Wednesday, 13 October 2021
Budget 2022: Statements (Resumed)
Catherine Ardagh (Fianna Fail)
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. We know that no budget is a panacea. Each budget has to be ambitious and try to change people's lives. Our representative in the Department, the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, and his counterpart, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, have come up with a progressive budget that lays the foundations to ensure that people have better lives, especially when it comes to childcare, and in some other aspects. It is not perfect but it goes some way to giving a little back. We have to remember that we are still in extraordinary times. Covid figures are still at nearly 2,000 daily. There was significant caution when I was coming in that our vaccination rates, coupled with our reopening, leave us on a tightrope. We are not out of the woods yet. We have to remember that this budget has Covid as a backdrop. We still have Covid. We are not out of it.
We have to remember the significant impact Covid has had on society, our communities, services, many people's jobs and on the Exchequer. Covid masked significant faults in our public services. Many operations were cancelled. We saw a beautiful young boy who is waiting for a scoliosis operation. His family were given an excuse of Covid for months and months. It is not right or fair. Hopefully he will get the operation he needs. Many people's operations were cancelled and treatments were delayed. People were cut off from seeing their loved ones at the end of life. This will simmer up. We will see the devastating consequences of Covid. Budgets like this have to go some way in looking at alleviating the devastation left by Covid and trying to repair society.
I am not the Minister for Finance and everyone can relay the statistics but it has been a progressive budget. There is €520 million in income tax reductions. It is not a huge amount but it goes some way towards giving people extra disposable income. As some of my colleagues have noted, the hospitality sector has been given a commitment that the VAT rate will remain at 9% until the end of August, which is welcome. It would like to see the VAT rate remain in the longer term. We have seen an increase in the second band of USC. We saw a minimal increase in the minimum wage. As a House, we need to do more to ensure that there is a living wage for people on low incomes. We have seen allowances made for people working from home, who can offset 30% of their utility bill against their income tax. There is a €600 million fund for the Department of Social Protection. There has been an increase of €5 for the old age pension and jobseekers' payments and in the fuel allowance. Many people who we come across do not qualify for the fuel allowance, so I have advocated for an increase in the threshold to qualify for the fuel allowance. We did not see that in this budget but I hope it will be looked at again.
My colleague, Senator Conway, outlined the substantial investment in women's health. There is a €31 million investment in women's health initiatives, with free contraception for 17 to 25-year-olds. We have seen a significant increase in funding for the national maternity strategy, which includes funding for the recruitment of obstetricians, doctors and midwives. We have seen endometriosis clinics open. Many of my colleagues in the Seanad have done tremendous work in advocating for those with endometriosis, including Senators Chambers, McGreehan and Clifford-Lee. I also have advocated for those with endometriosis. We have seen perinatal genetics clinics open. There is significant investment in the sexual assault treatment unit, SATU, in the Rotunda, which does amazing work to support those who have been sexually assaulted. We also have seen menopause clinics opening and have started to address period poverty.
I was hoping to see more investment in therapies for children with additional needs. I was disappointed that we did not see that. Like many of us have said today, we will see a health budget in December and hopefully we will see a large portion of money put towards additional services for those with additional needs. The waiting lists for assessment for occupational therapy, speech and language and psychology are outrageous. Even once people are assessed and approved for treatment, they may only get two or three treatments in a year. It is shocking. Hopefully the health budget will address some of that.