUCATION
In recognition of the cost of living pressures faced by students and their families, I am providing funding in 2023 to reduce the student contribution fee by €500 on a permanent basis for eligible families earning between €62,000 and €100,000. The income limit to qualify for a 50% reduction in contribution fees under Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, will be increased from €55,240 to €62,000 and all SUSI maintenance grants will be increased by between 10% and 14% in September 2023. The postgraduate fee contribution grant for eligible students of €3,500 will increase by €500 and the PhD stipend will increase too. Further details of these measures will be announced shortly by the relevant Minister. Further details of additional cost of living measures are provided in the budget 2023 expenditure report prepared by my Department and published on gov.ie.
A Cheann Comhairle, turning to wider spending measures, in the current uncertain environment, a managed adjustment to our medium-term expenditure rule is an appropriate response to the extraordinary circumstances we now face. The medium-term budgetary strategy has been adjusted on a once-off basis for 2023 to allow core public expenditure to grow by 6.3%. Overall in 2023, I am providing €90.4 billion in public expenditure, €85.9 billion of which is core expenditure. This is facilitating a €5.8 billion expenditure budgetary package in 2023. It includes an extra €800 million which will be made available under the national development plan for core capital spending to help in delivering the largest, greenest and most ambitious infrastructure plan in the history of our country. We continue to deal with the aftermath of the pandemic, the repercussions from Brexit and the effects of the war in Ukraine. I am therefore making provision of €4.5 billion for potential non-core expenditure in 2023, €1.8 billion of which will be allocated to Departments with the remainder held centrally in reserve.
Housing remains a key priority for this Government. Through Housing for All and the national development plan, the Government has committed a record €4.5 billion next year in public funding for the provision of more social, affordable and cost rental homes. After over a decade of under-supply, we are now seeing significant progress. We have seen the highest number of housing completions in over a decade and the highest number of first-time buyers in 15 years, with 16,000 purchasing homes in the past 12 months. It is clear, however, that more needs to be done. For many, rents are too high and the hope of owning their own home seems out of reach. It is an objective of this Government to provide opportunity for those who aspire to home ownership. We have launched the new first home shared equity scheme and the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, has today announced the extension of the help-to-buy scheme. This Government continues to support Housing for All with unprecedented levels of current and capital funding. Next year, I am allocating a record €6.2 billion in Exchequer funding to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, of which the majority, €3.5 billion, will be capital investment. Some €1.7 billion will be allocated to the Department in 2023 to deliver the social housing new build target of 9,100 homes.
I am announcing a €99 million increase in funding for existing schemes, including the social housing current expenditure programme, which will support nearly 6,500 additional new social housing units through approved housing bodies, AHBs, new build delivery and leases. A total of €215 million, an increase of €40 million, will be allocated next year to three key affordable schemes, namely, the local authority affordable purchase scheme, the AHB cost rental scheme and the national first home shared equity scheme. Alongside LDA delivery, these schemes will support the provision of over 5,000 affordable homes next year.
I am also providing €215 million for homelessness services. This is a €21 million increase in the homelessness provision and will provide vital assistance to those who are the most vulnerable in our society. An unprecedented €87 million is being allocated to the retrofitting of social housing in 2023. Some €61 million is being allocated to schemes to tackle vacancy and promote regeneration in urban areas by addressing vacant social homes and funding the Croí Cónaithe schemes.
Further measures of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage include a record Exchequer capital investment of over €930 million in our water services next year, and the provision of €4.3 million to support the formal establishment of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, MARA, early next year. MARA will be a key enabler in respect of Ireland’s ambitions in the offshore renewable energy sector. Significant additional funding will be provided to our heritage programme, including a focus on resourcing our National Parks and Wildlife Service both in terms of staff and finances and implementing the recommendations of the review published earlier this year.
The last number of years have been an extraordinarily challenging time for the health service, and the Government has responded with record levels of investment. This allowed us to deal with the immediate impact of Covid, significantly expand core services, and accelerate Sláintecare reforms so that we emerge from the pandemic with a much more resilient and responsive public health system. The expansion in capacity has been unprecedented in its scale and speed, with approximately 15,000 new staff and 2,000 new hospital and community beds added across the health service since the pandemic started. Budget 2023 continues this high level of investment in our public health system by providing a total allocation of €23.4 billion. This provides for a €1.15 billion increase in core current funding, a 2023 Covid allocation of over €757 million, and an additional €117 million as part of agreed NDP allocations for the delivery of additional health infrastructure.
Budget 2023 will allow for the continuation of public health system capacity expansion in line with Sláintecare. Significant progress will be made through the delivery of 650 acute and community beds by the end of next year. Funding is also provided for the recruitment of up to 6,000 additional staff to further enhance capacity and improve access across a wide range of acute and social care services. This builds upon two record years for recruitment in the health system.
The Government is committed to further tackling waiting lists that have been impacted by the pandemic. It has demonstrated this through the significant level of funding provided for the waiting list action plan that is being implemented this year. To ensure that progress continues, I am allocating a further €225 million in budget 2023 to provide for an overall package of €443 million to tackle waiting lists next year. This will fund the continuation of measures designed to reduce waiting times for outpatient, day-case and inpatient care, improve access to community diagnostics, and address backlogs in the provision of assessments of need for people with a disability. Some €5 million has been provided in additional funding for our oral health services on a recurring basis, as well as a specific once-off provision this year of €9 million within the overall waiting list fund to address oral health backlogs.
Continuing the progress made over recent years as part of the Sláintecare reform programme, budget 2023 will enhance access to vital services by reducing financial barriers to care, which is particularly important given the cost-of-living increases being experienced throughout society. In line with Government and Sláintecare commitments, funding has been allocated to address health charges and expand eligibility by removing hospital inpatient charges for all public patients, building on a measure first introduced in last year’s budget which removed these charges for children under 16.
The provision of free GP care will be extended to more than 400,000 people with the implementation of the commitment to extend this programme to six and seven-year-olds before the end of this year and to further extend it to those on or below the median level of income. A continued focus on investing in women's healthcare will be maintained in 2023. This will include an expansion of the free contraception scheme currently available to women aged 17 to 25 to those aged from 16 to 30 years, the provision of supports in respect of public access to IVF treatment for the first time, the expansion of women's health hubs and the provision of additional funding for screening and other women’s healthcare services.
This budget also provides for substantial investment in our health and social care services. Funding of €138 million will be provided, including €29 million for new developments to strengthen disability services through the provision of additional respite, day service and residential places in line with the disability capacity review. Some €150 million will be provided for older persons. This will include €18 million in new measures for the age-friendly home programme to support older people living at home, the development of a national dementia strategy and support for the introduction of a new adult safeguarding policy. There will be an overall increase of €58 million for mental health, incorporating €14 million to continue the increased provision of emergency placements within mental health services with further funding to ensure continued progress towards Sharing the Vision objectives. Finally, this budget provides funding for the ongoing necessary public health response to Covid. Some €439 million of the Covid allocation next year will be used to continue funding public health measures such as personal protective equipment, PPE, testing and tracing and vaccinations.
For generations, Ireland has been renowned internationally for the high calibre and quality of our education system. It is important that while we may face temporary pressures, we continue to invest in our education system, in our children and in our future. To that end, today I am allocating €9.6 billion to the Department of Education in 2023, including a capital budget of €860 million. This allocation will support the continued progression of approximately 300 building projects that are currently at the construction phase. The continued roll-out of the national development plan, NDP, will involve a further 150 school building projects that are currently at advanced design or tender stage getting under construction over the course of next year. A strong focus of the school building programme is delivering additional capacity for special classes, particularly at post-primary level and for special schools.
This Government has prioritised special education. The last three budgets have delivered more than 3,300 additional special needs assistants, SNAs, and more than 2,000 additional special education teachers. Today’s budget allows for 686 additional teachers to support those with special educational needs in special classes, special schools and mainstream settings. With an additional 1,194 SNAs, this will be the highest number of SNAs we have ever had in our country's education system, at over 20,300.
I am pleased to confirm funding for a reduction in the staffing schedule by one point for all primary schools, bringing it to its lowest in the history of the State and providing 370 additional teacher posts. This builds on the previous two budgets and reduces the pupil-teacher ratio for the third year in a row.
We know that buying schoolbooks can add further pressure to families at an expensive time of the year as children go back to school. Today, I am providing funding for free schoolbooks for all pupils in recognised primary schools within the free education system from September of next year. This measure will benefit well over 500,000 pupils across our country and is a reflection of the value we place on an education for all.
The Department of Education will work closely with schools and other stakeholders in the coming months on the implementation of this major reform.
In recognition of the ongoing impact that Covid-related school closures and disruption has had on our school system, I am providing funding for the continuation of the enhanced summer programme for a further year, along with other well-being and inclusion supports.
FURTHER AND HIGHER EDUCATION, RESEARCH, INNOVATION AND SCIENCE
Investing in our further and higher education and research sector is priority for the Government and is essential if we are to maintain a modern, knowledge-based and innovative economy. Next year, I am allocating €3.9 billion to this sector. Reflecting its vital role, I am providing €150 million in additional funding over this year and next year to strengthen the financial position of the higher education and to help ensure its long-term sustainable funding.
In order to deliver on the Housing for All and climate action plans, we need to invest in skills through apprenticeships and further education and training. I am providing funding for 2,500 additional apprenticeship places and 4,500 registrations. I am also providing more than 11,000 upskilling and reskilling opportunities for those sectors most impacted by Brexit and over 2,000 Skillnet places in sustainable finance, green technology and climate change.
A strong enterprise base is fundamental for the success of any economy. Today, I am allocating an additional €36 million to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to support investment in areas such as digitalisation and the green economy.
Our businesses must be innovative to avail of the opportunities of tomorrow and continue to drive growth. Today’s budget will enable Enterprise Ireland to enhance its science and technology programmes. It will also allow further calls to take place under the disruptive technologies innovation fund.
The work of the IDA in attracting foreign direct investment to Ireland has led to the creation of many high-skilled and well-paid jobs. This budget will support the IDA property programme and investment in advanced manufacturing facilities.
The micro and SME community are the backbone of the economy, providing employment in every town and village in our country. Increased funding for local enterprise offices under this budget will deliver on the programme for Government commitment to expand the current service provision to those companies with more than ten employees. It will also allow for the continued roll-out of the energy efficiency scheme for small firms.
In addition to the temporary business energy support scheme announced by the Minster, Deputy Donohoe, today, the Government this morning approved a Ukraine enterprise crisis scheme worth €200 million for firms operating in the manufacturing or internationally-traded services sectors or both.
DELIVERING ON THE NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN
This Government remains committed to delivering the €165 billion national development plan. In overall terms, more than €12 billion will be made available next year for vital infrastructure investment across Ireland. To safeguard the delivery of key projects, I announced changes to the public works contract during the year to meet the challenge of rising energy and construction material costs. In addition, my Department is continuing to engage with the construction sector to increase digital adoption and establish cleaner, greener and more modern methods of construction.
We stand at a crossroads in global affairs. Along with our European neighbours, we are in the midst of what is certainly the greatest crisis in global energy markets since the 1970s and, perhaps, ever. If there is one silver lining to this, it is that there is broad agreement on the solution to the crisis. We need to reduce our dependence on energy imports, particularly from Russia, by becoming more efficient in how we use energy and especially by accelerating the shift to renewable energy in line with our existing climate goals.
Making progress will, of course, require additional investment. That is why I am providing €850 million in capital investment to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications next year, €337 million of which will go towards grants for energy efficiency. This will fund over 37,000 home energy upgrades including upgrades for households in, or at risk of, energy poverty through the warmer homes scheme. This is the highest funding ever commitment to energy efficiency. Alongside the grant supports that will be available, funding will also be provided to support the introduction of a new low-cost loan scheme for residential retrofitting.
THE CARBON TAX
As set out in the programme for Government, every additional euro raised in carbon tax will be returned to the people of Ireland through energy efficiency upgrades, social protection schemes to protect the most vulnerable and measures to incentivise farming in a more environmentally-friendly way. An additional €211 million will be made available next year, bringing the total carbon tax revenue available for investment to €623 million. Almost half of all funds raised by the carbon tax will be invested in improving the energy efficiency of our homes.
Targeted social welfare measures will also be undertaken. These include an increase to the qualified child payment and increases to both the thresholds for eligibility for the working family payment and the means limit applied to determine eligibility for fuel allowance. The total investment in these three measures alone is estimated at €57 million. This will be part-funded by carbon tax receipts. In total, the carbon tax will fund €218 million of social protection spending next year.
Some €81 million in carbon tax funding will be provided to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine next year. This increased funding will be used to fund the new agri-climate rural scheme detailed in Ireland’s Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, Strategic Plan 2023-2027. This will support up to 50,000 farmers who undertake actions that will support improved outcomes on biodiversity, climate, air and water quality.
The NDP sets out national investment priorities for the transport sector up to 2030. I am allocating €3.5 billion inclusive of current expenditure to the Department to support the delivery of a range of projects next year.
I am allocating €2.6 billion of capital funding to transport. This represents the highest level of capital investment since 2008. This will help us to progress key transport infrastructural projects, including BusConnects, MetroLink and the DART+ programme. This investment in our transport network, the reductions announced in passenger fares and the continued roll out of electric vehicle grants will assist us greatly in meeting our ambitious climate targets.
BROADBAND AND COMMUNICATIONS
As well as offering educational and recreational opportunities to rural Ireland, the national broadband plan provides households throughout the country with the ability to take up remote work. The implementation of the plan has passed 75,000 households, with funding of €217.5 million allocated for next year in order that we might reach a target of up to 185,000 households by the end of 2023.
RURAL AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
The importance of having a strong sense of community was never more evident than over the past two years. Now, in the aftermath of the worst of the pandemic, the emergence of the hybrid working model has reinvigorated many rural communities. Connectivity, through rural connective hubs, as well as connecting rural communities through transport services, is vital to keeping our rural communities alive and giving them the opportunity to thrive.
The Government continues to be committed to our rural communities, and so I am providing an investment of €390 million for rural and community development. This funding will help deliver on key commitments set out in Our Rural Future and the NDP, as well as an inclusive and regionally balanced recovery and remote working capabilities.
In addition to the core funding for next year, I am providing €11 million for the continued response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis at community level to help integrate arrivals from Ukraine into local communities.
Recognising the increased cost of living for all sectors, €10 million is being provided directly to the Department for immediate supports to community groups to assist in managing increased costs.
AGRICULTURE, FOOD AND THE MARINE
Agriculture is arguably the most important sector to our rural economy and is centred at the heart of many towns and villages across Ireland. Today, I am allocating €2.14 billion for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for next year, an increase of €283 million on the 2022 allocation. Next year, 2023, will be an important year for the sector, with the commencement of the new almost €10 billion CAP strategic plan for the period 2023-27. More than €500 million of the allocation will further strengthen the sustainability of Irish agriculture and drive the sector’s climate ambitions.
The agrifood sector is an important contributor to our rural and national economy. In recognition of its exposure to the potential adverse impacts of Brexit, I am allocating €238 million from the Brexit adjustment reserve for measures to alleviate the impact of Brexit on the sector.
In line with the undertaking in the programme for Government’s on carbon tax, the 2023 portion of the carbon tax funds for agriculture is included in the allocation for the new ACRES agri-environmental scheme as part of the CAP strategic plan.
I am providing an additional €150 million for the justice sector in 2023 to enable continued investment in existing services and new measures.
High-visibility policing is crucial to making sure that communities across the country are safe and feel safe. That is why we need to continue to strengthen An Garda Síochána, which protects and serves us. I am pleased to announce today that funding is being made available to recruit a further 1,000 gardaí into the Garda college next year. An additional 430 Garda civilian staff will also free up more front-line gardaí for core policing duties. A new recruitment campaign next year will also help us guarantee that 200 new recruits will enter Templemore every three months over the coming years. In addition, a €5 million increase in the overtime budget for An Garda Síochána, to over €100 million, means that gardaí will be deployed, as needed, to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour in our communities.
Funding for justice also supports the delivery of an ambitious five-year programme of reform to address service demand and support the establishment of a new statutory agency for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.
Additional funding is also provided for the establishment of the new gambling regulatory authority; further implementation of the youth justice strategy; the community safety and innovation fund; the courts modernisation programme; and additional staffing and operational supports for the Irish Prison Service and the Data Protection Commission.
Defence will receive a significant increase in investment of €67 million in 2023, to nearly €1.2 billion. This year, the Commission on the Defence Forces recommended transformational changes to Ireland’s defence organisation. This allocation will include pay and allowance enhancements for serving members of our Defence Forces, the establishment of new transformation posts to lead this change and the provision for the recruitment, training and support of a projected 400 additional members of the Permanent Defence Force next year.
The capital allocation for defence will increase by €35 million, or 25%, to €176 million. This is a step change in capital funding for defence, and will be used to prioritise the development of a primary radar capability to secure our airspace and upgrades in force protection and Defence Forces infrastructure projects.
Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the Government’s development programme, Irish Aid. I am very pleased that we will mark this anniversary by increasing total support for official development assistance, ODA, to over €1.2 billion in 2023, an increase of €177 million on 2022. The overall increase includes an additional €100 million for Irish Aid, representing a 17% year-on-year increase.
We are resolute in our solidarity and support for the people of Ukraine against Russian aggression. Some €75 million of the increased funding for ODA in 2023 will be to provide a response to the humanitarian needs within Ukraine and its immediate neighbours, as well as a response to the wider food security consequences of the invasion, most notably in Africa and parts of the Middle East. In view of the urgent need, I am allocating a further €30 million to the Department of Foreign Affairs this year. This funding will be used to provide additional humanitarian assistance for victims of the devastating food security crisis in the Horn of Africa.
TOURISM, CULTURE, ARTS, GAELTACHT, SPORTS AND MEDIA
The tourism, culture, arts, Gaeltacht, sports and media sectors are progressing through the post-Covid pandemic recovery phase. With the easing of restrictions, attendance and participation rates have improved, though they remain below pre-Covid levels. I am conscious of the need to provide support again next year for these sectors. Therefore, as well as providing an additional €45 million in core funding to support them, I am also providing temporary funding of €90 million to help consolidate their recovery from the pandemic.
In the Department’s overall allocation of over €1.1 billion, I am providing: €15 million for Fáilte Ireland initiatives; an overall allocation of €130 million to maintain the Arts Council’s level of funding in 2023; €1.25 million to support Irish as a living language in the Gaeltacht communities; and €4 million for high performance athletes to prepare for the Olympics and Paralympics in 2024.
OUR SHARED ISLAND
Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of the historic Good Friday Agreement. Based on the simple idea of co-operation between those of different backgrounds and faiths, it has been pivotal in bringing peace and reconciliation to this island. Much progress has been made in those 25 years and this Government continues to deepen connection and co-operation across the island of Ireland. To deliver all-island projects, the Government is allocating €100 million to progress the shared island fund and has committed to allocating €500 million of NDP funding out to 2025. We are progressing major cross-Border infrastructure projects, such as the Ulster Canal, and a new generation of investments to help address shared challenges and opportunities on an all-island basis.
I look forward to the implementation of the forthcoming PEACE PLUS North-South co-operation programme. Jointly supported by the European Union, the Irish and British Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive, PEACE PLUS represents a record €1.1 billion cross-Border investment in support of shared peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland.
Next year will also represent 50 years of Ireland being a part of the European Union. Ireland benefits significantly from this shared community of now 27 member states and access to almost 450 million people in the Single Market.
Recent years in particular have highlighted the importance of the solidarity of the European family of which we are part.
As the member state most directly impacted by Brexit, the €1 billion of funding reserved for Ireland from the Brexit adjustment reserve was very much welcomed. This is the largest single allocation for any member state and it is continuing to help counter the adverse economic and social consequences of Brexit.
The recovery and resilience facility, under which Ireland is set to receive almost €1 billion in EU funding over the period to 2026, supports all member states in mitigating the impacts of the pandemic. This funding will allow Ireland continue on our path of an equitable, green and digital recovery.
We will also receive €1.4 billion in cohesion policy funding for the 2021 to 2027 period. When this funding is co-financed at a national level, it will mean cohesion policy programmes add a total of almost €3.5 billion to the economy.
EXPENDITURE REFORM: MEASURING EXPENDITURE IMPACTS, VALUE FOR MONEY AND SUSTAINABLE PUBLIC SPENDING
With the scale of expenditure I have just outlined comes increased responsibility to target resources to create the most impact and to ensure value for money. There are a number of reform agenda initiatives that my Department is progressing. Performance and equality budgeting, and, increasingly, well-being and green budgetary elements are core to the budget process. Our spending review papers provide extensive policy analysis and evaluation on a diverse range of public spending areas, supporting evidence-based decisions.
Our reform initiatives are also continuing to ensure the robust, transparent and considered oversight of public funds through key reforms to the public spending code aimed at strengthening our approach to capital expenditure management through an external assurance process and a new major projects advisory group that supports Departments, including my own, in outlining the merits of a project. Building on this, my Department is currently working with the OECD to update our public spending code framework to ensure that it is robust in the face of changing priorities and to ensure that it takes appropriate account of the climate and environmental impact of the investment decisions that we make.
This past year has seen restrictions lifted and, for the most part, life has returned to much how it was before the pandemic. In that, there is a lot to be thankful for, including our health, our freedom and the strong bounce-back in the economy, but we now face new, serious challenges.
This budget seeks to strike the right balance with a range of targeted measures to help those most in need, with universal supports and investment in our long-term policy objectives.
This is a time of great change, and no little turmoil, across the world. I have no doubt the spirit of the Irish people will see us through. Our message to the people is clear. As a Government, we will do the very best we can to support them in the weeks, months and years ahead. I hope that, taken in the round, this budget shows our good faith to work with people and for people.
Our shared hope has been the bedrock of our resilience over the past three years. We have overcome so much in such a short space of time and together we will do so again.
As Seamus Heaney once expressed, "Hope is not optimism, which expects things to turn out well, but something rooted in the conviction that there is good worth working for."
A better and a fairer Ireland is a good we will continue to strive for. I commend this budget to the House.
Today, the Government had the opportunity to give people certainty as they face into a winter of rising costs, including certainty about energy costs, certainty on rents and certainty that those on fixed incomes would be shielded from the price rises that they have seen. The Government had an opportunity to plan for the future and deliver on housing, health and real climate action, but it has not done that today.
Time and again, we have seen Ministers come into this Dáil and deliver budgets that promise much, but ultimately deliver little. Ministers opposite have come today, thrown out large numbers and announced tweaks around the edges of crises our people face. Many workers and families on middle and low incomes will see little change in this budget. Workers and families needed certainty to get through this winter. Low and middle earners needed additional support. The younger generation, locked out of opportunity, needed assurances that the housing crisis was going to be tackled. Instead, there are too many instances of this Government making the wrong choices or deciding on more of the same, with money and tax relief that will be swallowed up by inflation and runaway rents before they can make a difference in people’s pockets.
By refusing to reduce electricity prices and cap them at pre-crisis levels, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party have left households exposed to further price hikes. Renters have been promised a tax credit that is less than the rent increases they have seen every year, with the amount to be pocketed by their landlords, because the Government has refused to ban further rent increases. Many workers on middle and low incomes have been pushed to the bottom of the pile with an income tax package that leaves them short-changed. Households needed certainty and support this winter and ambition to build for the future and deliver on housing and health. Those workers in the squeezed middle, earning €35,000 or less, who should have been a priority, have been pushed to the side. The hopes that many had for this budget have been disappointed today.
Inniu bhí deis ag an Rialtas cinnteacht a thabhairt do dhaoine agus iad ag tabhairt aghaidh ar an ghéarchéim ina bhfuil costais ag ardú. Bhí deis ag an Rialtas pleanáil don todhchaí maidir le tithíocht agus sláinte agus gníomhú ar son na haeráide, ach níl sé seo déanta aige. I gcás go leor oibrithe agus teaghlaigh ar mheánioncam agus ar ioncam íseal, is beag athrú a fheictear sa cháinaisnéis seo agus beidh siad níos measa as an bhliain seo chugainn. Bhí cinnteacht ag teastáil uathu agus ón ghlúin óg atá coinnithe amach as deiseanna, go raibh an Rialtas ag dul i ngleic leis an ghéarchéim tithíochta ach i go leor chásanna, beidh lagmhisneach ar theaghlaigh de bharr cáinaisnéise an lae inniu.
Over the past years, our economy and society have lurched from one crisis to another, from the uncertainty of Brexit to a global pandemic, to a surge in energy prices fuelled by Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine. Throughout these crises, our people have had to contend with persistent failures in housing and healthcare provision. Despite uncertainty in the global economy, the public finances are in a strong position to support households and businesses in the time ahead. Yesterday we learned that consumer confidence has fallen to its lowest levels on record, with one in three households just managing to make ends meet. Everything is going in the wrong direction. Inflation, house prices, rents and interest rates are going up. Workers and families face the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation and the biggest fall in living standards since the financial crash. Tá imní ag teacht ar oibrithe agus ar theaghlaigh faoin ghéarchéim costais mhaireachtála is measa le tamall fada agus an titim is mó ar chaighdeán maireachtála ó tharla an timpiste airgeadais.
This cost-of-living crisis is not new but has been with us for some time. Already having to contend with unaffordable housing and childcare costs, low pay and long hospital waiting lists as a result of the Government’s persistent policy failures, households have now been hit with massive hikes in their energy bills. They have faced these challenges since last year. For the past year, the Government refused to listen and refused to act. The Government has provided the weakest and least support to households and businesses of any government in Europe. That is the record of this Government, with workers and families having gone through a tough year, trying to run the house, provide for their families and keep their heads above water.
It is clear that this is a catch-up budget to make up for Government inaction over the past year. Sinn Féin have been consistent throughout this time. We told the Government that now was not the time for business as usual. We told the Government that urgent intervention was needed in the summer months to give households certainty and support.
I welcome a number of today's announcements. In particular, student fees will be reduced by €1,000, which will be welcomed by many students and families. That should be a stepping stone on the path to abolishing student fees, but instead we see that student fees will rise again next year, to go back to €2,500.
A Sinn Féin Government would have made the €1,000 reduction permanent and built on it year on year until student fees were ended for all.
I welcome today's announcement that tax reductions on petrol, diesel, electricity and gas are to be extended. As the Minister is aware, however, these taxes could have been cut further, providing additional relief to households. Tonight, Sinn Féin will table amendments calling for further reductions for tax in petrol and diesel. I hope the Deputies opposite will support those amendments.One third of households across the State use home heating oil to heat their homes. The decision to leave them out in the cold, not only by refusing to reduce the tax applied to it but by deciding to increase it next year with a further carbon tax hike, is simply unacceptable. Again, Sinn Féin will table amendments to end this practice and cut the cost for those families and homes. At a time of crisis, when energy prices are soaring, a further hike in carbon tax in this area is the wrong direction. It is clear that the Government does not understand the scale of the cost-of-living crisis that households face this winter, with a package announced today that fails to provide the certainty and the adequate help to help workers and families.
A large increase in energy bills is always difficult for households to bear but the explosion in energy prices will be simply unmanageable for many households this winter. Over the past year, energy suppliers have announced more than 35 price increases with scandalous hikes in standing charges regardless of how much energy a household uses. With all the price hikes since the beginning of last year, households would be paying as much as €3,000 more for their gas and electricity each year. For so many, the cost of this is simply unacceptable. They cannot bear it. It means arrears, destitution or the inability to run their homes this winter.
The surge in energy prices has been turbocharged by Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine but we cannot ignore the Government failures that have led to the price shock now facing households. The public deserve the truth. We know that our wholesale energy market is broken, with electricity generators making windfall revenues and profits on the back of a surge in gas prices, even if they do not use gas. This is how our broken energy market operates. For the past year Sinn Féin and governments in Europe have called for this broken market to be reformed. For the past year, the Government has opposed this reform, pushing up energy prices for households and securing windfall profits for energy companies. Sinn Féin and others have called for taxes to be levied against these windfall profits in the face of Government opposition. These are the facts. I welcome the U-turn by the Minister for Finance today that he will introduce a windfall tax. He had argued against this in the Dáil just a number of months ago.
This failure to get to grips with the energy crisis has swollen the coffers of energy companies and drained the bank accounts of struggling households. A Sinn Féin Government would have acted differently. We would have stopped the excess profits that energy companies are making as a result of Government inaction. We would have given households certainty and support by cutting electricity prices to their pre-crisis levels and would keep them there throughout the winter months. We would have delivered cost-of-living payments to middle and low-income earners to support them with other rising energy costs. This Government took a different approach. Today the Government announced electricity credits to every home. No doubt this measure will be welcomed by many. On the surface, this is understandable but if we dig deeper, we see that this is the wrong approach. This subsidy to households will do nothing to stop further price hikes in the weeks and months ahead and will support the profit margin of energy companies.
There is a better way. Sinn Féin would have reduced electricity prices and capped them at pre-crisis levels-----
-----and we would have given certainty to those families and households for the winter months, ensuring that all households received fair support and certainty in the time ahead, based on the energy they use. Perhaps the Ceann Comhairle would like to inform the Government backbenchers who are heckling-----
-----that this measure is an option under the European Commission’s energy toolbox and has been since March of this year. It is a measure that provides households with certainty and the support they so desperately need. That is precisely why other countries throughout Europe have implemented it – from Austria to France and from Poland to the Netherlands. It was the right choice and a better choice, but one this Government has failed to take, leaving those households vulnerable to these energy companies.
The cost-of-living crisis is hitting people hard, particularly working people. Their incomes were squeezed before this crisis with rents, childcare fees, back-to-school costs and price rises eating into more of their pay packets every year under this Government. They are working hard for themselves and their families but feel the State is not working for them. They need more money in their pockets just to stand still and get by. Tá an géarchéim costais maireachtála ag dul i bhfeidhm go dian ar oibrithe. Bhí a gcuid ioncaim faoi bhrú sular thit an ghéarchéim seo amach le cíos, táillí cúraim leanaí, costais a bhaineann leis an fhilleadh ar scoil agus arduithe ar phraghsanna ag tógáil níos mó dá gcuid pá gach bliain faoin Rialtas seo.
At times of inflation, a pay increase that fails to rise with the rate of inflation is a real-terms pay cut. That is precisely what this Government has handed out to our lowest-paid workers on the minimum wage. These are the workers who kept our economy and society functioning during the pandemic. I am talking of the cleaners, the workers on the shop floors and the many others who are currently on the minimum wage. Instead of getting a pay rise, the Government has handed them a pay cut, given inflation. Under the Government’s 80 cent increase to the minimum wage, these workers will be worse off next year than they were last year. A minimum wage increase of more than €1 per hour would have been needed just to protect the spending power of these workers, and to protect them from inflation and the impact of price rises. This is why Sinn Féin would have increased the minimum wage by €1.40 per hour, boosting the take-home pay of workers up to €2,150.
Working people who have spent nights wondering how they will make ends meet were hoping for a budget that paid attention to them, supported them and treated them fairly. The income tax package announced today did not do that and left many of them out in the cold. The income tax package announced today by the Minister for Finance will benefit somebody on €135,000 to the tune of €830, while three quarters of earners will actually only benefit by €190. What message does this send out to people in the squeezed middle, whether it is the staff nurse working in our hospitals at this point in time, or the teacher or somebody working in the private sector earning €35,000, that the person on €135,000 will get a tax break at least four times more than those other workers will get? It tells them that they are an afterthought. It means that their take-home pay will get them less next year than last year. This is an income tax package that gave these working people the cold shoulder.
Sinn Féin would have had different priorities. We made it clear that there were different choices and that we would have delivered a different tax package that was fair. That could have been done by cutting the USC, by ensuring that we put money into the pockets of middle-income and low-income earners, and we would have made sure that people earning more than €100,000 were not benefiting more than four times than those people in the squeezed middle were benefiting. This, along with our cost-of-living payments would have put up to €700 into the pockets of that nurse, that teacher or that factory floor worker earning €35,000. Ghearrfadh Sinn Féin an USC agus thabharfaimis íocaíochtaí costais maireachtála d'oibrithe ar mheánioncam agus ar ioncam íseal chun tacú leo. Chuirfeadh sé seo €700 i bpóca an altra foirne, an mhúinteora nó an oibrí atá ag saothrú €35,000 in aghaidh na bliana. It would be real USC support and real relief, but the Government took a different approach, which in my view is the wrong one.
The cost-of-living crisis is not new. Runaway rents have been a feature of the rental sector for many years, with renters being fleeced by landlords and pushed to breaking point by Government failure over the past decade. The average rent is now €2,800 more per year than when the Government took office. It is even worse in Dublin where rents are now €3,600 more than when the Government took office. No matter how you dress it up, and no matter how we dice and splice this, you cannot avoid the fact that the Government’s housing crisis is crushing the living standards of renters, cutting their disposable income and harming their ability to save for the future. While Sinn Féin has called for rents to be reduced and frozen, the Government allowed them to spiral out of control. For years, Sinn Féin has called for one month's rent to be put back into renters' pockets and for a ban on rent increases. Year after year the Government has voted against this, has refused to cut rents and has refused to support renters. What the Government announced today is a poor and pale imitation of the actions Sinn Féin has called for.
The Government announced a tax credit for renters worth €500.
In my country, Donegal, however, the average rent has increased by €1,400 in the past year alone. Not only does this tax credit fail to cover the cost of rent increases in the past year, the reality is that landlords will pocket this with further rent hikes in the years ahead. A tax credit for renters can work only when you ban rent increases. The Government has failed to do this. That is why Sinn Féin has called for one month's rent to be put back into renters' pockets and a ban on rent increases in order that the benefit will go to the renter and not to the landlord. The Minister knows this and so does the Taoiseach. How do I know that? Because in February the Minister stated that a measure such as this would "be a transfer of Exchequer funding directly to landlords" and would not reduce the "cost pressure on tenants". The Minister said it would not reduce the pressure on tenants and he was right because he had to ban rent increases also.
The Taoiseach doubled down on in respect of this matter during Leaders' Questions earlier this year. In response to Deputy McDonald's call for a renters' tax credit and a ban on rent increases, the Taoiseach stated that such a measure would only add to the price of rents and be inflationary and that there was no guarantee that it would not simply be taken by landlords. The Minister has announced a measure that he knows in his heart of hearts - and as he previously informed Deputies - will result in money being pocketed by landlords at a time when renters are so desperate for real relief that will make a real difference to them. What we needed to see today was a ban on rent increases and for rents to come down. Today, the Government has once again refused to give certainty to renters and to ban rent increases. Instead, what we have is a measure that the Government told us will push up rents and lead to money going into the pockets of landlords. The Minister stated that the type of tax credit that he announced earlier would not benefit low-income workers and students, tens of thousands of whom are struggling. It will not be lost on all the people who will not benefit from this measure that the Government has announced an increase in eligible expenditure of tax relief for landlords worth ten times the amount of the tax credit that it is trying to pretend that renters will benefit from.
A Sinn Féin Government would have done things differently. We would have given certainty and real relief to renters by putting one month’s rent, up to €1,500, back into their pockets and banning further rent increases to make sure that the runaway rents we have seen under this Government would come to an end.
A younger generation has been locked out of opportunity of home ownership. These people have been faced with crippling rents and unaffordable house prices. Under this Government, house prices have broken through the Celtic tiger peak, with the average house price across the State standing at more than €310,000. This means that someone would require an income of €80,000 just to qualify for a mortgage. The Government’s housing policy has failed, with rates of home ownership collapsing for younger generations while developers’ profits soar. Sinn Féin is the party of home ownership. This Government is the Government of speculators and developers. Despite all of the evidence, the budget is silent on the silent on the scandal of investment funds outbidding and out-pricing struggling homebuyers. There will be champagne corks flying tonight among institutional investors because the Government continues to roll out the red carpet for them. They pay no tax on their rental income and no capital gains tax on asset disposals because the Government is firmly wedded to a policy that allows them to push up house prices on ordinary families and to outbid those families in respect of desperately needed homes. That is what is happening. They are snapping up new builds and second-hand homes from under the noses of people who are so desperate to get homes. This is Government policy. It has gifted them a tax advantage. As stated, they pay no corporation tax and no capital gains tax on the disposal of assets. In addition, they are the subject of light-touch regulations that are easily sidestepped. Those working and saving to buy their first homes have the cards all stacked against them. The Minister is the guy who has stacked those cards against them.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael created the housing crisis, and their policies are making it worse. The delivery of social and affordable homes continues to fall short of demand as targets continue to be missed. Despite the unavoidable reality that renters and struggling homebuyers face every day, today’s budget shows no departure from the past. It is clear that the Government has locked itself and our people into the same failed housing strategy.
This budget needed to be ambitious. It needed to provide funding for 20,000 public homes. However, the combined increase announced today for real social and affordable homes is only €68 million. That is less than the €98 million in additional money that the Government plans to spend on long-term leasing for social housing, which is more expensive for the taxpayer and less secure for tenants.
Ending the scourge of vacant and derelict properties and putting them back into use, to rent and buy, is crucial to address the housing crisis. In that context, I welcome the fact that the Minister has belatedly made an announcement about the introduction of a vacant property tax. This is long overdue. It is something that Sinn Féin has been seeking for several years. However, it will only deliver and penalise vacancy and put properties back into use if it is punitive. While we welcome the tax, we want to see the detail on how it will be implemented.
I also welcome the defective concrete products levy. It is clear, however, that the Government has not provided enough to fund the scheme that will deliver for homeowners. An additional €6 million or so has been provided. The Minister should come to Donegal and listen to the householders. We talk about an energy crisis and people trying to heat their homes, but think of trying to heat your home when you can see the curtains flapping as the wind blows through them. What we needed was a proper package. Sinn Féin would have provided €140 million. The Government has fallen way short.
Inflation and rising prices impact everybody. As we know, however, they do not impact everybody equally. Those on lower and fixed incomes are hit hardest. One of the most shameful aspects of the Government's inaction over the past year was its refusal to support those on low incomes who had to make choices that no one should have to make. We have seen families join the queues for food banks to which they once made donations. Parents and pensioners have had to choose between turning the heating off or putting less food on the table. For the past year, the Government has allowed them to wither on the vine. It is clear that the Government does not get the enormous financial pressure that has been heaped on these individuals. The €12 increase in social welfare announced today will not commence until January and is far outstripped by the rate of inflation and price rises. That means that these households will have less to get by than they did last year. This is despite soaring energy bills and higher food prices. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the two Ministers have consciously decided to do this and that some of our most vulnerable citizens will be poorer next year than they were last year. For these households, this is not a caring budget; it is a careless budget that will push them into greater hardship, making it harder for them to meet their bills or put food on the table. Sinn Féin knows that it is not possible to protect everyone from every single price increase, but protecting the most vulnerable from poverty must be the first test of any real republic. This Government has failed that test.
While Sinn Féin welcomes today's announcement of supports for various social welfare recipients in the form of lump-sum payments, our favoured approach, as we outlined in our cost-of-living package for this year, was combined cash payments, weekly increases in social welfare rates effective from October and interventions to prevent electricity prices and rents from rising further. Our approach would have offered greater certainty and security to those who were most financially vulnerable, including pensioners, people with disabilities and carers who badly need that certainty. What is being done cannot dress up the fact that the Government has failed to protect fixed incomes against rising prices and inflation. It has left those vulnerable households more exposed and worse off. As a result of inflation, those individuals with fixed incomes will be over €800 worse off next year than they were last year. A Sinn Féin Government would have acted differently. We would have increased working-age social welfare rates and pension payments for those living alone by €17.50 and we would have increased disability related payments by €20. That is what was required to shield people from the cost-of-living crisis at a time when they need most help. That has not happened today. With the increases in social welfare and pension rates falling well below inflation, we again we see the wrong priorities being pursued and the wrong decisions being made. The impact will be felt in the pockets of our most vulnerable.
The Government has weakened the foundations of our health service. It is driven by a failure in planning and shortcuts in investment and unequal access to health services. The results are clear for everyone to see. Our health service is understaffed and under pressure. Staff are very close to being burned out. More than five years on from the Sláintecare report, the Government has yet to agree a public-only consultant contract to resolve long-standing disputes with staff, from junior doctors to medical scientists. Waiting lists continue to spiral out of control. The numbers speak for themselves. There are 31,000 on waiting lists this year. Some 900,000 are waiting for appointments, including 100,000 children.
What do we see from the Government's response? There is no additional funding to deliver more hospital beds. There is only €4 million for acute services and its only solution is to fund once-off private sector outsourcing.
Across primary care, youth mental services and disability services, 210,000 people are on waiting lists. There are 20,000 children with disabilities still waiting for initial contact with a disability network team never mind follow-up therapy and intervention. They are waiting for speech and language therapy, counselling and psychology supports. These are basic services they are entitled to and which are essential to give them a fair chance and an equal chance to their peers.
However, this budget is a complete failure for people with disabilities and their families. It falls short of what is needed by about 80%. Mental health is clearly not a priority for either Minister or the Government with only €14 million extra in new funding when at least €80 million was needed according to reports. Children with scoliosis and spina bifida have been let down time and again, while at the same time hearing from the Government that they are the priority. They and their parents have been let down by the inaction and broken promises of Government and that has happened again today.
This budget was an opportunity for the Government to build for the future. It was an opportunity to tackle future hospital waiting lists. It was an opportunity to recruit and retain the healthcare staff so badly needed to provide a safe health service, but the Government wasted that opportunity today. Today's budget announced that 340,000 people will get free GP-visit cards next April. These are big promises which are to be welcomed but without planning and delivery they will be broken promises. We have been here before and the Ministers know that. Three years ago, the Government legislated for free GP care for all children up to 12 but it did not deliver it. In last year's budget the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, announced free GP care would be given to six- and seven-year-olds. I believe the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, announced that in his speech last year. One year later and none of these children has received it. Today we have another big announcement, another big promise and a vague commitment to additional support for GPs. However, there has been no discussion with GPs and no priority for the provision of additional supports. The Government has lumped this package in with other measures, making it clear that there is no real plan to support the expansion of eligibility.
People do not need promises or sound bites, but delivery. They need a plan and need investment. The Government should have learned the lesson from the recent debacle on the school transport.
The energy price shock has led to high and unsustainable energy costs for many businesses and farms across the State. Businesses support jobs and employment. Farms are the bedrock of a rural community and our economy. Sinn Féin has proposed a scheme that would provide State support to cover a portion of these businesses' energy bills to protect their viability and the jobs that they support. I welcome the measures that have been announced today to provide support for businesses and farms. However, we must ensure that this support is targeted where it is needed. During the pandemic we saw how large businesses received taxpayers' money while paying dividends to shareholders. This cannot be allowed to happen again and we look forward to details of the scheme announced today.
Time is getting better of me so I will conclude. We know that workers and families are in the grip of the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation. They have seen prices rise beyond what their pay packets can bear. Many of them genuinely fear how they will get through the winter. Today the Government had an opportunity to give those families certainty, to give them support and to give them assurances that they would be able to manage. There are measures announced in today's budget that we in Sinn Féin welcome and indeed many measures that we have been calling on the Government to do for many years. I am afraid that the Government has missed this opportunity. It had the wrong priorities in a number of areas and made the wrong choices. The Government made a choice not to give households price certainty this winter by reducing electricity prices to their pre-crisis levels and keeping them at that point. It made a choice not to protect the most vulnerable from the impact of inflation, leaving them worse off next year than they were last year. It made a choice to forget the squeezed middle with its unfair income tax package.
These were the wrong choices. Before today, the people faced crises in housing and health, runaway rents and unaffordable house prices. More than 900,000 people are on hospital waiting lists. Our emergency departments are overflowing beyond capacity and our healthcare staff are facing burnout. Unfortunately, when we pare back all the numbers and all the big announcements that have been announced today, for many people these crises will persist this winter and next. Indeed, for many it will worsen. A Sinn Féin government would have different priorities and make better choices. The true test of this budget is whether the most vulnerable households will be better-off or worse-off this winter compared with next year. We would have planned for the future, delivered improvements in health services and tackled the housing crisis. Unfortunately for far too many this budget has failed that test.
Politics is about choices. Budgets are about choices. Indeed, a budget literally reflects the different political choices and the different priorities of the Government of the day. Therefore, when people of my age say to me that there is nothing for them here, that there is no chance of them ever owning their own home or that they are not sure what to do about starting a family because they just cannot afford to, it is because of the political choices that the Government has made over years and it is because of the political choices it has made today.
The reality is that this budget was never written with our young people in mind. It was written by a government that is out of touch and it shows. This is certainly no budget for young people and young families. We see no meaningful action to solve the housing crisis, no meaningful action on climate and too little on childcare. This budget says to our young people that once again they are being brought up for export, the mantra of successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments.
The Tánaiste used to speak about creating a republic of opportunity. It is remarkable that many people now see this as an opportune moment to emigrate. It was never written to keep our young people from emigrating or to give those who have left the opportunity to come home. In some parts of today's presentation, it would appear that the Ministers have spent the weekend rummaging through our wardrobe, stealing our clothes, but unfortunately rather than a fashion upgrade, it appears to be something of a wardrobe malfunction. The outfit they have chosen does not match and they have their shoes on the wrong feet. While I welcome that they have borrowed some of our proposals, unfortunately in some instances they have weakened them, watered them down or simply made them unworkable.
We acknowledge that in recent times the world has suffered several shocks - Covid, inflation, an energy crisis and, of course, war. Individually each of these has been highly significant. Cumulatively they have been even more so. However, we have a cost-of-living crisis which long predates these shocks. Many will watch today to see what decisive action the Government has taken on affordable housing, stopping rent increases and real delivery on childcare costs. The fashion in which taxation and expenditure are deployed helps to test whether the Government's obligations to its citizens are met. These can be new measures used to tackle a new crisis, like the energy crisis that families are facing, or they can be long-standing proposals. Many of the best proposals to tackle the more long-standing problems we face have rarely been given a chance because they are opposed by certain special interests who benefit from the status quo, which has led to the crisis that we now face in housing and healthcare.
A Sinn Féin government would today offer help in the short term to deal with a freezing winter. We would offer certainty in the medium term and hope in the long term that not only could things be better but indeed they would be better. Bhí deis ar leith ag an rialtas inniu, cinnteacht a thabhairt do theaghlaigh agus do ghnólachtaí. Bhí cinnteacht ag teastáil maidir le laghdú ar bhillí leictreachais, i dtaobh praghas cíosa agus i dtaobh tithíochta. Bhí fadhb ollmhór againn le costais maireachtála fiú roimh an gcogadh san Úcráin mar gheall ar chostais arda cúraim leanaí agus tithíochta. Tá mé ag breathnú ar na rudaí atá á dhéanamh leis na costais sin a laghdú sa cháinaisnéis seo agus ní fheicim mórán cinnteachta. Tá sé go maith gur éist an Rialtas linn i dtaobh aigéad a chur ar ais i bpócaí cíosaithe, ach mar a dúirt siad féin, muna mbíonn bac ar ardú ar phraghas cíosa ar feadh trí bliana anuas ar na creidmheasanna, tá baol ann go gcuirfidh sé seo le praghas cíosa mar a chuir an scéim Cabhair le Ceannach le praghas tithíochta; scéim atá le leathnú amach ar feadh dhá bhliain eile.
Tá an rialtas ag caint ar laghdú de 25% ar chostas cúraim leanaí. B’fhéidir gur cinneadh maith a bhí ann é sin a dhéanamh sular thosaigh an boilsciú ach ní leor anois é. Bliain i ndiaidh bliana, feiceann an pobal na geallúintí a dhéanann rialtas de chuid Fhianna Fáil agus Fhine Gael ar lá na gcáinaisnéise ach is minic nach bhfeictear toradh ar na ngeallúintí sin mar nach sroichtear na spriocanna a leagtar amach. Beidh le feiceáil an uair seo.
The cost-of-living crisis families and businesses are facing this winter should be the number one priority for the Minister. Not only should it be the number one priority now, but it should have been for months. The priority should be to provide certainty around energy prices. Crucially, we would provide a cap on the price of electricity. This is needed urgently to provide the kind of certainty that households require. It is the kind of certainty that households in other EU countries will receive. This would return electricity back to its summer 2021 costs. Importantly, we would also bring in a windfall tax. We must decouple gas from electricity prices - something we have long been calling for, but it is something the Government in its infinite wisdom opposed last year. The Government has decided to go down the energy credit route. This will not work. The credit provided could quickly be overtaken by price increases and then hard-pressed families will still be left worrying. They could still be left with an awful choice of having to decide whether to put food on their table or to keep the lights on. This is why our proposal creates greater certainty. This is also why we have proposed an emergency cost-of-living crisis package that recognises the scale of the crisis. This would also include emergency one-off cash payments to middle- and low-income households. This is the kind of certainty that households need, whereby they know exactly what they will be liable for this winter and can plan accordingly.
As the Aire is aware, we have long waited for a real and fundamental change to the cost of childcare. It is now widely accepted that the cost of childcare really is the equivalent of a second mortgage. We know this because families tell us. In Galway, young couples tell me that they are paying as much as €50 a day for childcare services. In Dublin, we know that the average monthly fee is €810. The Minister's proposals will not exactly wow young couples. It pales in comparison to our proposal to reduce fees by two thirds. This would bring the average fee I mentioned to €270. The Government's proposal only reduces it by a quarter. If the Minister had enacted the proposal before the current bout of inflation it might have been seen as a welcome step, but in the current environment it is nowhere near enough. Also, it will not be a major incentive for those young people who are considering emigrating, who have been putting off starting a family because of the high cost. The measure will not stop childcare being a second mortgage. The Minister has slightly reduced the cost of the second mortgage, but a second mortgage is still a second mortgage.
For those parents who have young adults leaving for college for the first time and have had to pay the student contribution charge, which is essentially fees by another name, there is a €1,000 reduction this year, as we have proposed also. This must be the first step towards eliminating fees. We must work towards genuinely free third level education. Next year, people will find their fees going back up. The Aire will have heard of people having to defer their dream course because they cannot find accommodation. A third of those who deferred their course in NUI Galway this year did so because they could not find a place to live. I worry that the accommodation situation is unlikely to get better next year. Indeed, I am concerned that it will get worse. We hear the stories of students. One student from Offaly says he has commuted up to six hours a day to reach UCD from Offaly, and he knows lads who travel from Longford daily. He is weary. He is in final year but he cannot face it and is deferring. Students will be camping out in Eyre Square tomorrow evening to highlight this crisis. I will be joining them. They need delivery on housing.
We see a €12 increase in core social welfare rates. That is inadequate and adds little to an already inadequate social protection scheme. The sum of €12 does not protect from inflation. It does not even come close. It does not protect people from poverty, and it does not recognise the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on those reliant on fixed incomes. The fact that the increases will not be introduced until January beggars belief. I did not believe it when I saw it and heard the Minister say it today. Instead, carers, people with a disability, lone parents and older people will wait for another four months for weekly increases. These are the households that are already living in poverty and making choices between putting food on the table and turning on the lights, yet the message is that their weekly fixed income will not change until January, despite them currently living in a frighteningly fluid situation. This is why we called for an immediate €15 increase, rising to €17.50 next year for working-age payments and pensioners living alone, and €20 per weekly disability payments.
Every year, some things stand out in budgets. I will never forget sitting here last year listening to the two Airí across from me announcing measure after measure, only to realise that once again they had forgotten the renters of this country. There was not a mention of them. Renters were left baffled and astonished that the Government had taken no action to alleviate the great pressure they were under. I will never forget that their initial proposals for renters was that they had decided to link rent to the rate of inflation, which was obviously a very bright idea at the time. Thankfully, due to the fact that most people saw that this was nonsensical, there was a U-turn on that one. Let us imagine where renters would now be if that had happened. For them, the cost-of-living crisis was well under way this time last year. We already had some of the highest rents in Europe, but all of that was ignored.
Renters need certainty and that is what Sinn Féin will bring them. We would cap and reduce rents. We would put one month's back in renters' pockets and we would ban rent increases for three years. It does seem the Minister has finally seen the light on this one and sought to introduce this measure, which we have been proposing for several years. Unfortunately, in the Government's characteristic style, it has failed to grasp how the measure should be implemented, although the Minister did point it out to us when we raised it. However, he has not taken the appropriate steps to ensure that it will not be inflationary. He has taken a solid Sinn Féin proposal but then watered it down. To be clear, the renter's credit might have been a month's rent a decade ago, but for many it is not even a fortnight's rent. Perhaps that is the problem - the Government does not know what people are going through in the here and now. The most glaring omission is a failure to instigate a ban on rent increases, as we have been calling for. Introducing a credit without a cap will be inflationary and as the Minister told us, it will cause rents to rise. He even recognised it. His failure to ban rent increases means that no sooner will this money enter the pockets of renters than it will have gone back out and into the pockets of landlords.
How could the Minister get it so wrong? I suppose that should not be a surprise, as the Government has been getting it wrong on housing for years. It is what the President, Michael D. Higgins, aptly described as "our great, great failure". To be more precise, it is the Minister's great, great failure, although it could perhaps be his great, great achievement. It must be listed as an achievement that in just over a decade he managed to push house prices back above Celtic tiger levels. There is a saying that something always seems impossible until it is done. My God, how the Minister has done it. We already had the highest property prices in the EU and the Minister is hell-bent on keeping it that way. This has locked so many out of home ownership. People are trapped in a rental cycle where rents consume more and more, possibly even much more than a third of people's income. After people have covered all their other expenses, there's little left to save for a deposit. Compounding this problem is the fact that rents keep on rising. The cost of renting in Ireland rose 76.7% between 2010 and 2022. People are forced to chase a moving target. While people are running and trying to keep up with rents, a speed bump of any size can throw them off the track and result in homelessness. The Ministers must know themselves that the housing situation is getting worse. They must hear about it in their clinics and offices and get stopped in the streets by people trying to help families on the brink of homelessness, with the answer continuously coming back that nothing can be done. It came as a surprise to us all when earlier this year the Tánaiste said perhaps it was time Fine Gael had another go at housing. I ask, seriously, what more damage the party could do. We know what Fine Gael does when it comes to housing. Whereas Fianna Fáil follows the dreams of the developers, Fine Gael follows the dreams of the investment funds. That is who has been the inspiration for the housing policies. It was bad enough that the funds were buying up so much of the stock of new homes but now we are learning that they are buying up huge amounts of second-hand properties. On Sunday, the Business Postrevealed that institutional investors and real estate firms spent approximately €1 billion buying second-hand homes last year. This equated to approximately 4,500 properties in a section of the market typically targeted by first-time buyers. Again, this week we saw The Ditchreveal that a fund backed by the Singaporean Government spent €300 million since 2019 and it bought more than 850 second-hand homes. As bad as the housing situation is, this is another indication that it is set to get worse still. Second-hand homes can be cheaper than new builds. They are often the only way most first-time buyers can enter home ownership. Once again, it seems that the investment funds are closing off that avenue too. Last year, the Taoiseach said the levy on investment funds would mean the entities could not compete with first-time buyers. We told the Minister that the levy he was introducing on the bulk purchase of new homes was not enough.
We told the Government the exemptions on apartment blocks would make it unworkable, but again it dismissed us, claiming it was mere populism on our part. Once again, however, not only are they still bulk-buying new homes but they are now making large purchases of second-hand homes too. We have heard about landlords fleeing the market and we are seeing that smaller landlords are fleeing. Accidental landlords who had buy-to-lets that were previously in negative equity are leaving, but who is stepping into their place? Investment funds. For God's sake; how bad will it have to get before the Government realises these investment funds are a blight on our society?
Then we come to Housing for All, the big plan for supply, supply, supply. The targets for the delivery of social and affordable homes were seriously lacking in ambition to begin with, but even those lowly targets keep being missed and I can bring the Ministers to Galway to show them that. Let us recall the recent census figures showing thousands of vacant homes in this State. We hear the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is bringing in a vacant property tax, so cheers to that, but the time to have done this was long ago. When it comes to housing, the choice is clear. Do we want a housing system where a house is a home, somewhere to raise young children, to grow old and to make fond memories, or do we want our housing system to be an asset class, filled with odd-sounding acronyms for different investment vehicles, which I will list and get wrong, such as IREFs, ICAVs, CIFs and CCFs. The Government has committed to reviewing some of these, but what is there to review? I could go on but we get the picture. The choice is clear. Do we want housing based on human need or a financial asset class based on speculative greed?
When it comes to our health system, the sad reality is it is neither healthy nor a system. In some ways, it mirrors the housing crisis; both are a failure in planning and a failed ideology that has damaged public services. It is not working for those who need it. Waiting lists continue to grow while people wait in their thousands for medical care. The trolley crisis continues to get worse and again, on Friday, 69 people were on trolleys in University Hospital Galway, something we honestly thought would not happen again post Covid. The health system is also not working for the hard-pressed healthcare professionals toiling night and day to try to keep the show on the road, which is why Sinn Féin would deliver a national health service over the space of ten years. We would place dignity, respect and fairness at the heart of healthcare and labour relations, and we are not in the business of making promises we cannot keep. The Government has spent only an additional €20 million on disability, whereas we have provided for €152 million, and that is appalling. It outlined just an additional €14 million for mental health, which is shocking, while we have provided for €81 million because that is what is needed.
As I said, we do not make promises we cannot keep and any of the measures we have announced are based on realistic, deliverable targets. We have seen on multiple occasions the Government make health-related announcements that are not delivered. Its GP announcement sounds good, but when GPs woke up this morning, it was news to them. We all heard the GP on the radio this morning stating he had no idea how his fellow GPs will cope if the Government’s proposed measure goes ahead. I hope this is not the Government looking for praise in the absence of proper preparation because we recall the promise to deliver free GP care to all children up to 12, which was legislated for three years ago and never happened. Big announcements without planning are doomed to fail, as we saw in the case of staffing and beds. In budget 2021 and in last year's winter plan, just over 1,200 beds were provided for, a quarter of which have been funded but not yet delivered. The Minister could not deliver what he had funded because there is not a plan. The increase announced today for acute services equates to less than one-tenth of the increase for our hospitals. The figure is so low it has left me wondering whether it is true. There is not a red cent for a new hospital bed; it seems the Government has no plan for that either. I just hope the expanded free GP care will not go the same way because a lot of people have heard about it today and are hoping they will get the support.
It is a case of rising expectations but falling standards. Workforce planning in our healthcare system is key and has too often been neglected. We would tackle the issue of capacity and we recently published a substantial document that sets out a roadmap that would bring us from the current situation of long waiting lists to quicker turnaround times, from poor system capacity and an overworked, underappreciated workforce to a properly functioning system, where healthcare workers are given the dignity, the respect and the pride of place they deserve. Sláintecare is nominally supported by every party in this House but, in effect, the parties on the Government benches have not shown any intention of getting us there. We need a national health service. We need to end the two-tier system. We need healthcare just as we need housing, as a basic human right.
The other key issue of our day, which both Ministers mentioned, relates to climate. I find it funny when people say we in Sinn Féin are weak on climate, but it is weak criticism when it comes from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, Government parties that have presided over one of the worst performing countries in terms of meeting emissions reduction targets. Targets are missed and we do not appear to be making much progress, and the Government's big solution, the carbon tax, has done nothing to change behaviour. As we have told it countless times, and as I know as someone who represents a rural constituency, tax can change behaviour only when there is an affordable alternative to which people can change, so we should not cut bus services. Let us think about this for a moment. The plan was to increase the price of carbon, thinking everyone would run out and buy expensive electric vehicles, but the energy crisis has pushed the price of carbon far higher than the carbon tax ever did. I know that the people coming to my clinics, and I am sure the people who go to the Ministers' clinics, have not been magically able to afford electric vehicles, which often start at €40,000.
In fact, they cannot even afford to retrofit their house. We need a fairer retrofit scheme that will lift people out of energy poverty while reducing emissions. A lot of families are locked out of the retrofit scheme because they do not meet the criteria for a free energy upgrade under the warmer homes scheme, nor do they have the cash reserves to afford a deep retrofit under the one-stop shop scheme. Not only have we provided about €100 million more than the Government has for retrofits but we would completely overhaul the system. We would establish a new retrofit scheme for middle and low-income households, with area-based components. If all our funding were for deep retrofits, it would deliver approximately 6,000 deep retrofits for those who are currently locked out. Under this scheme, households earning up to €75,000 would be entitled to different levels of funding, from between 100% to 60% of the cost of deep retrofits, depending on household income. Our second new retrofit scheme would be for solid-fuel households. A total of 10% of households rely on solid fuels, mainly in our rural areas, and theirs tend to be the poorest, coldest and most carbon-intensive homes. We need a targeted scheme for these families.
Our final scheme would be based on tiered retrofit support for higher income households. This would reform the current one-stop shop scheme, which provides the same level of funding for deep retrofits irrespective of means. Under our reformed scheme, we would provide different levels of support ranging from 55% to 5%, with a cap on incomes of more than €130,000. We believe that if we want to protect against fuel poverty, to improve the energy efficiency of our housing stock and to make serious inroads in our climate targets, these schemes are necessary. As it stands, many households need €25,000 in cash before such a course of action can even be considered, and this locks many middle and low-income families out of the equation.
Our budget has also made significant provisions for accelerating the transition to renewable energy and this is through investment and the proper resourcing of the planning system to speed up the development of offshore wind generation. We have heard plenty of times that Ireland can become a leader in wind energy and we would like to see this dream realised. We too would provide for solar panels for schools and we have the legislation ready to go to alleviate the planning issues, so the Government should talk to my colleagues Deputies O'Rourke and Ó Laoghaire about that one. Families also want the opportunity to put solar panels on their roofs, as we all hear about in our housing estates, and we would provide grants for that. Unlike the Government’s approach, which provides the same level of grant for all households, our scheme would provide different levels of funding, ranging from 100% to 10%, again depending on household income, thereby improving affordability for solar PV for those who would benefit the most from lower bills.
We need to make public transport affordable and more accessible if we are serious about driving down emissions, and that includes people in rural Ireland. They need sustainable transport options including rural bus services and rail such as the western rail corridor. Perhaps it is not Elon Musk driving a Tesla, but it is what rural Ireland badly needs. We would also like to see serious polluters, such as private jets, pay a €3,000 pollution levy per departure. We need to be ambitious in our climate targets and we need to deliver on them. Sinn Féin is proposing climate-action measures that will both improve people's lives and reduce carbon emissions.
The times are changing. The people gathered in their thousands last weekend to say that enough is enough. They can see a better and brighter future ahead. People will again gather in their thousands this weekend to reimagine the Ireland in which we live and to consider a new Ireland that will put citizens at the centre of decision-making - a united Ireland.
I told the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform this time last year that the conversations on a new Ireland had already begun; they were happening in all parts of our communities and were only gaining momentum. I will tell the Ministers again. The people are in front of the Government on the issue of the constitutional future of this island. While the Government dithers and delays, the people are leading out in front. The Government has the opportunity to bring this forward. It can decisively set out the next steps on the road to an Irish unity referendum.
Unity is the big idea of our time. There will be a unity referendum. There is no "if"; the only question is "when". The Government should join us in the conversation. It should make space for everyone to be involved and lead out in front by the establishment of a citizens' assembly.
Mar fhocal scoir, we have heard of"No Country for Old Men", but this has become no country for young people. We know this because they are literally telling us. This is why 70% of 18 to 24-year-olds are considering emigrating. They see a brighter future for themselves in faraway places like Australia and Canada. When I look at today's budget, I am disappointed for our young people. What is in it for them? The Government's tax proposals will benefit less than one quarter of taxpayers. It is failing to meet its housing delivery targets and its housing policies are inflationary. The rent credit will be gobbled up by rent increases because the Government failed to introduce a rent freeze. Let me say to those young people who are watching today with growing frustration that we hear them. We see that the Ministers sitting in front of us have passed their sell-by date. We know that together we can build a far brighter future for all of us, and that our society will only truly flourish when young people can call this place home.
A new republic is waiting to be born and it is already being imagined. It gets closer every day. This will be a new republic where equality, fairness, justice and unity are not just words that Government Deputies say because their public relations advisers think they make for a nice sound bite, but where these words are living, breathing ideals upon which a new republic will be built.
I am sharing time with my colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith. As a country, we are unrecognisable from the young, poor and conservative State we were when the Tricolour was first raised over Dublin Castle in 1922. We are now richer than we have ever been in our history. We are more liberal, open, diverse, welcoming and confident as a society then anyone could have imagined even half a century ago. Ireland, though, is unfinished business. The idea of Ireland is a work in progress.
By standard international measurements, Ireland appears to be doing well. It is the third most competitive country in the world and eighth in the UN development index. We have a sophisticated economy and high levels of third-level education. We are healthier now than ever and we are living longer than our grandparents did.
Labour is a patriotic party. We have always tried to put our country first, even when it might have been easier and more politically opportune or expedient to stand aside. We are proud of many of our country's achievements but a party that cares about our country has a duty to highlight our problems too, and there are many of them. We also have a responsibility to provide solutions, and we do. Put simply, we are nowhere near as well-off as we think we are. For too many citizens, Ireland is falling short and we need an Ireland that works for all.
Today marks the culmination of the longest run-in to a budget in history. This summer, we saw more kites flown by Government than one would find on Bettystown beach in a good July. Some of the once-off shock-and-awe measures unveiled today flatter to deceive. A €4 billion self-proclaimed bonanza is really designed to take the bare look off the meagre budget for 2023. A lot of money spread is being so thinly that some will not even notice, while far too many will still need more by the time this winter is out. The mantra of this budget was supposed to be about targeting; that was the central theme. On the evidence of this budget, the shooting of the Ministers is way off. Take their income tax measures, for example. The reality is that thanks to their income tax measures next year, somebody earning €100,000 will be €831 better off. Contrast that with the situation for somebody who is earning between €25,000 and €35,000. He or she will learn an additional €4 per week or €191 per year. That will cost more than €1 billion. When we consider many of the tax cuts that are proposed, it actually will not even apply to people earning under €40,000 outside of some small adjustments to the USC. Some 1.2 million taxpayers will hardly feel any difference whatsoever.
All that any of today's pre-Christmas measures can promise is a temporary respite. It is a few weeks' break from a permanent cost-of-living crisis felt by far too many citizens; those who are always running to just stand still and the people a two-tier Ireland is leaving behind. Wads of cash are thrown around like snuff at a wake but with little honest reflection from this Government as to why this State must do so much heavy lifting in the first place to keep working people off the breadline.
The naked reality is that when we strip away the €4.1 billion sugar hit between now and New Year's Eve, what we have before us today is a budget package for next year that will, in truth, do little or nothing to transform this country. Once the hangover wears off in January, it will soon dawn on all of us, and certainly on Government, that another mini budget will be required to support households.
There is nothing in budget 2023 to fulfill the modest hopes and dreams of our people who wish for something different. A chance to live securely and perhaps own their own home and not have to worry about the cost of having a family; the hope that their hard work and long hours might be rewarded with better pay; the ambition of an Ireland that works for all.
For far too many, the harsh reality is that Ireland is simply not working. Our market-knows-best housing model is trashed, vital climate targets are being missed, the cost of looking after our youngest is soaring and the scandal of low pay diminishes and destroys us bit by bit every day. Now, we are faced with the dire prospect of almost half of Irish households entering into energy poverty and yet, just like the Conservative Party across the water, we still have not decided to impose a windfall tax levy on the disgusting profits of energy companies. It is a case of wait and see what the European Commission does; always kicking the can down the road.
Every year's budget gives an insight into the Government's priorities and philosophy. What is it made of? What drives it? What keeps its Members awake at night apart, of course, from who will be the next president of the Eurogroup? The tests for this package are clear and straightforward. Will this budget keep people warm in their homes this winter and into next year? Will the Government properly use taxpayers' hard-earned money to stop low-income and middle-income households from going under? Will people be able to make the rent or the mortage? Will the Government put those who are finding it hardest to cope first? Manifestly, it did not; just look at its tax decisions. Critically, will the Government be able to keep the lights on this winter? If it is a case of lights out in Ireland this winter, it will be lights out for this Government too, plain and simple.
This is a crisis like no other. It demands a response like no other that meets the scale and seriousness of the crisis. It is not the 1970s nor is it the 2000s when Fianna Fáil last left the country in tatters. Here is the difference. Thanks to the hard work of the Irish people, Ireland in 2022 is one of the richest countries in the world. That is hard to credit, however, when I see proud, hardworking people handing back food they cannot afford when they get to the top of the queue at the supermarket checkout.
I have seen too much of that already this year and I do not want to see it again. It is these families the Government needs to think about today and we need to address this budget through that prism. Will this budget work for them? Will what the Government has announced today mean they can take their shopping and their human dignity home with them intact, this year and next? The rude health of the national finances means next to nothing if the family finances are about to give way. To borrow a phrase from the great John Hume - you cannot eat good GDP figures.
Impressive Exchequer returns and massive tax revenues alone will not heat our homes. The cash available to Government will, but only if the right and equitable choices are made. This year’s surplus of nearly €4.5 billion and the bulging revenues forecast for next year give us options. These are choices we could only have dreamt of during our painful recovery from the crash and it would be churlish not to recognise that the €4 billion in once-off measures is not significant. It is a significant amount of money and a substantial deployment of resources in anyone’s language. Once-off payments now and a €12 increase in social welfare rates will not help next February and March when the weekly cost of living has risen again by so much, unless the Government knows something we do not and prices are going to go down but that is not what the indications are.
In truth, many of the measures the Government has announced today, whether they are once-off measures or measures for next year, could have been brought forward by weeks, if not months. If anything, the Government's delays and determination to do a big bang announcement for the cameras all in one day has left too many hanging on for too long. This is as uncaring as it is irresponsible. It is revealing to me of a Government more concerned about its own future than the future of hard-pressed families. A summer social welfare bonus could have been paid out in July, as colleagues like Deputy Sherlock and others were calling for. Money off crippling college fees could have been paid in August, easing the anxiety for hard-pressed parents during the summer, without having to wait for an announcement today at the behest of Government. Free school books for primary school kids could have been delivered this year, an achievement that owes more to the campaigning and vision of my colleague, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, than a Minister for Education who is back of the class when it comes to real education reform. That could have been done this year. Why should the less well-off have to wait until next year? It is unconscionable but the choice has been made and this Government will have to live with that choice.
The Government was indifferent in last year’s budget to the real needs of ordinary people for whom a cost-of-living crisis is nothing new. The Members of the Government have all been asleep at the wheel for months and have been providing piecemeal responses. Since this time last year, wage rises have not kept pace with rising costs and real incomes have fallen well back. We have seen real cuts to the value of pensions, and it is a case of families having to earn about €2,000 more before tax than they did just a year ago so they can buy some of the basics they need in their shopping trolleys every week. That is extraordinary.
What is keeping people from their sleep this autumn is the fear of a succession of eye-watering energy bills hitting the mat. The single biggest reason why inflation is soaring high is the record cost of energy. What has been the Government's response over the last year? It has been a confetti-like throwing around of a few bob here and there. There is a €600 energy credit for every household, regardless of family size, wealth, building energy rating, or energy use. The Government has had the guts of a year to come up with a better model but again it is betting the farm on flat payments that still benefit those with multiple properties. At the start of 2021, the average household energy bill was coming in at just under €2,000. It is now around €4,000 and it is still rising this winter by 25% or more. It will probably end up being closer to €5,000 than €4,000 and a €600 credit only covers less than 20% of the rise in energy prices. That is the sum impact of this expensive initiative.
We are constantly told - we trumpet this all the time- that a measure of our sophistication as a society is our sophisticated tax and welfare system. Yet it seems the Government is incapable, or more correctly I would say unwilling, to use that system to target the support to where it is needed the most. That is a political decision, end of story. I get why the Government favours a rinse and repeat of the electricity credit approach. It is popular and it is needed by some but the principle of equity and fairness would demand that the Government claw some of this back from the better off by way, for example, of a tapering off of tax credits for those with incomes of over €100,000. No attempt has been made to do anything like that. Instead, Labour proposed spending much less but on a targeted tax credit for those earning €60,000 or less. That would come in at about €800 between this year and next year and would represent real help for working families that are caught in the middle. Combined with our scaling up of Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland grants, it would have especially helped those caught in the middle, those earning too much for the warmer homes scheme grants but not enough to afford expensive insulation upgrades. It would have guaranteed they could pay the bills, not only this winter but every subsequent winter too. That is what is called targeting and that is good public policy.
The Government’s response to the energy crisis has been slack and inadequate and I am putting that diplomatically. This is not just my opinion, but it is that of the Bruegel institute in its published report last week. We can quibble about GDP or GNI* but regardless of that we are performing poorly in that regard. We have been the worst, most abject and most miserly in the EU bloc when it comes to interventions to support people with their energy crises. At a time of real national need, as families and businesses are driven to the wall, this should be a source of national embarrassment. If energy is the main driver of growing costs for homes and businesses, what has the Government done to control input costs? It has done nothing and the intention is to do little more over the next few months. When what we need is intervention in the market to bring costs down, we get a re-run of the one for everyone in the audience wheeze and no clawback from the better off. When progressive governments across Europe, like in Spain, Portugal, Denmark and many others, are capping the wholesale cost of energy, Ireland stands apart. Under this Government, Ireland really is exceptional, and not in a good way. Why is it always a case of Irish exceptionalism? The capping of prices is the mainstream European response and the direction of travel in most progressive European countries but we are not on the bus. We have heard every excuse as to why Ireland should not go down that road and why Ireland is different. The single most effective way to bring down the inflation that is crippling families and businesses is to control the price. Controlling the price of energy helps control the price of everything else. It is as simple as that.
The energy crisis is turning into a jobs crisis and I know this from my personal experience. Good manufacturing jobs in places like my home town of Drogheda are being lost this month and this week as people get their redundancy notices. This is all because viable companies have been put out of business or are down to short time because they cannot take the rising cost of gas and electricity. These workers, including those in the Premier Periclase factory in Drogheda, are the canaries in the coal mine and so many more jobs are in the firing line. We note the business supports package that was announced and we await the details of same but there is no specific wage support scheme, as proposed by Labour, to halt lay-offs. This is a must. There is no point in keeping the doors open only to make sure that the energy companies are paid. Jobs have to be kept alive and the business package the Government is proposing has to be conditional on no lay-offs, bonuses or dividends to shareholders at a minimum. There has to be a price for that considerable State support and there has to be a value to taxpayers and citizens. We have said to cap energy prices to address input costs and to use the funds we have to support jobs directly. That is what I am hearing back from employers; whatever about support for energy costs we need support to make sure we are not laying people off. We all know businesses need to be supported and we support that principle but this has to be allied with a demand not to cull jobs. We need to learn the lessons of the Covid schemes.
The energy companies must absolutely love Ireland. It is heaven for free market profiteers. We have a regulator that seems to me to be nothing but an enabler for the big energy companies. We have an agency with a consumer mandate that is apparently powerless to act for consumers on crazy, unjustifiable standing charges, even when homes are set to freeze.
Coupled with this, we have a Government that, despite the Labour Party’s call for windfall tax on the hyper-profits of energy firms even before the illegal invasion of Ukraine, still has not managed to put one in place. It still has not managed to do it. They did in Spain several months ago, for example and that is the mark of a progressive government.
Before anyone mentions our reliance on gas from overseas, think about the Corrib field for a minute. The field off the coast of County Mayo gives us over 30% of our gas. Their owners, including Vermilion Energy, which is a Canadian firm, have posted extraordinary pre-tax profits of 1.4 billion in Canadian dollars in 2021. Imagine what profits it will post this year and yet it still will carry on, untouched by the Department of Finance. In contrast, the Labour Party has proposed that we claw back up to €1.2 billion with a 30% extra levy on windfall gains on these outfits. There is a special place in hell for those who profit off the back of war and of human misery. The Government is letting these companies get away scot-free, because there is still no windfall tax.
Energy is a public good, especially now. A number of weeks ago, the Labour Party proposed in a considered way using the same laws that we used in the 1970s during the oil crisis to take the Corrib field under control for the emergency period. We have options but these are options the Government continuously ignores. These are options that appear to be too radical for some, but they are now part of the European mainstream. Why are we always last to learn the lesson? Germany nationalised three oil companies last week to secure its supply and to help to manage costs for consumers. Four short years ago, we never would have envisaged a situation where we, on an overnight basis, privatised private beds in private hospitals to help us fight Covid-19. Today, we need the same sort of fresh thinking to tackle this crisis and to keep people warm in their homes. The Government should take off the ideological blinkers. Let us decide instead to do what works for our people.
These massive profits are particularly hard to take when workers are now having to endure real cuts to pay and to their living standards, with no sign of a let-up next year. There is none. Inflation is now running at three times the rate of wage increases. Those on the lowest incomes are feeling it worst. We know who the hardest hit are but you would not know that from the measures in Budget 2023. Mark my words when I say that this budget will see more citizens slip into a spiral of poverty which, once it traps you, is really hard to get out of its grasp. I am speaking specifically about measures that will be employed next year. Those who are poor today will still be poor this time next year. That is the truth. This budget will not change this, and we will be back here again next spring, mark my words, having the same arguments and having a discussion about emergency interventions to assist those who need the most help. I say this because budget 2023 is inadequate, and it will fail.
A Government that was serious about supporting those who are the most in need would bring rates of weekly payments for pensioners, for carers and for the disabled above the rate of inflation or at least would match it. The figure should be approximately over €20, as we have proposed. It would bring in these proposed increases to rates now, and not next year. Regardless of lump sum payments and various other measures, these payments are needed now. A Government that wanted to assist 165,000 low-paid workers on the minimum wage would not wait until January for a minimum wage increase. Given that the Tánaiste has had the report since July, that could have been implemented today and the USC and PRSI changes could be implemented over the next couple of weeks to make that a reality. The tried and tested way to support those on low and middle incomes is to cut their costs, not taxes. The State has to help control the things that the Government can manage. That is the job of government. It is the central job of government and is especially true this year.
We acknowledge, it would be churlish not to, the steps that have been taken, for example, on fuel allowance. However, the Labour Party would have gone further and faster, making sure that we would in perpetuity include those who are at risk of fuel poverty. We would bring them into the embrace of the fuel allowance net, not on a once-off basis but permanently. We know who they are and we can target them. That is why on energy and fuel we want to bring tens of thousands more at-risk households into both the fuel allowance system and the household benefits package system. When we talk about controlling costs, this is why we in the Labour Party say that we must cap childcare costs at €200 per month-----
-----costing €275 million in 2023. That is the kind of ambition we need to transform this society and to genuinely assist those who are on low and middle incomes. This is why the Labour Party says, for example, that we should have a monthly €9 public transport climate ticket, costing €300 million over the next six months, as a cost-saving and climate-positive intervention. It is why for a cost of €100 million, every child and young person under 18 years of age should have the ability to access their GP free of charge.
I am concerned about the approach that has been taken by the Government this week. It diverts from the principles that were established by the Labour Party number of years ago, namely, that we should start by including all young people in this scheme. That is the direction of travel that we ought to pursue. We have question marks around how decisions will be made and how the GP schemes will be rolled out from here on in.
There is nobody more at risk of energy poverty than those who depend on their social welfare payments and those who work but who are on low or modest incomes. Today, the Government will present the social welfare package as one of the largest outside of the pandemic budgets. It would be right to do that, because in the round it absolutely is. That is objectively true. However, a look under the bonnet is a revealing of this point. Fr. Sean Healy said in Saturday's edition of The Irish Times that the budget "will turn on whether the increase in basic welfare rates is €20 or not”. Well, it is not, and this is to the Government’s shame. That is the real story of this budget. When we strip away all of the giddiness and excitement about the €4.1 billion in temporary measures and once-off measures, that is the real story of this budget. I would be really surprised if Fianna Fáil backbenchers in particular give this their backing. Is it any wonder that Fianna Fáil has an identity crisis? They will not even recognise themselves if they left a €12 below-inflation increase go through. There should not be any excuses whatsoever for less than a €20 increase of cover social welfare rates. I say that to Sinn Féin, too. Anything less is a real cut to incomes and to living standards and that is an undeniable fact. We know those who the worst-off are, yet we turn our backs on them and we turn our backs on all the expert advice. That, in my view, is shameful. The Government will of course point increases in the living alone allowance and to some adjustments to the working family payment, to the qualified child payments and other supports. The Government claims in the round that it is targeting money at those who need it most but it will not be able to pull the wool over the eyes of a pensioner who knows but last year’s €5 is really only worth about €4.60 when we take inflation into account. In fact, analysis by experts, such as those in Age Action, shows that spending power is likely to be down over €20 a week this year. This makes the €12 that the Government put into pensions and social welfare payments especially miserable. Fianna Fáil especially should let that sink in.That it is also, as a result, taking nearly €2 billion out of the economy as a consequence at this uncertain time is really hare-brained and quite illiterate frankly.
We note the decision to change personal income tax bands and credits as part of the wider indexation plan and we understand why that was done. That said, I have given my critique of that earlier on and it is deeply inequitable. We will be making our concerns more widely known about that and making some proposals in the context of the Finance Bill about how that can be made more equitable by, for example, reducing credits for those who are on €100,000 or more.
We need a wider conversation on tax in this country. It is a conversation that the Tánaiste, of course has decided he wants to close down. As he does not like the answer the Commission on Taxation and Welfare gave him, he has gone and taken his ball home. Not only has he taking his ball home with him but he has burst it as well. Budget 2023 has left the Government little space to fund new measures across health, education and areas requiring additional State investment. Close to half of the €6.7 billion available is to meet stand-still demands. In reality, as prices rise, spending that has been earmarked for public services will deliver less and less regardless of spin that will be put out by the Government today. What we will see next year because of a conservative framework adopted by this Government is in reality a diminution of already stretched public services. This is why we have argued that almost €3 billion could be raised from additional taxes on non-productive assets and wealth, just like the direction of travel in the Commission on Taxation and Welfare's analysis and recommendations, which were so petulantly trashed by the leader of Fine Gael and his backbenchers as soon as the report was printed.
The Labour Party wants to see an Ireland that works for all. We are honest enough to know that all the things we want and our country needs, such as affordable childcare, a transformation to a carbon-free economy and a health service we all can be proud of, need to be paid for. The same honesty should be demanded of the Government, as well as of Sinn Féin, which has yet to respond to the Commission on Taxation and Welfare's report for fear that it might discommode somebody.
The Tánaiste's denunciation of the Commission of Taxation and Welfare reminds me of Mr. Michael Gove MP and his swipe that "we have had enough of experts", when he did not like the warnings that he heard from the self same experts about the impact of Brexit. This is very dangerous territory. The Tánaiste has at least done us a favour. Any pretence that he is some kind of social democrat in centre-right clothing is gone. We now know, without any doubt, whose side he is on. The mask really has slipped.
Climate is our existential crisis, but this budget is weak on measures that grasp the urgency of the moment. Where are the radical measures to reduce our growing emissions? We are one of the worst performers in Europe. One would not think so by reading this budget. It is jaw-dropping how little it does in terms of promoting a drop in emissions. We have called for a €9 a month climate ticket, massive increases in retrofitting and huge additional investment in solar power to add more generating capacity and reduce bills.
The day-to-day crisis that is crippling families is housing. There is chronic under-investment in social and affordable housing. The Minister had very little to say today on additional capital to provide for the needs that we have. We need a winter ban on evictions to stop the flows of people into emergency accommodation. We need to freeze rents. The former Minister, Deputy Kelly, did it before, yet the Minister claims he cannot do it. That is nonsense. The target for new social builds next year is 9,100, and we know that this year's targets will not be met. Yet, Members of the Government will all stand up here today with straight faces and defend Housing for All, a policy that has been so fatally undermined that the Government should go back to the drawing board. The reality is that tax relief for landlords and tax credits for tenants is an admission of failure on the part of the Government. It is a solid admission that Housing for All is simply not working. Without an increase in the existing capital budget, housing completion targets next year will also not be met. We know that construction inflation is running at 14% or more. That means that without more resources, the State will build fewer homes if it continues to rely on the same quantum of money.
The budget is not climate-proofed, poverty-proofed or housing-proofed. It is only politically-proofed. It is designed to get this Government to the other side of the game of musical chairs in Government buildings that will come to a conclusion in the middle of December. It manifestly fails to address the crises our country faces. By committing over €1 billion in tax cuts instead of building more homes, reducing emissions and eliminating poverty, we know what the Government's priorities are. I say to people not to get too distracted or caught up by the once-off spending frenzy, because the clear message is this: once we get to the new year, it is back to business as usual. The Government is intent on having an Ireland that works for the few. That is what the budget confirms today. When the dust settles, that will be clear to everyone. In contrast, Labour wants an Ireland that works for all.
At 1 p.m. today, just as the Minister for Finance rose to begin the delivery of his budget speech, an email was sent by a head manager in the Mediahuis group to all staff indicating that the Fingal Independentwould cease trading from the end of October, which is a devastating blow for local media in north County Dublin. Unfortunately, the 0% VAT rate for newspapers announced in the budget has come too late for this particular publication. It made me think of the other eye-catching, well-intentioned and costed proposals in this budget that will also come too little and too late for those who need them.
Considering what we have all been through over the last number of years and the crises we have all faced in health, the permanent cost-of-living crisis and the never-ending housing emergency, people are in desperate need of some hope. Yet, the overwhelming feeling that I and my colleagues in the Labour Party get is one of helplessness and despondency. There is a feeling that while some measures announced in the budget may help people tread water for a very short period of time, ultimately, not one single or combined measure announced today is going to change the system or make a fundamental change in people's lives so that they can live more secure, safer and better lives. No measure is going to get a grip on the spiralling cost-of-living crisis, or prevent people from being evicted from their homes. That is where the hardest edge of this housing crisis is right now. None of the housing measures announced today actually spoke to that. They spoke to where the hardest edge of the crisis was perhaps a year or two ago. It is another example of how this Government is out of touch with where the real crises of this country are and what is needed to solve them.
We will be back at square one come late winter or early spring. Politics is always about choices. This budget is like a game of chess: every single move matters. It seems that this Government, with its eye-catching measures, has pushed all of its pawns to the centre of the board, hoping to dazzle people into thinking it is a powerful force that is going to resolve all their crises. However, the Government has not moved the more important pieces, which means that it is not going to win the game. It is not going to create the change that is needed. Ultimately, it is going to cheat the Irish public out of the solutions that are required to solve the many crises they are facing. By trying to please everybody today, the Government will actually please nobody. This cynical attempt to buy more time in office, by taking people's money and giving it back to them, will ultimately end in tears.
Right now, Ireland is simply just not working. For far too many people this budget will not change that fact. On the face of it there seems to be something for everybody in the audience, similar to the Fianna Fáil budgets of the Celtic tiger era. However, if we drill down to the detail, there is little systemic change, again like the Fianna Fáil budgets of the Celtic tiger era. People are being bought with their own money, with tokenistic tax cuts, and we will be paying an unexpected bill when it arrives or when families need additional childcare and when the knock-on from massive interest rate hikes is felt. It is a case of in one hand and straight out the other.
On transport, the extension of the 20% reduction in transport costs and the expansion of the short-hop zone into commuter counties outside Dublin is a good thing, but in the round, these measures seem largely piecemeal. If we want to be serious about getting people out of cars and using sustainable, affordable forms of transport, we need more radical action.
It should also be considered that transport costs are essentially costs that have been reintroduced for the majority of public transport users. During the pandemic, those who were working remotely would have in fact saved on transport costs. Now, because we do not have a real right to flexible work in this country, people are having an additional cost foisted on them at a time where costs are rising across the board. We, in the Labour Party, called for a €9 climate ticket to be made available nationwide on a trial basis in an effort to encourage people onto public transport and to reduce our emissions. The trial of such a scheme was very successful in Germany and saw a massive uptake. It was ambitious, made public transport a more viable option for people and saw significant positives in reducing carbon emissions. For people like those I represent in north County Dublin, it would make a massive difference.
Of course, beyond encouraging people to use public transport we also need significantly more investment in modes of active travel. Working parents should not have to rely on cars to get their kids to school. It is senseless that the Government has not introduced an expansion of the cycle to work scheme to allow parents to purchase a bike for their children under such a scheme. The recent school transport scheme fiasco and the Government’s handling of it only drives this point home further. We also need to get innovative in our approach to transport in Ireland. France plans to introduce a car scrappage scheme that will provide grants for trading in an old car in exchange for an e-bike or a cargo bike. What is stopping this Government from introducing a similar scheme here? Again, it is a simple measure that has been introduced elsewhere that will encourage people to get out of their cars, reduce their costs and give us a better chance of meeting our climate targets. We should also be looking to improve our existing cycling infrastructure. There are many towns across the country with ghost cycle lanes that simply are not being used because they are not connected to transport nodes. Why is this Government not developing the city bike scheme and piloting town bike schemes across the country? It is another scheme that has stalled. I welcome that there have been commitments made in respect of projects such as MetroLink and BusConnects, but again, these are copy-and-paste commitments that have appeared in previous budget statements. We must show that there is real commitment to delivering these big projects and that they are linked with substantial active travel projects, including cycle paths and better pathways for pedestrians. We need to join up the dots on the future-proofing of our public infrastructure. That is how the conversation should proceed. MetroLink, for example, does not exist in isolation from improved cycling infrastructure and other such measures such as BusConnects.
We are told that the Government will reduce childcare costs by 25% or €1,200 a year.
Tell that to a family in Dublin where the monthly bill is over €1,000 for one child. The changes in this budget in reality mean a fall of only 10%.
Last weekend, budget kites were being flown with reports that the Minister for Health will announce the extensions of free GP care to 400,000 children but nobody believed it. It builds on five years of broken promises from Fine Gael on this matter. Any extension of the GP care scheme has been stalled. We are now hearing that GPs have not been included in the conversation based on last year's announcement. There is no faith that there will be any real extension in the free GP scheme for children. Parents of six- and seven-year-olds want to know what happened to the Government announcement last year. Those children, who are now seven, eight or nine years old, have aged out of last year's broken promise from the Government.
The Minister for Health, in his press release on the budget of 14 October 2021, stated:
Funding of €45m is provided in 2022 for a range of measures to advance this objective [Sláintecare] and specifically to ensure that care is accessible and affordable for the most vulnerable in our society. These measures include expanding access to free GP care to children aged 6 and 7.
That simply has not happened. In January 2020, the then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, announced he had received Government approval to extend free GP care to all children under 13. That still has not happened. The only party to have delivered free GP care in any way has been the Labour Party. This scheme has not been extended and improved for far too long.
Primary care is about much more than GPs, and primary care centres should provide the full suite of community-centred healthcare. We need investment in community diagnostics and assessment hubs and to work towards treating more chronic diseases in the community. Resourcing supports for those with dementia, diabetes, asthma and a range of other conditions will reduce pressure on acute hospitals. I note that €443 million has been allocated to tackle waiting lists, which is an increase of €225 million on last year's allocation. Is this costed and planned against the delivery of the staff required to tackle waiting lists? Throwing around money and lines in budget speeches will not solve the waiting list crisis. We know there is no workforce planning. We know there is no plan to deliver more nurses, healthcare assistants, physiotherapists and other healthcare professionals who are going to be able to tackle and beat our waiting list crisis.
The Department of Health still has not paid the pandemic recognition payment to a single section 39 worker, contract cleaner, caterer, member of security staff, worker in private nursing homes or even public health workers not employed by the HSE, such as Dublin Fire Brigade paramedics. Bluntly, it is beyond insulting at this stage.
The HSE has made it clear to unions from day one that the circular that gives effect to the decision to pay non-HSE staff lies squarely with the Department of Health and the Minister. In essence, that power lies squarely with the Government and it is not delivering this payment, a bonus payment of recognition that has now become a much-needed cost-of-living payment for those workers. The longer the Government shirks its responsibilities, the longer these workers will be left high and dry during the worst cost-of-living crisis of our time.
In our alternative budget, the Labour Party has again focused on meeting the massive unmet demand for disability services which the disability capacity review found required an all-in investment of €350 million in 2022 and for this year would again commit €270 million in funding. These are vital commitments to vital services in residential care, day services, personal assistant hours and respite care. We acknowledge that some effort has been made in this budget in that regard but we need to see the detail of how it will be delivered. We have no faith that there is a plan in place to staff the positions that are needed to deliver in this regard.
Life and work in Ireland are becoming increasingly difficult for too many. I have seen in my clinics over the past three years a big increase in the number of people in my community reaching out and asking for help. It is all too frequently someone who has been served an eviction notice by their landlord or someone who is unable to afford basic bills and household expenses. I have heard from many young people whose options are narrowing towards emigration. The Government today announced €215 million for homeless services, which is an increase of €21 million. It was announced as if that is an achievement. It makes a lie of any claim that Housing for All has been a success.
When the year-on-year provision for homeless services is increased, the Government is in essence acknowledging the emergency and disaster of its own policies. We need to ensure this country is a great place to grow up, get qualifications and join the workforce. We do not want people to be forever broke, straight into debt and without the hope of owning their own homes or securing a long-term, stable and affordable rental home. What really matters for people is securing such homes, investing in quality public healthcare and taking real measures to tackle the cost of living. We have lived through a summer of discontent. The reality is that hard-working people are facing into a cruel winter with rising childcare and high costs for food and energy. The cost-of-living crisis is not a joke or a game for people. It is their lives, and they have been living with the crisis for well over a year. This is not the first cost-of-living budget that has been required.
It is time for the Government to get serious about climate action, as my colleague, Deputy Nash, has said. It is, along with housing, the biggest failure of this Government. The Government is now closer to the next general election than the last. We need to see delivery and results. In our budget, the Labour Party called for climate action to be one of the issues that informs all other policies. We recognise that radical action is needed to address the issue. We are committed to addressing all the threats involved. Politics is about choices and it is clear that the Government has made its choices. The giddiness about the budget that I have seen in the corridors outside this Chamber is not reflected in the households and businesses up and down the country.
There have been many claims about whether Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil owns this budget. I am seeing a lot of Fianna Fáil in the budget. I recognise the return of the plaster politics of Fianna Fáil. While Fianna Fáil argues internally over whether to allow Bertie Ahern back to join its ranks, it is clear that Bertie economics are not only back, they are at the front and centre of this Government's budgetary policy.
The Government is throwing money at the problem in the hope that it goes away but it will not, as we have learned from the past. The problems we have in this country are systemic and this budget lacks the ambition to drive real and meaningful change. Most of the measures are reheated, half-baked or will simply not be enough to help people. The wealth divide in this country is growing. We have a multi-track economy and it is breaking up the social contract. That is why so many people are angry and despondent. Parents are afraid of losing their children to emigration or if their children stay here, they are afraid they will become a part of a lost generation of people who are unable to fulfil their potential, to live their lives in security or to achieve what they deserve to achieve. People see reports about Ireland's booming economy and bulging surpluses but feel completely disconnected from them. They feel left behind, disenfranchised and marginalised. That is my experience. It is what I and my Labour Party colleagues are seeing in our constituencies. The gap between the have-lots, the have-somes and have-nots is copper-fastened by this budget. We need to close the gap. The reality is that those on the side of the better-off got more than they expected from this budget and those of us on the side of the many got less than we need to survive and thrive. They have been left behind.
Today’s budget has been billed as a giveaway budget. At nearly €11 billion, it is the largest for years. Who will benefit the most from what has been announced today? If we look behind the figures, that becomes clear. It is those on high incomes who will be most rewarded by the Government with tax cuts and an array of universal lump sum payments that disproportionately benefit the better-off. The Government is using a three-card trick to try to disguise the iniquity of its budgetary measures. The trick goes something like this: dismally fail to adequately increase core payments and supports to those most in need while pointing at temporary one-off measures as evidence that the interests of the most vulnerable have been protected. Nobody should be fooled by this approach. Temporary supports will not help people in the medium to long term. They will not provide sustainable relief to those who can no longer afford the soaring prices for necessities such as food, fuel, energy and rent. The tragedy is that this was a budget that could have made a real difference to people’s lives, our country, society and economy. Never before has a Government had so much money to invest in lifting people out of poverty and improving our public services. This is a budget that could have finally begun to address the chronic underinvestment in our public services, which have crumbled over many decades of mismanagement by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments.
It could have tackled the scourge of low pay by increasing the minimum wage to €12 and outlining a clear pathway to a living wage. It could have prioritised the elimination of child poverty, for example, by making primary and secondary education genuinely free while extending free school meals to all DEIS schools. It could have ensured that children with additional needs had both the therapeutic and educational supports they so desperately need. It could have introduced measures that signalled the Government was prepared to change its failed housing strategy and ensure the interests of renters and first-time buyers were, for the first time, prioritised over those of developers and vulture funds. It could have adopted an ambitious and credible approach to the energy and climate crisis by announcing a plan to dramatically increase investment in solar energy and install solar panels in approximately 100,000 homes. The Government had the power to do so much to permanently improve the lives of so many people, but what was announced in the Chamber this afternoon is an indictment of this Government's lack of vision and ambition.
Ultimately, this budget has three main features. It can be characterised by short-term thinking, not long-term reform. It will erode the tax base and starve our already threadbare public services of funding. Fundamentally, it is characterised by a lack of targeting with universal supports favoured over the targeting of resources to those most in need. This failure to target can perhaps be seen most acutely in the Governments tax cuts. These go far beyond what had been flagged as recently as last week. The increase in the standard rate cut-off point will benefit the highest income earners by €640 but is of no benefit to anyone earning less than €37,000 per year. Does the Minister know that this change will only benefit approximately 23% of workers, meaning almost 80% will receive nothing at all from this change? No effort has been made to claw back any of that gain from those at the very top. The Social Democrats have proposed a third rate of tax at 43% on incomes above €100,000 per person. Meanwhile, the Government is content for higher income earners to disproportionately benefit from the tax changes.
While some indexation of tax bands is warranted to keep the portion of income taxed at the higher rate roughly consistent, there is little justification for the kinds of indexation we have seen in the last two budgets. Earlier, I heard the Minister for Finance again pushing the misleading idea that inflation leads to people paying more income tax; it does no such thing. People pay additional tax when they get a salary increase, and wage growth has been far lower than general inflation. How does the Minister justify indexation of nearly 9% this year and of more than 13% over the last two budgets, when the latest available numbers from the Central Statistics Office suggest average weekly wages are only increasing at less than 2.5% per year? This is set to cost more than €800 million in 2023 and €1 billion in a full year. This money could have been far better targeted at low and middle-income workers and invested in strengthening public services, especially when no one earning less than €37,000 received any benefit from this indexation. The only benefit for these workers from the Government's tax plan is a mere €150 per annum through the expansion of tax credits, although this benefit will, of course, also go to higher earners. In total, higher income earners will benefit to the tune of nearly €800 while those on the lowest incomes will get €150 from this package.
A failure to target supports is a recurring theme with this Government. Its energy supports for households are a further example of this. A succession of Ministers have claimed that it is far too complicated and cumbersome to target these payments, which amount to more than €1 billion, at low and middle-income earners. The consistent mantra from the Government is, "It would take too much effort and too much time." These jaded excuses for a failure to target resources, nearly a year into this crisis, are beneath contempt. Today, it is confirmed that this universal approach is not just being repeated, but it is being ramped up and tripled with every household getting €600 off their bills. There has been no targeting whatsoever. What has the Government been doing for the past ten or 11 months? Did nobody even attempt to figure out a way to target these payments at low and middle-income earners, or did the Government feel it was not worth its time or effort because it was happy for high earners, such as the Deputies in this Chamber who earn more than €100,000 per year and Ministers who earn in excess of €180,000, to receive the same energy credit as those on the minimum wage? Added to this is the fact that Deputies and Ministers will have their tax cut by €800 in this budget. High-income earners will benefit to the tune of €1,400 from these two measures alone. It is shocking that under this Government's plan, the super wealthy will get a bigger benefit than low-income earners, who must make a daily choice between feeding their families and heating their homes.
The Government's poverty of ambition is not only evident in its short-term solutions, but it also extends to its medium and long-term plans to tackle the energy crisis. The way to make the biggest dent in people's energy bills, in the quickest time, is with a huge investment in solar energy. Solar panels can reduce energy costs in a home by up to 40%. They can dramatically reduce emissions and remove pressure from our antiquated and overburdened grid. Ramping up investment in solar is a no-brainer. The Social Democrats recognised this in our plan to install solar panels on the homes of 100,000 low-income families. Our targeting of supports did not stop there. We would also have increased the grant for solar energy from just €2,400 to €4,800, which would ensure that the cost would no longer be a barrier to middle-income families who want to future-proof their homes and avail of clean and green energy solutions. This is a sustainable approach that attempts to help families not just in the short term but long into the future.
While the Government seems incapable of targeting supports at households, it has figured out a way to target resources at small and medium companies that need support to pay their energy bills. The Government's welcome announcement for businesses mirrors proposals that were contained in the Social Democrats' alternative budget, which provided for €1 billion for an energy-crisis support scheme for businesses. Unlike the Covid crisis, when wages needed to be supported, the current crisis necessitates the support of viable but vulnerable businesses in paying their energy bills. However, the Government must learn the lessons of the mistakes it made in its Covid response for businesses. It must ensure companies that avail of this support do not pay dividends to shareholders or make staff redundant and, if it transpires that they did not need state support in order to remain profitable, there should be a claw-back option. We want to ensure business remain viable and trading. We do not want to engorge their profit margins.
One of the biggest disappointments of this budget is the failure to adequately increase core social welfare rates or indicate they will be benchmarked against, for example, average wages or the minimum essential standard of living, MESL. Perhaps this should not come as too much of a surprise given what happened last year when the Government could only find it within itself to increase core social welfare rates by €5 per week. That €5 represented the first increase in rates for three years. Now, in the midst of the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation, the Government has increased those rates by only €12.
This is not enough to insulate the most vulnerable from unprecedented inflationary price shocks. In our alternative budget, the Social Democrats proposed an increase of €15 per week to core rates which would begin to be paid immediately from next week. We would also have directed significant additional resources at the fuel allowance payment to provide relief to the most vulnerable in our society. Under our plan, the fuel allowance would have gone up by €15 and totalled €48 per week. The fuel allowance should also be expanded to those in low-income employment who are in receipt of the working family payment. Doing this under our plan would provide low-income families with an additional €1,344 per year. This would be far more beneficial to low-income families than the Government's proposal for a one-off payment of €500.
Lone parents and their children and working-age adults with disabilities and their children experience distinctively high rates of income poverty, deprivation and consistent poverty. In 2019, these two groups accounted for just over half of those in consistent poverty. I should not need to tell the Minister that. That information is contained in an Economic and Social Research Institute report commissioned by the Department of Social Protection and published at the start of the summer. What has the Government done to lift lone parents and those with disabilities out of poverty? I will tell the Minister what it has done, which is shameful. It has raised the qualified child increase by a derisory €2 a week, an increase so miserly in the context of this €11 billion budget that it borders on insulting.
When it comes to disability, there have been calls for a cost-of-disability payment for years. This payment is a way for the State to acknowledge the significant additional costs of having a disability, which the Government's own report on the cost of disability indicated amount to between €9,000 and €13,000 a year. The Government has announced a one-off cost-of-disability payment of €500. Does it think that disability is one-off or temporary or that supports for disability can be dealt with by way of one-off measures? To speak frankly, the one-off nature of this payment is completely misjudged and insulting. A €20 weekly cost-of-disability payment, something the Social Democrats have advocated for, would amount to €1,040 over the course of a year, which is more than double the Government's one-off payment. It would also send an important message, which is that the costs associated with disability are recurring, unavoidable and very expensive. A weekly €20 cost-of-disability payment would not be a panacea by any means. It would be just a first step towards the State finally acknowledging that having a disability comes with increased costs not borne by others in society. This payment, once introduced, should be increased every year to reflect the true costs associated with disability. Including this as a one-off measure gives the erroneous impression that the costs of disability are fleeting and that extra financial supports could vanish at a moment's notice.
Education is the single greatest driver of opportunity, quality of life, social equality and economic growth. Ireland should be a republic in which every child has the opportunity to achieve his or her potential. One of the best ways to ensure this is through a well-funded and modern education system. One of the most radical reforms to our education system would be to genuinely make it what it claims to be, that is, free. Primary and secondary education in this country is supposed to be free but we all know that is a myth. Parents face very significant additional back-to-school costs every year. So-called voluntary contributions are another unwelcome financial burden. Making education genuinely free would mean fully funding schoolbooks and other classroom resources, increasing the capitation rate to eliminate the need for so-called voluntary contributions and permanently eliminating school transport scheme fees. Doing this for both primary and secondary schools would cost €253 million, which represents just 2% of the overall budget. There are few policy measures that would have as transformative an effect on the lives of families with children who live on the margins that can be attained for such a small investment. Instead, the Government has proposed making schoolbooks in primary schools free. Why is the Minister stopping there?
I am pleased to see that the Government has moved to reduce the extortionate cost of childcare, something the Social Democrats have been calling for since our inception. The Government says it will reduce costs by 25% next year and 25% the year after. We believe it could move further and faster and provide a 30% cut in 2023, which would undoubtedly be welcomed by parents. I also implore the Government to live up to the commitment in its programme for Government and ensure that parents have 12 months of paid parental leave in order that they can stay home for the important first year of a child’s life. Furthermore, the more accessible childcare system that is being rolled out should be implemented as a publicly funded and controlled system. The Social Democrats proposed an allocation of €20 million to start such a change.
My colleague, Deputy Cian O’Callaghan, is going to address the housing aspects of this budget, but I will just say that I am deeply concerned about what I have heard to date. The vacant homes tax proposed by the Government is pathetically low. It will not act as an incentive for the owners of vacant homes to bring them back into use. The €500 tax credit for renters goes nowhere near reflecting the current sky-high cost of renting. In the absence of a ban on rent increases, it will further inflate rents. Most disappointingly, this budget makes clear that the Government is wedded to its failed Housing For All plan, which is failing dismally to meet even its own anaemic targets.
The Social Democrats have repeatedly called 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 already 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. Notwithstanding the need for follow-through on Sláintecare reforms, the biggest challenge facing our health and social care services is the recruitment and retention of staff across all disciplines. Not only does this staffing crisis threaten patient care, it is also leading to the creeping privatisation of our health and social services. Workforce planning has been piecemeal at best, the number of training places has been drastically reduced and our highly-trained healthcare workers are leaving our shores in their droves. The Social Democrats would have prioritised the creation of additional supervised placements and established a national workforce task force to address both the short-term and medium-term needs of the sector.
These staffing challenges can also be found in community and voluntary organisations. Service delivery is being jeopardised by a recruitment and retention problem in such organisations as well. This escalating crisis is fuelled by the disparity in pay and conditions between State agency staff and staff in section 39, section 56 and section 10 agencies, along with certain other community organisations. The Social Democrats called for the allocation of €80 million to address pay and conditions as pay disparity threatens the long-term viability of these essential services.
The other big issue is the cost for patients of accessing healthcare. We have a long way to go to meet the principle underlying Sláintecare, namely, that of access to universal health and social care based on health need and not ability to pay. The extension of GP visit cards and the removal of inpatient charges is a welcome move on the part of the Government.
I recognise that. However, it falls very far short of where we should be with the implementation of Sláintecare. The most basic access required is to primary care, yet little progress has been made in improving access to services in the community. A series of interventions is needed in social care to address progressively privatised services. Employees within the sector deal with precarious working terms and, occasionally, other forms of exploitation. This is particularly problematic in the home care sector, which is largely unregulated. Investment in universal social care services is vital to ensure that older people and people with disabilities have the necessary supports to reduce dependence on family and friends and to maintain a private life with dignity and independence.
The European Commission has noted Ireland’s over-reliance on institutional care, while home care, which is a key part of long-term care services in many other EU member states, has been historically under-provided here in Ireland. Although funding has improved in recent years, outstanding issues in home care, such as employment barriers, a statutory right and tender arrangements, require urgent attention.
In the context of mental health services, an additional €100 million was needed in this budget. That was made very clear by Mental Health Reform and many other advocacy groups working in this area. The €58 million announced today falls far short of what is required to support new services and address the historic shortfall. This is especially the case given that mental health service provision has often been described as the Cinderella of health services and, regrettably, remains so following today’s budget. This is in spite of the explosion in the demand for mental health services among young and older people right across the board, particularly in light of the major anxieties, pressures and bereavements caused by Covid over the past two and a half years.
Lifting people out of poverty and insecurity could be done with a sizeable increase in the minimum wage. Instead, the Government is going to increase it by a mere 80 cent. I should not need to remind the Minister that this is a Government that has promised to implement a living wage. Let us leave aside for now the fact that the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment is trying to redefine the living wage as something that has nothing to do with what it actually costs to achieve a decent standard of living. It is clear that this Government is more interested in rhetoric around a living wage than actually implementing one. The Social Democrats called for an increase of at least €1.50 in the minimum wage, which would have brought it to €12 per hour. Instead, the Government has proposed barely more than 50% of this amount. No real progress has been made here. Low-income workers will suffer as prices continue to spiral. We need a pathway to a living wage to be outlined, something that will bring us to our goal in the next three years. The Government’s empty rhetoric will not pay the bills of low-income earners.
If the Government really wants to reduce the cost of living and give working people and families a break, it makes more sense to use the majority of available resources to invest in better-quality public services and social infrastructure. The Parliamentary Budget Office and the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council have calculated that an additional €7 billion per year is needed to meet inflationary costs and allow public services just to stand still. This budget, as far as I can see, allocates less than half that amount - just €2.2 billion. This will have major implications for public services in 2023 and beyond. The impact will be felt in a further erosion in the availability of vital supports.
I wish to comment on the erosion in the tax base and the question of fiscal credibility. It seems that the overall theme of this budget is the erosion of the tax base, with a consequent reduction in the money available for public services over the long term. This cannot continue. The Government must chart a course for sustainable funding of our public services. Last week we learned that neither of the two main governing parties deigned to make a submission to the Commission on Taxation and Welfare. We know this country needs more revenue to improve service delivery, look after an ageing population and meet our environmental targets. Yet these parties, seemingly with no ideas of their own to share with the commission, were quick to dismiss the content of the commission’s report. The reason the commission was necessary in the first place is because Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in government have for so long refused to accept the need for revenue to increase as a proportion of national income. Having outsourced this job to an independent commission made up of experts from all fields of Irish society, their immediate response to findings that do not fit their ideology has been to politicise and dismiss this work before giving it any kind of proper consideration.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael like to poke fun at the supposedly unsound economic policies of the left, but independent expert groups, from the Commission on Taxation and Welfare to the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, have consistently pointed out how these parties, namely, those that have been in government for many years and decades - are asleep at the wheel when it comes to accepting fiscal realities and future-proofing our finances. There are a number of points to support this. There is the continued and increasing over-reliance on corporation tax receipts, the use of windfalls to fund current spending and the lack of proper costings of both Sláintecare and planned climate measures.
This Government clearly has no overall financial plan. Increasingly, it has no credibility whatsoever when it comes to making this a more vibrant, fairer and more equal society. This is a disappointing day. The Government had the opportunity to do great things with the resources that are available and it fell very short of what people were hoping for.
I will address the housing aspects of this budget. It is very disappointing that both senior Ministers, when talking about the housing measures contained in the budget, said that they feel the Government's housing plan is working. This shows that they are massively out of touch with the reality of people's lives when it comes to housing. They seem to be oblivious to the huge pain there is in this country due to the inadequacy of access to housing. This budget fails to tackle rents and the scourge of vacancy across the country. It also fails to tackle the damage investment funds are doing to housing in Ireland, charging unaffordable rents and driving down home ownership at the same time. The tax credit for renters, without properly enforced rent control and a rent freeze, will simply be gobbled up by landlords through rent increases. The tax on vacant homes is low and ineffective, at just 0.3%. It does not come anywhere near property price inflation, which is running at 8%. It is not remotely close to it and, unfortunately, it will be very ineffective. This budget fails to do anything about investment funds paying virtually no tax at all.
You might think the tax credit would go some way towards addressing the huge increase in rents in the past decade - they have almost doubled - but it will only make the smallest of dents in the very high rents tenants are paying. The failure to extend rent pressure zones nationwide, the failure to enforce them and the failure to introduce a freeze on rent increases means this credit will further fuel rental inflation. This is a subvention to landlords through the back door and will help fuel further rent increases. In the past year, new rents have increased by 9%, which is way above the cap allowed for under the rent pressure zone legislation. Those new rental prices refer mainly to existing rental stock where there are newly registered tenancies.
The rent pressure zone legislation simply is not working. It is not being enforced properly. The vast majority of investigations carried out by the sanctions and investigations unit of the Residential Tenancies Board relate to breaches of rent pressure zone legislation. Out of 38 sanctions issued in the 12-month period, through court orders, following work by the RTB investigations and sanctions unit, 35 sanctions were about failure to comply with rent pressure zone requirements. Significant parts of the country are simply not covered by the rent pressure zone legislation, including in the Minister's constituency. This is not because rents are not increasing to completely unaffordable levels in these parts of the country but because the rules are written in such a way that no matter what happens to rents in these areas, they will never qualify for any protection under the rent pressure zone legislation.
Some 62 out of 77 local authority areas do not qualify as rent pressure zones because insufficient data has been collected. There will probably never be sufficient data collected in these areas to allow them to qualify for that minimal level of protection. Renters in these areas have faced rent increases of as much as 60%. This tax credit, while they have no protection at all, will simply fuel further rent increases. In areas where we have rent pressure zones and they are breached left, right and centre, the credit will also fuel rental inflation. A rent freeze was absolutely necessary to go hand-in-hand with any tax credits for renters. That is exactly what we said in our alternative budget. It beggars belief that the Government does not understand this or that a tax credit without a rent freeze and without proper enforcement of rent regulations will simply be gobbled up by landlords through rent increases.
I could not believe that the Government is setting the tax on vacant homes at 0.3%. Does the Government not know that we have a housing disaster in this country? Does it not know that we have at least 90,000 vacant homes that we need to bring back into use? Is it indifferent to this? This is a statement of astounding indifference. House price inflation in the last year was 8%. A speculator sitting on a vacant home will have no incentive to do anything about that. Property prices have increased by 8% while speculators sit on them and the Government says they have to pay a 0.3% tax on that. It is pathetic to the highest degree. It does not recognise the issue that we have with vacancies. This Government and the previous Government have been talking about bringing in a tax on vacant homes since 2017. It displays a completely cavalier attitude to the housing disaster and its devastating impact on people. In our fully-costed alternative budget proposals, we put forward a punitive 10% tax on vacancy because we want to see every vacant home that is not in use brought back into use quickly.
It is unbelievable that the Government is exempting derelict homes from this tax on vacant homes. Why on Earth would the Government do that? It creates a perverse incentive for any owner of a vacant home sitting on it for speculative reasons to let the home go derelict so that it escapes this meagre 0.3% tax. There is a derelict sites levy, but we all know that the local authorities have been completely ineffective at collecting the derelict sites levy every year. Many local authorities do not collect any derelict sites levy from year to year.
Does the Government simply not understand what is happening with our housing disaster? Does it not see that students are commuting across the country to attend college because they cannot get affordable accommodation? Is it unaware that students are dropping out of college places because they cannot get affordable accommodation? Students are sleeping in tents and young people are living at home into their late 20s and early 30s. They cannot move out, move on with their lives and become independent because of our housing disaster. Some young people feel their only option is to emigrate. We are losing people with skills that we need in education, healthcare and disability services because of our housing crisis.
Does the Government not see the women and children fleeing domestic violence who have been returning to abusive partners since they cannot find anywhere to live? Does it not see the 74% of people fleeing domestic violence who have been refused places by refuges such as Saoirse Domestic Violence Services because they cannot provide people with somewhere to live? Does the Government not see the 290,000 hidden homeless people, as estimated by the Simon Communities of Ireland? They are not in emergency accommodation but they are staying with friends or family in overcrowded accommodation. They are sleeping on floors or couches because of our housing crisis. Does the Government not see the people who are working or studying who would never have been at risk of homelessness in the past but have become homeless? Does the Government not see that the majority of local authorities report that emergency accommodation is either full or close to capacity and that they will be turning people away from emergency accommodation? Does it not see the families sleeping in tents? Does it not see the heavily pregnant women who have slept on our streets, having been unable to get into emergency accommodation? A 0.3% tax on vacancy is a disgrace. It is utterly ineffective. To take this long to come up with such a pathetic proposal on vacancy does the entire country a disservice with regard to the housing disaster.
The Government has failed to put an effective tax on investment funds. An analysis by Killian Woods in the Business Postshowed that speculators and investors spent almost €1 billion in the last year buying second-hand homes in Ireland. Institutional investors and real estate firms bought one in ten second-hand homes, or 4,500 homes altogether. That is driving up the cost of housing for everyone else. According to The Ditch, a single fund bought more than 850 second-hand homes in the last three years and has become one of the biggest landlords in the country. Despite this, the tax paid by investment funds is in free-fall. Following a change to clamp down on aggressive tax avoidance, an effective tax rate of 17.9% was paid by Irish real estate funds. However, last year, this collapsed to just 5.9%. It is gravely disappointing that no measures have been announced in the budget to tackle this and instead the Minister simply said that he intends to carry out a review. The Social Democrats proposed an effective tax rate of 25% on investment funds through a levy on their profits. That could and should have been done by the Government today.
The Government is failing to act and to deliver on the promises that it makes about housing delivery on budget day every year. Every year, promises are made and then broken and targets are missed. In his speech for budget 2021, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage promised that 9,500 new build social homes would be delivered. Instead, a little over half of those were actually delivered in 2021. We were promised a paltry 350 cost-rental homes last year. Only 65 were delivered to tenants. Out of 10,000 affordable homes that we were promised each year by Deputy Darragh O’Brien during the general election, zero affordable purchase homes were delivered last year. We only have partial figures on housing delivery so far in 2022. Unfortunately, the news is not much better. In last year's budget, more than 4,000 affordable purchase and cost-rental homes were promised. So far, just 300 cost-rental homes and 325 affordable purchase homes have been delivered. This is far short of the Government's targets and the promises made in the budget last year. It is far short of the many thousands of affordable and cost-rental homes that we desperately need in this country. That renders the promises made about housing delivery by the Government on budget day meaningless.
The announcements about construction defects today are particularly disappointing. It is not clear if there will be any immediate measures to assist apartment owners who are grappling with the costs of fire safety and other defects. People with fire safety defects in apartments are being charged sums of money they simply cannot afford to pay for defective work that they are in no way responsible for. The failure to introduce some sort of retrospective tax credits for owner occupiers could lead to fire safety work being stalled or deferred. It is deeply unfair that landlords can avail of tax relief in that regard when owner occupiers cannot.
Long-term leasing is a gift to developers and investment funds where their full financing costs or their mortgages are paid off by the State, typically over a period of 25 years, and where the developer or investor keeps full ownership of the home at the end of the lease. The announcement today on continuing long-term leasing by the Government is very disappointing. It is an abuse of the English language for anyone to come in here and say they are winding down long-term leasing when in fact they are ramping it up. It is an abuse of the language. The people are not stupid and they can see this for what it is. The Government is, in fact, ramping up long-term leasing by committing to another 2,530 new long-term leases in addition to what they have already committed to next year.
There are solutions to the housing crisis. Instead of giving money to developers and funds, we could instead use this money to build additional affordable housing. We need more supply but it is critical that we get more supply of homes that are affordable for people to buy and rent. An excellent model is being provided by Ó Cualann in building affordable homes in Dublin, Cork and Waterford. The Ó Cualann projects have shown how they can deliver affordable homes, which are three bedroom, well designed, energy-efficient homes that can be sold for between €230,000 and €260,000. This model needs to be urgently scaled up and rolled out nationwide.
The Social Democrats fully costed budget proposals show how we could build 10,000 social homes and 10,000 affordable homes, including 5,000 cost-rental homes and 5,000 affordable purchase homes next year. We proposed: to end the multi-million euro subsidies to developers; to introduce a new effective tax rate on investment funds; and to introduce a punitive tax of 10% on vacant and derelict homes to bring those homes, which we desperately need, back into use quickly.
New rents have increased by 9% in the last year. House prices have increased by 8%. Homelessness increased by 30%. Child homelessness increased by 47%. The profits of the largest developer in Ireland increased by 84% in the first six months of this year. Never in the history of Ireland have rents been so high, have house prices been so high, has homelessness been so high, and never in the history of the State have the profits of our largest house builder been so high.
There have been many promises made on housing by this Government over the past years, many of which are simply not being delivered. The Government’s plan is not working. Housing is key to human dignity. Bundleacht maidir le dínit an duine is í an tithíocht. The Government must move out of its denial on housing and it must take effective action to deal with our crisis.
Long-term leasing is a gift to developers and investment funds where their full financing costs or their mortgages are paid off by the State, typically over a period of 25 years, and where the developer or investor keeps full ownership of the home at the end of the lease. The announcement today on continuing long-term leasing by the Government is very disappointing. It is an abuse of the English language for anyone to come in here and say they are winding down long-term leasing when in fact they are ramping it up. It is an abuse of the language. The people are not stupid and they can see this for what it is. The Government is, in fact, ramping up long-term leasing by committing to another 2,530 new long-term leases in addition to what they have already committed to next year.
There are solutions to the housing crisis. Instead of giving money to developers and funds, we could instead use this money to build additional affordable housing. We need more supply but it is critical that we get more supply of homes that are affordable for people to buy and rent. An excellent model is being provided by Ó Cualann in building affordable homes in Dublin, Cork and Waterford. The Ó Cualann projects have shown how they can deliver affordable homes, which are three bedroom, well designed, energy-efficient homes that can be sold for between €230,000 and €260,000. This model needs to be urgently scaled up and rolled out nationwide.
The Social Democrats fully costed budget proposals show how we could build 10,000 social homes and 10,000 affordable homes, including 5,000 cost-rental homes and 5,000 affordable purchase homes next year. We proposed: to end the multi-million euro subsidies to developers; to introduce a new effective tax rate on investment funds; and to introduce a punitive tax of 10% on vacant and derelict homes to bring those homes, which we desperately need, back into use quickly.
New rents have increased by 9% in the last year. House prices have increased by 8%. Homelessness increased by 30%. Child homelessness increased by 47%. The profits of the largest developer in Ireland increased by 84% in the first six months of this year. Never in the history of Ireland have rents been so high, have house prices been so high, has homelessness been so high, and never in the history of the State have the profits of our largest house builder been so high.
There have been many promises made on housing by this Government over the past years, many of which are simply not being delivered. The Government’s plan is not working. Housing is key to human dignity. Bundleacht maidir le dínit an duine is í an tithíocht. The Government must move out of its denial on housing and it must take effective action to deal with our crisis.
At the Business Committee, I suggested that we should do something to change the format of this budget debate. Quite frankly, it was designed to facilitate a lot of spin by the Government, and then to bore the pants off people for about five hours after that, to the point at which people would lose the will to live.
My point is that the real democracy was happening out on the streets of Dublin on Saturday when 20,000 people came out in what was one of the biggest demonstrations we have seen in recent years with workers, students, pensioners, people with disabilities, and people from all over the country. They are sick of this Government, sick of the spin and sick of the propaganda, when they know the reality is that they are facing an utterly disastrous cost-of-living and housing crisis. They did not believe for one minute that this Government was serious about addressing it. When one looks beyond the spin, and when the dust settles, it will be absolutely clear to all of those people and to the many more who marched at the weekend that they need to get out on the streets again. Plans are already under way for the next national demonstration about the cost-of-living and the housing crisis on 12 November. I confidently predict that it will be bigger again than the protests we saw on Saturday.
It is clear that the Government is interested in spin. What we actually got in this budget was not a giveaway and not a bonanza, except maybe for the big corporations, the energy companies and the wealthy. For the ordinary people we got a few sticking plasters on the gaping wound that is the housing and homelessness crisis, and on the cost-of-living crisis. Those sticking plasters will not stop the bleeding, the hardship, and the suffering as a result of the cost-of-living and housing crisis that blights the lives of tens of thousands of working people, of pensioners, of students and of the vulnerable in our society.
The net fact about this budget, when one unravels the spin, is that the vast majority of people will be worse off in the next year than they were last year. That is the reality. Consider the €12 increase in pensions and social welfare payments against what would be necessary to protect people just against the rising costs of living, and based on the real level of inflation, which is about €27 per week. This would not be gaining anything, it would be not to lose and not be driven further into poverty. The Government has given less than half of what is necessary to protect the most vulnerable people, our older people, our people with disabilities, our social welfare recipients and many working people from being driven further into poverty because of the profiteering of energy companies and others who are benefiting and exploiting the cost-of-living crisis. That is the reality.
As I pointed out in a pre-budget debate, the Central Statistics Office, CSO, estimates that in order not to live in poverty a person needs some €287 per week. This means that anybody who is solely dependent on the State pension or a State welfare payment is, by definition, living in poverty. This Government should, particularly against the background of this cost-of-living and housing crisis, at the very minimum have lifted the most vulnerable people out of poverty, but it has not. When taken in the round, the people who needed help are going to be worse off next year than they were this year.
Take for example, a fairly average worker earning between €25,000 and €30,000. In the Government's own budget book this worker would gain an extra €4 per week. This is against a background where, in real terms, energy bills will most likely have trebled by the end of this year. Along with the costs of basic goods such as milk, bread, food items and so on, and with increases in rent and other costs of living, one estimate is that a worker will have lost between €4,000 and €5,000 as a result of the cost-of-living crisis. They will get €4 extra as a result of the tax changes that the Government has made.
Even if a person is earning slightly more at €40,000 or a little bit more, a person will receive an extra €16 per week. This is a total drop in the ocean compared to the crucifying increases in the cost of living, the rise in energy costs, the cost of heating one's home, the cost of paying the rent, the cost of paying for childcare, the cost of paying fees, and all of the other increases in costs that are crucifying people. The truth of this will become apparent. In the end, the Government cannot hide the reality of what is actually in people's pockets with a few once-off payments. The Government has changed the arithmetic over the weekend, probably in response to the scale of the protest. Some of the once-off payments that we had heard about increased, literally, over the weekend.
The protest put them under pressure and they were forced to increase the once-off payments they will give in the months before Christmas because they suddenly understood the scale of the anger, frustration and hardship when they saw those people on the streets but people will not be fooled by one-off payments. The problem is that the Government failed, and is not willing as a government, to deal with the underlying problem and root cause of the cost of living and housing crisis which is rampant profiteering of energy companies, corporate landlords and big corporations. It does not want to address that so many of the billions of euro that it will give out in once-off payments will go into the pockets of people and straight out again into the coffers of the energy companies. On top of that, some of the big winners will also get new subsidies. The energy supports that are being given for business are significantly higher than the proportion that is being given to ordinary householders and from what I can see, unless the Minister contradicts me, there is no threshold or limit on the amount of profits that can be made from the business recipients of the energy supports. Surely data centres, for example, should be excluded from the energy supports when they are sucking massive amounts out of the energy system. If they can claim that their energy costs have increased, they will get more subsidies when they are part of the problem in terms of the energy price hikes we are suffering.
There is some increase in the number of people entitled to the fuel allowance, and I welcome that, but huge numbers will not be. Some 80,000 more people will be eligible but any reasonable estimate of those suffering energy poverty would have required eligibility for the fuel allowance to increase by at least 300,000 people. For example, pensioners who have a little bit of an extra pension as well as the State pension are excluded from fuel allowance. From the figures here, it looks like they will not benefit and many others who also need the ongoing help of fuel allowance will not get that support.
Windfall tax is a promise but there is no actual windfall tax on the energy companies. The Government is waiting for Europe to maybe figure it out and it can introduce it some time in the future but here and now there is no windfall tax on the super profits being enjoyed by the energy companies and no caps on the charges and massive price hikes they are inflicting on people. It will continue to let energy companies that have seen record profits spike over the last year to continue to profiteer at the expense of ordinary people. Quite frankly, it is nauseating. What was necessary was to cap the prices they are charging people for heating and electricity in their homes and to take the sector under public control and run it on a not-for-profit basis. What we are witnessing is spectacular profiteering and market failure of the privatised market in energy.
Then there is housing. I just cannot believe what has happened in housing. You get the real budget when you look at the Estimates book. If you listened to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath's speech you would think there were huge additional resources and all sorts of new measures to deal with what is an absolute housing catastrophe but then you go and look at the Estimates book. The actual money allocated is exactly the same as last year: €3.6 billion in 2022 and €3.6 billion in 2023. It is the same. Oh my God. How could you possibly allocate the same money as you allocated last year to deal with a housing crisis that has got exponentially worse when the Government's own plan has failed to meet its targets, when homelessness has increased by 30%, when rents have gone up more and more? It is absolutely unbelievable. There is a slight increase in the money going to the homeless but it is only 10% when the number of people who are actually homeless has gone up by 30%. That means more misery for families that are being evicted at the moment and we are seeing a major spike in families being evicted because they cannot afford the rents that are being charged. The HAP limits being given to support them are too low. And I really want to highlight a critical point that no one has mentioned yet. Due to the Government's failure for years to raise the social housing income thresholds, we have seen the culling of thousands and thousands of working people from the social housing list and that is going to get worse after the budget because the people who got some increases as a result of the adjustment of the bands will now see very slight increases in their net take-home pay and as a result they will be thrown off the housing list and denied eligibility for social housing. It will worsen the situation for many people. People were phoning me up this week saying they hoped they did not get any additional money from the Government in the budget because they would be thrown off the housing list. That is the truth. That is a massive stealth cut that the Government has been perpetrating for several years. A few years ago 47% of households were entitled to social housing or social housing support and now it is down to 33%. That will be further reduced but the Government refuses to even publish the review on the social housing income threshold that has been on its desk since the end of December 2021. It is a review that has been going on for about five years.
The vacant homes tax is just a joke. It is three times the level of the property tax and property speculators sitting on empty or derelict properties will not even be included in the vacant homes tax. There is a whole series of derogations for empty homes. Even if they are identified as vacant homes that are vacant without good reason it will be around €1,000 a year on average. That is not going to make any difference to these vulture funds or investment funds which are sitting on property watching its value clock up. They do not give a damn because they are making far more on the capital gain of that property rising in value. Unless they can make super profits, they have no intention of renting it out to the people who really need assistance in the housing crisis.
There is nothing in the budget for those affected by defective housing and the failure in building standards and fire control standards. For tens of thousands of people facing enormous costs who are simply unable to remedy their houses that were built during the Celtic tiger because of the costs involved there is nothing at all in the budget. The concrete levy that the Government celebrated in speeches earlier will simply add to the already unaffordable cost of housing.
The rent credit is just pathetic. A €500 tax credit for some renters but if you are in receipt of HAP, you do not get the credit even though you are paying top-up rent payments. Everyone in my area who is in receipt of HAP is paying a top-up over and above the differential rent. A working family was in with me the other day who are paying a €1,000 top-up as well as the €200 it is paying to the council; they will not get the renters' tax credit. That is how much they pay a month, by the way, when the renters tax credit is €500 over the course of the whole year. People are paying rents of €2,000 and €2,500 a month from these racketeering corporate landlords.
There are a few other things that have not come out or that at least need to be clarified. The Estimates book is a good book to read. That is where you get the detail. Incredibly the environment, climate and communications budget has been cut by 17% and the Green Party has allowed this to happen. It is quite extraordinary. People should look at the Estimates book. The expenditure report shows a 17% cut in the environment, climate and communications portfolio. Since we put this out I have seen the Department tweet that this is not true but it is here in front of me: the budget for energy transformation is down by 35%.
That is the main line item that is down. The total expenditure adjustment for the Department is down by 17% in the Estimates book. If the Minister has it there, he might have a look at it because if he does not know about that he really should.
It is absolutely shocking the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media has also seen an 8% cut in its allocation. Although some bodies under its remit will see some minor increases in funding, people in the music and entertainment sector have been texting me over the last hour or two saying there is nothing for them. Despite lobbying and despite producing a very good pre-budget submission, which apparently got cross-party support from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and so on, in actuality there is nothing for that sector and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media got an 8% cut in the in the overall budget.
We have seen only a 2% increase in the transport budget which is really pathetic. If we are serious about cutting the cost of living and simultaneously trying to address climate change by encouraging people to make greater use of public transport, we needed a dramatic cut in if not the abolition of fares, but we also needed massive capital investment for the expansion of the bus fleet and public transport infrastructure to accommodate more people. We have a miserable, derisory 2% increase in the budget.
In the area of health, we have a 5.8% increase in the overall allocation but that is significantly less than the level of inflation. The big issues in our health service are the waiting lists the catastrophe of accident and emergency departments all linked critically to the issue of recruitment and retention of staff. We need to consider the inability of the health service to recruit and retain the nurses and all the other allied health professionals necessary to provide a decent healthcare system. We have a system that is failing people disastrously because of the lack of resources and staff, and yet we get an increase below the inflation level in the budget for the health service.
Let us consider the plan to deal with waiting lists. Last year €350 million was allocated to deal with the waiting lists and the consultants are now saying that that plan which was supposed to reduce waiting lists by 132,000 will actually result at the end of this year in 20,000 more on waiting lists than there were at the beginning of this year. Therefore, the small increase in the health budget is destined not to address that waiting list scandal where huge numbers of people who are sick and need surgery and other treatments are on waiting lists for years and years.
On education, we welcome primary schoolbooks being free, something we have been proposing for many years. However, it is only for primary school but not for secondary school when the costs for secondary schoolbooks and other items are very considerable. There is no funding to provide free books for secondary school students. While the Government has reduced the student-staff ratio somewhat, what will that do to deal with the inability to recruit and retain teachers particularly in Dublin which in turn is linked to the Government's failure to address the housing crisis? Teachers do not want to work in Dublin and the big urban centres because they cannot afford the rents or the house prices. Therefore, they are not willing to work in our schools. Where will the Government get the teachers if it fails, as it has done, to deal with the housing crisis?
While there is a €500 reduction in higher education fees, people are still paying €2,500 in fees. In reality there should be no fees whatsoever for access to higher education. While students will continue to pay them, many people cannot even stay in college and are now deferring or giving up the places in college because they cannot afford the accommodation costs in Dublin and the major urban centres. All student unions are reporting that record numbers of students are not taking up their places because they cannot afford the cost of accommodation and the Government has failed to provide affordable student accommodation for our students.
The Minister mentioned an increase in the PhD stipend but it is absolutely pathetic. An extra €500 a year for those PhD and research students who get a stipend - many do not - brings it up to €19,000 but is still below the level of the minimum wage. We need people doing PhD and research studies. The Government always talks about an innovation economy and how we need more skilled and trained people. However, for the huge numbers of people doing doctorates, PhDs, postgraduate courses and so on who are living in absolute poverty, this will not do anything other than scratch the surface. It is not even that; it is cosmetic and will make no difference to the poverty that many of those research and PhD students are suffering.
My last points relate to the big elephant in the room in all of this. As I mentioned earlier, single earners earning between €25,000 and €35,000 will get €4 extra per week against the background of an absolutely catastrophic cost-of-living crisis. They have lost about €4,000 or €5,000 in real terms. It barely scratches the surface. However, the tax breaks for the super-wealthy executives will continue. The special assignee relief programme, a tax break given only to people who earn more than €100,000, will continue. Super-wealthy executives not remotely affected by the housing crisis or the cost-of-living crisis will get a special tax break all of their own. It is absolutely obscene.
That speaks to a far more general giveaway in what I like to call the shadow budget, the budget that is never really talked about, the tax breaks for the big corporations and the rich which are absolutely extraordinary. We have heard that there has been a €5 billion bounce in corporation tax receipts in the last year. That can only happen if there is a massive increase in the level of corporate profits. Between 2012 and 2020 corporate profits went from €74 billion to €193 billion. However, based on the corporation tax receipts for 2021 and 2022, there may have been an increase of as much as 25% to 30% in corporate profits in this country. They are absolutely creaming it, but the Government does not want to take any extra money from these people.
It does not want to take any extra money from the real estate investment trusts which, according to the Government's own figures, have seen their profits treble in the last four years from €7 billion to €20 billion. It does not want to raise any additional tax revenue from landlords who own multiple properties. There is no increase in the taxes on those people.
The list of other corporate tax breaks in Revenue's tables is absolutely incredible. There is a tax loophole - if you want - in the Revenue tables which is called intragroup transactions. This is where the big corporations shift money from one subsidiary they own to another subsidiary. In 2019, €16 billion in tax relief was given to subsidiaries shifting profits from one subsidiary to another. In 2020, that figure went to €35 billion. It is eye-watering stuff and we do not know what it is for 2021 and 2022.
That is the real budget behind the spin.
The real budget is that this Government protects the profiteers in the energy companies, the big multinational corporations, the property investors and vulture funds while ordinary people are crucified, but it tries to hypnotise them with a few sprinkles of dust, which in reality are just a few thimblefuls of water thrown at a raging fire of a housing and cost-of-living crisis that is gobbling up the income of working people who are seriously struggling to deal with it. The people will not be fooled. They will be back out on the streets in a few weeks when the dust has settled and the spin has stopped. The harsh reality is that despite record revenues being available to the Government to address the cost-of-living crisis and the housing crisis, and the fact that we had a report this week showing we are the third richest country in the world - is that not amazing - we have one of the worst housing crises in Europe. We have the highest cost of living pretty much anywhere in Europe and we are the third richest country, but the vast majority of ordinary people are suffering because the priorities of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and, tragically, the Green Party, are to protect the winners from this crisis and inflict all the hardship and misery on working people, students, pensioners and the vulnerable in society.
I will start with a question. What is the most telling thing that has happened in this House this afternoon? It is not anything the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, or even any member of the Opposition has said. The most telling thing that has happened in this House this afternoon is the virtual silence from the Government backbenchers when the Ministers were making their speeches. There was the odd "Hear, hear", a mild ripple of applause here and there and a bit of a clap at the end. Apart from that, there was almost complete silence. Why? I will tell Members why: it is because the Government Deputies know, as does the Minister, that the budget does not fully protect people from the ravages of inflation and does not come anywhere near to protecting people from it.
A single person with no children earning €25,000, €30,000 or €35,000 a year will benefit from the tax changes introduced in the budget by approximately €4 per week, give or take. They will receive the €200 electricity and gas credits over the winter, but this will all be swallowed up by price hikes before even half of the winter is out. Where is the protection there?
Let us take another example. The budget provides for a €12 increase for social welfare recipients. For a social welfare recipient on a little more than €200 per week, that is an increase of less than 6%. For a social welfare recipient on a little over €250 a week, it is an increase of less than 5%. The Government will say that the extra double week payment and other measures will bridge the gap to the 9% inflation rate, but the rate of inflation is not 9% for the lowest-income households. These households spend a disproportionate part of their income on the basics of life, such as food and fuel. The price of milk and bread has risen between 20% and 26% in the past three months alone. The rate of inflation for low-income households is well above 9%. The Government has cut their incomes in real terms. It has done this at a time when it has refused to levy extra taxes on the super-wealthy in society. This budget pats the wealthy on the back and puts the needy on the rack.
Furthermore, many of the Government's new measures will be undermined by the failure and refusal of the Government to take on the profiteers. A good example of this is the €500 renter's tax credit. What does that really mean in a situation where the Government refuses to freeze rents? In many cases it will mean that landlords will decide to hike up the rent to make sure that this money, or at least a slice of it, ends up in their back pockets. Households will receive €600 in energy credits over the winter but where will this money end up? It will end up in the coffers of the energy providers. These providers will hike the prices by a hell of a lot more than €600. The commodification of energy, along with the commodification of housing has been a disaster for ordinary people. Instead of transferring money to the energy providers, the Government should cap the prices at the rates charged last year and eliminate profiteering by nationalising the entire sector under the democratic control of consumers and workers. In fact, it would be a bold and positive move in confronting this crisis if the energy sector were to be nationalised throughout the whole of Europe. Where would the money come from to balance the books in a nationalised energy sector which decided to freeze prices rather than freezing people this winter? It would come from two sources. First, from the massive pre-existing profits that these companies have accumulated during the crisis, not least of which is the ESB’s €679 million profit last year and €2 million a day this year. Second, from the wealth that exists at the top of society. A 2% tax on millionaires in this State could raise nearly €6 billion. I am in favour of a 25% corporation profit tax, but a 20% tax on the large corporations, with the closing off of loopholes, could raise a further €10 billion at a minimum.
I want to say a few words about this budgetvis-à-visthe position of young people. Seven out of ten young people are considering moving abroad for a better quality of life. This is being driven by the housing crisis. The former INTO president, Joe McKeown, stated lately that no recently qualified teacher could now reasonably expect to buy a house in most parts of Ireland. Has this budget fundamentally changed this in any way? It has not. The feeling that it has not was articulated by a young person on social media this afternoon. I cannot find the tweet but it was along the lines of: "Me: Can I have a house? Government: As Seamus Heaney once said: "No"." I think he is also having a go at the abuse of the wonderful poetry of Seamus Heaney by Ministers who seem to quote him on every single occasion until they bore the population senseless.
According to the ESRI, the housing crisis has combined with stagnant wages to leave young workers financially worse off than their parents. Young workers are earning less than their counterparts did in the 1990s or 2000s. The Government is choosing to worsen this situation by raising the wages floor, in other words, the national minimum wage, by less than the rate of inflation, and by offering increases in public sector pay which fall well below the rate of inflation also. In the 1980s, a Fianna Fáil Government promoted emigration. The late Brian Lenihan Snr., who held a senior position in the then Government said "we can't all live on a small island." The then government saw mass youth emigration as an essential safety valve, as did other governments, for the survival and saving of capitalism in this country. I believe this Government is doing the same thing now. It is an unstated policy, but in reality it is Government policy at this point.
Speaking of pay increases, there should be no pay increase for Deputies and Senators in a cost-of-living crisis. How can leadership possibly be shown to people at such a time when their so-called political leaders are earning a multiple of the wages that most people are trying to survive on? How can it be shown when their so-called political leaders are accepting a wage increase at the same time that many workers who were on the front lines for Covid, who put their lives and health on the line, and they have yet to receive their bonus payments? There should be a vote in this House on this issue. If there were a vote on this issue the Deputies in this group would vote "No".
Michael Taft, the SIPTU researcher posted on his Facebook blog, Notes on the Front, this afternoon to say that the budget papers show that spending on public services will increase by only 1% between now and 2025.
He stated that on a per capitabasis, it will fall by 2.5%. This is an aspect of the budget that has not generated any headlines so far, although it certainly should. Nevertheless, it will generate significant problems down the line for our society. In Britain, the Tory Government is openly stating that it wants to shrink the state and it is doing that through the front door. The Government in this country claims that is not the policy, but those facts and figures show that, in reality, that is what it is trying to do through the back door.
An exception, in terms of funding for Departments, relates to the Department of Defence, with a significantly higher spending increase allowance than that for other Departments. To be clear, I favour increased spending in the Department of Defence to end the scourge of low pay but I am opposed to spending more money on guns and military hardware when other Departments, such as the Department of Education, charged with caring for the children of the nation, are forced to go short. This budget will not come close to fully protecting ordinary people from the ravages of inflation. It will not protect the Government from criticism, not just in this House but outside it, as I am beginning to pick up on my social media and text messages. Moreover, it will not protect the Government from protest on the streets, and I agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett, in that I think we will see large protests on the streets nationwide on Saturday, 12 November.
Global capitalism has given us at least four major crises in the past 15 years. The great recession was caused by the greed of the banks and developers and devastated the lives of tens of millions of people. The Covid pandemic was hastened by global capitalism's abuse of the environment and exacerbated by governments that decided to put the interests of profit before the interests of people. The climate crisis has been largely caused by 100 corporations that have been responsible for 71% of carbon emissions globally in the past 30 years, and by the capitalist governments that have facilitated them. The current crisis is a systemic crisis. It began well before the war and was exacerbated by Russia's imperialist invasion of Ukraine. The crisis has been worsened for ordinary people by massive profiteering. The United States Economic Policy Institute calculates that more than half of US inflation in the period 2020 to 2022 has been caused by excessive profiteering, and Isabel Schnabel, an executive member of the European Central Bank, has stated that the position in Europe is not greatly dissimilar to that.
Profiteering, however, is not just an excess of this system; it is part and parcel of capitalism itself. Profiteering is in capitalism's DNA. This is a system predicated on ruthless competition for the maximisation of profit at the expense of workers, society and our environment. We need to end the dictatorship of the market in this country and internationally and break with this system. We need to put ordinary people before the interests of profit and put the enormous wealth that is evident at the top of society at the disposal of society through public ownership combined with democratic control. That is why we need an end to this Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael-Green Party Government, which slavishly obeys the diktats and grooves on which this system runs, and is also why we need a challenge and an end to this very system.
There was very little in the budget that we had not picked up over recent days, weeks and months, given the flying of kites to see what might be acceptable. From that point of view, little in the budget is new and we will see what is really in it when we get the detail.
I welcome the fact the Government has taken measures to help people with the cost of living but I am concerned that many working people will not be very excited about what they heard today. People in my constituency have to travel to work by car every day because they have no public transport to bring them, so they cannot avail of the 20% reduction in public transport costs. They have to sit in traffic for up to an hour and a half each way, amounting to 15 hours a week, while their engine is running, to try to get to work. The cost of going to work and of living should be coupled together, and people who are working need to get more to ensure it really is worth it to go to work, not least in the case of people on middle incomes. We are increasing the threshold for the upper tax band to €40,000, which is grand but a lot of people will not be able to benefit from that either. In that regard, the working person who gets up early in the morning and works hard to support his or her family is probably wondering what all the talk of this budget over recent weeks and months was all about.
The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, stated he is going to invest €337 million in the warmer homes scheme to upgrade 37,000 houses, but what will happen when people in my constituency apply because they are in food poverty, are assessed and accepted for the scheme only to be told that nothing can be done for two years? How is this money going to be spent next year given there is already a waiting list of two years? A dose of reality has to be injected into the schemes of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, to ensure it does what it is supposed to do rather than make announcements about more and more money while people have to wait for two years.
The point-blank refusal to expand the help-to-buy scheme to the first-time buyers of second-hand homes was a missed opportunity. Young people are willing to take on the responsibility to make a home for themselves but if they buy a second-hand home, they will not get the benefit of the help-to-buy scheme. That is a glaring omission and it is wrong. Likewise, until this week, the Croí Cónaithe fund, or vacant homes grants, did not apply to rural areas, another glaring omission, but I am delighted the Minister has corrected that.
On capital investment, I listened with interest to the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, in regard to what he was going to spend next year and in the two or three years after that. The European Union has downgraded the north and west of our country, serving the counties of Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Roscommon and Leitrim, the five counties alone in Connacht, along with Monaghan and Donegal. Ours is now a region that is lagging, and that is because we have fallen way behind in respect of the investment made over a period. If we are realistic about offshore wind energy and so on, we should invest immediately in the ports of Killybegs, Rossaveal, Galway and Foynes to prepare them to realise the potential in offshore energy rather than look out at the sea and wonder what is going on. When they go to some other part of the world to get offshore energy, get their equipment serviced or whatever, we will point out how great it was to see them passing and going up to Norway or elsewhere to get serviced. It is important we get our hands dirty in getting things done in order that we can see the west thrive. We also have to invest more in infrastructure such as rail networks to ensure the west can compete. The report that states ours is a lagging region is not an individual report but instead one published by the European Commission, so we have to address it.
Broadband was mentioned earlier. The contract was signed in 2019 and the delivery so far has been very disappointing. We need to accelerate the roll-out of broadband and push it on. We are three years into the contract and something like 37,000 houses have been connected, which is a fraction of the 900,000 target.
People are calling out for broadband. They ring my constituency office and, I am sure, many others across the country to say they have contacted National Broadband Ireland, NBI, and Eir only to be told it will be 2024, 2025, 2026 or 2027. It is not good enough. We need to improve on that.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Disability Matters, I am concerned that what is in the budget today is masking some of the deficiencies that are not in there. What I mean is that while one-off payments and supports are in place, it masks the lack of recognition of the proven fact that a person who is living with a disability needs between €9,000 to €12,000 per year additionally to meet the costs of that disability. In today's budget, we gave them €500 for that additional cost. It is nothing to do with the cost-of-living crisis we have; this is a crisis people have disabilities have been living with for as long as I can remember. It is important that we acknowledge that. As we put in place all these supports, it is important that we bring people along with us.
I welcome the fact that supports are in place for education but they do not go far enough. Free school textbooks for primary schools is not good enough. We should have them for secondary schools as well. Why could we not do that? I will hand over my colleague at this stage; there is much more to be said about the budget. We will continue with the discussion.
The Government is faced with a very challenging situation. From an economic perspective, we face two enormous challenges, namely, an electricity crisis and a cost-of-living crisis. I am pleased that the budget is framed mainly around them.
There is no doubt that the last few budgets have been very difficult for everyone. We often hear of the squeezed middle who have shouldered most of the financial burden caused by the Government's inability to manage electricity supplies. The Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, estimates that more than 40% people will be in energy poverty this winter.
The extension of the fuel allowance, along with the increase in means assessment, is very welcome in the budget. However, the Tánaiste previously stated that a targeted and graded system would be provided to help everyone based on a different income bracket. I call for clarity on the rate of which a person earning €100,000 versus a person earning €30,000 will be in receipt. It seems to be a flat-rate approach. The wealth divide is growing. We are throwing money at everyone in the hope of plastering over the issues. We need to close the gap. We need to protect the low-income and middle-income families who are in dire straits and need to ensure they have fuel for the winter.
The temporary energy business support scheme will help many businesses in my constituency of Louth and east Meath. The €600 household electricity credit is also welcome. However, the electricity credits are ultimately a subsidy to energy companies. They set the price and the Government subsidises households and businesses to pay that price.
There was no mention of the windfall tax for the energy companies. There was no mention of price control. Instead, the energy companies can pocket these subsidies in the form of increased prices and profiteering. Big-profit companies will get 40% of their increase in energy costs covered by public funds, which is the exact same as small family-run businesses. People will get less than 20% off the increase in energy costs covered and all while, input costs rise significantly.
More than €3 billion is being spent on one-off cost-of-living measures along with €1 billion in contingency funds. Measures such as the €12 per week increase in all social welfare rates, along with special one-off measures and double payments, are helpful. Carers do a fantastic job, be it looking after elderly persons or persons with disabilities. They save the State a fortune. On top the increased rate of benefit payments, the €500 payment this year for carers and people with disabilities, those on invalidity and blind pensions and those on working family payments supports low-income families and those in need.
In addition, the Government aim of helping elderly helping people is evidenced by the increase in the living alone allowance, as well as the one-off €400 lump sum on top of their increased pension rate of €265. Much more could be done, however.
Many constituents who come to my office have raised serious issues about their children who may be autistic or have a disability and need assistance. In fairness, the Government has done a good enough job, especially in introducing investment in special education in schools. I welcome the vision for the employment of additional special education teachers and special needs assistants, with the number of SNAs to go above 20,000 for the time. This will definitely help families. However, I must reaffirm that the Minister for Education needs to liaise with the Teaching Council to reduce the restriction requirement to comply with the Droichead programme. Additionally, I hope it will not stop the building of new schools and upgrading of existing schools. Education is the way forward; it is very important that children are properly educated.
I am pleased to see that those in receipt of domiciliary care allowance will receive an increase of €20.50 per month. However, I must highlight the significant service delays in this area, especially with regard to therapeutic intervention. I am aware of 15 families with adolescent children with autism and moderate learning disabilities who urgently require a psychiatric review. However, they are being told by the HSE that this is unavailable as there are no psychiatrists on the HSE team. Families of children with autism and moderate learning disabilities are in crisis in counties Louth and Meath.
What will happen now with the expansion of the GP visit card and the medical card scheme? If more than half the population are eligible for GP cards, where will the GPs and specialists come from? This is likely to lead to significant waiting lists for services and my constituents are the ones who will suffer. Those in need are slipping through the gap. People with mental health issues are suffering. Therapeutic needs are not being met and nothing has been done to reduce waiting lists. There is so much potential in the budget to help mental health, especially after Covid-19. It has continued to be underfunded, and, as a result, those in need will have to wait longer for adequate treatment. This needs to be revisited.
An aspect of the budget that will help my constituents is also an issue I raised last week. I am delighted that the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, has ensured the reduction of the student-teacher ratio with primary school class sizes to be reduced. Yet, even with recent cuts, Irish primary classes remain the largest in the EU.
The historic announcement of the free textbook initiative, which will take effect from next September, will save parents an average of €110 per child, which is welcome. I also welcome the commitment to recruit 686 special education teachers and 1,194 special needs assistants. As I said earlier, this will take the number of SNAs above 20,000 for the first time.
There was no mention of the school bus issue, however. Will there be funding for more buses? I encourage the Government to consider a fuel subsidy for school transport services. As this has been such a prudent issue in my constituency of Louth and east Meath in recent weeks, clarification is needed immediately.
I also welcome the commitment to 370 new primary school teaching posts, along with the 1,000 new gardaí and 430 Garda civilian staff to be recruited. As the economy struggles from these constant crises, it is vital that we invest in our public service and educate our young people. The €1,000 cut in college fees is, therefore, highly supported. However, are there any third-level grants for private college students who are not eligible for support from Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI?
The Government has spent billions during the past five years dealing with the housing issue. What annoys me is that the middle class is being caught. A professional couple, both of whom are working, will have to earn approximately €95,000 per year to buy a standard three-bedroom house in Dublin. What chance do people have in dealing with this? There is no way they can afford to buy a house. They earn good money and pay between €1,200 and €1,500 per month in rent but cannot get a mortgage. They have been told the reason they cannot get a mortgage is because they cannot afford it. It makes no sense to me. If people can pay more money for rent and less money for a mortgage, they should be entitled to it.
The €500 renter's credit is pathetic when one considers that rents in Louth and east Meath are coming in between €1,500 and €2,000 per month. We need properly enforced national rent controls to address the housing crisis. We need to reduce or freeze rents to affordable levels and stop the profiteering of vulture landlords, who are likely to gobble up the €500 credit with rent increases. I raised this issue in the Dáil previously. We need to tax vacant properties to directly address the housing crisis and remove investment vulture fund breaks.
I spoke last week on the retrofitting scheme and how it is crucial to address both the energy crisis and health prevention, especially for older people this winter. We need to help people now by providing greater investment in retrofitting houses as a matter of urgency. As far as I am concerned, nothing has been done in the budget today.
To conclude, I acknowledge the measures introduced by the Government. People will definitely have more money in their pockets which, in theory, should stimulate the economy. I would urge caution in terms of austerity, however. With inflation at 10%, this budget could push even more people into poverty. Costs in this country are starting to spiral. I have spoken to many business people in Dundalk over the past couple of months and I have been alarmed by some of the cost increases they are facing. Not all businesses will be able to sustain these increases in costs and they will eventually have to pass them on to the end user. My fear is that while people will have more money in their pockets, they might in fact be worse off when inflation starts to affect their day-to-day living.
I hope that when the hectic budget period is over, the Government will use all its diplomatic power to begin lobbying the International Olympic Committee to have kite-flying included as an Olympic sport. On the basis of what we have seen and heard from the Government in recent weeks via the media, we would be in with a great shout of winning a few gold medals. The whole budget has been in the public domain for weeks. It has been spun out of existence as being a great budget. The reality is that it is a budget of compromise. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that the devil is in the detail. Until we can see the detail, we will not know the effects of what it delivers for the ordinary people who want the Government to do its job and make the economy work for them, not just make them work for the economy.
The term "compromised ideas" comes to mind because there is not one big idea in the whole budget . There is not one ground-breaking initiative that would ease the cost of living or that has the potential to reduce inflation. The fundamental cause of the crisis we are in is the cost of fuel. Fuel costs affect every aspect of our lives, including our daily commutes to work and school and heating and lighting our homes. Fuel costs determine the cost of the weekly food shop and the clothes we put on our backs. However, the Government refuses to tackle the core of the crisis and continues to tax the tax. The Government could have taken my proposal to remove all excise from fuel, fuel being the common thread of the increase in the cost of everything, and it could have monitored the impact of same. Carers, special needs assistants and childcare workers gave up their jobs because it was cheaper to do that than fill the car with diesel or petrol. It would have had a positive impact. Last March, this Government said it could not reduce excise on fuel because it would cost too much and drive up inflation. Eventually, the reason given was that the EU said we could not do it.
Many media commentators and economists state that budget will potentially drive inflation. I hope they are wrong. I suspect they are not wrong because the core focus to date has not been the people or businesses of Ireland; it has been to remain in government at all costs and the tail continues to wag the dog. There was announcement that an EU directive previously stated VAT could not be removed from lifesaving defibrillators, but "after much negotiation", according to the Minister for Finance, it is now possible. I propose that this VAT exemption be extended to all voluntary charity ambulance services because they save the Government millions of euro by attending public gatherings. Such services depend mostly on voluntary contributions. On behalf of the people struggling to put fuel in their cars and food on the table and who afraid to heat their homes, the Government might apologise for not extending its negotiating skills to reducing the VAT rates on fuel because it used the EU as an excuse for that also. To do that would have been just one big idea that could have meant compromise but instead the Government has come along with short-term measures. This is because it is short-sighted and devoid of new ideas.
After last year's budget, a 40 kg bag of coal cost in or around €25 euro. Next week, it will be tipping €40. The Government's increase of €12 and the fuel allowance measures, though welcome, do not go far enough and will not cover the cost of the past year's increases. My concern is that the Government is going ahead with the carbon tax increase despite there being no readily available alternatives. This makes people depending on these measures nervous. All homes have seen the standing charges relating to their electricity and gas bills quadruple to as much as €400. Some SMEs and local businesses have standing charges of as much as €1,200. The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, refused on the floor of the Dáil last week to introduce the emergency legislation required to give power to the energy regulator to deal with the exponential and totally unnecessary standing charge increases. That is nothing short of mind-boggling. Such a measure would have given certainty and prevented extortion by energy companies but maybe the idea was just too big. As the Green Party is dictating the terms by which this Government stays in existence, it is not surprising.
It is equally mind-boggling that at a time when we are experiencing the worst housing crisis in living memory, the Government will throw fuel on the fire and introduce a concrete block levy, driving up the cost of all new houses and renovations. This is incomprehensible. Instead, could the Government not resource the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to retrain and upskill all of the public servants involved, from the Planning Regulator to the directors of services and the planners in every county council, all of whom are all involved in the planning system, to ensure that they know the law and can comply with it when making planning decisions? This would save the country millions on judicial reviews taken by the people those to whom I refer have wronged because they do not know the law. Continuing professional development is insisted on in almost every other profession.
The theme of this Government is spin. Another theme is the spending of money. In particular, the Government makes headline announcements on the services which we know it does not have the physical resources or people to deliver. We did not deliver on the targets for carers provided for in last year's budget. The Government did not achieve the reductions in waiting lists provided for in last year's health budget, and neither did it issue the guidelines for the tenant purchase scheme that was announced. In this budget, it has announced a further 6,000 recruits to the public service. This is kit- flying all the way. Wexford has been awaiting a dietitian for its child and adolescent mental health service, CAMHS, for over two years. Not only do we not have one recruited, there has been an announcement that we will have a third CAMHS unit. These measures put the cart before the horse, as I have said many times and as has been said many times today. This is a trademark of much of what I have seen, yet serious proposals put forward by me and other Independents have been ignored. I hope the Government will remember the solutions it rejected, which were viable and which could provide energy solutions on this island for homeowners and small businesses in a manner that brings them certainty, not leaves them wondering where they are going and when they will have to pay it all back.
It is apparent that the Green Party is running the show and that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are allowing it because they can only think of staying in power. Fine Gael has been there too long to have any type of brain surge. Fianna Fáil, which was the mudguard in the previous arrangement and which is soon to be the mudguard again, is devoid of any original ideas. Did nobody hear Deputy Cowen when he said that what is required is one big idea? The only thing new today was the Minister's suit.
On balance, in the circumstances, this is an okay budget. It is okay for just one reason; namely, all the hard work by people and businesses across this country that has provided this significant surplus for the Exchequer. We have not has such a surplus for approximately 15 years. Now we are able to redistribute that as fairly as possible.
There are a few measures I would like to highlight that are good, and I will highlight the not so good ones also. First, I welcome the €600 energy credit for households and that will make a significant difference over the winter months. Second, I welcome the increase in the tax bands. We need to be rewarding, incentivising and encouraging work. We know about those in the squeezed middle, who pretty much pay for everything and receive almost nothing in return, so it is important that those bands are increased again in 12 months’ time. I welcome the fact that students are being supported. As someone who only paid off my student loan during the summer, I can identify with all the pressures they are under. The reduction in the student fee and the increase in the SUSI grant will make a big difference and the rollover of the reduced costs for public transport will help as well.
The financial supports for childcare are essential. Traditionally, this country has been very poor in providing childcare for young families. Perhaps if the gender balance had been better in this Chamber for the last number of decades we would not be in this predicament. I particularly welcome that measure and I give credit to the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, who brought it in. Not only do I welcome the 25% reduction this year but there seems to be a signal that there will be a further 25% reduction next year, which is to be welcomed, and I fully support those measures. I welcome the establishment of a €2 billion reserve for next year. The reason I want to welcome that is that it will be needed.
That leads me on neatly to my next point on businesses. While I welcome that a 40% subsidy will be paid to businesses to cover some of the cost of their energy increases, it is just nowhere near enough. The Government would be wise to remember it should not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. These businesses are the reason the Government has a surplus.
They are keeping the country alive and we, in turn, must keep them alive. I would encourage the Minister of State to pass on to her Cabinet colleagues that we need to engage with IBEC, ISME, and the Small Firms Association, even at this late hour, because 40% is not enough. It needs to be increased if we are to keep these businesses alive. If businesses fail over the winter, the corporation tax take for next year will be reduced, the income tax take will be reduced and social welfare payments will increase. We want to be in a similar situation in 12 months’ time to the one in which we are now, namely, with cash in the bank to redistribute as fairly as possible.
I will focus my last few comments on the Defence Forces. I presume that no other contributor will focus on the Defence Forces in any meaningful way. I welcome the increase of €67 million for defence this year. While it is a meagre increase, it is progress or a half a step forward. What does it mean? Not a lot. We were defenceless yesterday and we are still defenceless today. In effect, we are literally playing Russian roulette with Irish sovereignty and our territorial integrity. We have no means of policing our airspace or of properly patrolling our home waters. We are extremely vulnerable and exposed from that point of view.
Ireland used to spend approximately one third of the EU average on defence. We spend less than one third now because all of the other EU countries have recognised that there has been a massive shift in the defence and security landscape over the past seven months. We have failed to take heed of the latter. Ireland is a great country. We do some wonderful things, but we do certain things poorly. Of all the things we do poorly, defence is what we do most poorly of all. We certainly have to work on that.
I welcome the commitment in the budget regarding a military-grade primary radar system. That is a good thing. It is something for which I have campaigned for the past two years. I am glad to that at least a commitment in respect of such as system has been made. It is the first step in providing an air policing service, which is an air security issue and an air defence issue. Of all the technology that is mentioned, unless we can crew our ships, our aircraft and our armoured vehicles, we are at nothing.
There is a commitment in the budget to increase the number of Defence Forces' personnel by 400 next year. I welcome that, but I do not think it is going to happen. In fact, we are still haemorrhaging people. The military is making losing ten people net each week. The numbers are likely to dip below 8,000 for the first time in 50 years by the end of this year, which is a catastrophic loss of people. Why is that happening? The reason is just pay. It is ironic that people want to stay in the Defence Forces, but they just cannot afford to do so. Therefore, the pay has to be improved.
I make three quick points to the Minister of State. First, the €1,000 pandemic bonus payment, which was announced in January, still has not been paid to a single member of the Defence Forces. When you hear an announcement but there is no follow through after nine months, it is no wonder that people become disillusioned. I will make a suggestion. If the Department of Health is not in a position or is not organised enough to pay the €1,000, would the Department of Defence not consider an upfront payment to the military personnel? The Department of Health could reimburse the Department of Defence thereafter. An ex gratiapayment for the people involved in the Department of Defence would go a long way to improving morale.
My second point relates to the Government action plan, which contains a commitment for a €5,000 pay rise for personnel with fewer than three years of service. That is an excellent idea. We have been campaigning for it. However, where is the money? This was announced in July. The money needs to be in people’s bank accounts and in their pockets.
The third point is that our Naval Service has been completely holed below the waterline from a pay perspective. There is a commitment that the patrol duty allowance will be reviewed and increased. Again, however, we have yet to see the earliest signs that this is going to happen.
In summary, the budget is okay for the reasons I mentioned, namely, the hard work for the people and our businesses, which we need to keep alive. There are two deficiencies. The first is that there are not enough supports for our business sector. The second is that there is not enough investment in our Defence Forces. I will be taking up the second point with the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, next Tuesday at the foreign affairs and defence committee, and on Thursday during Question Time here in the Chamber.
In case anyone has not noticed, our economy is in a weird place at the moment. We witnessed a short economic lift as we exited Covid-19, yet in the past quarter we watched a reversal as our economic growth narrowed significantly. Corporation tax, which is expected to top out at €20 billion this year, is surely keeping the lights on in Ireland. The energy crisis caused by the Ukraine war and Russia's strategy to divide Europe by turning off gas supplies is causing energy prices to rise. These increases are feeding into our productive economy. The resultant inflation is affecting consumer spend and buying power. It is significantly impacting our SME sector and it will impact our employment and standard of living.
Rising European interest rates, designed to curb inflation, are destabilising Ireland Inc. from an economic perspective. The budget that was announced today, with budgetary measures of €6.9 billion, plus a once-off measure of €4.1 billion, marks this as an extraordinary €11 billion budget package. It will certainly plug holes. It is an expansionary budge, but hopefully it will not add to inflationary pressures.
What will this budget achieve? As well as income and pricing security, which we all value, Irish people want annual budgets to deliver better public services, better hospitals, better schools, better infrastructure, housing just taxation and opportunities for all. Many people - and I include myself in this regard - are hacked off with Ireland being a high-tax, low-service society. I have said a number of times that we need to see better budget processes. We need to see better data on where the money goes. That is the starting point for budgetary accountability and more mature decision-making. Instead, our Parliament and public continue to be kept largely in the dark about the actual spending choices we are making.
The reactionary political tensions - perhaps even dysfunction - affecting this Government have been exposed to a degree by this budget. We continue to hear lots of talk about green issues. There have been two and a half years of it now. We have seen very little today in the way of bold green actions beyond taxation and money for MARA. We had an obvious opportunity to address energy independence through renewables and smarter consumption. We missed it during the Celtic tiger era. Having failed to grasp that opportunity, the second-best time was after we returned to massive capital spending in 2016.
In this budget, we are still signalling retrofitting. However, we are taking no account of the dysfunctional retrofitting market whereby there is limited labour but limitless price gouging. We continue to signal Government policy areas through this budget, such as renewables, solar photovoltaic, PV, worthwhile feed-in tariffs, a just transition for the agrifood sector, communities dividends for wind projects and public delivery of large energy infrastructure. The absence of big green energy moves in this budget represents a political failure.
We continue to talk about world-class healthcare, but HSE capital planning is now bordering on farce. I see this in my county of Waterford and the disgraceful mistreatment of our regional model 4 hospital at University Hospital Waterford, with capital and resourcing promises have been shelved for years. It remains one of the busiest model 4 hospitals in the country, but it still is the least resourced by a country mile.
If we were in any other country, we would have built five national acute hospitals for the cost of the national children's hospital. The credibility of the HSE and the Department of Health in the context of budgeting, procurement and project management is in tatters. The only idea we can muster in this budget is to hand over more and more money, with no reform and, what is worse, no appetite for reform. We cannot even develop a register for diabetic patients, let alone a proper, national, accessible, digital patient record. We are happy in this budget to signal increased GP care access, but we remain oblivious to the burnout and the lack of GPs involved to resource the system. This budget continues to demonstrate that balanced regional development and a shared future only exist in the rhetoric of the programme for Government.
This budget continues a trend of ignoring the Border's, the midlands' and the south-east region’s need for equitable capital development. These regions are falling further behind. They have no voice in the Cabinet and they get virtually no capital projects. As we vote on the capital elements of this budget, I reiterate that we will not see where the money goes. I can tell the Minister of State that it mainly goes to Dublin and Cork. I see this acutely and continually in Waterford and in the south-east, where our university, our hospital, our infrastructure and our economic development agencies are continually starved of a fair share of investment. This is also true of other regions.
This Government is halfway through its scheduled term of office.
To date, in my opinion, it lacks any form of mettle. I believe we need a less juvenile form of politics to address our big issues. Securing our SME businesses and their employment should be a first priority. We should be supporting our agriculture, fishing and aquaculture industries properly, delivering on realisable climate change infrastructure and goals, and delivering the housing, healthcare and regional development that is needed and that is not simply happening at this point. To govern is to choose. This Government has yet to make the hard leadership choices. They are choices that might make Ireland a better country to live in, a more economically stable country, and a healthier and more equal country. I will hold my nose while voting for this budget, largely because the families and the enterprises of Ireland need the support that it offers. However, I worry that this Government, with its impending rotation, is not up to the task of addressing the hard choices and implementing the leadership we, in this country, now so desperately require.
This budget contains many significant financial measures and many initiatives that at first sight seem welcome. However, in reality, they lack the necessary substance to help people. The key measure of the budget has to be how it is going to impact materially on people's lives. For the following reasons, I believe that this budget is going to come up short. Take, for example, the electricity credits. Some 80% of the €1.2 billion from the electricity credits comes out of the pockets of people in the shape of extra VAT from 2019 to now and carbon taxes. Right now, this year, the Government is taking in €325 million more in VAT than it did before the energy crisis started. That is an incredible figure. The Government has also taken in €623 million in carbon taxes. It is taking with one hand from people and - literally - giving back the same money to people through the electricity credits. Raising carbon tax at this moment, at a time of an energy crisis, is absolute madness. It is wrong. First, it does not encourage one citizen in this State to switch to an alternative, more sustainable fuel. Anybody who can switch to a more sustainable fuel has done so already, given the crisis in the cost. Reducing the NORA levy at this time is simply a three-card trick, because the carbon tax is going to increase year in, year out. Also, VAT is actually charged on carbon tax in this State, which is also going to see an increase in the cost to people.
Another issue concerns Government competency. There is a real problem here that has to be dealt with, namely, the issue of the Government expanding the GP visit card system this year. It sounds wonderful, but in reality, when it hits the ground it is going to run into major difficulties. For example, GPs are nearly as rare as hen's teeth at the moment. The number of GPs is actually decreasing. There are 72 GPs for 220,000 living in County Meath currently. The Government is going to increase demand for GP services with this measure, while the supply is decreasing. That means longer waiting times for people seeking GP appointments. The Government needs to fix the deficit in the supply of GPs if it really wants to make a difference here.
The same is true for childcare. The 25% reduction in the cost of childcare for most people will be welcome, but anybody listening to childcare providers for the last six months will know that the new core funding system, which puts a cap on the level of income that a childcare provider can receive, is actually pushing hundreds of childcare providers out of business. Again, by introducing a 25% reduction in the cost, we will see an increase in the demand for childcare. Yet, by not funding the childcare services, there will be a reduction in the supply of childcare facilities in this country, which is going to put more pressure on the system. I note the Minister's language on this. I had to laugh when I saw it. He said there will be a reduction of "up to 25%" in the cost of childcare through funding. It reminds me of the sales that we sometimes see at Christmas, where a reduction of up to 50% will be advertised. Of course, most people will not actually get that. For those in Dublin paying €1,200 a month for childcare, the Government subvention of €240 a month is not going to come close to amounting to a 25% reduction.
If we want to boil all of this down to an example, take the free school bus places. It is an example of the Government making a statement in technicolour in relation to the help it is going to give people, but doing no work in actually developing the capacity that is needed to help people. Therefore, there are loads of children stuck on the side of the road as a result of the school bus fiasco.
The housing crisis is another example. The Government has published glossy brochure after glossy brochure and impressive budgets, but is refusing to deal with the dysfunction that is in that system. Now we see that the Government has admitted that the Housing for All plan is going to fall well short of its targets.
The HSE is a monument to Government incompetency. Irrespective of the amount of money that we pour into the HSE, we see hospital waiting lists increase and emergency department waiting times increase. Health capital projects in this State are an absolute disaster. One of the major weaknesses that exists is that there is a technical incompetency within the Government to fix these particular sectors and to ensure that they function properly.
Another issue that I want to touch on in relation to this budget reminds of the Homer Simpson campaign logo when he ran for mayor. He asked why somebody else could not do it. We see this over and over again in the Government's budget today. When we asked the Government to decouple the cost of electricity from the price of gas, it said that it is an EU competency. Such a measure would actually reduce the cost of electricity for people, but the Government refuses to do it. Yet, Spain and Portugal have done it. They have decoupled it and prices are lower in Spain. When we asked the Government to provide a windfall tax, the Government said that it is up to the EU to do it. However, Italy has done that for its citizens and it has helped with the amount of money available to help citizens there. When we asked the Government to reduce VAT on fuel, the Government said it is an EU competency. Yet, Spain, along with other countries, has reduced VAT and prices for citizens. It is really frustrating that this Government is outsourcing so many opportunities to actually fix things for people to the EU. I do not know if the EU is being used as a fall guy, as an excuse not to do things, or if the Government is suffering from inertia now and is leaving the EU to do more and more for Ireland as a result.
The phrase "once-off" appears incredibly often in this particular budget. We see cuts to third level fees and everybody gets excited and thinks it is a positive thing. However, it will only last for a year and it will go back to normal the year after. Prices and costs for students will not go back to normal the year after next. The provision of supports for schools to help deal with all the costs they experience are welcome. However, what schools want is an increase in the capitation grant so that they can actually deal with these costs year in and year out.
I also want to talk about the social welfare and pension measures. Many of them are once-off measures. The actual income of recipients has increased in this budget by a figure substantially lower than the rate of inflation. If we strip out the once-off measures, and they will be stripped out, unfortunately, in the coming year, the truth of the matter is that pensioners and working age social welfare recipients have experienced an income reduction in this budget. That is particularly shocking, because this budget was supposed to be about helping those most exposed. Citizens who earn less than €36,800 a year will actually see very little improvement from the tax package that was included in the budget. On the flip side, there is no talk of a wealth tax for assets worth over €1.5 million whatsoever.
The promised vacant home tax is very vague and nebulous. I was looking at its regulations. The house has to be occupied for fewer than 30 days a year. What do people do? Do they take selfies in the home for 31 days? Do they sign into the local Garda station? Are we going to be dealing with another property tax that is going to fall by the wayside? The residential zoned land tax, again, is mostly referred to in the future tense, even though it was announced last year. The defective concrete products levy is actually going to increase the cost of building homes. How can a Government introduce a levy on building homes in a housing crisis? It does not make sense.
Finally, in relation to the regional development of our country, there is very little in the budget that actually ends the lopsided spatial development that we have in Ireland.
We have an overheated capital and a sprawling commuter belt. Regions are being emptied of their young people. That is not being tackled by this budget.
I welcome many aspects of the budget, to be honest. I accept that. However, the Government is playing a very dangerous game with people's taxes and the extra taxes from foreign direct investment, FDI, companies. It is great that we have that money but it may not be there next year while the budgetary pressures will be. Those tax revenues may not be available in 2024 while demands on the budget will be. If the Government were a business, that would be a bad way to run it.
The Government claims credit for initiatives such as the €200 energy credit. There are now to be three €200 payments amounting to €600. Every person in this country will get that payment, whether a millionaire, a Teachta Dála or a Government Minister. Why in God's name in this day and age could that not have been separated out to ensure the people who receive it are those who are struggling and in need?
I welcome the supports for na daoine óga and the childcare costs. I welcome the taxation breaks that are badly needed for the people of middle Ireland. People are getting up in the middle of the day. Another cohort of people are older and have reared their children. They are working and paying for everything. They are getting nothing from this budget.
I also raise the issue of family carers. These are people about whom we talk and to whom we pay homage. This budget gives them €500 extra and a social welfare increase of €12 per week. The Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, stated that the social welfare increase should be at least €20. There is no recognition of the valuable work that carers do. I thought they would automatically get the fuel allowance. They will be refused in many other areas. These people keep bed-blockers out of hospital and allow for them to be cared for in their homes. I salute carers. The Government salutes carers but has done nothing for them in the budget. They had great expectations that the Government would do something meaningful for them.
The homelessness and housing crises have continued for at least two decades, if not more. How do we decide to help the situation? We decide to tax the concrete that makes every block that goes into houses. This is obviously a sting in the tail for the people who found mica, pyrite and other issues in their houses. Why did the Government not go after the rogue companies responsible, many of which are still operating? It is they who caused this problem. The Government is instead putting up the price of concrete for family businesses such as Corbett Concrete in my own town of Cahir. It is a long-standing family business. The price of concrete has gone out of reach for all the products that company makes. It serves the agriculture, home and road industries, and provides underpasses and everything else. That will provide no support for anyone struggling to buy a house.
The budget extended the first-time buyers’ grant and supports for young people who are trying to buy a house. We are told the house must be new or unoccupied. One cannot get planning in many parts of the country but there are semi-derelict houses available and everything else, but the scheme does not include such properties. The announcements that have been made are like Liquorice Allsorts. We used to always leave the big round yellow ones with the black spots in the bottom of the bag and took the nice ones, the ones with three layers, first. That is what the Government is doing here. It is fine for the Government to announce inducements today but the tax on fuel, the tax on living and electricity prices are still spiralling upwards. We cannot stop that.
The vacant house levy must be welcomed but are people going to take selfies, as Deputy Tóibín said, to prove they were in the house and it was not vacant for in excess of 30 days? Are we going to tackle every single local authority in the country with dozens of vacant properties? Some of those authorities have had vacant properties for decades. Are we going to tax them? Is it all about ordinary people? There is nothing about the State provided by the Government.
There was talk about an announcement in respect of free GP care for children. The Government did not consult the GPs. A man, woman or child cannot get a GP appointment within a week. We are now going to pile on more. The Government announced this initiative two years ago and it was never fulfilled. People are weary of Government announcements.
I wholeheartedly welcome, at long last, the great news about defibrillators and other equipment that will be welcomed by many volunteer groups, such as the First Responders in Newcastle. They do tremendous work, and I thank them for it. It is good that when those groups are fundraising, the VAT element no longer needs to be paid. It is a nonsense to be taxing such people. The people who pay money through fundraising have already paid punitive taxes. That is what is wrong in that regard.
There are also anomalies about participants in community employment, CE, schemes. They work in and enhance every community. It is not clear to me that they are now going to qualify for the fuel allowance. Some will and others will not. Many of them will not, so I want that explained. If it is not, the Rural Independent Group will be bringing an amendment to the finance Bill to try to acknowledge them. They only get an extra €20 or €25 a week. They play a meaningful part in society because the work they do is wonderful. It is a means of reintroducing people to the workforce and allows them to learn, re-engage and reskill. Goodness knows we need people to reskill. This Government seems to be devoid of imagination in areas like that. It almost seems as if Comhaontas Glas is stuck into every second page of this budget. There are references to green this and green that. The people are blue in the face with the green agenda and the punitive costs it puts on them. The Government has talked about the war in Ukraine and climate change but these massive increases in costs were created by the bad management of the Government and its predecessor, which was kept in office by Fianna Fáil. The Government cannot blame the war. The Rural Independent Group opposed the carbon tax almost 18 months ago. Seven Teachtaí Dála in this House voted against it. The Government is now reaping what it sowed. The carbon tax is punitive. The Ministers have told us the hundreds of ways the money is going to be ring-fenced and spent on houses and homes through retrofitting and farming schemes. Even the dogs in the street know that money is not being spent on farms or on retrofitting. People have waited decades for retrofitting. It is, of course, spent in the leafy suburbs of Dublin 4, the constituency of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. His hands, and his green nimble fingers, are all over this budget. His south-facing window boxes are all over this budget. The Government is pandering to stay in government. Is mór an true é. The people out there expect leadership, good governance and imagination. I asked my wife what she thought of the budget. She said that budgets are for taking money from people and turning around little bits and pieces. How right she was. This is a perfect example of that. The money will be fired out today but there will be small print included when we get it through the finance Bill. There will be many more restrictions and loopholes that mean people will not be able to claim money. The fat cats, big developers and the people who come in here and buy up homes will not be touched at all. The Government is beholden to those interests. That is the case for some of the Green Party, who care little about the ordinary people.
Today's budget reminds me of an assless bucket leaking beyond control. There was a time when leaks before a budget announcement would lead to Ministers' heads rolling. Now, with this slippery Government, God knows that the leaks could have come from the top and will not be dealt with.
This budget was meant to be a giveaway budget, and some people did get something. However, if one looks into the budget in more detail, one must ask who will be better off after it. Those who have looked into the budget have said that only 23% of ordinary working men and women will benefit at all from the budget. The only way to tackle inflation in this country so all could benefit was to decrease the cost of fuel. That cost affects almost every man and woman over the age of 16 in my constituency. To the naked eye, today's announcement seems to be decreasing the cost of fuel. However, the Government has done a kind of con job on the people. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, said, "On the taxation side, I am extending the current excise reduction of 21 cent per litre in respect of petrol, 16 cent per litre in respect of diesel". That has already been given so the Government is giving absolutely nothing. Carbon tax is going to be increased. The Minister announcement that, "The rate per tonne of carbon dioxide emitted for petrol and diesel will go up from €41 to €48.50 from 12 October". In other words, it is not a decrease but an increase we are going to see. The ordinary people of rural Ireland are going to be ripped asunder again. The Government is trying to con them with this carry-on instead of coming into the Chamber, being honest and saying it is not going to do anything to address the cost of fuel because the Green Party is wagging the Government's tail.
We in rural Ireland do not have public transport. We have no choice but to use what we have. Last Thursday, I questioned the Minister for Transport about public transport in my own constituency in west Cork. He told me he cannot afford to deliver it but would if he could. He cannot afford it because he has wasted the carbon tax money that was pulled out of the pockets of people in rural Ireland and spent it on pet projects around our capital. The Government has reduced the cost of public transport around Dublin and areas close to it by 28%. That has not been given to the people of rural Ireland. The fact is we have no decrease in the cost of fuel, coupled with no end to carbon tax in these horrid times, which is what the people of rural Ireland begged me to deliver.
Unfortunately, the Government has failed to deliver this and will instead heap further misery on the people of rural Ireland. Unless I am mistaken, there is no decrease in the cost of home heating oil or the simple bag of coal that almost every home uses.
In 2020, the price of home heating oil was 42 cent per litre. Now, the cheapest one can get it is 82.5 cents per litre. In comparison to other years, it will cost ordinary mothers and fathers, and elderly people, at least €1,500 extra to heat their homes this year if they use oil and coal, which most people have no choice but to use. Of course, the Greens are wagging the tail. The Government's answer is to turn a blind eye to this crisis. A bag of coal costs more than €40. It cost €20 or less not so long ago. The Government's answer to this is the sticky-plaster solution, by adding €12 to pensions and social welfare. I ask the Minister to go out and buy some home heating oil, a bag of coal, a bale of briquettes, or a bit of turf if he is allowed, and see how far €12 will go. It is nothing short of a disgrace. The Rural Independent Group would have accepted nothing less than €20 per week.
I have not been able to study the budget in respect of health in more detail, but from what I can see there is nothing for sufferers of Parkinson's disease. If I find out in the next few days that I am wrong, I will stand up in this Chamber and clearly apologise. However, if what I said is the case, it would be astonishing because those people desperately need Parkinson's nurses. If the Minister has not delivered on that - we got many near-promises on that - it would be an absolute disgrace.
As for education, it would be wrong of me not to welcome the provision of free books to all primary-school goers, which we heard about over the weekend in one of those famous leaks, but what about students who go to secondary school? What did these children ever do to the Minister for Education while in school that she will not give them free books? Why pick on them in today's budget?
The extra funds to clean up the mess with the bus tickets will be most welcome. This is nothing short of a shambles. Having listened to a Fianna Fáil Deputy on RTÉ Radio 1 yesterday, it is obvious that they do not have a clue who did not get tickets. Holders of concessionary tickets did not get tickets and those who are entitled to get tickets on bus routes in Bandon, Clonakilty, Kinsale, Skibbereen, Bantry, Mizen Head, the Beara Peninsula, and Sheep's Head, did not get tickets. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael's answer to this in west Cork was to hold public meetings, basically carrying the fools further, instead of accepting that there was only one way to solve this, which was to put on extra buses and bigger buses. The free-ticket system sounds great, but when the Government makes an announcement and then goes into hiding, there is something seriously wrong. It has left hard-working families picking up the stress. To make matters worse, I know people, two of whom work in the office, who got tickets for which they never asked. The child of one of them is not even going to school. What is going on is an astonishing cockup.
While on the subject of education, I am not sure if the primary school capitation grant has been increased. Many schools cannot afford to put on the heating oil this year - perhaps that is the green way of dealing with them - or pay their electricity bill, leaving some schools having to ring the local parish priest to cough up to pay these bills. Yes, I said the "local parish priest". Church-bashing Deputies come into this Chamber every week. The local church is now paying the bills to keep the heating and lights on in some schools. Many more schools are making the decision to pay what they can and send the electricity and oil bills to the Department because if they do not, the power will be turned off and the school will close down. We have been led into a serious situation here. I would like to know whether it has been dealt with or not. The devil is in the detail.
What did the farmers get today? I have looked at the budget report and I do not see anything, apart from a few quid for slurry tanks, delivered for farmers. The green diesel is outrageous and farmers desperately needed something delivered in that regard but it has not happened. This is a shocking disaster for farming. I am telling the farm organisations to wake up and stop running around, rubbing shoulders with Government. It is time to wake up and stand up for the dairy farmer, and the suckler and sheep farmers. They are the people who need it. The Government is talking about a few schemes here and there. Those are funded by Europe. The EU will soon tie into that and say that it is delivering here too.
What did the fishing sector get? Zero. The one thing other European countries did to protect their fishermen was to decrease the cost of fuel, by cutting the VAT on fuel for fishermen. Ireland did zilch for fishermen.
The VAT rate for tourism will go from 9% to 13.5% next February. The Government is covering up again. I met with representatives of the tourism sector in west Cork, including the owners of the Emmet Hotel, the Fernhill House Hotel hotel, and the Celtic Ross Hotel. They are brilliant people delivering affordable hotel rooms to the people of Ireland and now they will face an increase to 13.5%. The Government is codding the people. It stated in the budget that the 9% rate would continue, but in small writing it states that it will be until February. The devil is in the detail in much of this.
The increase to the cost of concrete products, blocks and ready mix, is being poured down on top of the ordinary people who are trying to build their homes. It is scandalous in many ways.
In the interest of ethics and in the context of the world we are living in today, a person who is involved in different things should declare an interest in the budget. I did not hear anybody else doing it but for fear that a person would be condemned afterwards, I will declare it.
It was ironic to see Members in government clapping for the budget today when one thinks how people are suffering at home. Despite the good news that is contained in certain sections of budget 2023, I do not think they would be happy to see Members jumping around the place, smiling and clapping each other on the shoulders. I do not think the people watching today will be too happy.
On the cost of living, the three €200 payments for the ESB is okay but we all know that the proper way to have dealt with this issue was to have capped the cost of the bills.
Many businesses have contacted me since the announcement of the €10,000 subsidy for businesses saying that they will not qualify. If their usage went up when compared with the unit prices, they may not qualify for what the Government has announced today.
The carbon tax increase is going ahead but is then offset by the removal of the NORA tax. For the Government to say that it is making an increase in the first instance and then slashing it right away, is it not in effect admitting that the carbon tax, which the Government wanted to impose on people, was wrong? The Government is admitting that.
The €12 increase in social welfare payments is welcome, of course, but the question is whether it will come into effect at midnight. No, it will not. Will it be March or how far out will it be before the Government actually gives it to people?
Why are we waiting until 1 January to implement the new income thresholds? Why is it not effective from midnight? The Rural Independent Group sought a €20 increase across all social welfare payments. We also sought the full reintroduction of the bereavement grant which was taken away by the Labour Party and Fine Gael Government of 2011, and I will never let them forget it. They totally disregarded poor people who were suffering a bereavement and having a tough time. The Labour Party and Fine Gael thought nothing of taking the grant away from people.
As for the 50 cent increase in tax on a packet of cigarettes, which will of course be imposed from 12 midnight, I do not welcome that because I would be happier if nobody ever smoked again. At the same time, people may have difficulties in life and perhaps one of the only things they have that gives them a bit of comfort is a cigarette. If they want to smoke, I will certainly not put my shoulder to the wheel of making it more expensive for them to do so.
I welcome the VAT rate being reduced for newspapers. This is indeed very welcome. I had lobbied very strongly on this matter and made my views known to the Minister. Papers such asThe Kerrymanand Kerry's Eyein County Kerry will benefit from this, which I welcome.
The €4 increase per week for the squeezed-middle, people earning between €24,000 and €36,000, is absolutely shocking in terms of the cost of living, and we had Members in government clapping that this evening.
I refer to the hospitality VAT rate of 9% until February. I ask on behalf of the hospitality sector in County Kerry whether the Government will scrap it after February. Would the Government not tell the businesses the truth at this time? As the Minister of State is aware, County Kerry is the tourism capital of the western world and we do tourism better than anybody else, but we would like to know what the Government's intentions are after February.
Earlier this evening, I spoke to Michael Cronin of the MC Group based in Coolcaslagh, County Kerry, who produces concrete blocks and also builds homes. In the middle of a housing crisis, he has highlighted the fact that instead of helping to make it easier to build houses, the Government has put a 10% levy on concrete products, the very thing we need most to build our homes. What sort of insanity is this? Did anyone in government think that it would also affect the people who export precast concrete products across the Border? They will be at a massive disadvantage as a result of this 10% levy, because it is not just on concrete blocks; it is on concrete products. There was no consultation with the building sector. Concrete has gone up in cost by 30% in the past 12 months. This will simply be passed on by companies because they have no choice. They cannot carry that increased cost. Last year it cost €8,000 for 100 m of concrete. That is what is required for the average foundation of a house, in case the Minister does not know. That will now cost €12,000.
I will mention another thing in case the Minister of State does not know. It takes approximately 8,000 blocks to build an average home. The cost of those blocks will now jump by €1,500. That is an awful hit for young people who are trying to get planning permission, dig out a foundation, put down a raft and build their block walls. Today, the Government is attacking such people for doing this. Where is the sense in that?
I welcome the €87 million for retrofitting but the Rural Independent Group sought a reduction of the VAT rate to 0% on all retrofitting insulation and renewable energy products. This did not happen. Why did it not? It would have been a fine and sensible thing to do. We would not have looked for it unless it was sensible but, of course, the Government will not take on board anything that shows common sense.
There is another thing that does not make a whole pile of sense and to which the Government needs to wake up. It relates to the help-to-buy scheme. The scheme is for first-time buyers and I welcome that but what about people who are buying a second-hand property to make their home? Surely to God there are an awful lot of people in that category. In County Kerry, new private housing schemes are unfortunately very slim on the ground but there are plenty of second-hand homes changing hands. Surely to God a young couple starting out in life should have the same advantages and facilities available to them as those buying a new home and receiving help-to-buy support. That is very important.
Local authorities need to be provided with more funding for their own houses to ensure they can be retrofitted at a much faster rate. More money needs to be given to local authorities to ensure a proper repair and maintenance programme for their own stock. This may involve putting in proper heating systems or improving windows to give people a proper standard of housing.
On education, the reduction of €1,000 in the contribution towards third level fees is fine but it is a once-off measure for this year. This is not right. If the Government is bringing this in, it should tell the people that it is going to leave it in and eventually scrap the fees altogether to allow people proper access to third level education. There has been no change to the Student Universal Support Ireland grant threshold as was sought by the Rural Independent Group.
There is €23.4 billion for health. In this case, firing money at a problem will not work. Year after year, the budget goes up but nothing ever changes. There is to be €23.4 billion but I will still be organising buses of people to go from County Kerry to Belfast to have procedures carried out on their cataracts, hips, knees, tonsils and whatever else because, despite a budget worth billions, we cannot take care of those people here in the South.
Farmers and fishermen were certainly let down today and that is wrong.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate on budget 2023. I will try to be as constructive as possible and to recognise those few positives that have been announced and the long-sought supports that have been introduced. However, I will also highlight some of the areas in which lost opportunities have clearly emerged. For example, much has been made of the fact that the budget provides for €600 in electricity credits to be applied to all bills in three instalments but the policy direction of Ireland's energy development remains essentially unchanged. That is the root cause of many of the issues consumers face with regard to prices. The Government remains committed to pursuing a precarious and unstable source of power in the form of renewables. It has signalled no clear switch to the funding of liquefied natural gas, LNG, or gas and oil exploration. All of this means that, through its own inaction, Government has prolonged the energy crisis for households and businesses and made it even more certain that more electricity credits will have to be delivered in the future along with supports for those businesses that cannot survive in such a hostile pricing climate. Without a fundamental shift in our energy policy, I wonder if all Government has done is delay the inevitable collapse of the SME sector. SMEs will, at some point or other, be simply unable to cope with the level of bills that need to be paid even in the context of the additional supports announced today.
I welcome the extension of eligibility for fuel allowance. Fuel poverty is real and should shame us as a so-called First World developed nation. Why has there again been no shift with regard to our approach to peat or reclaiming bogs as indigenous sources of fuel and energy for our power plants that were shuttered by a short-sighted and rigid approach which I completely opposed at the very beginning, as I continue to do?
The Minister of State's Government is making a lot of noise about this multibillion cost-of-living budget but where did those costs come from? Many of them were there years before the war in Ukraine and the unfolding energy crisis. The cost of childcare in this State has been on the political agenda for a decade or so now. For at least the last six years, families and working parents have been telling successive governments that they cannot afford the excessive fees being asked of them. Early years childcare providers have also been seeking additional core funding for years and, even when this was announced in recent weeks, many providers identified major systematic issues with it and sought to have the entire core funding model re-evaluated.
I welcome the announcement with respect to the children's allowance payment and the increases in social welfare payments. They fall far short of what my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group and I proposed. The increases announced today will not keep pace with inflationary pressures and will, at most, simply allow families to tread water as costs rise around them.
As we know from the analysis of the Parliamentary Budget Office, the tax strategy group paper on social protection outlined potential options for welfare rate changes in budget 2023. A €15 increase in core social welfare payments that are currently set at €208, such as jobseeker's allowance, jobseeker's benefit, one-parent family benefit and illness benefit, equates to a 7.2% increase. However, given actual inflation rates, a €15 increase would not cover 2022 inflation, resulting in a fall in the real value of the core social welfare rates. A €15 increase in the contributory State pension, which is currently set at €253.50, equates to a 5.9% increase, which falls considerably short of the likely overall inflation rate for 2022. Government has chosen to limit the increase to €12, meaning that it will be eaten up. Several months ago, I called for the retention of children's allowance for all post-primary school pupils who have turned 18 while in full-time education. That would have been of direct benefit and direct help to these families who continue to struggle day in, day out.
With regard to carers, I welcome the once-off payment that was announced but Family Carers Ireland has said that the issue of the means test remains a major source of concern. As the group pointed out, there is also no long-term vision for the carers who save this State €20 billion every year. That is very concerning. All the Government has given them is short-term measures such as the once-off payment, which is a very short-term thing. Carers deserved a lot more support. There are approximately 500,000 carers in this State who, as I have said, save it €20 billion a year. It is disappointing to see that again their needs are not being fully met and that there is no long-term vision.
The major expansion of the GP visit card scheme will bring in 430,000 extra patients but how will GPs cope? We have a chronic shortage of GPs. In Laois and Offaly, GPs cannot take on new patients. Where are the GPs to come from? I would like to know. All of these fanciful notions are misleading people. The Government needs to be honest with people about this. There is also increased spending for oral health but where are the dentists? There is a chronic shortage and an issue with medical card holders not getting access to dentists. Where are these dentists to come out of? I have raised these issues a number of times. The Government is not being straight with the public on these issues. It is trying to do something that cannot be done. In some cases, the proposals are just fanciful notions. I would like to see how the Government intends to increase the number of GPs to fulfil its promise.
I welcome some parts of the budget but I do not welcome a lot of it because it will not help the area I represent.
In the Budget Statement today, the Minister for Finance said, "On the taxation side [that is, VAT and excise extensions] I am extending the current excise reduction of 21 cent per litre in respect of petrol, 16 cent per litre in respect of diesel". The Minister is trying to fool people that the price at the pump is going to come down by 21 cent on petrol and 16 cent on diesel this evening. What he is doing is extending what he has already taken off. There will be no reduction at the pumps. I will give the people of Ireland a breakdown of what the Minister was trying to mislead them on. Petrol at the current rate costs €1.869 at most filling stations today. The suppliers, even though they inflated costs, are getting 82.9 cent and the petrol station that fills the car is still only getting 4 cent. Per litre, the Government is getting €1. Per gallon, which costs €8.4852, the Government is getting €4.5268. The Government is taking €53.35 out of every €100 for petrol. For diesel, today's cost is €1.898. The supplier takes 95 cent, the filling station takes 4 cent and the Government takes 90 cent. For every €100 the Government is taking €47.10 in tax.
Then we come to gas and electricity. Before the budget was announced, Flogas announced further price hikes next month. From 26 October, Flogas customers will see their electricity bills go up by 17% while their gas bills will rise by 23%. The Government is going to take the 9% VAT that is in the Government coffers already this year, even though it reduced it from 13% to 9%. It is up €4.62 billion and it is going to have more VAT on these costs because they are rising by 23%. That €4.62 billion is now going to jump to €6 billion. Who is going to pay this? It is every hardworking person, the working middle class and the working squeezed. If there are two people in a household working and they are paying a mortgage and they have children and pay their transport costs, they are the squeezed middle. They are the people who are travelling around this country on the front line services. Both of those people want to work but they are worse off than if one person in the house was working. They would not be as badly off then because they would be able to get some entitlements. People are being penalised by this Government if they work. They are being penalised if they are on the front line. That is the failure of the Government by not recognising the people who are doing all the work.
The Minister was on about the hospitality sector, which makes up 10% of the workforce in Ireland. Up until last week, the Minister for Finance was meeting with the Irish Hotels Federation and told the hotels he was not changing the 13% VAT rate. He said that was going to happen. The Rural Independent Group and others kept pressure on him and now says we will wait until February. He will not be in his position in February but Deputy Michael McGrath will be under savage pressure to make sure that 9% rate stays in place. These are front-line people. They come out and feed us and help us on all sides of hospitality. No matter what sector you work in, these are the people who are out working day and night. These are the people who are doing stuff for the economy and the Minister is making threats against them.
I will turn to the farming industry. I cannot say it but the Government is full of something. I will leave it at that. I will not be rude but everyone in this country knows what it is full of. It is giving out grants for spreading it.
Let us look at the construction industry, mica and pyrite. What is this Government is asking of every person who is in a position to build a house or anybody who wants to renovate a house? It is going to put a levy on all concrete products because it is too cowardly to take on the people who caused this. If it had done what I asked it to do and core-tested all the houses before retrofitting them, there would be a full example of which quarries these blocks came from. The Government would have a full data sheet on the culprits who caused this pyrite problem but it is penalising the quarries that had nothing to do with it and every person who wants to get on in life. Whether it is blocks, concrete, windowsills, lintels, patio slabs, or whatever they want to do, there will be a levy of 10% on all concrete products - even a concrete flowerpot. The Government wants the taxpayers of Ireland to pay for it. On top of all these 10% levies is 23% VAT. Not only is the Government putting a 10% levy on these things, it is 10% plus 23% VAT. That is if it is supplied only. If it is supplied and fitted, it is 10% plus 13.5% VAT. The Government has screwed this country long enough. I am asking every person, businessperson, working person and everyone else in this country to please see the light before it is put out. The Government needs to see the light and get out of government now before there is no future for anyone in this country.
I welcome the chance to talk about this budget. There are a few positive aspects and I welcome them. There are measures for third level students and primary level students but there is nothing whatsoever for secondary students. They have been left out. I welcome the increase for social welfare, for disability payments and for carers but at this juncture I have to say that carers should not be means tested. The devil is in the detail and there is a lot to it.
The first thing is the 13.5% VAT rate. The Government wants to bring that back and hit the tourism sector that we value so dearly down in Kerry. We have a wonderful product in Killarney, around the Ring of Kerry and up into north Kerry. There are wonderful places to see but the Government is hitting and kicking people in the sector at this stage. It is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
The thing I am most disappointed about is the people on the road who are paying for petrol and diesel all year. They have been robbed to fund this budget. They have suffered. There is no answer in the world as to how green diesel went from 90 cent up to €1.50 in one jump - in one week. There has been no answer or explanation. This is affecting farmers and people in industry. I have no problem in telling the Ministers that a barrel of crude oil costs less today than it did four years ago. Look at the level of taxation. Is there any shame in the Ministers at all? Just because they are supported by the Greens, they have let them do this to the people of Ireland, the people who elected them continuously over the years. They have forfeited them now for the Green Party.
It is ridiculous. The people were looking up to the Government and hoping. We all thought that the Government would do something for the people in this budget but it has done nothing. It promised in June that excise would be reduced by 15 cent, with a 2 cent reduction on green diesel. The Government left that in place until 28 February. Is it going to increase that again then?
On health, any amount of money that is given to the HSE will be taken but will not result in a proper health service. It was promised that more beds would open in Tralee and at Kenmare hospital but that has not happened. If elderly people get sick now, they have to queue to get a GP. It is ridiculous. GP services have been extended to youngsters but that will make the queues longer. We are suffering immensely from the lack of a home help service. People are being allocated home help but nobody turns up to give them any help. People are not coming. The Government is accommodating the Ukrainians. Could it not train them and use some of them to administer home help to people? Surely it could. When the Irish went abroad, they had to work everywhere they went. We lack consultants in every sector. We take people to the North on buses for procedures on cataracts, with a bus this weekend and two more buses in the next three weeks. Deputy Michael Collins started this service back in November 2017. We have taken 102 bus loads of people north to date.
Some elderly people who cannot hear have to wait for over a year to get hearing tests. I know someone who broke a leg last Saturday. That person is in one of our more prominent hospitals and no plaster has been put on the leg yet. This is Tuesday. One of our group mentioned people with Parkinson's disease earlier. Those people in have been let down. We have no nurses for them.
With regard to electricity charges, the Government said it will do whatever Europe does. Where is the energy regulator? Where is the Minister in charge of the regulator? We could all agree to paying more for electricity charges if it was true that it cost the companies that much more to generate the electricity. We now hear that their profits have tripled but, at the same time, people are being asked to pay. Why does the Government not stop them right now? They will increase their charges next week and during the rest of next month. Why does the regulator not stop them? They are hurting the people and driving them into the ground. I know of one old woman who is afraid to boil the kettle now because she got such a bill. The Government is saying that it will give people €200 now, €200 after Christmas and €200 more after that. That is not enough. The Government is profiting off the backs of these poor people because it is getting more VAT on it.
There is hardly anything for farmers other than a grant for slurry tanks. Most farmers have already bought that kind of equipment. They have built slatted tanks, which are as environmentally-friendly as possible. The Government is doing nothing at all to help with the cost of fertiliser, diesel, electricity, or other materials, spare parts and repairs. The Government is jeopardising food security.
The Government said that it would house everyone under Housing for All. Today, it came along and kicked young fellows who are trying to put a roof over their head in the teeth by putting a 10% levy on concrete. Michael Cronin of Coolcaslagh in Killarney and east Kerry has built many social houses and houses for young fellows right around the county.
It is ridiculous to hit such people. There is the Housing for All strategy but the Government has decided to increase the price of concrete by 10%, kick people when they are trying to start off and blow them out of existence.
The litmus test of any budget is that nobody is left behind, that all citizens feel they have a stake in what is happening and that the budget has something for them, their families and their communities. In the current cost-of-living crisis, this budget has to provide a safety net for those most at risk of poverty or the growing cohort of people who are actually experiencing poverty. The increase in the core social welfare rate of €12 per week is simply not enough. I know it is part of a package and that there are other layers of support, one-off payments etc., but some groups get some payments and others do not. At the very least, €15 per week is the minimum amount required. Social Justice Ireland and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul say it falls far short of what is needed. These organisations deal with people experiencing poverty every day. They have no axe to grind or political agenda. They are dealing with the harsh reality of poverty and deprivation. They say it is not enough and I agree with them.
There are some positive aspects to this budget but my role as a member of the Opposition is to look at where it falls down and fails people, and to make the case to Government to think again. In this context, while one-off payments are welcome, they do not address the long-term issues of poverty, especially for disabled people and others who are living on the margins. I fully agree with the response of the Independent Living Movement, which tweeted, "Any measure is welcome but a 'once off payment', won’t reduce poverty, won’t improve income inequality and won't have a long term impact on our quality of life."
One of my biggest disappointments is that carer's allowance is still means tested and is still not a qualifying payment for fuel allowance. To get fuel allowance, one has to be living alone or with certain others and getting certain social welfare payments. It is absolutely incredible that carer's allowance is not one of those payments. The Minister for Social Protection needs to think again. Family carers are at home 24-7, using more heat, light and electricity than the average family. How are they supposed to pay the bills that will land on their mats over the next few days, weeks and months?
Please tell me if I am wrong but I was shocked to hear that only one of the €200 energy credits will be paid to people before Christmas. That simply will not be enough, not just for carers, but for working people, those on low incomes and on fixed incomes, especially those who are not in receipt of the fuel allowance. People will not be able to pay their bills between now and Christmas. I am calling on the Minister to ensure that at least two of the €200 energy credits are paid to all households before Christmas.
In this context, I draw attention to the fact that the current electricity credit scheme will not benefit a significant number of Traveller families if they share a meter point reference number, MPRN, connection with one or more households. If four families are sharing a connection, they get €50 each. This is not acceptable; it is discriminatory. The Minister has to find a solution. For example, the Government could resource local authorities to make these payments.
My only statement on this is to find a way; what is happening is unfair.
The derisory increase of €5 as a top-up to community employment, Tús and rural social scheme participants must be amended. This brings their top-up to the princely sum of €25 per week. That is what they get for 19.5 hours' work, on top of their jobseeker's payment. It would not pay people to put an extra two or three litres of petrol or diesel in their cars, if they have a car, just to get to work. At the very least the increase should have matched the €12 social welfare increase.
Another group that will not benefit in this budget are those who were on what is called class D pensions. This group of people, who are mainly women, worked in health boards, social welfare offices, in pensions offices and Government Departments. Many were changed to a class D stamp in the mid-1970s. This was revised and reversed in the mid-1990s, but there is a cohort of people, mostly on small, fixed pensions, who do not qualify for any extra supports such as fuel allowance. In order to get fuel allowance, as the Minister is aware, a person must be in receipt of a qualifying payment. In this budget a person can earn up to €500 per week and still get it, which is good, but the vast majority of the people that I speak about are retired women who do not earn even close to €500 per week and they cannot qualify for the fuel allowance. It is a huge anomaly. It is unfair and unjust for those women who are caught in this poverty trap. I had hoped that this budget might address it. It has not happened and I will certainly be asking the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to look at it again.
In the week that the EU downgraded the development status of the northern and western region, for the second time in three years, and in the week when we have seen the collapse of sterling, both have a hugely negative impact on the region. The sterling collapse has a negative impact on cross-Border trade and Brexit, of course, was not even mentioned in this budget. The budget has been silent on balanced regional development. Budgets do not just impact families and individuals: they impact communities and regions. The programme for Government has promised us time and again to deliver balanced regional development. We have not done it. When we consider the northern and western region, comparatively speaking, it is 21 percentage points worse off than it was in 2006 when compared with other regions. I put it to the Ministers of State that this is simply not acceptable. We see that the gap between the regions is increasing. Those disparities must be stopped. The budget today offered nothing for people living in that region to believe that this Government was even beginning to deliver on the promise of balanced regional development.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the budget. I was happy with some of the things in the budget and there are some things I was not as happy with. I cannot for the life of me understand why people would go on the rural schemes such as Tús from what I have read today. People on such schemes will receive an extra €5 but if people do not go on the scheme and stay at home they will get an extra €12. That absolutely would fly in the face of encouraging people to work. The Minister needs to address this rapidly. There is an amount of work that people do on those schemes in every one of our towns - not just in my county but in everyone's county - be it the rural social scheme, RSS, or the Tús schemes in helping with the tidy towns and for community projects. In fairness, the Minister did make adjustments during the year, which I acknowledge, but this increase flies in the face of encouraging people to go back and do a bit of work. I ask the Ministers of State to ask the Minister to look at that to try to reimburse those people properly.
While I understand that there is a mica problem and that money has to go into that, I do not believe we are at the hour or the minute where we should be putting 10% onto concrete and blocks. I suppose it is a Green Party idea. There is a simple reason and I was just tallying it up. On the average bungalow build costs down the country it will probably add about €1,200 of an expense. I am not against any of this stuff down the road but now is not the time when we are struggling to get houses for rent or for young people to live in. I believe this in another thing on which the Minister should kick the ball down the road a bit. This has been a budget of nearly €11 billion and this would bring in about €8 million. Surely to God it is like peanuts but it is going to hurt people most. In fairness, everyone in this Dáil is trying to get ideas to try to solve in the building issues. I ask the Ministers of State to ask the Minister to look at that.
Bringing the fuel allowance to €500 is welcome and is needed. A lot of people in a vulnerable situation will need that, or the doubling up of it for a couple. Indeed, a lot of the social welfare increases are needed because pensioners are afraid of their lives to put on a light. It is welcome that extra money is coming in that regard.
Unfortunately, when we get to agriculture in the budget it is a few short sentences and it does not seem to have the same grá. At one time when I came in here in 2014 there was a good long piece on agriculture, but now it seems to be getting less. I do not know if this is by design because the Green Party does not like agriculture. I welcome the 30,000 new participants that will be announced soon in the agri-climate rural environment scheme, ACRES. I spoke to the Minister about this earlier and I suggest that there are things that need to change for the farmers and the cohort who own between 30 acres and 50 acres. We are going to keep the people who need the money most out of the system if we do not change some parts of that scheme. The Minister is well aware of my views on that and hopefully he will look at it.
I welcome the beef sector efficiency programme, BEEP-S. It is not in the documents today but I do welcome that some €26 million of €28 million is coming for it, along with what they called the new beef genomic scheme. It is a different name now but I call it by the old name. That is coming in as well and it is required.
Sheep farmers are struggling more this year. When considering the price of sheep last year and the price of sheep now, store lambs are actually less today. The costs have gone up, obviously, with fuel costs, energy costs and meal costs. I am not pre-empting something but I believe that the talk is that it is going from €10 to €12. They were looking for €20 to try to offset the costs for them. There is a €20 million budget for it but I cannot see any great thing in the budget for sheep farmers.
I welcome the new TAMS and the extra funding for it. I believe a lot of farmers will go for the solar panels but we need to know the detail. We are nearly talking in the dark. We are looking at a figure of €30 million besides TAMS, and then there is a word about solar panels but we do not know what percentage of that they will get. At least I welcome that the idea is coming forward.
There is also funding for anaerobic digestion. This is where money needs to be put through grant aid. Some say it will be through loans but I hope it is not loans. It needs to be put in through grant aid because there is a huge opening for anaerobic digestion right around this country in different areas. I hope the Ministers of State ask the Minister to look at that. The people who are between €25,000 or €26,000 and €35,000 or €36,000 are the people who most need it. I welcome the electricity vouchers but as Deputy Harkin said earlier they need a few injections of money before Christmas, to be honest about it. It would be better to have two of them before Christmas and hope for the best. One can always add on a bit in the second part of the year. I do believe that this is required.
I welcome the fees and so on for some of the publicans. They need a breather as well. I welcome the help with the electricity. I hope they do not over-complicate it.
You do not have to be a mathematician to know that electricity has gone up more than 50% in the past year. I looked at some of the commentary which said it was October to February, but these people need money and they need it rapidly. They need it in the next week or two because many small businesses are on life support at the moment. I welcome that there is a budget for it, but the money for it needs to be pushed out fairly quickly. I know that the budget is supposed to take effect from January but many of these businesses are like boats taking on water. They are in trouble and they need help. I will have more to say later but that is all I will say for the moment.
I am not sure what the purpose of budget day and these budget speeches is anymore. We all know exactly what is going to be in this document before we get in here and having to engage with this whole process is a bit of a sham really. This budget has failed many people who are struggling to make ends meet. This is very clearly a budget for energy companies, oil companies and landlords. It is budget to facilitate the greed and eye-watering profits of those who are making money off a crisis that is crippling hundreds of thousands of our constituents.
This is not a budget for our fishing communities, who have taken a huge hit this year, or for families affected by defective blocks. This is not a budget for those living in direct provision, for Travellers, farmers, small business owners, carers, foster carers, nurses, SNAs and teachers, our young people or those who live in rural Ireland.
We seriously need to implement a new model of childcare. The benefits of an updated, public, family-centric model of childcare cannot be understated. We need to move towards a free universal system such as the one in Finland. In the interim, we need a phased approach like the highly successful Norwegian model that would see caps on fees at low, affordable rates, with State subsidies. That would ensure decent wages and other conditions for staff and greater affordability for families.
Ireland ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, in 2018 and it is vital that all budgetary measures are in line with the State’s obligations under the convention. This means moving away from systems that segregate and marginalise disabled people and move towards inclusive policy. On average, EU countries spend 2% of GDP on social protection expenditure for disability. Ireland’s expenditure is just 0.8%, which is the second lowest in the EU. All Departments should ensure engagement with disabled persons organisations, DPOs, on disability equality budgeting and policy. We need to increase funding and access to disability equality training led by DPOs such as Independent Living Movement Ireland, ILMI, in co-operation with local structures. A recent ESRI report noted that disabled people are disproportionately impacted by poverty at a rate of 19.2%. That is almost five times greater than the national average, which is just 4%. A equity payment must be introduced, as the actual costs faced by individuals with disabilities range from €9,600 to €12,300. One-off payments simply are not good enough. Maybe they have broken the dam, from the Government’s perspective, and it will not be afraid of doing a one-off payment in the future. That might be the only benefit from doing. Currently, there is no legal right to a personal assistance service in Ireland. That must change with a minimum investment of at least €20 million. Quality of life and a human-rights-based approach must be our priority. The income thresholds and means tests need to be reviewed urgently for social housing and housing adaptations.
We need to invest in an accessible transport system with direct consultation with DPOs. Mobility grants need to be reinstated and the disabled driver and passenger scheme and tax relief scheme criteria is in urgent need of review. People are currently excluded on the basis of their impairment. Accessing, retaining and progressing in employment is a challenge for disabled people. A recent ESRI report found that Ireland has the fourth lowest employment rates in the EU for people with disabilities, at just 36%. This shows that we are failing disabled people all the time.
We need to move away from housing being seen as an asset or a commodity. Housing is a basic human right and should be treated as such. The Government should borrow now for capital investment in a nationalised housing body that would allow us to create a State-owned construction sector that would generate apprenticeships, trades and jobs that would in turn focus on building social housing and cost rental homes. It is also not enough to throw a number at the provision of Traveller accommodation since councils have failed time and again to draw down these funds. This should have been addressed in this budget.
The €500 tax credit for renters that this Government is introducing will simply end up in the pockets of landlords who will hike up rents. A more meaningful gesture would be to freeze rents and introduce an eviction ban. We need to ensure that there are actually houses available to rent, too. It is not enough to increase the vacant home tax. That will only further incentivise landlords to let their properties on Airbnb. We need a 50% tax on Airbnb and subsidies for long-term rentals going forward. That is the only way that we can address the crisis.
I was in contact with one business owner in my home town of Killybegs whose energy bill alone will be an additional €160,000 for the year. Look at how SSE Airtricity has been allowed to gain pre-tax profits of more than €1.1 billion, while continuing to increase electricity prices by 35% and gas by 39% for struggling households. This is grotesque and immoral, It needs to end now. A windfall tax does nothing but soften the blow of these constant energy hikes, while keeping energy companies happy with their profits. If ever there was a time to renationalise an industry, it is now. By taking it back into public ownership, the profit motive will be gone and we will have the ability to implement price freezes. We should not have to rely on private companies to treat our citizens fairly, and we certainly should not naively expect them to prioritise and invest in renewable energy. Their profits are their priority, not our carbon targets and not the climate in general. We can see how this is problematic in the case of Shell. It recently pulled out from investing in a major offshore project, thereby leaving it in jeopardy. We urgently need a State-owned company that prioritises Irish targets and goals. Our energy future is far too important to be left to corporate greed and companies whose goal is to take, take, take at the expense of ordinary people.
While the Government has recognised that the solution is to move away from imports and invest in renewables, it has not outlined how we should achieve this. This budget should have seen this energy crisis as an opportunity to move away from a reliance on foreign investment and fossil fuels. Instead of using this opportunity to take the power away from profit-hungry companies, the Government has decided to subsidise them. That is what it is doing by giving out these energy credits: it is facilitating them. It is putting the money straight into the pockets of energy companies. We are the ones paying for their profits. Why would they ever reduce prices when they know that the Government is, not only going to let them keep increasing prices, but will actually paying them when they do it? It is absolutely crazy and we are treating it like a win. It is not just for the people who need it, but for people like ourselves in this House who clearly do not. How can we here, with our incomes, justify getting the same reduction to our energy bills as households that are genuinely struggling? It is an absolute disgrace.
That is the biggest problem with the Government. It is willing to pump money into private companies in order to provide a quick fix, rather than addressing the actual core issues and making the structural change that is needed in this country. Without this change, we will only continue to push up the already high emigration rates that we are seeing amongst our young people. An inaugural OECD study on trust in government was published some weeks ago. It reported that, in the bracket of 18- to 29-year-olds, only Colombia scored worse than Ireland in the context of trust in government. That is a sad indictment of this House. It speaks volumes. It is a scathing indictment of Government mismanagement, disconnect and short-sightedness.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the budget but I think, as my colleague, Deputy Pringle, said, is just a bit of a performance, with us all standing up speaking on a budget that has been out in the media for the last week.
I want to mention some statistics not referred to by the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform. The figures are courtesy of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s pre-budget submission. It is the reality for huge numbers of individuals and families. It is not a new development due to a sudden rise in energy costs or the recent rise in inflation. It is an ongoing, constant daily struggle for survival. Unfortunately, this budget as with this Government’s previous budgets will have very little impact in changing this situation. To give one example, I will refer to a situation raised with me by constituent just last week.
For some years she has been a carer for her mother on full carer's allowance of €240. Her mother obviously gets the State pension of about €250, giving them an average of more than €450 coming into the household. Her mother got very ill and went into hospital last year and now it is most likely she will need to go into nursing home. Obviously, that State pension will go with her mother under the so-called fair deal scheme and she has to apply for disability payment because she cannot work. She has got a disability payment of €180. She will have to live on €180. She was absolutely distraught in the office last Friday and said, "How can I live on that? How can I pay my bills on that? It's just impossible." She went out on the Cost of Living Coalition march on Saturday and got a great boost because of the solidarity of the people around her. The 20,000 people on that march and gave her great boost, but she is still facing trying to survive on €180 euro a week.
This is not in any way to downgrade the effects of the massive rise in energy costs or the general rise in inflation and how they affect individuals, families or small businesses. In this budget, the Government had two key tasks, namely, to cap and reduce energy prices and to target supports to those most in need. It has succeeded fundamentally in neither. There have been some welcome once-off payments but from the fundamentals have not been addressed. The most straightforward and effective way to deal with soaring energy costs would have been to cap energy bills at 2021 prices and either nationalise those companies or bring in a cost-of-living emergency tax like the financial emergency measures in the public interest, which were brought in at the time of austerity.
The Government should have followed the example of France where the Macron Government, hardly a bunch of socialists, introduced a price cap this year of 4% on gas for heating and electricity. This enabled France to have the lowest inflation rate in the EU and an average of approximately 5.7%. For 2023, it has increased the cap to 15% meaning a monthly increase of €25 for gas as opposed to €200 a month. That €25 a month amounts to €600 year and €200 a month equates to €2,400 a year. Electricity price increases have also been capped at €25 a month.
Individuals and owners of small businesses, such as the corner shop at the end of my street, all say the most effective and straightforward way to keep prices down, to give people and businesses certainty as to the increased costs they will face, is to cap energy costs. Such a measure, of course, costs money. It involves subsidising energy companies using fossil fuels such as gas. The most fundamental way is to nationalise them. The cost to France this year is an estimated at €7 billion. It would not cost our State anything like that - possibly €1.5 billion. In the long run, measures taken by the Government, such as the €600 credit for electricity bills, are also a subsidy to energy suppliers.
The most obvious failures with targeted supports relate to the State pension and core welfare payments. The roadmap for social inclusion committed to introducing benchmarking of the State pension by budget 2019. It never happened last year. It was increased by a measly €5. In the two previous budgets, there was no increase. With the 10% rise in inflation that amounted to a cut in real income for those on the State pension. More than 100,000 elderly people are at risk of or live in constant poverty today as a consequence. If the commitment to benchmarking had been met, the State pension would be €40 euro week higher today. That is why many NGOs, including Alone, called for a €20 increase in this year's budget followed by a €20 increase in 2024. An increase of €12 comes nowhere near even just standing still. Why is it not being introduced in November? It will be introduced in January 2023. There has been a call to increase basic social welfare by a minimum of €20 a week. A €12 increase does not meet the increases in the cost of living and in reality means cut in income for those who can least afford it.
I welcome the increase in the eligibility limits for fuel allowance. I note that these will not be implemented until January 2023. The once-off lump sum of €400 paid to those already in receipt of fuel allowance will be introduced in November 2022. The €33 a week for fuel allowance is well below the €48 called for by NGOs like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Calls for the allowance to be extended to those on family income support were ignored. The payment of €400 to all fuel allowance recipients for the 28 weeks will be implemented in November. However, the increase in the threshold will not take place until January 2023. Will those recipients who get fuel allowance get that €400 in January 2023?
We have widespread inequality, unacceptable levels of poverty, a lack of affordable housing and a crisis in our public health services. Low levels of public services will continue unabated. I am sure the €500 tax rebate will be welcome for those squeezed to the limit in the private rental sector, but it is meaningless in dealing with the crisis of unaffordable and insecure housing.
I thought I was to have the unenviable task of being the last speaker and trying to keep you awake, a Cheann Comhairle. However, that particular burden has not fallen on my shoulders. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform quoted Seamus Heaney. I believe Seamus Heaney was actually paraphrasing Václav Havel, the former president of Czechoslovakia. He might have been better quoting from a poem by Seamus Heaney if we are going to quote him. I am reluctantly quoting because I agree with a previous speaker today that he is misquoted and misused in the Dáil, but I think it is particularly relevant. A quote from the "From the Republic of Conscience" might have been a better one for the Minister to use today. Among other things in that poem, he said:
At their inauguration, public leaders
must swear to uphold unwritten law and weep
to atone for their presumption to hold office -
Clearly, I am no expert on poetry but it is a call for self-reflection and it is a call for us to look at our consciences.
I absolutely acknowledge that there are good things in the budget. Time is limited and will be stopping in time for Deputy McNamara. Let me acknowledge that first and then let me use my time as a Member of the Opposition as an Independent voice for Galway West. The reason I was elected was to think, analyse and put forward a different vision. When I knocked on doors, I did not promise to reduce tax. However, I promised to push with every fibre of my being for an alternative vision for this country. I believe that is possible and that is what I want to do here today.
When we look at this budget and the good things that are in it, we ask what the context of that is. We are talking about spending €11 billion one way or another. Prices had started to rise significantly well before the appalling and illegal invasion of Ukraine but steps were not taken. I stand here for my seventh budget and I have waited foolishly and innocently for that budget to be part of a transformative action for our country that would make it more equal. That need for transformation became all the more acute with the declaration of a climate emergency. We have used these words "transformative action". Last year the Minister said that the planet is burning. Today, climate change goes to page 15 of his speech. The planet is still burning.
We have had the Covid pandemic and we were supposed to learn from that that we should never go back to how things were - transformative action about public health. The measures we introduced gave us a little insight into what was possible. The basic payment of €350, the ban on evictions and the ban on rent increases have all gone by the board and we are back to saying the market will provide. We are accused of having a particular ideology. I stand here and say that I have no ideology. I believe in an equal society, which is the better society in terms of health and advantages. What we have is a most unequal society and without the social welfare budget over €20 billion, it would be even more unequal. Let us consider the framework of today's budget. We failed to bring in a cap to stop evictions.
We failed to cap energy prices. We also failed to bring in a windfall tax. We do this with a background of Barnardos, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Social Justice Ireland, Oxfam, the CSO, representatives of people with disabilities and other organisations including UNICEF, telling us that families have to make difficult choices between energy and food. More than two thirds of parents of children in primary school and three quarters of parents of children in secondary school are worried about meeting costs this year. I welcome the measures that were introduced, but it is against this background.
Social Justice Ireland stated that 19%, 935,182 people, including 300,000 children, are below the poverty line when housing costs are factored in. The Central Statistics Office's, CSO's, data from June show that those with less income spend a higher proportion of it on food and transport. Among other points that were made, those in households with the lowest income experienced higher annual inflation. According to the CSO, the average wages in Ireland are approximately €50,000, with 64% earning less than the mean. The median earnings are €40,000. Then we have the working poor. That is based on CSO figures. Some 167,400 employees are reporting as being on the national minimum wage, or less. That is 7.8% of all employees.
Then we look at the Government's ideology on housing. It was stated that we would provide housing. I cannot remember the name of the Labour Party housing strategy. What have we got? Once again, we have the highest figure for homelessness. The Government's policy has normalised homelessness. The number of homeless was 10,568 on 31 July. It was a little bit higher again in August - a higher figure than the previously recorded highest figure in October 2019. I will come back to that if I have a chance.
An ESRI paper in June 2022 on energy poverty and deprivation estimated that recent energy inflation has increased expenditure based measures on energy poverty to almost 30%. The report goes on in that vein, but I do not have the time to go into it. Dr. Micheál Collins from UCD, who did a report on the hidden costs of poverty for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, estimated it to be €4.5 billion. That is just to serve the cost of poverty. If we bring in domestic violence, the conservative estimate is that it is €2.4 billion per year.
Let us look at mental health. Extrapolating from figures in Northern Ireland and England, it costs us up to €12 billion. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, might have a particular interest in this. I accept there is an increase, but it is nowhere near the recommended percentage. The Inspector of Mental Health Services, Dr. Susan Finnerty, of the Mental Health Commission, stated that every single year people with a serious mental illness will typically die between 15 and 20 years earlier than someone without a mental illness. Their physical illnesses are largely preventable. In Galway city, people were waiting on an orthopaedic list from 2019 to 2021 to be triaged, and they must wait another two years to get the service. There is a proposal to close the District Hospital in Clifden, which provides respite. The number on trolleys today in a centre of excellence in Galway is 50. There are 624,444 people on the National Treatment Purchase Fund waiting list. The cost of disability payment is nowhere to be seen, even though it was the most minimal request from those representing the various disability groups on the ground. This is a disaster of a budget in terms of transformative action. It is the greatest giveaway budget on one level. That is fundamentally the problem - it is because it is not based on a framework of transformative change.
I suppose everybody would agree that the budget contains many positive measures that are very badly needed to address the cost of living. However, most of the measures are once off. We know the reason for that, which is that, as most would agree, the world is in a perilous state economically and we are uniquely exposed. We continually talk about being such an open, trading economy. We are a member of the European Union. Germany is in recession. The British Government seems determined to throw itself off the nearest cliff. We are very much open to the calamity that they vest upon themselves. While there are lots of one-off measures, everybody seems to accept that they cannot be continued indefinitely. On the other hand, what I do not see in this budget is any strategy towards addressing the rising cost of living and the root causes of it. The main cause of inflation in Ireland, as everywhere in Europe, is energy. We had a significant problem with imported energy in Ireland at the foundation of the State, almost 100 years ago. One of the first things the then Free State Government did was try to address that and try to become self-sufficient in energy. At the end of the day, we have no control over the cost of imported energy. We have some control over the cost of potentially generating electricity. That is why, for example, Germany is in huge trouble. It put all its eggs into the basket of Russian gas. France maintains its nuclear reactors, so it is able to power itself. We spent 20% of the GDP of this State in the first years of the State, and there were significant competing demands for the money, to achieve energy self-sufficiency and we achieved it.
The Government, of which the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, is a part, continually talks about offshore wind solving all of our problems, yet almost 12 months ago, Equinor, formerly Statoil, the biggest player in the market, left Ireland because it had no confidence in its ability to do business here. Much more recently, last Thursday, Shell, announced that it was leaving the market. Some in this House would say it is great to get Shell and other foreign companies out, but the reality is that we would not have built Ardnacrusha without Siemens. Primarily, we did not have the technological capability to do it, and we do not have the technological capability to harness all the wind energy off the west coast. The only reaction to this conundrum, this long-term problem, other than to throw money at it in the short term - money that everybody accepts we might not have next year or the year after - is formally to fund the setting up of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, MARA, to the tune of €4.3 million. In the context of an overall budget, where the biggest problem to be surpassed is the cost of living caused by the rising cost of energy, the GDP of this State is now projected to be at about €460 billion by the end of this year, and to grow thereafter. Give or take, 20% of that is €60 billion. To put a strategy in place to address the single biggest problem the Government is going to spend €4.3 million. It does beggar belief in terms of a lack of strategy to deal with the underlying problem. There is a lot of will to deal with the day-to-day causes - to bail out businesses and households. I agree that needs to be done, but we must also address the underlying problem and I see no sign of that from the Government.
Last year, apart from rising energy costs, the other major cause of inflation was rising housing costs. To add to the cost of building a house for any family - young, old or whatever age - people pay the same amount regardless of where they are in the country and they must pay an additional levy of 10% for concrete. That is to pay for the mica redress scheme. I have no problem with the redress scheme, but when the legislation was being passed I argued that we should do the Opposition the courtesy of going through its amendments and that we should look at recouping some of the costs from the quarry owners that caused this problem. One of the biggest companies in Ireland, CRH, owns many of those quarries. At the time, it owned fewer of them, but it obviously thought they were a good buy and that the Government would do sweet damn all to recoup any money. Sure enough, the Government is recouping some of the money, but it is from everybody who wants to build a house. People were not allowed to build a house during Covid and now they cannot afford to build a house because the cost has gone up dramatically. There are lots of rising costs. The price of wood and steel went up dramatically. The price of concrete produced in Ireland is now going to rise by 10% for each and every one of those people because of the budget. I do not see how that adds up into a strategy to reduce the cost of living in circumstances where the major drivers of inflation are energy, which I have dealt with, and housing costs, which I have just mentioned.
The Government is making it more expensive to build houses in order to get more housing stock on the market to reduce inflation. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, will respond to that. I expect she will not do so but if she could, I would appreciate it, and I appreciate her sitting in for this debate given it does not relate to her Department, although this is her Government.
There are two other issues I wish to mention. The so-called universal payment towards the cost of childcare is not universal but rather relates to everybody who comes through the national childcare scheme. I accept that is a lot of people, but it is not everybody. There is no sort of tax credit system, such as that which exists in the UK, towards the cost of childcare, so it is not going to be universal, even if it was flagged as such by the line Minister, Deputy O'Gorman.
Finally, a particularly nasty addition was made to the Financial Resolutions, which everyone should read carefully. A Supreme Court case was taken regarding the drivers and passengers with disabilities scheme. The scheme was so circumscribed that it could not comply with the legislation. Applicants had to be missing a limb to qualify for the scheme; it was not enough for them just to have a condition that meant they could not drive.
The Supreme Court found this invalid and, instead of broadening the scheme, as any decent human being might envisage would happen, to help these people and give them some degree of independence along with their parents and those who drive them, the Government used the cloak of budget night and a budget resolution, in the convention centre, to narrow the scheme on the express promise that we would look at this again and broaden it-----