Wednesday, 13 October 2021
Budget 2022: Statements (Resumed)
Lynn Ruane (Independent)
I thank the Minister of State for being in the Chamber. I always find this time of year particularly difficult to comment on and I usually sit down, read the budget and try to make sense of it and understand it. I then try to break down the figures and comment on this million euro or that percentage. To be honest, every time I do that I give up and I have to go back to people's lives and to what is behind them.
Since I started paying attention to the budget as a young mother, it has become a big event every year. I used to wonder how it would impact on me and then when I went into the addiction sector I looked at how it would impact on the work I did and the people I worked for. This year, there was zero increase in funding for drugs initiatives and drugs task forces. Over the past two years, there has been a huge amount of commentary on mental health, dual diagnosis and the increase in drug use but there is no increase in funding for treating people who are the most vulnerable. When I look at the budget I visualise in my head a line of people, some of whom will be positively affected or impacted by the budget. The people I work and volunteer with in my community are not even at the back of that line because they do not know where it is.
Working from home in the past two years, I have reintegrated in the community through voluntary work. I spent a lot of time working in addiction and homeless services again to give some time when I could so as I did not have to be in this Chamber. I was struck yesterday, while reading through the budget, by many of the experiences that have had an impact on me. I saw how little it benefits addiction services and the community and youth sectors and how it will leave poverty untouched.
Driving along the Tallaght bypass in the past few months, I had to pull my car over underneath a bridge because I saw a man tie a noose around his neck and drop. What he did in that moment was so symbolic. I watched the light go out his eyes as he stood there having made a decision to do that. He ended up in Beaumont Hospital and they managed to save him. He landed head first at my feet under the bridge over the bypass. He made the decision to go onto that bridge. There are thousands of others like him who sit at home every day contemplating who they are, what their lives are about or for and if they can build lives that are worth living.
I also pulled up outside a Centra shop a few months ago and watched pre-teenage kids in my estate encourage a woman who sits outside the shop begging to go into treatment. Imagine being 11 years old and having the vocabulary to do that. It was lovely to see that the kids cared about her and wanted to encourage her into treatment but that is not what they should be thinking about at their age, nor is it the kind of conversation they should be having outside their local shop.
This budget, like every other budget, does nothing to get to the heart of the problem or to what poverty does to people's lives. Nothing in this budget gives me any hope that we are even close to getting there. That is not because I think my colleagues in other parties do not care; I believe they care. I do not speak in this House on some budgets because I do not want to be seen as being in here to engage in some sort of political point-scoring. That does not benefit the people I am talking about who are dying in my community. I want to come in here and know that something positive will happen.
I do not know if other Senators have seen someone who wears poverty. When I walk around my community and meet people, I see women my age on the one parent family payment who have been impacted by trauma and cannot access services or supports for their kids with additional needs. Some of them look 30 years older than me. That is because poverty and trauma have seeped into their bodies to the point that they are hunched and walk in a shuffle. These women do not know how they will pay their rents. Other one parent families in my community, both friends and people who just come to me for support, have to change where they live every year. The moment their children make a few friends on the road, the landlord wants back in. The housing assistance payment has to go. It interrupts children's lives every year when these families have to move house again. They have to pack up their things again and move on to the next landlord who might give them a house at a rent they can afford.
I listen to the narrative or story in the budget in which we tell ourselves that it will reach the most vulnerable, protect a particular group or make transformative change in a particular area. I have been hearing those phrases every year and everyone I worked with ten years ago is still in the same hole they were in then. We cannot keep telling ourselves this story, attaching ourselves to that narrative and convincing ourselves that the political decisions we make have an impact because they do not. When we sit down to decide where we spend money we have to match it with how we spend that money and the aggressive action we have to take to make sure it does what those with good intentions around the table say they want it to. The problem is that people are so far at the back of the line that €5 cannot and will not reach them.
The Minister for Finance made a comment yesterday that has been in my head since I heard it. He said: "Our country now reaches for a better, brighter future." I felt sad when I heard that phrase because that is the aspiration of people who can see a future. Better and brighter applies if you are already in an okay position where your future could be brighter. I am working with people who just want to feel they have a future, never mind a better and brighter one. Just a future would do them but that is not happening. I ask the Minister of State, and all colleagues, to watch the narrative and story we tell ourselves when we talk about how a budget will impact the lives of people whose lives we do not have a decent analysis and grasp of because they are at so much of a distance from the lives we live. They are so far away we can never understand the impact the budget will have.
For me, budgets need a strategy because without that, we will not get anywhere. We need to have two-year and three-year budgets for addiction services, drugs initiatives and the youth sector so that communities can even begin to build their capacity to advocate for and care for themselves and feel like they are part of that service so that they may have a better and brighter future.