I would like to share time with Deputy Joe Behan.
Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2009: Second Stage (Resumed).
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I cannot believe the Government has failed to poverty-proof this budget. It has been a feature of all budgets since I have been here that the back of the budget document contained an annex on poverty proofing and which explained the effect of the budget on the poorest. Thankfully, today's newspapers have done it. For example, The Irish Times notes that the poorest one fifth of families will lose 2.7%, while the richest one fifth will gain 0.5% as a result of this budget. That is a very good indication of why we did not have a poverty-proofing of this budget, which I believe we were obliged to do.
It is quite clear that the Thatcherite approach of this budget has been swallowed hook, line and sinker by the people on the Government benches. They will march into the lobbies this afternoon. I appeal to them, and in particular to the so-called Independents who are supporting the Government and who were bought by the price of hospitals and medical facilities that had been already announced, to realise for what they are actually voting. They will reduce people's income to €196 per week, while the richest of the rich are getting away scot free. I will now give way to Deputy Behan, who is a true Independent in this House.
I thank the Labour Party, particularly Deputy O'Sullivan and Deputy Stagg, for giving me the opportunity to speak for 60 seconds on this Bill. They have been very generous in offering valuable time, because I know that time for discussion is coming to an end.
Deputies McGrath and O'Sullivan have their own distinct opinions, but I think they generally agree with me when I say this is an unfair, unjust and inequitable budget. The documentation we received outlines the income reductions on many of the poorest people in our society. As far as I am concerned, it is a charter for injustice. The Members who support this tonight will have to hang their heads in shame. Payments such as widows' pensions, carer's benefit, invalidity pension, disability pension, supplementary welfare allowance — the most basic payment for the poor — carer's allowance, disability and blind pension allowance are being cut. It is unbelievable that Fianna Fáil — a party that always stood for all sectors in society, especially the weakest — would for the first time in its proud history decide to attack the poorest people in our country. It contrasts vividly with the abject and unconditional surrender to the judges of this country, who are not being asked to make any contribution on a compulsory manner to the difficulties that this nation faces. That says it all. On that basis, I will not be supporting this measure tonight.
While I am grateful for the minute I received from the Labour Party to speak on this, it is not acceptable that three Members elected by the people to this Chamber should have to grovel and beg to get this time to speak on important issues. The three Independent Members will continue to fight for our right to speak on issues such as this in the future.
I call on an t-Aire.
On a point of order, I would like the Minister to address her comments specifically to the issue raised by Deputy O'Sullivan on the absence of poverty proofing in the budget.
That is not a point of order.
It is standard practice since 1998. We have a right to know if this budget has been poverty proofed before we are asked to vote on it.
I thank Deputies for contributing to the debate on Second Stage. Deputies from all sides of the House——
With respect, I would like to make a point of order. As a Deputy in this House for more than 13 years, I would like to indicate that I have not had the opportunity to participate in this debate, nor has the Sinn Féin slot as ordered by the office of the Ceann Comhairle.
That is not a point of order.
The speaking order for all the parties represented here was determined by your predecessor. The Sinn Féin slot has not even been reached. Only for the accommodation of the Labour Party to share a slot, we would not have had the opportunity——
I must advise you that when we finish Second Stage, we will be going on to Committee, Report and Final Stages of the Bill.
This is very important, with respect. I do not seek to disrupt the House. A Cheann Comhairle, I am asking you to take on board the fact that we have been censored and cut out. Three quarters of the Sinn Féin team in the Dáil have been prevented from participating on Second Stage of one of the most important Bills to come before this House, with far-reaching consequences for our constituents and ordinary people across the country.
You must resume your seat. The order of the House is being openly flouted.
There can be no other decision taken by this Government than a decision to go to the people. If the Government proceeds to ram this down the throats of the people, it should have the courage of its convictions to go before the people and let them judge what it is foisting on each and every one of them. For shame.
Again, I would like to thank Deputies from all sides of the House who spoke on this debate, especially those who waited until late last night to make very reasonable contributions, unlike Deputies from parties with speaking slots who chose to abuse, criticise and disrupt the business, but who chose not to speak on Second Stage. Obviously, they had nothing of value to offer. I am sorry Deputy Stagg took the view that it would be more appropriate to disrupt than to make a contribution, unlike others in the Labour Party who made very reasonable contributions last night——
Shame on the Government.
Censored and silenced.
——as did the Fine Gael Party.
I ask the Deputies to desist.
This is a very difficult and sensitive Bill. It is with a very heavy heart that we come to make recommendations to the social welfare budget. It is unfortunate that due to the balancing of the books that must happen from the nation's point of view, we must reduce our expenditure.
The choices that had to be made involved making cuts across all different Departments. The choices are not just that we could take in more revenue from a particular group, because that was not going to find us €4 billion. That was not going to make the changes that we needed for the long term. We were faced with a situation where every single Department had to make savings. Within the social welfare budget, there were difficult choices.
The Minister did not need to do it this way.
Nobody relishes having to do that, but we also made choices which were positive. We made choices that excluded pensioners. It is important that those over the age of 66 were recognised for their contribution to society and for the fact that they do not have the opportunity to generate incomes for themselves in the future.
The Minister took the bonus from them and imposed an additional levy of €5 per week in respect of drug payments.
We made a positive decision in respect of pensioners and a positive decision in relation to children.
The Government left the millionaires alone and hit the most vulnerable.
The nature of that positive decision is to send all our young people abroad. That is extremely positive.
Millionaires are untouched and the most vulnerable are being hit.
The Minister is screwing the people who are poorest.
It is a novel way to reduce the dole queues.
The Minister, without interruption.
Those on the dole are being encouraged to leave the country. That is the Government's policy.
We also made a decision in respect of the children of the most vulnerable.
Why is it not possible to tax the bankers?
Those opposite exiled a few people in the past.
If Deputy Stagg had something valuable to say, he would have chosen to say it during his contribution. However, he did not do so.
Why does the Government not tax the rich?
We made an extremely positive decision in respect of the children of the most vulnerable.
On a point of order, the Minister should withdraw the statement she has just made. She is well aware of the reason why I and 17 other Members of the Labour Party did not contribute. We were excluded from doing so by the guillotine being imposed.
That is not a point of order. Ar aghaidh leat, a Aire.
We were prevented from contributing by a guillotine being imposed.
That is not a procedural matter.
Another reason was that the Minister had an hour in which to contribute when she should only have had 30 minutes.
Deputy Stagg should resume his seat.
Deputy Stagg has been referred to by the Minister on three occasions in the past five minutes. Many of us had contributions to make.
We have been silenced and prevented from participating.
The Minister, without interruption.
The Minister should get on with uttering her old guff now.
This is a dictatorship.
Bring back section 31.
Huge progress has been made in the context of reducing consistent poverty among children and older people.
That will be reversed by the cuts to child benefit.
We will certainly not do anything to reverse this. Even though there has been a reduction in child benefit——
I love the Minister's use of the term "Even though". It is as if the cut happened by accident.
We have ensured that the children of families on social welfare and in receipt of family income supplement will be protected.
This Bill is anti-children, anti-young people and anti-jobs.
Please what? Does the Ceann Comhairle want us to please allow the Minister to cut people's payments? Members on this side will not apologise for interrupting.
Of all the different groups I met prior to the budget, it was the members of this group which indicated that they were willing to make a contribution. I accept that it is extremely difficult to take €8.30 a week from people. We do not underestimate the difficulties this will cause.
The Minister does not have a clue about such difficulties. If she did, she would not even contemplate these cuts
However, we were able to do this, particularly in view of the increases provided in recent years and the fact that, as a result of the serious deflation that has occurred, people's money goes further.
The Minister should take the silver spoon out of her mouth and take note of the damage she is doing.
The Government has left the millionaires alone and has hammered the weakest in society.
Serious deflation has occurred and this means that the money——
Shame on the Government.
If the Minister had any shame she would resign.
We are in an unusual situation whereby there is an economic crisis and serious deflation has occurred.
The Minister has no empathy with the poor at all.
Deputy Shortall, please.
It is "Lady" Shortall.
Deflation did not occur in previous years. On other occasions there would have been inflation but now we have deflation. Whereas we have returned to the incomes of 2003 and the prices of 2007——
We have not returned to the prices of 2003. Has the Minister even looked at her electricity bill?
——social welfare rates have not returned to what they were in those years.
Why were millionaires left alone?
Has the Minister considered the cost involved in sending a child to school. Free education my arse.
There was reference to specific groups. In its pre-budget submission, Fine Gael indicated that it would cut the social welfare rates relating to the unemployed and lone parents. Fine Gael accepted that we needed to take action in this regard but it also indicated that certain groups would be excluded from such cuts. When one considers the various groups of working-age people and tries to distinguish between them——
We also stated that we would give jobs to these people.
——it is impossible to state which of them is more special than the other. We appreciate the work done by carers in particular. Carers are the first to recognise that not only have their basic payments increased in recent years and that the disregards were also increased.
What about the cost of living?
This is an insult to carers.
In addition, carers can avail of free travel and household benefits. The groups representing carers requested, in the strongest terms, that we should not touch the half-rate allowance or the respite grant.
The Minister took away all the appliances of which they could avail.
We did not touch either of these payments and the reason is that we recognise the role of carers.
The Minister does not recognise their role. If she did, she would not have touched their payments.
Why is the Minister cutting their incomes?
The respite care grant has increased to €1,700. When it was first introduced, the rate of payment was only €250. The grant is paid to those who do not receive carer's allowance. Therefore, it constitutes a real recognition for these individuals. We could have cut the respite care grant and left the rate unchanged. However, this would have had an impact on a greater number of carers so we chose not to do so.
The Government could have taxed the bankers.
And the rich.
What about people who earn €500,000 a year?
We did not touch the disregards for carers. Very generous disregards apply in circumstances where carers or their spouses are allowed to work.
The Minister is protecting the rich and hammering the poor.
The Government could have taxed a few of its old cronies.
What about Sinn Féin's friends at the Royal Bank of Scotland?
Fianna Fáil took money from the people and gave it to the banks.
A couple with two children can earn in the region of €37,200 and still receive the maximum rate of carer's allowance. In light of the disregards that exist, we are trying to ensure that carers, depending on family circumstances, have the opportunity to work outside the home as well. We recognise and appreciate these individuals for the work they do. The same applies in respect of the domiciliary care allowance for parents who have children with special needs. We did not cut this allowance, even though the people in this group are of working age. It was important that we did not reduce the rate of this allowance.
Some €650 million will be spent on carer's allowance, carer's benefit, the respite care grant and the half-rate carer's allowance in 2009. This compares to an amount of €46 million being spent on them just over ten years ago. That is a very big contribution.
The Minister is great.
The situation which obtains now is very different from that which obtained just over then years ago.
While it is regrettable that we have been obliged to cut the weekly rate, it would not have been possible to exclude just one group. We could not, for example, have cut the rates paid to carers and not cut those relating to another of the working-age groups.
There has been a great deal of discussion with regard to the sensitivities that apply in respect cutting allowances for people with disabilities. I accept that we are talking here about an extremely vulnerable group.
So much for the rights of people with disabilities.
The rate of payment on disability benefit has increased from €89.70 in 1997 to €204 this year.
What about the real hardship that will result from what is being done?
People are trying to survive on a pittance.
The rate of payment has increased by 130%. However, it is not just about the payment.
No, it is about rights.
In meeting the relevant groups, I discovered that what is of as much concern to them as the rate of payment is the level of community and health supports in place.
And the Minister is cutting those as well.
What about the appliances that will no longer be available?
If cuts were not made in the social welfare budget, the burden would have fallen on making cuts in, for example, the health budget.
What about the bankers and those who are earning more than €400,000? They could have been taxed.
It would have been far worse for people with disabilities if we had been obliged to cut back on home help, home care packages, respite care or day care places.
The home care packages have disappeared.
The Minister can tick that one off. It has already been done.
An additional €10 million has been invested in home care packages.
There have been no home care packages available in Kildare since last January.
Dental and optical cover have been removed. Will the Minister pick on medical card holders next?
We are ensuring that there will be no diminution of the services available for people with disabilities. That is the type of choice the Government faced when trying to frame the budget. There were recommendations to the effect that the various disability groups, carers groups, and so on, should have been left out.
A recommendation was made in this regard but the Minister did not take it on board.
If that had been accepted, we would have been obliged to take €100 million or €120 million from another Department's budget, which would have caused undue hardship.
I mentioned reductions in the cost of living. I know the figures are far better for people who perhaps have a mortgage or cars, but the prices relating to energy, clothing, footwear and food have also decreased and this has an impact on everyone.
Fuel and other costs have increased. What is the Minister talking about? The Government increased the cost of living when it introduced the budget.
There has been much discussion with regard to fraud and combating fraud, which is a major priority for the Government and the Department of Social and Family Affairs.
The Minister is performing terribly.
There is absolutely no evidence that the figures which were bandied about on a recent television programme to the effect that 10% of the people on social welfare schemes are engaged in fraud.
Did the Minister read the Comptroller and Auditor General's report?
The level of fraud is extremely small. However, the level of fraud among some categories of people on certain schemes can be quite high.
Then deal with it.
If it was dealt with properly, cuts would not be necessary.
What is being done in this regard is nothing but a distraction.
That is why we have clamped down on the activities of such individuals. That is why the Bill contains new measures which will assist the Department in combating fraud.
We have ensured that we will do whatever is necessary to work with agencies in this and other jurisdictions to combat fraud because, after all, taxpayers' money is at stake.
The Minister is hammering the poor to protect the rich.
The Government should tackle the hypocrisy in our society.
A great deal of misinformation was bandied about last evening in respect of young people. Despite the fact that Fine Gael criticised our proposals in this regard, its pre-budget document suggested that it would reduce the payment to young people by €50 per week if they did not take up opportunities in training or education.
What about young people? They will all go abroad.
Yes, but our document indicated that we would provide the relevant education and training courses.
We will increase their payments by up to €50 per week if they take up such opportunities.
That is an important element of the legislation.
The Minister's time is up.
It was important that the Government provide leadership. We have done this in respect of our work and we must do it in the interests of the country. I regret the difficulties this will cause for people.
I will move an amendment on Committee Stage to ensure that young people aged 22 to 24 will obtain the full rate of payment if they participate in the Government's work placement programme.
I must put the amendment.
On a point of order——
I am on my feet and putting the question.
I am devastated that some of the Members opposite voted for Second Stage of the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill. These are discriminatory measures against the blind, the disabled and the carers.
The Deputy's party voted against the increases.
If the Members opposite and the so-called Independent Members want to vote against these measures we will give them an opportunity now to go up the stairs and turn right. I am calling for a vote by other than electronic means.
We are giving the Government an opportunity to reverse its decision to make all the people poor.
The Deputy has to take the 5% cut or else we will make it 15%.
- Ahern, Bertie.
- Ahern, Dermot.
- Ahern, Michael.
- Ahern, Noel.
- Andrews, Barry.
- Andrews, Chris.
- Ardagh, Seán.
- Aylward, Bobby.
- Brady, Áine.
- Brady, Cyprian.
- Brady, Johnny.
- Browne, John.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Calleary, Dara.
- Carey, Pat.
- Collins, Niall.
- Conlon, Margaret.
- Connick, Seán.
- Coughlan, Mary.
- Cregan, John.
- Cuffe, Ciarán.
- Cullen, Martin.
- Curran, John.
- Dempsey, Noel.
- Devins, Jimmy.
- Dooley, Timmy.
- Fahey, Frank.
- Finneran, Michael.
- Fitzpatrick, Michael.
- Fleming, Seán.
- Flynn, Beverley.
- Gormley, John.
- Grealish, Noel.
- Hanafin, Mary.
- Harney, Mary.
- Haughey, Seán.
- Healy-Rae, Jackie.
- Hoctor, Máire.
- Kelleher, Billy.
- Kelly, Peter.
- Kenneally, Brendan.
- Kennedy, Michael.
- Killeen, Tony.
- Kitt, Michael P.
- Kitt, Tom.
- Lenihan, Brian.
- Lenihan, Conor.
- Lowry, Michael.
- McEllistrim, Thomas.
- McGrath, Mattie.
- McGrath, Michael.
- McGuinness, John.
- Mansergh, Martin.
- Martin, Micheál.
- Moloney, John.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- Mulcahy, Michael.
- Nolan, M. J.
- Ó Cuív, Éamon.
- Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
- O’Brien, Darragh.
- O’Connor, Charlie.
- O’Dea, Willie.
- O’Donoghue, John.
- O’Flynn, Noel.
- O’Hanlon, Rory.
- O’Keeffe, Batt.
- O’Keeffe, Edward.
- O’Rourke, Mary.
- O’Sullivan, Christy.
- Power, Peter.
- Power, Seán.
- Roche, Dick.
- Ryan, Eamon.
- Sargent, Trevor.
- Scanlon, Eamon.
- Smith, Brendan.
- Treacy, Noel.
- Wallace, Mary.
- White, Mary Alexandra.
- Woods, Michael.
- Allen, Bernard.
- Bannon, James.
- Barrett, Seán.
- Behan, Joe.
- Breen, Pat.
- Broughan, Thomas P.
- Bruton, Richard.
- Burke, Ulick.
- Burton, Joan.
- Byrne, Catherine.
- Carey, Joe.
- Clune, Deirdre.
- Connaughton, Paul.
- Coonan, Noel J.
- Costello, Joe.
- Coveney, Simon.
- Crawford, Seymour.
- Creed, Michael.
- Creighton, Lucinda.
- D’Arcy, Michael.
- Deasy, John.
- Deenihan, Jimmy.
- Doyle, Andrew.
- Durkan, Bernard J.
- English, Damien.
- Feighan, Frank.
- Ferris, Martin.
- Flanagan, Charles.
- Flanagan, Terence.
- Gilmore, Eamon.
- Hayes, Brian.
- Hayes, Tom.
- Higgins, Michael D.
- Hogan, Phil.
- Kehoe, Paul.
- Kenny, Enda.
- Lee, George.
- Lynch, Ciarán.
- Lynch, Kathleen.
- McEntee, Shane.
- McGinley, Dinny.
- McGrath, Finian.
- McHugh, Joe.
- McManus, Liz.
- Mitchell, Olivia.
- Morgan, Arthur.
- Naughten, Denis.
- Neville, Dan.
- Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
- Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
- O’Donnell, Kieran.
- O’Dowd, Fergus.
- O’Keeffe, Jim.
- O’Mahony, John.
- O’Shea, Brian.
- O’Sullivan, Jan.
- O’Sullivan, Maureen.
- Penrose, Willie.
- Perry, John.
- Quinn, Ruairí.
- Rabbitte, Pat.
- Reilly, James.
- Ring, Michael.
- Shatter, Alan.
- Sheahan, Tom.
- Sheehan, P. J.
- Sherlock, Seán.
- Shortall, Róisín.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Stanton, David.
- Timmins, Billy.
- Tuffy, Joanna.
- Upton, Mary.
- Varadkar, Leo.
I declare the Bill to be read a Second Time in accordance with Standing Order 121(2)(i).