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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 24 Oct 2013

Vol. 818 No. 3

Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Despite denials, the Government's budget contains cuts in the social welfare rates. We have heard in the past week that core payments and weekly payments have not been cut in the same way as they were not cut in the previous year. No matter how often Ministers say this, the fact is that payments have been cut. The jobseeker's allowance for claimants under 26 has been cut by €44. That is a cut. The welfare rate for 65-year-olds who can no longer work due to a disability has been cut by €36.80. That is a cut no matter which way one presents it. There have been cuts to maternity benefit and illness benefit, invalidity pension and adoption benefit. The mortgage interest supplement is being phased out and the bereavement grant has been slashed completely.

It appears nobody is safe but what is particularly cruel is the attempt by this Government to demonise young people. Deputy Maloney reckons that young people are all sitting at home looking at flat screen televisions all day. I can assure him that many of them are contacting Deputies.

They may not be in touch with him but they are certainly contacting Deputies and businesses to see whether they can find a job anywhere. In regard to the claim by the Minister, Deputy Bruton, that social welfare is a lifestyle choice, I ask him whether he can live on €100 per week.

Since the Government came to power in 2011, the unemployment rate in County Laois increased from 8,396 to 8,857, of whom 1,588 are young people. As attacking young people by cutting their rates will not create employment, the Government would be better off focusing on job creation. Youth unemployment has remained at a staggering 30% for more than four years, with 30 applicants for every available job according to ICTU. Young people want to work and we need to make jobs available for them but the Government's policies are failing in that regard.

The budget proposals that Sinn Féin put forward outline how we would reduce the tax burden on ordinary families by taking 296,000 workers on the minimum wage or below it out of the tax and USC net and protecting welfare payments. The Government has let young people down. Some 64,700 people under the age of 25 are currently unemployed. Rather than punish young people we want to give them real jobs, education and training for a future in Ireland. We propose a guarantee of employment, training or education, or an apprenticeship within four months of a young person becoming unemployed. According to the National Youth Council, this can be achieved at a cost of €6,600 per person, or a total of €400 million, which could be provided through a combination of Exchequer and matching EU funding. We are committed to ring-fencing money raised from a wealth tax to ensure that every young person can avail of a job, education or training. We would link the youth guarantee to our job stimulus. Instead of making comments about lifestyles, the Government would be better to focus its energy on the needs of those who receive welfare and young people in particular. It is disheartening for them. They badly need employment and the Government should not think cutting welfare rates will somehow create new jobs.

If one takes unemployment and emigration as the barometers by which the public can measure Government policy, Government policy has failed. I ask the Government to stop attacking young people. The cuts are a disgrace. Young people want hope and a future in this country. We are trying to present alternatives and we ask the Government to consider them.

I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this Bill. One's credulity is stretched when one hears the submissions made to the House in the climate we have lived in for the last several years. The Government has been accused of being arrogant and impervious to the needs of the people. I begin to wonder whether we have all been living in the same country. I readily accept that the measures taken by the current Government have severely impacted on many of our people, including people we all know and respect or have worked with for many years. We all know the challenging times we have come through and how they have affected the people we represent. They have made huge sacrifices to bear their burden in the clear knowledge they are going in a particular direction. I hope that direction will, by the end of the year, allow us to break out of the strait jacket imposed on us for the last several years. We should get away from the nonsense and play acting of recent times, including playing to the gallery and trying to curry favour.

From the back of a truck.

Deputy Catherine Murphy has done that from time to time.

Do you need a handkerchief?

Deputy Mattie will remember that -----

Crocodile tears.

----- from his previous incarnation

Let us get back to the Social Welfare Bill.

Is this a history lesson?

I fully recognise that they are, to varying degrees, denying the situation in which we find ourselves. Their only solution is escapism. They are pretending it never happened and calling for more money to be spent. Deputy Mattie McGrath even had to leave Fianna Fáil on that basis, having been totally irresponsible.

Let us get back to the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill.

This is the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill.

It is Deputy Durkan's version.

This is about expenditure and the need to meet certain targets in the current climate.

You had choices.

We did not bring that climate upon ourselves but we are facing up to it. I acknowledge the sacrifices that the people of this country have made. It is a difficult time. Where are we now?

We have pushed that snowball up the hill. Deputy Mattie McGrath left the snowball behind him after failing to face his responsibilities when he was in Government. The people of this country have moved that terrible burden up that incline with great sacrifice. They have succeeded and, while our hearts go out to them, we also congratulate them for what they have achieved. We have one more stride to make. This is the final one. If we fail to do what is expected of us now we will pay a bigger price. We will fall back to where we started and will have to start all over again. We will have to face the situation we faced when this Government came into power. Every morning when we switched on the radio we did not know what catastrophe was coming down the tracks. We did not know what else was going to happen in the world markets.

Now we know what catastrophe is coming down the tracks.

I know Deputy Boyd Barrett is sincere but he is also tragically naive. The people have suffered so long that it would be a terrible tragedy were they to follow the lunatic policies put forward by some people on the opposite side of the House. Some of the Members opposite know that in their heart of hearts. They know that when it comes to the crunch, the people of this country expect the right decision to be made by those they elected.

I ask Deputies to put themselves in the position of the Minister for Social Protection. I spent some time in that Department many years ago.

Why do you ask so many parliamentary questions?

The Minister for Social Protection must take up the slack when people become unemployed. The blame for the numbers who have become unemployed rests with people like Deputy Mattie McGrath, who abdicated his responsibility. Unfortunately, the people of this country have been punished as a result of his negligence and the negligence of the Government of which he was a part. He saw the train coming down the tracks and he jumped because he did not have the courage of his convictions.

How much do your parliamentary questions cost?

There is no need to pretend it did not happen. Others in the Opposition have similarly failed to face up to their responsibilities. I congratulate the Minister for Social Protection for doing an extraordinarily difficult job. She will be the first to accept that people have been hurt. She has been in this House for a good number of years. It is an appalling situation. I ask those on the other side who are cynical what they would have done if they were in her position. One speaker said he would introduce a wealth tax. I am amused by some of the proposals that have come from the benches opposite. Their budgetary predictions were based on everything remaining constant.

Like Deputy Durkan.

They pluck out of the air a figure that they received by submitting a parliamentary question. I presume they know that, once one interferes, there is a change. Nothing remains constant, as many of the Deputies across the way know. When there is change, projections go astray. Sadly, this has often happened.

I do not want to go into the story of the 10% of people who pay a considerable amount of the taxes collected in this country. I will congratulate the Minister for Social Protection and the Government on doing a job in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The hurt that has befallen the people grieves us all greatly. They have been patient, but if they are patient for a little while longer, their patience will reap deserving fruit.

Live horse and get grass.

The mutterings coming from Deputy Mattie McGrath and others on that side of the House sound shallow to those who ask what Deputy Mattie McGrath did while on this side of the House. He could only say, "Let there be more spending". That is what the critics on that side of the House are now saying. Does the House realise where this country would be if that were to happen and the budgetary situation were to worsen? It must be recognised that each Department needs to meet specific targets. If Departments fall short, the consequences will be dire.

People who are or were formerly in Fianna Fáil will complain about the hardships caused by budgetary cuts. Of course there are hardships. What other way could it be? A couple of years ago, we had a deficit of €37 billion. How could we reduce it while increasing public spending? It cannot be done. It has not been done anywhere in the world. Wherever it has been tried, it has failed. It failed in 1977. Deputy Mattie McGrath and others like him will remember that far back. Perhaps Deputy Keaveney might not, as he is too young. The situation was somewhat similar. The national debt was not as great as it is now. All of the pundits claimed that we needed to spend more money, to put more money in people's pockets, to generate consumer spending, to provide stimulus. Where have we heard that before?

Sure, there is not much left.

We have heard it in recent times. We have heard it every single day from that quarter.

Fine Gael was run out of office in 1977.

From Deputy Mattie McGrath in particular. What were the consequences of that exercise? Within 18 months, the Taoiseach of the day needed to resign because the debt had doubled. It was appalling. The country did not recover for ten years. Those who want to promote such ideas are misleading the people. The people of this country deserve more than that. The belief is that people do not trust politicians. This is why.

They do not trust you.

Media outlets spend their time-----

Fine Gael's manifesto.

There are media outlets that spend their time reminding us time and again that people distrust politicians. The reason is that they were sold down the river in 1977 when they were told that they could have free car tax and free health services, that rates would be abolished, that there would be investment and that they would be better off. There was only an inflationary bubble, and the country ended up in dire straits.

Deputy Durkan's party is as bad as Deputy Mattie McGrath's former party.

I marvel at the degree to which the Government, in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, has managed to bring people along with it and to support and encourage them as much as possible. It has been a trying task. The Government has succeeded so far. The people of this country have succeeded so far. We are all getting near the end of our tethers. We must see the light at the end of the tunnel. If we do not stick strictly to the targets that have been set for us, we will get nowhere. We will end up back where we were. There are intelligent people on that side of the House who know full well the consequences of slipping back to 2011 or 2012. We would pay a heavy price. The people of this country deserve better. They have made considerable sacrifices, and it would be a tragedy if those were to be set at naught.

Like every Deputy, I deal with constituents on a daily, weekly and nightly basis. We know full well the degree to which hardship has affected the people whom we represent. As far as the country is concerned, this is where the test will come. If people trust that we are on the right track, the economy and everyone will survive and we will not need to repeat the dose for the next three or four years. However, if people are misled by the prophets of doom and those who pretend there is no need to pursue these policies, the price will be large and will have a lasting affect on this country and its people. As in other countries, there will be street protests, baton charges and civic disturbances on a daily basis. We do not want to go there. This country and its people, along with the Government, have succeeded in the past two and a half years-----

Where was the Deputy on Tuesday?

-----despite the cynicism of people like Deputy Mattie McGrath and the best efforts of some to undermine everything that has happened. They can sneer, laugh and snigger as much as they like. They can go to their friends who are commentators and encourage more of the same nonsense. It does not cut any ice. The simple fact of the matter is that we have seen and heard it all previously. The foundations were laid in 1977. We saw the result and do not want to go there again.

I call Deputy Ross, who I understand wishes to share time with Deputies Boyd Barrett, Catherine Murphy and Mattie McGrath. The Deputies will have five minutes each. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I have sympathy with the members of the Government who have been posed with the problems so eloquently described by Deputy Durkan, but I would have more sympathy if they tackled them in a different way. I have problems with the Bill, first with its presentation and, second, with the way the members of the Government attack the cuts that they inevitably feel they must make.

The House will forgive me for not being informed, as I have only just run this information off the computer. I decided to have a look at a couple of the quangos that the Government has so loudly proclaimed its intention to abolish or reform. Before cutting social welfare, one should consider other possibilities.

I came across a little company called the Private Security Authority, PSA, a semi-State with a small budget. It is one of what Fine Gael in opposition called the land of a thousand quangos, those it loudly crusaded to reduce in numbers because of extraordinary waste, duplication and lack of necessity. While I am not well informed about the PSA, I discovered in the first few minutes of reading its report that it is like many quangos in that it does not fall under much examination, including by the House's committees and, I suspect, the Minister who is in charge of it.

It is difficult to find out very much about this because, despite its obligations, it has not laid its annual report before the House for at least five of the last seven years. It has not put it in the Oireachtas Library and nobody has noticed. However, one will find out from the report that the board, which is well paid, has managed to have five meetings every year to look at this industry, which is undoubtedly in need of supervision, at a cost per board meeting of just under €2,000 per member. That is only one of nearly 1,000 quangos which are not being properly examined. There is no time to examine them properly at committees on which Members of the House sit. As a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, I am aware that many of these Government bodies are not examined with the sort of scrutiny that they should be every year by Members of the Oireachtas because there are so many quangos and so few Members.

We have a whole sector of Government bodies running amok, unpoliced, with political appointees at the top, no known expertise and accountable to nobody. Given the Fine Gael pledges in the programme for Government, the Government should examine these 1,000 bodies to see if there is room for cuts, rather than giving that role to each Department and saying that each Minister will make the cuts. These quangos represent a Celtic tiger explosion of wealth under the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern - not this Government - who created quangos galore to suit political purposes. They should now be abolished. That is where the first line of cuts should come. We should concentrate on that attitude. We should not ask individual Ministers to do this in their own Departments. We should appoint one person - perhaps the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, whose job it is - to say that is where the cuts will come and they will be examined individually. The Government asked to be judged on that count, but I believe it has failed.

There can be no defence for a Minister whose portfolio is social protection to administer these cuts against precisely the people she is supposed to protect. It is as simple as that. The Minister is not doing her job if she visits cruel cuts on young and old, women who have just had children, and those who are sick or bereaved. That is the list which comes on top of last year's list, including lone parents and those in receipt of rent subsidy who are now threatened with homelessness due to the cuts imposed on them by the Minister.

The cut in jobseeker's allowance for young people is a straightforward invitation for youth to walk out the door. That is not just an assertion by the political opposition, it is a simple fact borne out by the CSO's figures which show that 40,000 young people are emigrating annually. The Minister may find it funny that 40,000 people are leaving the country or that it is a handy political escape-valve for a Government in trouble. However, it is a national tragedy that our young, educated people are leaving, many of them never to return. Emigration is robbing this country of the energy, talent and education that could help to get us out of this mess.

To add to the suffering by cutting the bereavement grant to people who have just lost their loved ones is cruel beyond belief. It is disgraceful to take that support away, particularly as the bereavement grant did not even cover a fraction of the cost of a funeral. The cut in the invalidity pension for 65 year olds is a naked grab against the elderly and infirm. It makes no sense and there is no rationale to attack women who have just had children by reducing the higher rate of maternity benefit. It is shocking that 23,000 of the 24,000 people in receipt of that benefit will lose out substantially. The list goes on.

The Government says that it has no alternative. Deputy Durkan says that the Opposition is opportunistic because there are no alternatives to this. We should have a serious debate about that instead of the glib, dismissive and frankly insulting responses we get from the Government. It is true that we can debate and argue over how much tax can be effectively and sustainably levied from big corporations, the wealthy and those on higher incomes. It is, however, preposterous for the Government to suggest that it is impossible.

It should be stated for the public record that there are more household, financial and other assets in Ireland today than there were in 2007. That is a fact. Only in 2008 did wealth go down, but it has been on an upward curve since then. According to the CSO, it is up 3.6% this year to €446 billion in net assets. We know that increase is not in the hands of pensioners, the unemployed, workers who have lost 25% of their income or young people. Neither is it being put into our public services. Who has got this increased wealth therefore? One does not have to be a genius to figure it out. For example, the CEO of the biggest bank in the country is on €800,000 a year. The county manager of Dublin City Council has just had a pay rise, after moving from Dún Laoghaire, from €140,000 to €190,000. Some people are doing very well and it is obnoxious that the Government, and particularly the Labour Party, refuses even to discuss the possibility of some tax on the wealthy and big corporations. Surely that would be fairer.

The Minister is likely to sneer at many of the comments from the Opposition. It seems that Ministers have to grin and bear listening to us. I have taken a look at some of the Minister's own reactions to hard budgets when she was an Opposition finance spokesperson. She referred to the 2009 budget as a nightmare on Merrion Street. She said the 2009 supplementary budget was the budget from hell. In addition, she said the cuts in that budget were being introduced to pay for the global speculation of some of the greediest people on the planet. In 2010, Deputy Burton said the budget was the slaughter of the innocents.

In budget 2011, however, she delivered what was perhaps the biggest lie of all when she said the principle of the Labour Party was that we are a one-Ireland society and that those who have most should contribute most. That has not been borne out by any of the subsequent budgets which the Labour Party helped to shape. The expectation was that all of the necessary adjustments could be avoided by substituting Frankfurt's way for the Labour Party's way, but the Minister's ten-yard walk from Opposition to the Government benches seems to have fundamentally changed her view of the world. It has discredited politics along the way because that party's policy was played for every vote it could get.

The clip we saw recently on the "Tonight with Vincent Browne" television programme featuring the outrage of the current Taoiseach and Tánaiste in 2008 has been expanded upon. I well remember the current Minister for Social Protection's outrage at that time. I am sure there will be clips played of that at some point also.

There was no shortage of outrage. Would the Minister's outrage in those years have extended to forcing, in the main, low paid workers to live without any income during the first six days of illness; to cuts in State assistance for those who could not pay their mortgages - this Bill provides for a cut in the mortgage interest supplement and its elimination by 2018 - or to the cut in the bereavement grant to those who need it to bury their dead, many of whom paid for it all of their working lives through PRSI because it was part of the PRSI package introduced in 1970? Countless people have asked me to explain the universal social charge and the reason they are also paying PRSI. People cannot figure out what it is they are paying for as their entitlements are reducing all the time.

While I agree education and training is essential if people are to have productive futures, does the Minister really think that people under 25 with primary and master's degrees and PhDs need more training? They are not sitting in front of flat screen televisions leeching off the State and do not require more training. The cut in social welfare benefits for these people will not create new jobs.

I regret that we have so little time to debate this Bill. We have all been shoe-horned into speaking in a small amount of time. It was only when we sat down at the Whips' meeting this morning that we realised just how bad the situation will be tomorrow. If each of the 166 Members of this House wanted to contribute tomorrow on the section on maternity benefits, which is to be cut for the vast majority of people, and adoption benefit, they would have 18 seconds to do so. If each Member was to have an opportunity to speak on the discontinuance of the bereavement grant they would have to do so within the 20 minutes allocated for debate on that section. The 30 minutes allocated for debate on the cuts in jobseeker's benefits for under 25s equates, if all Members wish to contribute, to 18 seconds per Member. This is not the way to do business or to run the country. This is being done for one reason and one reason only, namely, to minimise the negative reaction on the Government, to allow backbenchers to go off next week and remain uncontactable and to prevent the Opposition tabling amendments.

It is this disgraceful behaviour that is discrediting politics. There is no reason we could not have completed Second Stage this week and scheduled Committee Stage for the week after next when people would have had time to table considered amendments, leading to proper debate on the sections rather than debate on them being shoe-horned into ridiculously small timeframes.

I, too, welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Second Stage debate on the Bill. However, like other speakers I am annoyed at the amount of time allocated in this regard. I know the Minister, Deputy Burton, means well and that her job is a difficult one. Not only is she under attack from her Fine Gael colleagues, but she is also under attack from her Labour Cabinet colleagues. It is only right and proper that some of her back bench colleagues are here tonight to support her.

While the Minister is doing the best she can under the circumstances, what is proposed in this Bill is a mean attack on people from the cradle to the grave. This Bill provides for a cut in maternity benefit from €262 to €230 per week, which is a €32 reduction. The Government has abolished the air travel tax and has imposed an exit tax, in the form of the withdrawal of the bereavement grant, on people when they die, the very people who worked for and built up this country. If the Government had its way, it would leave them unburied. Last year, the rate of tax payable on a hearse was increased. The next thing to be taxed by this Government will be the trough. Little did I think it would tax a corpse, which is what it is doing by abolishing the bereavement grant. This is a scandalous attack on families and others who need that grant.

As stated by other speakers, despite the fact that this Bill does not come into force until 1 January 2014, debate on it has been guillotined. The Opposition does not even have time to table amendments and even if it did there would be no time to debate them because of the guillotine. Is this Government reform? The Government is standing on the ordinary people. Where were the Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, last Tuesday when there were 10,000 elderly people - the grey vote - outside this House protesting? I was outside five years ago when the elderly people were protesting, at which time then Deputies Kenny and Gilmore could not wait to get up on the lorry to address the people and make promises to them. They have demeaned politics and let the people down. This Government obtained its mandate from the people on false promises. It should be ashamed. This is the reason for its low rating in the polls.

This Bill also provides for the abolition of the €9.50 per month telephone allowance. Community Alert, Neighbourhood Watch, the Department of Social Protection and other Departments have invested hugely in the installation of telephones in people's houses. Often, telephones provide the only contact elderly people have with the outside world. Abolition of this allowance will result in many of their telephones being disconnected, thus all the investment has been a waste. It is a false economy. Without their telephones elderly people will be nervous, frightened and lonelier. Many of them will end up in hospitals.

The reduction in jobseeker's benefit for under 25s is particularly mean. I do not accept that, as stated by the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, they are all watching flat screen televisions. The young people with whom I deal - I have some myself - are interested in educating themselves and getting a job. They are not interested in lying around doing nothing. Reference was made to the Government's efforts to decrease dole queues. All that is happening is that young people are being forced to participate in all types of Mickey Mouse schemes and internships, in respect of which they are being abused. This proposed cut is a savage attack on young people, many of whom are living at home with parents who cannot afford to keep them having put them through college and so on. This is the meanest cut of all. I call on the Minister to reverse it.

On the evening after the budget was announced members of Young Labour who were outside Leinster House, some of whom are from my constituency, said they believed this was a terrible attack on young people and future generations. This is another attack on families who are already struggling with mortgages, many of whom are in negative equity. These people are only hanging on by their fingertips yet the Government has reduced the mortgage interest supplement for new applicants. It has also made technical changes in respect of invalidity pensions. The Government has made three attempts to cut disability benefits. As I have previously said in this House, I do not know if it is the desire of the mandarins that these people be attacked or if it is because of a lack of compassion and empathy for people with disabilities that this Government continues to attack them when they should be supporting them. This is the fourth attack on them in about 13 months. The Government should be ashamed.

I note also that the minimum contribution in respect of the rent supplement is to be increased. We are hearing all the time that people are finding it impossible to access accommodation in Dublin. There are numerous homeless people on the streets throughout the country. This cut must also be reversed. Child benefit in respect of third children is also be to cut and mortgage interest relief is to be phased out, which is mean given people are dependent on it to survive. The RTE subsidy for OAP television licences is to be reduced by €5 million. Why not make that organisation make cuts? Why impose cuts on elderly people who like to watch television, although not political broadcasts by the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, who said recently that people should never take any notice of promises made at election time, which is outrageous? Elderly people like to watch educational programmes.

I wish I had more time. I object to the guillotining of this Bill. It is scandalous. When in opposition, Government members objected profoundly to guillotines. This Government is now the master in that regard. It is guillotining all legislation. The Government's proposed taxing of people on death is shameful.

The next speaker is Deputy Anne Ferris, who is sharing time with Deputies Michael McNamara and James Bannon. Deputies Ferris and McNamara have five minutes each and Deputy Bannon has ten minutes. Is that agreed? Agreed.

We are here this evening discussing this Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013 for one reason, namely, a Fianna Fail-led Government ran Ireland's economy like a slot machine that was rigged to pay out every time until the money was gone. Ireland had to borrow big to pay its debts. The troika budget was one of the conditions of this bailout. The money borrowed from the troika is just part of the problem. Due to a lack of proper oversight during those years, the total foreign debt owed by government, struggling businesses and householders in this country stands at €1.64 trillion. Every man, woman and child in this country now carries a debt burden of €358,000. Every 70 year old pensioner, unemployed young person and five year old child carries a debt burden ten times larger than the average EU citizen.

The big problem with large debts is that they generate high interest. Next year, the cost of servicing the State's €204 billion portion of this huge debt will be about €9 billion. The loan repayments alone are three and a half times the target set for this budget. If this enormous debt did not exist, we could put money into the economy rather than take it out.

My heart goes out to the pensioners who in their thousands stood outside this building this week. They built our country. Our pensioners are the people born in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. They never thought during their working lives that they would live through the destruction of the Irish economy, not once, but twice. The pensioners of Ireland experienced first-hand the effect and after-effects of the other economic war caused by Fianna Fáil. Let us call it EW1, economic war 1.

When today's Irish 80 year olds were just five year old children, Fianna Fáil started an economic war with the United Kingdom by withholding land annuities. In retaliation, the UK applied import tariffs on Irish cattle. Fianna Fáil then slapped duties on coal imported from Britain. From 1932 to 1938, cattle exports declined by 66%. Irish industry could not afford to manufacture. The domestic economy froze because nobody had money to spend. It was a political and economic disaster and our current generation of pensioners paid the price during their youth and middle years with poverty and emigration that lasted into the 1960s. In 2010, Fianna Fáil boiled the economy dry for a second time and launched economic war 2 on the citizens of Ireland. The only casualty of an Irish economic war is the Irish people.

The pensioners of Ireland bear the scars of two economic wars, EW1 and EW2. They do not need added pressure resulting from whether they are entitled to a medical card. All week I have been receiving calls from people who do not need to worry about their cards but who are worried all the same.

I have welcomed the incentives in this budget aimed at creating more jobs. There are signs everywhere that the economy is turning around. Retail numbers are up, as are exports. As the economy grows and tax income recovers, it will no longer be necessary to rob the piggy bank of the public services to pay the interest on the debts of the Fianna Fáil Government. There will be new opportunities to negotiate better ways of paying the debt, but the actual borrowed sums are still hanging over Ireland in the form of Government debt, business debt and mortgage debt.

I want to believe that our pensioners, who survived EW1, will come out on the other side of Fianna Fáil's second economic war. For that reason I am calling on my Government colleagues to approach the next budget - the first post-troika budget - by beginning an open national discussion about the feasible ways of reducing the debt, and not just the payments on the debt. It is an important topic to the five year olds of 1933, the five year olds of 2013 and everybody in between, and it cannot be avoided for any longer. I regret there is nobody from Fianna Fáil present to hear that, because they bear the responsibility.

A great shame in recent years has been that the number of people living in jobless households increased rapidly since the start of the recession. We must realise, however, that before this recession began, 15% of the Irish population lived in jobless households. That is an extraordinarily high figure. We have the highest percentage of people in Europe living in jobless households, but we also had one of the highest percentages of people living in jobless households back in 2007 before this crash happened. We have these Punch and Judy debates in this House where people shout slogans of shame and disgrace, but if there is a shame or a disgrace, it is that the figure of people living in jobless households was not tackled when this State had so many resources to invest in tackling the problem. Instead, the State chose to throw money at these people, as it were. No effort was made to incentivise work, to provide training or to provide schemes whereby people could get a job. Instead, money was thrown at them and they were ignored and, in effect, ghettoised. This Government and the Minister for Social Protection have sought to tackle that problem in the teeth of a huge loss of employment in the economy.

We are reminded every day of the calamitous fall in employment which was occurring in the run-up to the previous general election and immediately after, but that has been arrested. We have seen an increase in the labour force for the second consecutive quarter, which is the first time that has happened since this recession began. We have also seen an arrest in the rate of decline of those aged under 26 in the workforce for the first time since 2007.

We must realise the scale of the problem which preceded this recession before we can fully understand the backdrop to this budget. In that context, I greatly welcome the initiatives which were introduced in the budget and which are being introduced in the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013. I acknowledge the pain it is causing, which people in society are bearing for economic problems which were inflicted by a previous government. It is not correct to suggest, however, that any specific sector of society is being targeted. There is great concern at the loss of medical cards and the change in the threshold, yet a couple who earn just under €900 per week will continue to qualify for a medical card. That is a relatively high income for a couple who will not have to pay school fees or a mortgage and so on, because we are talking about people who are retired. The threshold is still €500 per week for a full medical card for single people. Those who lose a medical card will get a GP-visit card, which entitles them to get free treatment from a GP. If they need further care and they are referred to a local accident and emergency department or a medical assessment unit, they will also receive free medical care there. There is a great deal of scaremongering and people are being intentionally frightened about initiatives which do not affect them in any way.

There are initiatives specifically targeted at young people to enable them to join the labour force. Rather than throwing money at them and consigning them to the ghetto of unemployment, labour activation measures are being adopted. For example, the Youthreach programme provides integrated education, training and work experience for early school leavers aged between 15 and 20 who do not have any qualifications or vocational training. The number of places on that programme is being increased. The vocational training opportunities scheme provides a range of courses. The back to education allowance, Momentum and the apprenticeship scheme provide 10,200 places specifically reserved for young people. Young people also have access to a further 69,400 places, and I greatly welcome that.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013. My first thoughts are for the people who are, unfortunately, affected by some sections of this Bill. I empathise with them, particularly our elderly. While we go through the motions and debate this Bill, there is a sense that we are standing here with our hands tied behind our backs, bowing towards Europe or the troika, all brought about by Fianna Fáil's reckless years in government, which included Deputy Mattie McGrath at the time. They brought about the disgraceful situation in which we found ourselves when we first took office. They gambled with the futures of our elderly and our children, setting up NAMA and giving out blank cheques everywhere, resulting in us being left in the bankrupt situation in which we found ourselves, but we are slowly getting out of it under this Government. They left us with the worst unemployment crisis in the history of the State.

This budget continues the process of repairing the public finances while protecting the welfare safety net and providing a pathway back to work for jobseekers.

An additional €30 million in savings will be made through additional fraud and control measures in 2014, while €34 million will be saved through increased efficiencies in management of schemes, bringing the Department of Social Protection's overall adjustment to €290 million.

Reductions of €226 million will still impact on, and cause difficulties for, social welfare recipients. However, the lower adjustment means that payments such as the State pension, carer's allowance, disability allowance and all other core weekly payments upon which people depend are protected, for which I thank the Minister.

Carers are the backbone of our communities. I am happy that there were no attempts to reduce the already small return carers receive for what is often 24-hour and seven-day a week care of the elderly, infirm or vulnerable. This is a payment I was extremely vigilant to protect for the hardworking caring sector. The Government pledged to develop a national carers strategy to support carers and address their concerns. I am glad we are delivering on this commitment unlike the previous Fianna Fáil Government which promised but never delivered. Carers deserve a proper return for the hours of work they put in on behalf of individuals, families and the health services. Their work helps people to remain in their homes and in their communities, and frees up hospital beds and nursing home places. In addition to care in the home for our elderly, we are providing nearly 23,000 older people with financial support for long-term nursing home care, something for which the Opposition does not give us credit.

Child benefit has also been protected in the budget, and will remain a vital universal support for all families and all children. The principal reason that child benefit and the other crucial welfare supports mentioned have been protected is the Department's role in helping people back to work, which in turn has seen the numbers on the live register fall.

Crucial supplementary supports for pensioners, carers and people with disabilities, such as the fuel allowance, the energy allowance, free travel, the half-rate carer's allowance and the respite care grant have been protected. Having said this, I am disappointed that the telephone allowance was cut as it affects the most vulnerable in our society. It is of major benefit to older people who live alone in isolated rural areas. This grant goes towards the cost of a personal alarm button which operates through a landline. These panic buttons are a lifeline for many elderly people living in rural areas. In the past four or five years I have been involved in setting up text alerts in communities in Longford and Westmeath and I know the value of the scheme to those people.

Last week, I wrote to the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, asking her to consider reviewing this cut. Since then it has been made known that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government will consider a special fund following the abolition of the phone allowance. I ask the Minister, Deputy Burton, that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government would push ahead with this special fund and that a type of security fund be set up in order to cover the cost of the phone line for the panic alarm as this is a safety issue for the elderly. Perhaps we could get a little more clarity on this special grant for the operating of panic alarms in the homes of older people and the Minister might have something for us this evening or on Committee Stage.

Overall welfare expenditure will fall below €20 billion in 2014 despite demographic pressures in the shape of the increasing number of pensioners. By rooting out welfare fraud, the Department of Social Protection will raise a further €30 million next year through additional fraud and control measures. We simply must ensure that every cent of the welfare budget goes to those who need it most.

The strongest protection against poverty is decent, secure and fairly paid work. This budget will help more people back to work, reduce the overall welfare spend as part of the sustained effort to repair the public finances and ensure the safety net remains firmly in place for those who need it most.

The numbers in work rose by 33,800 in the year to the second quarter of 2013. The number on the live register is down by 20,000 over the past year, and will shortly fall below 400,000 for the first time since May 2009. While that is still far too high, of course, we are making firm and visible progress.

After endless representations on behalf of the elderly in the midlands I am glad that services have improved in Longford and Westmeath with the refurbished wards at St. Joseph's care centre in Longford and Lough Low House in Athlone which was downgraded by the previous Fianna Fáil-led Government. Earlier this year we opened the new 100-bed unit at St. Mary's care centre in Mullingar. These are all positive responses to my endless representations.

In order to provide more labour market activation initiatives for young people the Government will enhance and develop the range of opportunities on offer to young people in the form of internships, participation on employment schemes, subsidised private-sector recruitment and supports for self-employment. The full range of youth employment initiatives will be set out in the Government's plan for the implementation of the EU Youth Guarantee which is to be finalised and submitted to the EU by the end of the year, as part of which we will be seeking to maximise the share of EU funding allocated to Ireland.

My priority is getting Longford-Westmeath, and indeed the rest of the country, back on the fast track of economic recovery and jobs. I am determined that every opportunity will be offered and taken to reverse the job losses experienced in the midlands over the past ten years, particularly during the time Fianna Fáil was in government. After the big hullabaloo this morning, I am disappointed to see that not one Fianna Fáil Member has appeared in the Chamber for the past hour, which shows their interest in this debate.

I will be extremely pleased to welcome the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, and the economic forum consisting of Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland to Longford on 5 November where they will present the action plan and programme for jobs which will encourage firms in Longford and Westmeath to sell their products abroad in lucrative export markets which in turn will create jobs in the midlands.

Accessing credit remains a major challenge for many firms. I am confident this will be directly addressed by the partial credit guarantee scheme and the microfinance fund which will be outlined in more detail by the economic forum and other experts, and will in turn help businesses struggling to get loans. Inward investment such as this is essential and more than ever the lifeblood of rural areas such as Longford and Westmeath. All of this is part of our jobs initiative and the Departments of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Social Protection are interconnected.

This is the last budget that we will have under the bailout programme. Step by step the Government is undoing the disastrous policies of Fianna Fáil that brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy.

I call Deputy Naughten, who is sharing time with Deputies Timmins, Mathews, Nulty, Keaveney and Broughan.

The cuts in the Bill are to a large extent focused on those in employment or those who were in employment. This undermines the objective of the Taoiseach and the vast majority of members of Dáil Éireann, including me, who want to see the welfare system reformed to encourage people to make the transition from welfare to work. The Bill sends out a contrary message, which is that those who never worked or owned a home have nothing to lose. However, for those who have worked, are in employment or own a house the message is that slowly but surely this very limited State safety net is being pulled from under them.

In other words, they may take up work, but at their own risk. This message has long-term economic consequences for us all. It is saying to entrepreneurs that they are better off playing it safe, not starting their own businesses, not trying to better themselves, not taking up employment and not increasing their hours of employment. We need to encourage people to take risks and the best way to do that is to ensure that they have a safety net if they become sick or cannot find work.

The other clear message from this legislation is that the Government wants young people to emigrate. This has always been the safety valve of successive governments to address the spiralling costs of unemployment payments. However, the policy is fatally flawed and unsustainable. Why? Emigration is costing our economy through education alone €20,000 every minute. The emigration of almost 90,000 people in the past 12 months is an extraordinary brain drain on our economy. It has cost the taxpayer €9.6 billion to educate these young people. This education is flowing out of our country at a time when we urgently need the best and most innovative to start creating jobs in our country. The policy is economically unsustainable because the €9.6 billion that is lost in education is €800 million more than the total annual education budget. We are rocketing towards a catastrophe and we do not even realise it.

I advert to the fear caused by the withdrawal of the telephone allowance. While the Government will argue that this support is small and that there are now mobile telephone alternatives, the practical reality is somewhat different. Older people, the disabled and the vulnerable are fearful. Garda stations in rural communities have closed. Mobile telephone coverage is intermittent. People rely on their emergency pendants. I respectfully suggest to the Minister that this measure should be suspended until three things occur. First, a tailored cost-effective mobile telephone package with a physical desktop handset and efficient pendant service should be rolled out. Second, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources should establish a vulnerable roaming agreement within Ireland immediately with all the mobile telephone operators, similar to that which operates in Spain, France and Italy. This would significantly improve the mobile telephone coverage to the 999 call standard for all users of emergency pendants. Third, persons in areas where there is poor mobile telephone coverage should be able to continue to avail of the telephone allowance. Technology has changed but we must work with older people to ensure that they can maximise the opportunities.

I thank the officials in the Department, which is one of the more efficient Departments when one is seeking information. It is startling to listen to the statistics Deputy Naughten has outlined relating to education and the expertise that is flowing out of the country on a weekly basis. The figure he put on it was approximately €9 billion per annum. What we are doing is frightening.

The social protection budget exists for several reasons. First, to protect the vulnerable. Second, it cannot be more attractive than taking up employment. Third, we should remember that someone actually pays for it; it does not come down from the sky. There must be compassion and understanding.

In overall terms the measures in the budget will not save a great deal. There will be no great monetary gains to the Government. The cut in the telephone allowance and the increase in prescription charges has sent out the message to older people that perhaps there is not much use for them anymore. The damage this has done psychologically has impacted more on that cohort than any monetary downside. I call on the Minister to reconsider the first measure, which comes under her remit. I realise the second measure is probably a matter for the finance Bill.

The social protection budget is €20 billion. I am a strong advocate of work-fare instead of welfare. It is not only about protecting the vulnerable; it is about ensuring that it cannot be more attractive for people to be out of work than in work. I fear that we do not have the appropriate measures in place. I am not against the reduction of the jobseeker's fund for the younger age group provided there is training, education facilities and places for them, but I gravely doubt that there are places for them.

Many self-employed people, especially after the boom, reduced their level of employment and they have become reluctant to employ people because they are being hit by regulations and charges. We must make it attractive for these people. We must reconsider labour law and the many regulations and charges in place.

Tonight, Deputy Catherine Murphy referred to the outrage of people in the past, including the outrage of people in 2008. I am outraged today. I want the Government to succeed. Why? The reason, as Deputy Anne Ferris mentioned, is our massive debt. Today, is an opportunity for the Taoiseach at the European Council. Today, that opportunity is a must.

It was shocking today. I was embarrassed when Deputy Stephen Donnelly brought forward the question of how much is being sought in bank recapitalisation and there was a silence. That is disgraceful. I read on the RTE website today the Taoiseach's letter to Herman van Rompuy dated two days ago about the bank recapitalisation and the promises of June 2012. It is a pathetic letter. Somewhere lost in the third paragraph is a little bleating question; it is not even a question, it is a bleating reminder of what was promised. Where is the stand-up steel spine needed for the people? Otherwise, there will be no social welfare Bill.

This is a €20.24 billion Bill but the assumptions underlying the economy are not even being debated and that is disgraceful. We are told that there are 3,000 new jobs per month. I call on the Government to prove it. Where is the evidence? If there is no evidence and if the claim is only half right, then there is a loss of half of €360 million in the calculations of the budget. These are the things that should be examined and that we should be discussing rather than the little detail that follows from the big-picture engineering.

The Taoiseach's letter is an embarrassment. I would not ask a junior certificate child to write it.

The Minister will be familiar with George Orwell's novel 1984. In it there is a concept called "doublespeak" and that is what the Government speaks, "doublespeak". It says one thing and couches its actions in rhetoric about fairness and reform and all the rest, but in reality what does it do? It savages and attacks the poorest and weakest in our society and treats them with contempt.

I offer one example. In the general election of February 2011 the Minister's party, the Labour Party, campaigned for the extension and expansion of mortgage interest supplement. That was a core element of the Labour Party's approach to deal with the mortgage crisis. However, the Government is abolishing it. Will the Minister explain how in two years she wanted to extend mortgage interest supplement because she thought it was crucial to deal with the whole mortgage issue, but now the Government intends to get rid of it? How can the Minister explain or rationalise that? The Minister knew the economic situation the country was in but the Government policy has completely shifted.

I will read a quote from an organisation with which the Minister will be familiar, "Today's cut in social welfare for young people is regressive and counter-productive .. [it is] fundamentally unjust". This came from youth wing of the Minister's party, Labour Youth. I spoke to some of the members yesterday when they were protesting outside the House. They are embarrassed. The Minister has made them embarrassed to be part of the Labour Party because of what she has done to them. The Minister need not take my word for it. She should go and speak to them at their conference this weekend. There are disgusted and appalled by this budget. I am referring to members of the Minister's party. That is a fact.

There has been certain rhetoric about young people sitting in front of plasma television screens and so on. These people are citizens and equals, exactly like the Minister and me but they are being deliberately targeted. The reforms introduced in this Bill will affect graduates. What they need is not training, but jobs.

This is a deliberate attempt to attack them, undermine their incomes and patronise them with promises of training when what is required is job creation and job stimulus.

Together with other independent Deputies, I published alternative proposals about how the deficit question could be addressed in a fair and just way. Members have heard from the Labour Party that a wealth tax is impossible. Why does the Minister not read, for example, the paper from Dr. Tom McDonnell of TASC about how a wealth tax could operate in Ireland? Why not even consider it, instead of dismissing us and undermining social democratic arguments for dealing with this crisis in a fair and just way? The policies of the Government come straight from the Chicago school of economics. When the Government forms its budgets and develops its policy, the Minister and her Cabinet colleagues demonstrate that they are the disciples of Friedman and Hayek. Moreover, they implement their policies with a ruthlessness that a Tory Government in Britain in the 1980s could not muster. The Minister should be ashamed of herself and should be ashamed of this Bill. She should resign from the Government and call a general election.

The Minister is aware that I have great personal regard for her as a person. The Minister has many fine qualities and I must state it was the qualities she possesses that attracted me into politics. There is no doubt but that she and I shared much in common with respect to political beliefs and values. Unfortunately, I will not be able to continue sharing that tonight, because I will express my lack of support for this Bill. I have few regrets in politics but none of them relate to my voting against the Social Welfare Bill last year; nor will I regret being obliged to vote against this Bill. The Bill before the House is undoubtedly an effective and terrible attack on those people who voted for the Labour Party in the last general election. I also regret being obliged to witness the Minister breaking her commitment to social justice and fairness because I know her to be a person who wakes up each morning with a view to protecting the vulnerable. It is a sad day when she is forced to do this by the Cabinet. It also is a bad day because I know the Minister to be a person who sets out in politics to bring in people from the periphery to the centre of society. It is a sad day when she is forced to do this. This sort of forced collusion in the budgets introduced both this year and last year is very difficult for people to accept and they feel a strong sense of betrayal with respect to the commitments that were given prior to the last general election in that regard. I do not believe the Minister is actively colluding in this. I have stated all along that she is being forced to do this. Clearly, however, there is an element of witnessing the Minister carry out the right-wing policies of Fine Gael in government and indeed those of the democratic centralists of her own political party. This sort of betrayal against the Minister's own values is difficult for the public to accept.

Last year, the Minister and her Cabinet colleagues sold the country and Parliament a pup. When the Government introduced a savagely regressive budget, Members were told it would introduce a catalogue of wealth taxes. However, Members now learn that those wealth taxes, drawn from the wealthiest in society, are simply failing and are not yielding revenue. This year alone, there is a shortfall of €130 million from the wealth taxes in Ireland. No such shortfall has been reported in respect of measures levied against low and middle-income families because they cannot escape to sunnier climes. Instead, the €130 million that has not been yielded from wealth taxes will be levied against working people through their pensions.

Moreover, the use of language in this budget has been extraordinary. Those aged under 26 have been told they have not suffered a cut but that it is simply a matter of extending the lower rate to them. This would be akin to me walking into the Minister's office and telling her I was not cutting her pay but was extending to her the pay of an usher. Is that a pay cut or not? Is that not a cut in core pay? The Minister cannot trumpet consistently in this Chamber that she has not attacked core elements of pay or social protection. At least the Minister, Deputy Noonan, has the good grace to accept that there have been cuts of such significance. However, the Minister, Deputy Burton, cannot laud the achievement of protecting core pay. It is undignified for her to so do in light of what has happened to young people. The Minister stretches the imagination in respect of the definition of what are the core elements of social protection. She must go and ask young and elderly people, as well as those with children, whether they believe their core social protections have been maintained, because they would quickly challenge her belief. She does her credibility great damage in that respect.

To conclude, I reiterate that young people, lone parents and those who are left struggling through adjustments in maternity pay would tell the Minister clearly that the budget is an utter disgrace. While I do not envy the Minister her difficult task when she goes to Cabinet, it is clear that many people are suffering from this awful budget.

I thank the Acting Chairman, and it is good, as always, to see him in the Chair.

The Deputy is seeking another two minutes.

That was worth five minutes.

The Acting Chairman must give me extra time for my courtesy.

On budget day, the spin from the Government benches was that the Department of Social Protection had "escaped" with net cuts limited to €226 million, rather than the €440 million that had been bruited in the media for many weeks. In fact, adjustments of €290 million are set out in the 2014 expenditure reports, including a savage cut of €44 million from the abolition of the telephone allowance, the €32 million slashed from jobseeker's allowance payments to those under 26 in a really savage attack on our upcoming generation, the €30 million cut to maternity benefit, the €22 million cut resulting from the new six-day waiting condition for illness benefit and the disgraceful cut of €70 million from the cancellation of the long-standing bereavement grant of €850. One must remember that the Bill before Members is the latest in a sequence of shocking attacks on the most vulnerable citizens since 2008. As I stated with great sadness during the budget debate last week, the Minister's credibility evaporates each time she is associated with a Bill of this nature. I estimate the cumulative effect of cuts to the social welfare budget from the supplementary budget of 2009 up to budget 2014 to be of the order of €3.7 billion. In other words, €3.7 billion has been taken from the most vulnerable citizens.

As Deputy Nulty mentioned, Labour Party members and a number of independent left Deputies came out with a modest proposal last week that would have obviated any cuts. There would have been no cuts whatsoever in the social welfare budget. I am aware of the recent report to Deputy Shortall with regard to the wealth tax agenda of last year, which unfortunately has not been delivered. However, even had the Minister asked for that, Members know what would have happened. Fine Gael would have refused absolutely and would not have allowed her to do it. Instead, she would have been invited to go ahead and attack the social welfare budget. This is the reality and the problem and is the reason I urged the Labour Party not to join the present Administration. I did so because there would be nights like tonight, which people would regret deeply. As the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has noted, families still are reeling from cuts in previous years and, in particular, older people and young people believe they were targeted for 2014. Over the past five years, there has been an entire sequence of cuts. I can remember Deputy Stagg - I believe it was in the run-up to the 1992 election-----

Deputy Broughan is going back a long way.

Yes. We were all together in Labour Left and I believe Deputy Stagg was our leader at the time. We set out the "dirty dozen" cuts of Charlie McCreevy, who was from the Acting Chairman's constituency, and lambasted Fianna Fáil for doing that to the people. It is sad that the Labour Party would be associated in any way with doing that this evening. I note the presence of a distinguished legal colleague in the Chamber, who knows that under Article 40 of the Constitution everyone is supposed to be equal in the Republic, yet young people and older people have been targeted. I ask colleagues to walk away from this budget. Let us have a general election and let us give the people an alternative.

The next time slot is being shared by Deputy Catherine Byrne and Deputy Buttimer, who have five and 15 minutes, respectively.

It is not easy for any Minister or Government Deputy to stand up in the House and talk about cuts, but we have to do so because the former Ministers in the previous Government, with their brass necks and their attitude, heard all, said nothing but allowed everything to happen. They stood back and allowed the country to go down the drain and took no responsibility for anything at any time except for the golden package with which they left when they were kicked out.

Let us be clear on one point: many speakers who have crossed the floor from the Labour Party and Fine Gael did it for one reason and one reason only - to save their own brass necks. I am disappointed that some of the speakers could be so negative about a Minister who has brought social welfare into a new era and has changed the policies of many previous Governments that destroyed the social welfare system to the point at which many people believed they were better off staying at home rather than going to work.

I have spoken to a number of people in my constituency, including the people who elected me to this House and my family and friends, who felt that the budget was hard in a number of areas but they accept the fact that without pulling together and making a contribution we will never get out of the economic crisis which has plagued us for the past four years. This budget is the budget to take us out of the bailout. Instead of criticising it we should be all jumping for joy. I believe it is the fairest budget the Government has produced, considering the economic crisis in which we found ourselves when we were elected two and half years ago.

The Government was elected on a mandate to create jobs and get the economy moving again. Almost 34,000 new jobs have been created this year. Those figures were not plucked out of the sky; they are real figures. We have come a long way from the days before this Government came into office, when we were losing an average of €7,000 jobs per month. I note from the Minister's speech that she is optimistic that the number on the live register will fall below 400,000 for the first time since May 2009. We are making progress; it may be slow, but we are taking the right steps. The fact is that the more people we have working the more income will come to the State and the more services can be provided to the vulnerable and the old. The reality is that the money is just not there for us to do everything we would like to do, but we are making progress.

The Government has had to show backbone and fortitude to get us out of the economic mess in which we found ourselves after years of reckless giveaway budgets that were instituted by previous Governments just to make sure people were re-elected. Not only did the previous Government spend every penny in its own purse but it spent every penny in the purse of every citizen in this country.

It must be pointed out that the Opposition, some of whom orchestrated the dire economic situation in which we found ourselves a few years ago, have not come up with one constructive proposal for how we might achieve the savings needed. It is easy for Opposition speakers to stand up and throw out soundbites, but the reality is that they have no concrete plan to get us out of the shackles of the bailout they got us into in the first place.

Despite what has been said, the Government has sought in this budget to protect the vulnerable in society. With regard to supporting the elderly, we have not touched the State pension, the carer's schemes, free travel or the free television licence. Similarly, in recognition of the fact that fuel poverty is a big issue for the elderly people, we have not changed the fuel allowance, and the excise rate on fuel has also been left unchanged. Furthermore, the tax treatment of the elderly remains unchanged, with no change in net income for pensioners as a result of the budget. Those aged 65 and over will continue to be treated more favourably under the Irish income tax code than all other taxpayers.

On the specific issue of medical cards, I fully agree with the review designed to take unused medical cards out of the system, as we, the taxpayers, are currently paying for any wastage that occurs as a result of this. It also appears from figures released recently that half of people with discretionary medical cards are 200% over the income limits for the means test. This Government is seeking to protect the vulnerable and ensure that medical cards go to those who really need them and those who are most in need. The reduction in income thresholds for those over the age of 70 will mean that those with an income of less than €500 per week, or €900 for a couple, will still be entitled to a medical card. This means that 85% of those over the age of 70 will still have their medical card and 97% of those over the age of 70 will still have either a medical card or a GP card.

On the issue of the telephone allowance, we must remember that it was costing the State €44 million or more, a figure we just could not afford any more. It is worth noting that the other elements of the household benefits package, such as the free television licence and the electricity allowance, have not been touched. It is time for phone companies to step up because they have a responsibility to their customers. They are private companies making profits and they should be willing to stand up and be counted in the country.

I too am glad the Deputy is in the Chair. I listened to the contributions of speakers to the debate from early this evening and in the last segment I was not sure whether I was watching "Love/Hate", "Will and Grace" or "Friends", given the contributions of some of speakers. I am not sure what world they are living in. Albert Camus, in his writings, speaks about being a stranger in the world, and certainly in my world I am a stranger to the philosophy and ideology of some of the speakers I heard. I do not want to name Members who are not in the House, but I listened to the contribution of Deputy Mattie McGrath from Tipperary earlier and I was concerned that I was wrong in my recollection of electoral politics. I pride myself on having a good memory about elections and politics. I checked the website and noted that the Deputy was elected as a Fianna Fáil councillor and elected as a Fianna Fáil Deputy, yet he is in this House most days parading himself as the Sultan of Brunei or the Duke of Clonmel.

The Deputy is insulting the people of Brunei. We could have a diplomatic incident.

Let me remind Deputy McGrath - it is a pity he is not in the Chamber-----

Can the Deputy not hear him? I am sure he is on his way.

-----that he ran from government. He did not have the political courage to stand and defend his Government. He ran. I am disappointed with Members of this House who come in here and have a solution to everything but do not take responsibility. It would be much easier and very simple for all of us on this side of the House to listen to Deputy Adams and go to the country and have a general election and walk across the floor and join Deputy Dooley, who is on his own on the opposite side of the House-----

That is the story of my life.

-----and abandon the country in the way that Fianna Fáil did. It is bit like Groundhog Day. We have a lesson to learn here. Let us go back to the beginning of modern Irish politics and work forward to today. The Acting Chairman spoke about this earlier and I mentioned it last night. From 1977 to 1981, the most outrageous promises were made by a Fianna Fail-led Government, and what happened? There was chaos. Who came in behind them to clean it up? Fine Gael and the Labour Party. We can fast-forward to one potential exception, Ray MacSharry, who had to do what he did because he had no choice. However, Fianna Fáil could not be trusted on its own and because we could not trust Mr. Haughey, we had to bring in the Progressive Democrats, and then what happened? It was a case of "Sure, you can't trust them. If in doubt, leave them out." They left. We then brought in the rainbow coalition of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Democratic Left, and for the first time there was a burgeoning surplus, resulting in the creation of more jobs and more money. What happened? We had 14 years of a party. They could not give the money away. The Fianna Fáil Government was like the best man at a wedding buying drink for everybody, but the drink was money for the Irish people, and what happened? The people turned to Fine Gael and the Labour Party again. Whatever else can be said about Fine Gael and the Labour Party, we have pride in our country, we live up to our responsibilities, and we do not shirk or funk the hard decisions, unlike some of the Members opposite who go scurrying to the media at every hand's turn. That is their way - I am not saying that applies to Deputy Dooley - but not our way in government.

I will debate what this Government is doing with any Member opposite.

Outrage was expressed in the contributions from the opposite side of the House. We are all outraged but outrage does not tell the troika or the markets that we can create jobs or get our fiscal budget right. That is the reason I am proud to be a member of Fine Gael, and I will never resign from Fine Gael. I will never castigate my colleagues in government for making hard decisions. I will do it in the privacy of our own room, in the same way Deputy Dooley did it in Fianna Fáil. In fairness to the Deputy, he did not go running to the media being critical in the way some of his colleagues did.

Government is about governing for the people. I will face the Irish people, and I will respect their decision if I lose my seat in the next election because of decisions we took in government. I have tremendous respect for the sacrifices our people have made but how dare the Members opposite come in here and use intemperate language to criticise our Taoiseach.

This is about a Government keeping our nation sovereign and giving our people hope. Members should cast their minds back to the 1988 Democratic Convention when Jesse Jackson had one great line for the American people. He stated: "Keep hope alive. You must not surrender." This Government is a government of renewal. We have not surrendered. We have not given up hope, and we have an expectation for our people that will begin again on 15 December when we emerge from the bailout into a post-bailout period.

We should not get obsessed with the idea of empathy that we hear from some quarters. The men and women of this Government sitting in this Chamber tonight and every day understand the reality of suffering and the sacrifices our people have made, whether they are a small business owner, a farmer, a public servant, a senior citizen or an unemployed person. We understand that. That is why we assumed the mantle of government and leadership, which had gone. We had a benign Government for 14 years, and in particular for the last two years of that Government, yet we had to listen to the sultan of Brunei, Deputy Mattie McGrath, tell us otherwise.

We should face the reality of life. The Government understands the suffering experienced and the sacrifices made by its people as a result of the collapse of our national economy. Consequent to that collapse we have been carrying out a readjustment of what had happened. The Acting Chairman referred to that in his remarks earlier. We had an insatiable desire to spend money. Every day this Government must borrow in the region of €34 million to pay for essential services. That amounts to approximately €8 per person per day.

I am not a housewife. I do not have a family to look after. I look after my own budget and if I do not have money, I do not spend it. In the same way if a family does not have money, it does not spend it. Are we really saying our financial situation can continue unchecked or that it is okay to spend money we do not have? In making the necessary difficult decisions in terms of the spending of our moneys, I will support the efforts to realign public expenditure and ensure that those who should pay the most pay the most. In the two and a half years of this Government's term we have balanced that. We have maintained core social welfare payments, and I heard the comments made earlier by some Members opposite. Deputy Nulty was the one Member of this House who was elected with a mandate from the people for the programme for Government.


Hear, hear.

The only one.

The essential safety net of social welfare is one we all respect and need in our democracy and in our economy because those who experience financial difficulty deserve and need the support of the State. Nobody on this side of the House has urged more austerity. The opposite is the reality. We have urged spending the money better, that it be more people-centred and invested in jobs, creating better communities and passing on a sustainable economy to the next generation whom we do not want to see emigrate.

I was a teacher in my previous career and I have written references for past pupils, as I have said in this House repeatedly. It almost kills people to see their young family members emigrating. One can walk around every GAA club in every parish in this country and see the consequence of the failed policies of the past. If one travels to Australia, America and Canada one will meet Irish people and the one comment they make is that they want to come home to create a life for themselves and their families in Ireland.

The Members opposite should not tell me that this Government does not get the pain; we do. We hear about it every day in our constituency offices, in our families and in our parishes and communities. We understand. There is no easy choice to be made now, and when the necessary adjustments are made we will see a better Ireland.

There is no dispute about the Government's overall objective. It is about returning to our people a sustainable economy and ultimately restoring our economic sovereignty. That is the task that was given to us as a Government and the mandate we have been given. We have taken over office as a Government, and it is a little like what happens in any family. Without being derisory, it is like an arranged marriage. There are tensions and teething problems but one does not walk out the door after the first row, go out on the plinth and say, "It is over". To return to my fundamental point, it is easy to run away and hide.

I accept that people outside this House are hurting as a result of this Government's decisions in the budget and that there are consequences in taking €2.5 billion from the economy. Do the Members opposite believe we would want to do anything differently? Of course we would. We wish we did not have to make fiscal decisions that impact upon people but the bigger picture is about the people and securing the future of our country, and this Government will do that. We have seen it in many different ways. We saw it earlier today when the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, published the alcohol strategy. We are tackling the mistakes of the past. The Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, in ten or 20 years from now, will be seen to have been a very good Minister for Health because he has a vision-----

Possibly in Brunei.

Fianna Fáil ran from the Department of Health. The then Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin, could not wait to get out. The then Minister, Brian Cowen, was in Angola. Mary Harney was left in the Department for nearly 14 years.

She did a good job.

Fianna Fáil said it could not take the pressure in the Department of Health. The then Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin, could not wait to go. All he could do was produce reports. It was like the County Hall in Cork there were so many reports, at a cost of millions. I will debate that with Deputy Dooley any day he wants to do it.

I will be here for the rest of the week.

The fundamental point is that this Government will be seen to have been the Government that returned our country's economic sovereignty and gave our people hope.


Hear, hear.

That is the reason the unpopular decisions must be taken but in the period after the darkest hour the sunshine will radiate and the people will say this was a Taoiseach and a Tánaiste who delivered, and that this Government made the choices not in the vested interests of the chosen few but in the interests of the people. It is about the totality of our nation. The sovereignty of our people is what this Government and this period in our history is about. As a member of a party in government with Labour, I will be happy to have done our country some service because it is about our people. It is not about the one or two or the Galway tent people. It is about all of the people, an gnáth duine, from the man who stands selling the The Echo in Cork to the man who performs the brain surgery, and all those in between. This is Ireland. We are an Irish nation that deserves a new beginning, a new dawn. This Government is doing that. It is making the tough decisions but it must be done and, in time, we will be recognised for giving our people hope again, unlike those who cut and run.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Bill. I had to remind myself we were here to discuss the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013 because the previous speaker, who reminded us he was a teacher, although it was fairly obvious because the way he delivered his contribution was as though he thought he was giving a history lesson to a class-----

We got an overview of the macro-economic situation that faces the country but there is broad acceptance of the crisis that is faced. The Opposition parties which went to the bother of putting together their own proposals to deal with the fiscal adjustment required found they were broadly in line with the size and scale of the deficit reduction which needed to be addressed. However, it is not the macro-economic situation on which we disagree with the Government. The history of what did or did not happen is not at issue. What we are here to discuss is the way in which the Government has decided to implement that €2.5 billion adjustment and, in particular, how it has chosen to spread the pain. We would argue that it has done so in a most unfair and inequitable way.

The Minister deserves some credit for consistency because this budget follows two previous ones which were, in the judgment of the OECD and the European Commission, regressive in nature. In other words, they targeted the people who could least afford to pay - the poorest and the sick - and continued to protect a certain cohort of people who are doing better. It is not Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin or anyone else saying that; it is no less than the OECD. I compliment the Minister on a hat-trick. She has delivered another swingeing attack on those who can least afford to pay. We will compliment when it is appropriate to do so.

Deputy Buttimer avoided the real issue here which is why have Fine Gael and the Labour Party continued to protect the better off in society at the expense of the poor, the marginalised and those who are sick and most in need of the protection of the State? It has been carried through in the taxation code - we will deal with that in the Finance Bill - and certainly in this Bill. It is an attack on the young, the old, young mothers attempting to bring up families and on young unemployed people and it is exceptionally unfair.

For a long time, the Labour Party in opposition bleated about this cohort of people and often referred to them as the marginalised - the people who needed our support and assistance. However, since going into government, the Labour Party has sadly abandoned that group of people. It promised much but has delivered very little in that regard. I understand why Deputy Buttimer would come into the House all guns blazing because the people who elected Fine Gael are largely untouched by the impact of not only this budget but of the previous two budgets and it seems that will continue.

On 28 October 2008 when dealing with social welfare payments, the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, then an Opposition Deputy, said it has been clear for a number of years that this Government, that is, the then Government, cannot protect the sick and it is now clear it does not want to protect the elderly or those with disabilities. It would be worth reminding the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, that her party, when it crossed the floor and went into coalition with Fine Gael, continued to do what she accused the previous Government of doing but to a far greater extent, as adjudged by the OECD and others.

The Labour Party in opposition rolled out the red carpet and welcomed all on board. It took a broad net approach, told people what they wanted to hear and welcomed them on to the magic carpet but when it got into government, it pulled the rug clean out from under them. It is an appalling vista to see members of the Labour Party come into the House to attack their own Minister. I listened to what Deputy Keaveney had to say. I know he is relatively close to the Minister and has supported her in the past but he struck at the heart of what is concerning people, that is, that the Minister continues to fly this flag that somehow she is the victim in all of this. It is getting to a point where picking up the Sunday newspapers is nauseating because it is all about the poor Minister who is the victim in all of this but she is swinging the axe across the back of the neck of some people who can least afford it and that is unfair. It is a pity the Minister does not stand up and at least have the guts to admit what she is doing and not hide behind this continuous charade of not cutting core provision to people on the social welfare code. Of course, everything is packaged in how one defines "core". For those depending on a bereavement grant, that is a core component of their expenditure at a particular time when they most need it. It ill behoves certain elements in the Government to say to people to shop around and haggle with the undertaker.

Who said that?

All the Minister is doing is driving poor people into the clutches of moneylenders because she knows full well that there are a couple of key occasions in the life-cycle of families - births, marriages, weddings and deaths - when they forget about the cost at the time and try to deal with it afterwards. When it comes to death, that is most acute. This is one of the most outrageous cuts in this Bill. People cannot haggle with the undertaker and they will go to whoever is available. There is usually only one person in an area in rural Ireland, so it is not as if one can haggle or force down the price.

I am not a particular fan of Joe Duffy's radio show but I happened to be in the car today when it was on. An elderly lady, who was quite distraught, said that with this Government we cannot afford to live but now we cannot afford to die. It was quite heart-rending to hear an elderly person who is worried about her husband and how she will face the crisis of trying to deal with the personal loss and the financial burden associated with it. The Minister can wrap herself in the Sunday newspapers and believe she has somehow won the war and convinced some journalist that the issue should not fall at her feet. However, she will not convince that woman who was on Joe Duffy's radio show today that she has not been implicated in these swingeing cuts or that somehow a core payment has not been impacted.

The reduction in the jobseeker's allowance for those under 25 is an insult to young people. We are trying to give confidence to young people to create employment and to seek work but we are now saying to them that they are somehow lesser individuals and that they do not deserve as much as others. Many people are married with a family at 25 years of age but we are saying they are somehow a lesser entity. That is an outrageous way to instil confidence in the youth of this country - the people to whom we turn to drive this country forward. Youth unemployment is out of line in Ireland. Some 30.5% of the 15 to 24 age cohort are unemployed while the average in Europe is approximately 22.9%. Again, those are OECD figures. It is discriminatory and pro-emigration as young people who find themselves out of work will leave.

There is an indication that standardisation is a way to resolve the issue of maternity benefit. Some 3% will gain while 97% will lose.

When the cut in maternity benefit is taken together with what was inflicted last year, it has the effect of taking approximately €70 from the purses of young mothers. That is disgraceful and despicable.

I will conclude by referring again to a quotation I used during last night's Private Members' debate. In November 2005, when the Minister for Social Protection was in opposition, she described the then Government's proposals as being "as worthy of credibility as an Al Capone declaration of innocence". If she was to apply that statement to her continuous bleating to the effect that neither she nor her Government colleagues have reduced core social welfare pay, it would be an apt and fitting recognition of her ineptitude in this regard.

I am delighted to get an opportunity to speak in this debate and to highlight the Minister for Social Protection's attack on the weak and the vulnerable, despite her protestations to the contrary. The Minister claims to have protected the primary rates of social welfare. She might have done that in her own terms, but I suggest she has slashed and burned all around her to devastating effect. A rose by any other name is still a rose and a cut by any other name is still a cut. It is important to highlight how big the cuts have been. Every year, the Minister tells us she has kept the big bad wolf - the Department of Finance - from the door and single-handedly reduced the cut. When one digs into the figures, however, one finds this is an illusion - an accountancy sleight of hand performed by a Minister who is an accountant - rather than the reality.

The Minister announces a headline cut every year. The figure for the first year of her term in office was €475 million, the figure for the second year was €390 million and the figure for the third year was €290 million. She never tells us that each year's figure is merely the current-year saving. As some changes do not kick in until well into the year, one has to wait until the full-year saving is known before one knows how big the cut is in the long term. When one examines the budget out-turn for the year in which the €475 million cut was announced, one finds that the actual cut was €811 million. In the year for which a cut of €390 million was announced, the actual cut was €452 million. We do not know the figure for this year - the Minister is smart - because the full-year saving is not put on the table on budget day.

The reality is that the Minister has cut an average of over €500 million from the social welfare budget every year since she came into office. The public is wise to this. When people are presented with big numbers, they look more closely at the detail of how they will be affected. The Minister cut every child benefit payment by €10, but she cut the payment to fourth and subsequent children by much more, thereby particularly affecting large families. She cut the back to education allowance from €305 to €200, or from €200 to €100, depending on the age of the child. She abolished the back to education allowance that was paid in respect of children between the ages of two and four. She cut the maximum maternity grant, which is what most people were getting, from €260 a week to €230 a week.

Having finished with the children of the nation, she moved on to vulnerable families. She reduced the age that the youngest child in a single-parent family has to be in order for the parent to no longer qualify for the one-parent family allowance from 14 to seven. In the case of rent supplement, which is the subject of the most severe means test of all, she increased dramatically to €40 a week the rental contribution that has to be made by the poorest cohort of people. This year, to add insult to injury, she has abolished the mortgage interest supplement. This means the withdrawal of the State support that has been offered for many decades to people who lose their jobs while they are waiting to get new jobs.

Of course the Labour Party has never had any grá for farmers. The Minister has changed the means testing rules that apply to farm assist payments. As a result, regardless of how hard one works on one's little farm, the Minister will take back from one's social welfare payment 100% of what one earns on that farm. It is the highest rate of tax in the whole country. We hear millionaires complaining about a 50% tax, but this is a 100% tax on small farmers, in effect. It is being overseen by a Minister who talks about encouraging enterprise. It is costing many families up to €100 per week in lost social welfare payments.

Having finished with the farmers, the Minister moved on to older people. She reduced the period of time for which fuel allowance is paid from 32 weeks to 26 weeks. This represented a cut of €120 per annum, or over €2 a week. Having initially cut the electricity allowance from 2,400 units to 1,800 units, the Minister got really smart and converted it into cash. When she decided to give people the same amount of cash regardless of the cost of electricity, she was saying that she did not care how expensive electricity gets. Given that energy costs rise inexorably, this was a cut, in effect. In the old days, one's units covered the price of electricity as it went up. As we all know, she abolished the free telephone rental allowance, which was worth more than €20 a month, in two steps. For some reason, she has an awful set against women.

The Deputy should not be ridiculous.

She changed the pension rules dramatically when she reduced substantially the pension paid to people who took time out of work for the purposes of caring duties or child-rearing. The Minister is familiar with the manner in which social welfare works on the basis of an average. I would say that in 90% of cases, the people who are hurt by this kind of rule change are the women of Ireland. The Minister also cut the respite grant by €325, from €1,700 to €1,375. Having hit elderly people and those who need care, she decided this year to hit the dead by abolishing the bereavement grant of €850.

Whose fault is all of this?

The point I am making is that the Minister claims not have cut primary rates.

The Minister of State has asked a good question.

I am saying that she has been cutting, slashing and burning.

Why are we having these budgets?

She is in denial about what she is doing. The Labour Party said before it came into government that the cutbacks we were involved in were unnecessary.

Why are we having these budgets?

I wish to talk about what the Minister has done to the young and the unemployed. She has cut the back to education allowance. She has cut community employment schemes in a very mean way.

She is extending community employment schemes.

She has cut the rural social scheme a very mean way.

The Deputy should look at the numbers.

If the Deputy asks any lone parent about community employment schemes, he will hear about how the Minister has cut them. Her cuts are mean all the time. This year, she has gone after young people aged 22, 23, 24 or 25 who do not have jobs by cutting their payments to €100 a week. The Minister has gone after those who are creating employment by taking away the safety net that existed in the form of the rebate on redundancy payments. Many employers will now be reluctant to take people on because if they have to leave people go, they will face the full cost of redundancy payments. Basically, the Minister thinks people will be fooled if she repeats the mantra that she has not cut primary rates. The reality is that she has cut virtually everybody - children, families, young people, the sick and the old.

That is the legacy of the Deputy's party.

As I said at the outset, cuts are cuts regardless of how they are dressed up.

That is the legacy of the Deputy and his colleagues.

The next slot is to be shared between Deputies McEntee, Feighan and English. I understand Deputy McEntee proposes to share her time with Deputy Spring. Is that agreed? Agreed.

We have all been listening to the debates for the past few hours and weeks. I think we can all agree that the past few years have not been easy. We have had tough budgets.

This year is no exception. Every Department has had to make savings and cuts and the Department of Social Protection is no different. It had to make savings of €226 million this year which was no easy feat. Despite the cuts we have managed to maintain the State pension, the carer's allowance, the disability allowance and, despite what is said, all other core payments upon which people rely. Child benefit and the respite care grant have been protected.

Although we are not in the financial position we would like to be in, when we exit the bailout at the end of the year we will start to see a huge lift in our economy. That said, we still have a huge problem with emigration and with finding jobs and creating employment for young people. That was a big issue for me throughout the by-election. I like to think of myself as a young person. It is not too long since I was in my early twenties and I know how difficult it can be to be that age. Many things are going on in one's life, apart from work and education and upsets in those areas create hassle. This Government understands that.

I do, however, support the changes in jobseeker's allowance. For the most part people want to work. They want to educate themselves and to earn their own money. The changes in the allowance place a greater emphasis on work, training and educational supports, instead of focusing on income supports. It is right to reward those who make the effort to educate themselves further, either through work or education. The more people are at work, the sooner our economy will recover. I do not mind saying that I do not believe that a person who is 18 and has just left school should automatically be handed €144 without even trying to look for employment or going into further education or training, to learn a trade or a craft. I certainly did not receive that sum at that age.

Young people need to be ambitious and in this country they generally are. There is a time in all our lives when we can enjoy ourselves and not focus on serious things. I would prefer to be part of a government that creates an environment in which young people want to stay. Otherwise, they will emigrate, not because they are not getting enough money from the State but because there is nothing here for them to grab onto. We drive them away because we do not provide for their needs. The Minister for Social Protection has done a lot of work in the background, negotiating the youth guarantee, which will be introduced next year. There are many positive things in the budget for young people, despite what the Opposition says. With the matching funding next year from the EU a fund of at least €100 million will be pumped into youth employment initiatives.

That money will help us to develop opportunities that are already there for young people. We need to extend them. We will consider internships, new places on Tús schemes targeted at young people, and new places on JobBridge. The Department of Education and Skills will ring-fence at least 2,000 jobs. We are considering supports for the self-employed.

Irish people are ambitious but if they are not given the support to run with new ideas or new jobs they will find it impossible to fund themselves. Under the youth guarantee scheme we will incentivise employers to take on young people. Many positive initiatives are happening. We are far better off providing tools for the younger generation to go out and work for itself and make an input into society instead of creating a social welfare culture in which people do not help themselves or this country, and do not realise their full potential. I support the Bill.

I would like to point out a couple of key figures that influenced the way the budget was put together. Every journalist and every house in this country should know that the adjustment was €2.5 billion not €3.1 billion, as per the first request of the troika. We should also look back further to when Fianna Fáil agreed a memorandum of understanding with the troika, signed by the late Brian Lenihan and Brian Cowen in which the adjustment for this year would be another €1 billion more, due to a promissory note which was over-onerous and because the interest rate on the moneys provided by the European Central Bank was high. This has been re-negotiated to the tune of €620 million. These figures were provided by the Department of Finance.

In reality the adjustment would be €4.1 billion or more if Fianna Fáil, the Independents and the Greens were in government today. The memorandum of understanding states that for 2014 the budget for the Department of Social Protection should be €18.6 billion, that is €1.7 billion more than is being taken out here. We will spend €20.3 billion looking after 2.2 million people who receive social protection payments, from old age benefit to child benefit and everything that exists between. It is a bit rich for people to come in here and apologise for bankrupting the country, for having left us at junk bond status and in a position where the IMF, an organisation that is typically brought into sub-Saharan countries to save their people from going bankrupt, had to come in. This embarrassment was not brought upon us by this Government but it will be removed by this Government.

Those black and white figures do not lie. There is €1.7 billion less being taken out of the Department of Social Protection than would have been taken out under the memorandum of understanding signed by the Greens, Independents and Fianna Fáil. I would like Fianna Fáil Members to tell us where would they have made that €1.7 billion extra in cuts? They should be honest with us and let us know what they would have done to people.

I welcome the main provisions in this Bill and I thank the Minister for Social Protection for standing up for the people who need the protection of this State. Ten years ago I was a Member of the Seanad and I remember coming in here to the Dáil Chamber to see the then Minister's Budget Statement. That was a giveaway, easy budget. Charlie McCreevy was almost carried shoulder high. In the smoking area in the Members' bar there was a sing-song, a piano accordion and a bit of Irish dancing by the Fianna Fáil Members who are now so upset that they went missing five years ago. Where are they now? They are not here to debate and listen to exactly what is being said about this Bill. They should come in here and listen to what we have to say. It is an insult to this House that the Fianna Fáil Members are not here to represent their party in a serious debate.

I welcome the reduction in the jobseeker's allowance to try to get people back to work. On Saturday night I was in a hotel in Northern Ireland, 15 miles from the Border. The staff in that hotel were all local, and happy to work. There is hardly one local person working in any hotel in this country. Fair play to the people coming into the country who work extremely hard and provide a very good service. There are tens of thousands of jobs in the service industry. The Minister is trying to get people off social welfare and back to work. I thank the Minister very much for taking those courageous first steps and I look forward to seeing people back at work in indigenous industries.

How long do I have to speak?

Good, I will not have to speak as fast as normal.

We will not understand the Deputy.

Maybe I will be able to speak in slower English. I am delighted to have the chance to say a couple of words on this Bill. Having listened to a couple of speakers from Fianna Fáil, I do not know what planet they are on.

I listened to Deputy Ó Cuív saying how tough the budget is and how the Minister, Deputy Burton, has done nothing but cut since she came into office. Does he realise what he handed over to us? First, let us go through his budget in 2010. The main points were: a 4% cut in social welfare payments, excluding the State's old age pension. He cut the basic rates. Child benefit decreased by €16 a month, although it remained unchanged in welfare dependent families, I will say that much for him. Fianna Fáil reduced the jobseeker's allowance for 20 or 21 year olds to €100 per week. They talk today as if the reduction in jobseeker's allowance for young people is something new. Fianna Fáil brought it in for the wrong reason.

It brought it in just to save money.

It did not bring it in with a real commitment to young people, a youth guarantee and youth activation measures. It never heard of the youth guarantee despite the fact that it was used all over Europe at the time. That is what we had under Deputy Ó Cuív. He tried to pick on the Minister today as though she is in here just to cut for fun. Do people think this Government really wants to be unpopular? Do they think we enjoy making cuts? We do not. That is not what we came in here to do. We came in here to turn the country around - to take a dysfunctional country, fix it and get it working again. That is happening but it is not by luck, chance or anything else. It is through good governance and management by two political parties and in fairness, some good opposition in some cases. I will admit that but we had years of mismanagement before that which put us in that place. It is crazy for Deputy Ó Cuív of all people to sit there and act as if he is amazed that there must be any cuts at all.

The previous Government handed over a basket case of a country. I listened to Deputy Ó Cuív recently defending Brian Cowen, other leaders and Deputy Martin for their role in managing the economy. They claimed they did great things when they were here. Yes, it was great that the pension went up to €230 but the foundations were not there to keep it. It is amazing how this Minister has been able to keep it because the public finances were not put in place to keep all the nice things Fianna Fáil claimed it gave us over the years. All the commitments the previous Government made in each Department since 2001 and 2002 were built on foundations of sand because it put all the eggs of this country into one basket - construction. When construction declined, so did our tax base to fund all these nice things that everybody wanted. The previous Government did not put in place a proper economy to pay for the services that the young, old and middle-aged need. We are trying to turn that around and build an economy based on enterprise and exports - not selling houses to each other. That does not make a country rich in the long term. That is what the previous Government did.

To understand why we are here, Fianna Fáil in government let the budget of the Department of Health go from €3 billion to €15 billion in ten years yet we did not get a health service that was five times better. We got a dysfunctional health service that did not spend money in the right places and did not deliver the health service everyone needed. The people concerned wanted to do it and to try their best but the systems were never put in place to spend that money correctly. Likewise, the spend in many Departments went up and up based on taxes from housing and yet no real reforms took place. We now have Ministers like the Minister for Social Protection and the Minister for Health who are bringing in reforms to make things sustainable in the long run.

It is a pity that we must have social welfare Bills that do involve some cuts and changes that will inflict pain on certain people. It is minimised as much as possible but reducing anything for anybody will cause them a small amount of pain. It will affect some more than others. What we are trying to do in this Bill is to protect the most vulnerable. I have listened to mainly Fianna Fáil spokespersons and probably Sinn Féin Deputies call this budget an attack on the vulnerable. I did not get the chance to listen to all the speeches. It is not. It is an attempt to pick out the areas where one can make some changes without inflicting too much pain on anybody. One does one's best to protect the vulnerable, the elderly and the young but with each budget, it gets a bit harder to protect everybody and keep all those areas. We gave a commitment to protect the basic rates and, amazingly, we have protected them given the public finances handed over to us by the previous Government. That is a commitment.

We also said that we do not believe in constantly taxing jobs because this country is short of jobs. I have no problem with higher taxes at the right time but it is not the right time because we need to win and create new jobs so one cannot keep taxing jobs one does not have. A total of 80% of increases and charges in the first four austerity budgets were on jobs. They were on income tax so one cannot keep doing that. It is not as easy as using the magic pen that Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin now have and simply putting more taxes on people. That is not the solution because we did that for years. We want to win new jobs. If one raises taxes too much, one will not win those jobs.

I will turn to some of the facts in the Bill. I listened to Deputy Dooley telling me that this is an attack on young people. He also forgets that Fianna Fáil brought in the first reduction in rates for young people. That was its choice. This time, it has been done as part of a strategy because it makes sense to do one's best to encourage young people with carrot, and with stick if necessary, to get into education, training or work where possible. We know that a job does not exist for everybody. We wish there was. Our aim is to get there eventually but one will not do it overnight. One will not do it in six months or even one year but we will get there over a number of years. In the meantime, while one is trying to create a job for everybody, one must keep them as close to the workforce as possible. That is why we have documents like Pathways to Work and why we have the youth guarantee for whose implementation and funding the Minister for Social Protection fought hard in Europe. This is funding upon which we will draw to spend in this country to guarantee young people a future. Yes, they might have a little bit less in social welfare for a few years but they have a future because we will make sure of this through the money being spent on labour activation, of which over €1 billion is for youth activation measures. The budget provides about €15 million for the youth guarantee drawing on some of the European money. That is targeted at young people to get them back to work and into education and training.

I hear people saying that this is not fair, that it will drive young people to emigrate and that young people do not stay at home. That is not the case. Most young people want to get out there, get a job and go to college but there is a percentage that is not engaging. People have used the term NEETs - not in education, employment or training. It is a very common term all over Europe. I believe 20% of young people in this country are in that category. They are not in education, employment or training. They are the ones we are trying to tackle because that is not good for them. Never mind the fact that it is not good for the economy, it is not good for them. It does not secure their future. The percentage of people in that category all over Europe is between 12% and 13%. The last set of CSO figures tells us that there are a number of young people who are not engaged in any system. That cannot continue, which is why we have a policy that stipulates that if a person does not take up a training place, a place in college or a job, the rate of their social welfare payment will be cut. If they take up any of these offers, it will not be cut. The person will be €60 better off if they get involved in their future. That is a wise thing to do. If one wants to grab the headlines, it might not look like a nice thing to do but when one reads the details, it makes sense. That is what we are trying to do as a Government even in bad times. We are trying to do things that make sense. Naturally, we would like to give everybody plenty of money but it is not possible because the money is not there. We are only kidding ourselves about what we have and do not have.

I know the medical card is not part of this Bill but all these people are speaking as if we are taking the medical card off everybody. We are not. Yes, some will lose it and I wish they did not lose it, as do all of us because we all know that a medical card gives great security to a person or family. However, we got a commitment from the Taoiseach yesterday that those who need it will get it. We are not stupid. We deal with medical cards in our offices every day of the week. Some people slip through the net. People who need it do not get it and we must fix that. Individually, we all work hard to make sure they get it back and this happens in most cases. However, there was no announcement that everybody's card would be taken back. That is not what was said. If one works it out, the majority of those over 70 will keep it. Yes, about 3% or 4% might eventually lose it but they would be regarded as having sufficient means. One tries to stretch it to make sure that those who do need it get it because all of us here know people who need a medical card but do not have one because they are just over the guidelines, missed out or did not know how to beat the system. That is why we must help rearrange the finances to make sure those who need it most get it. Yes, it does mean that sometimes a certain percentage of people over 70 might lose it but that is what one is trying to do with competing resources. One cannot do everything one might like to do. We must be honest with ourselves here. We would like to do more but we cannot always do that so we try to maximise resources as best we can and spend the money in the right place.

I heard complaints about maternity benefit. Yes, it is a shame that it will be reduced for some people. It is still there and the six months are there but it is a short-term payment. Any young mother with whom I have spoken would rather have kept that money but understands that her family is much better off having free GP care for under fives.

That was introduced for primary health reasons rather than as an economic measure but it also has economic benefits. Families are much better off because the GP card is preferable to a payment that lasts only six months.

At the time of the 1913 Lock-out, the centenary of which we mark this year, there was no such thing as social welfare or social protection. If people had no work or no private wealth they starved and their families starved. The only form of State assistance, if it could be called that, was the poor house, and to go there was to be condemned to a prison-like existence and the breaking up of your family. Even if people had work they lived in fear of illness because illness meant loss of a job. Over the following decades working people in Ireland and throughout the world fought and struggled for better pay and conditions and for health and social services that offered them protection. Through those efforts the resources of the State were built up in order to care for the children, the aged, the sick and the disabled.

Make no mistake, the austerity regimes that are being imposed across Europe, and not least in this country, are rolling back those social protections and public services that were so hard won by generations of working people. There are those in politics and big business who would roll them back even further to pauperise working people once again in the interests of profit for a tiny elite.

Budget 2014 and this Social Welfare and Pensions Bill arise out of that austerity agenda and that austerity mind-set. In advance of budget 2014, and despite the fact that last year, it cut child benefit, jobseeker's allowance and other basic payments, the coalition was claiming it was protecting core social welfare rates. It was a lie then and it is an even bigger lie now in the wake of budget 2014.

As Sinn Féin spokesperson on children I deplore this Bill because it is an anti-children Bill. The cut to maternity benefit is anti-children and anti-women. With this Bill the coalition wants to impose, for the majority of maternity benefit recipients, a cut of €832 over their six months of leave, or €32 per week. Mothers who have maternity benefit supplemented by their employers will lose out significantly from the cumulative effect of this cut and of tax measures. This will undoubtedly increase the financial pressure on mothers and young families, forcing mothers to return to work earlier than is appropriate for the best care of the child in infancy and her own health.

Although not in this Bill because they were imposed in last year's budget and held over, a nasty surprise is waiting in January 2014 when the child benefit cuts for the fourth and subsequent children kick in. This is how the Labour Party continues to protect child benefit as it promised before the 2011 general election.

The illness benefit and injury benefit cuts are cynical, especially at a time when workers' terms and conditions of employment are worsening with the likes of punitive zero-hour contracts where, as in 1913, working hours are determined week to week or even day to day entirely at the discretion of the employer and with no minimum period of employment guaranteed. This means that a significant and growing minority of workers do not get sick pay from their employers but must rely on direct payment of illness benefit and injury benefit. This Bill doubles the number of days without payment of those benefits from three to six, representing a cut of €112.80.

The debate on the Bill comes in the week when the Department of Social Protection has confirmed that it is sending out letters to jobseekers with offers of work in Canada. The landlords in this country once hired coffin ships to Canada to clear their estates of excess tenants. There are whole areas of Canada where my county constitutes the largest historic connection between Ireland and Canada. Now we have a native Government encouraging emigration to Canada and Australia and to places all over the globe. Of course it is not just letters from the Department that are encouraging emigration. Quite shamefully in this Bill the Government targets the already meagre jobseeker's allowance payment for young people and reduces it even further. This is based on the spurious assumption that somehow vast numbers of young people are shirking work, education or training. I refute that. It is an insult to the talented young people of this country. The jobs are simply not here. There are not nearly enough training places and for many young people further education is inaccessible and unaffordable.

It has been estimated that the cuts to jobseeker's allowance and supplementary welfare allowance will hit over 20,000 young people in 2014. This is a charter for emigration, without question, but it is also a charter for employers to drive down wages and conditions even further. The JobBridge scheme is basically a free labour scam for employers. The paltry dole for young people, which is down to €100 per week for under 25s, is topped up with a €50 JobBridge payment for which people are expected to do a week's work in a so-called internship scheme. I applaud the Irish National Teachers Organisation for instructing its members not to participate in this cheap labour scheme dressed up as training. Several schools have offered such places to qualified primary teachers. While it is claimed these positions cannot displace existing staff or fill a current vacancy, the reality of short-staffing in schools means that participants would effectively be filling gaps created by cutbacks. At the end of the term of cheap labour there is no guarantee of a job.

Cutting pay and welfare payments to subsistence levels is punishing for families and individuals, as well as disastrous for struggling local economies in communities throughout this country. It means less money is being spent in local shops and on local services. The impact of dole cuts on young people in the poorest families is of huge concern. It is predicted that it will lead to increased homelessness among young people at a time when in budget 2014 the Government has once again slashed funding for housing and homeless services.

Children, young people and our older citizens are penalised in this Bill. Social Justice Ireland estimates that 88% of those over 65 years of age would be at risk of poverty were it not for social security payments. Attacking older citizens is attacking the vulnerable. Disgracefully, the telephone allowance, which forms part of the household benefits package, is being abolished in this Bill in order to reduce spending by €44 million. This follows cuts of €84 million in the household package in budget 2013. This is a loss of €19 per week for older people.

The cut to the invalidity pension for 65 year olds is another nasty measure in this Bill that will cost 65 year old disabled pensioners €36.80 per week. This cut is disguised as the discontinuation of the higher rate of invalidity pension for people who turn 65. Those who had that expectation will now have to wait another year. Older people are also hit with the increased prescription charges and the cuts to medical cards. The scrapping of the bereavement grant is a lousy measure, showing that the Government is prepared to take money out of people's pockets from the cot to the coffin. Let us remember, there is a very significant cumulative effect for older citizens over several budgets because in recent years we have seen reductions in the fuel allowance, the abolition of the Christmas bonus and cuts to home help services.

The cumulative effect of successive budgets is felt across all social welfare recipients. I have no doubt we will see this when we are back on the ground and rooted in our respective constituencies. They now face the family home tax, or the so-called local property tax, with a full year payment in 2014 and the imposition of water charges after that. Local authority tenants face the prospect of increased rents under the promised new State wide rental scheme. A significant element of this rent increase will be based on the local authority's liability for the family home tax on its residential properties which, if Minister Hogan gets his way, will be passed on to tenants.

Regardless of how the Minister for Social Protection and her colleagues try to dress up this Bill, it is a mean and nasty austerity Bill that penalises the least well off in society. They are being made to suffer yet again because this Government has set its face against taking more from those who can afford to pay more and against the real alternative economic strategies that have been set out by Sinn Féin and others.

I reject this Bill.

There is not a public representative in this House or in the Seanad who has not sat in his or her constituency office in recent months and listened to horrific stories from the ordinary, decent, local people about what the cuts to services and allowances have done to them since the Government took office. This is not to say that they got off lightly under Fianna Fáil previously, a fact that they will not forget. Many of the people who have come to me in trouble due to the Government's austerity policies can remember as far back as the Fianna Fáil election campaign of 1987 when that party, under Charles Haughey, put up election posters all over this city and State that read: "Health cuts hurt the old, the sick and the handicapped." Fianna Fáil claimed that there was a better way, but God knows it was not better under Fianna Fáil. Nor has it been better under this Government.

The older constituents have been hard hit by this budget. The nastiest cuts are the ones that make it more difficult for them to have telephones and the one that removes the bereavement grant under section 8 of the Bill. We as a people put great store in how we bury our dead. It is an important part of how we deal with the grief caused by the death of a loved one. It is a matter of love and pride for any family, widow or widower to know that a loved one was given a decent funeral. How cruel would one need to be to devise this cut? I would love to know who sat around a table and presented this proposal. Was it a member of the Cabinet or one of the gang or four?

The young did not escape either. In section 9, the Minister reinforces the call to our young people to emigrate by cutting their jobseeker's payments, encouraging them to go. Despite the denials by many of the Minister's party colleagues and backbenchers that there were no cuts to jobseeker's payments, Deputy Feighan congratulated her 15 or 20 minutes ago on her decision to cut them.

It is disturbing that the Department of Social Protection is actively encouraging people to emigrate. We in Sinn Féin have always suspected that the Government's main tool to reduce unemployment figures was emigration. The letters that have been sent out in recent days prove this. I have a letter from the Department. It refers to a vacancy, a vacancy number and employer details. According to it, the Department had been advised of a vacancy that might have been of interest to the person concerned. The location was in Canada, with salaries and conditions to be advised. This is what the Department under Deputy Burton's Ministry and this Government is sending to people across the country. A young man in Tralee received two letters from the Department on the same day informing him of a vacancy in Canada. The crazy aspect is that he has been in full-time employment since the start of the summer. Not only is the Government encouraging unemployed people to leave the country, but also employed people. The individual in question went through a State-sponsored training course for eight months with more than a dozen other people. It looks like we are training people for export like cattle.

Given the recent budget reductions in respect of young unemployed people, the use of schemes such as JobBridge, which is clearly being exploited for cheap labour, and now this, it is clear that the Government is trying to make this country a cold house for young people.

I travel all over the west and south coasts and am very much involved in the GAA. In every single rural area that I visit, youth clubs are finding it difficult to field teams because young people have been forced out of the country to Canada, Australia, America and England to find employment. Nor is it just young people. Due to drastic cuts and restrictions, people who are employed are also being forced to leave the country. The only way the Government can manipulate the figures is by forcing young people away. For this reason, Deputy Feighan congratulated the Minister on doing a good job by cutting jobseeker's payments. She should be ashamed of herself.

I call Deputy McLellan.

The Deputy has some nerve, after the death and destruction that you rained on this country. The Deputy has some nerve after the destruction for which he is responsible.

Deputy McLellan has the floor. Order, please.

This just proves the Minister has lost.

The killings and maimings as well.

May I have the floor?

You really have a nerve. Did you ever cost it?

Please, Minister. Deputy McLellan has the floor.

Did Deputy Martin Ferris ever cost it?

The Minister needs to heckle.

This is my third time calling Deputy McLellan.

It was guns Sinn Féin brought into the country.

Please, I want Deputy-----

Let us get a costing on that.

Have respect for the speaker.

Two hecklers from the Labour Party. Very good.

It shows that they are hurting because the truth really hurts. That is a fact.

No, let us have respect for the speaker.

A lot of people left the world permanently. That is what Sinn Féin did.

I call Deputy McLellan.

That is what Sinn Féin did.

Settle down, please. I call Deputy McLellan.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. For those who are forced to rely on social welfare, there has been no break or relief in this budget. The Government, in particular the Labour Party, seems determined to stick to the line that it has not cut basic rates of social welfare. How it can continue to trot out that line with a straight face is beyond me. The idea that the Government has not cut basic rates is a fiction more creative than "Love/Hate". There can be no social welfare payment more basic than jobseeker's allowance. When someone is unfortunate enough to lose a job and his or her income dries up, it is the jobseeker's allowance on which that person relies for food, clothing and a roof over his or her head and to take care of his or her family. It is the most basic and fundamental role of a welfare state that we support those who are out of work until they have the opportunity to work again and that, in the meantime, we give them enough to live on with some degree of dignity.

The Government has made all sorts of weak and cynical arguments to justify this cut. It has tried to peddle the line that young people of this age are often at home with their parents, do not have dependants and do not have the same costs. However, every Deputy knows many young people of that age who are living in their own places. Many of them are married or in long-term relationships. The Government believes that such people will be able to run households on between €100 and €144 per week. It is absurd and insulting. In the long run, the young people affected will not be able to manage. The Minister knows this.

In an ugly attack, the Government has also tried to justify this by claiming that young people who are unemployed are lazy and idle and that this is an initiative to rectify a poverty trap. The Taoiseach stated: "Our young people should have the opportunity to be in education and training, not languishing on dole queues." All that this cut does is punish young people. In any case, there are nowhere near enough quality training and education places available to young people at this time.

Labour Deputies have referred to young people who are lazy, staring at flat screens all day. The Minister for Social Protection stated: "What we are getting at the moment is people who come into the system straight after school as a lifestyle choice. This is not acceptable, everyone should be expected to contribute and work." That is unacceptable and untrue.

That is not a quote from me, by the way. I am sorry, but the Deputy's researcher got it wrong. She can check. It is not from me, although it may be from someone else.

The Deputy only has one and a half minutes left.

It is the type of cynical, base and divisive rhetoric of which the Tory Party in Britain is so fond. It would be a shame if that kind of Tory politics took root in this State.

Lots of Sinn Féin members worked for the Tory Party.

The economist, Michael Taft, recently wrote a blog that should be required reading for the Government, particularly those deluded souls who believe that our unemployment crisis has been caused by indolence. He examined the track record of our young people's ability and desire to work. He examined how Irish people had worked when jobs were available. He wrote that, for young people aged between 20 and 24 years between 2004 and 2006, the Irish employment rate was the fourth highest in the EU 15, considerably above the average of other EU 15 countries. There would be a high level of people in that age group still in education, but nearly 70% of Irish youth were working.

Michael Taft also examined the category of people aged between 25 and 29 years, when people have by and large left full-time education. He found that this group's employment rate was the second highest in the EU 15, way above the average. It fell to fourth lowest in 2012, just above other peripheral countries. The work is not there. There are 32 people unemployed for every vacancy. No amount of moralising to young people will change that.

The Government has given up on helping or supporting our young people. A generation has been deemed expendable. I resent this deeply and hope that it comes back to haunt the Government.

It is far from the young alone who have been hit by this appalling Bill. The sick, elderly and those struggling with mortgages are all taking a big hit. In section 4, the waiting time for illness benefit has been doubled from three to six days, effectively bringing it in to a second week. This could do one of two things - either cause a sick person to go without at a time when they should not have to or the employer will carry the can, thus placing further pressure on small businesses.

There are cuts to maternity benefit, putting expectant mothers under severe pressure financially, and cuts to the adoption grant. I am particularly disgusted at the ending of the bereavement grant.

This Bill will cause genuine suffering and hardship. I hope government Deputies will reflect on the suffering their constituents will endure when they troop through the lobbies.

Having listened to the last few speakers, one would think that the Minister, Deputy Burton, sat up in bed at night thinking about how she could punish people. I happened to meet her a few days before the budget and she was clearly distressed by the fact that she would have to cut anything at all. Every effort of hers was aimed at minimising the budget's negative impact. That is the type of person she is and the public knows that. Nobody wants to stand over a situation where cuts have to be introduced. The thrust of the Government's work is to get the whole county back in line so that more people are employed and the country can afford to provide health, social welfare and other services.

I wish to address two main areas. The first concerns the removal of the €850 bereavement grant. Clearly this is regrettable but there is a lot of misunderstanding about the situation. It is important to draw attention to all the supports that are there for bereaved families. I will list them because listening to some speakers one would think there were no such supports. For example, various social welfare payments, including the State pension, remain for six weeks following a death. The widowed person still gets a once-off payment of €6,000 where there is a dependent child. A person who dies as a result of an accident at work gets a funeral grant of €850. For those who are unable to pay, there continues to be an exceptional needs payment which averages at €2,000. It is important for people to realise that those supports are there.

My second point concerns the under 25s. We would all prefer if nobody's money was being cut but it is worth remembering that the 22 to 24-year-olds will get at least €144 per week. That is more than double the sum of £56.80 paid in Britain and Northern Ireland. Greater job activation measures aimed at the younger cohort of the population are useful and constitute a valuable asset for our community. For example, the Department of Education and Skills is ring-fencing a minimum of 2,000 additional training spaces for the under-25s.

Proposals under the youth guarantee scheme will incentivise employers to offer more job opportunities. In addition, the JobsPlus eligibility level will move from 12 months to six months for those under 25. There will be an additional intake of 1,500 in the JobBridge scheme and 1,000 places will be created on Tús schemes to target young people.

The Minister, Deputy Burton, is aiming at creating a situation whereby people will be ready to take up jobs as our economy lifts up. We want everybody to think in terms of having a job, thus working for themselves and for their community. In an earlier contribution, my colleague, Deputy McNamara, said that even when things were good, 15% of families had no work. We do not want to see people on the dole, however, and so we are preparing for that economic upturn.

It is important to keep checking the job activation measures to see that they are working effectively, but we must alter them where necessary. Labour means work and Labour is the party of work. We believe in work for all and we will not rest easily until we achieve this.

I thank Deputy Dowds for allowing me to share time with him. I welcome the two Fianna Fáil Deputies in the Chamber, which is good to see. They had abandoned the Chamber for most of the evening but they are now back. I might suggest to them that when they speak about budgets and social welfare they could start off by apologising to the people of Ireland for the mess they left the country in when the last Government collapsed. They should start every sentence by saying, "We are so sorry for the mess, hardship and misery we caused". That would be a great start and they might have some credibility if they began to criticise what we are trying to do in turning around this awful mess.

Things are improving dramatically, however. There is more traffic on the road, there is more activity and there are signs of an uplift. Our Sinn Féin friends seem to relish words like "disastrous", "crisis" and "misery". Everything for them is "appalling", "shocking" and "terrible".

That is what Deputy Stanton said in 2010.

If they said something positive they would get upset and choke. Since they began to speak here this evening it has been negative.

I have listened to the debate all evening, but I have not heard one positive or constructive suggestion from Sinn Féin. I invite that party to come forward with just one suggestion and we might be pleased, but I have not heard any.

They made a pre-budget submission.

We talk about fairness and progressiveness, but the income tax system is extremely fair. Some 19% of tax is paid by the top 1% of earners, while 41% is paid by the top 5% of earners. Some 77% of tax is paid by the top 23% of earners, while 14% of workers do not pay any tax at all. That is impressive and progressive.

The Minister for Social Protection is doing a very good job. The expectation was that her Department would have to cut a lot more but that did not happen. There have been no changes in weekly social welfare payments for all 1.45 million current beneficiaries. There have been no changes in child benefit or the fuel allowance. The free travel pass, free television, electricity, gas and over-80s allowance have remained the same. The State pension for older people has been maintained at current levels. The half-rate carer's allowance is to be maintained and the extra weekly payments for carers for more than one person will be retained.

We should examine the Government's macro-economic strategy which is focused on trying to get more people back to work. That is ultimately what it is all about. I know many people who started off on the JobBridge scheme and are now in full-time employment.

I have met employers and employees who are delighted with the scheme. I would like to make two suggestions to the Minister in relation to JobBridge, the first of which is that start-up businesses be allowed to take on more than two interns. I have met employers who would like to do so. SMEs with fewer than ten employees should also be allowed to take on two interns. Second, the Minister might consider shortening the length of time in respect of which people must be unemployed before qualifying for JobBridge. Currently, the requirement in this regard is 12 months. I believe it should be reduced to six months or less.

There is scope to do more with JobBridge. This is what I and my colleagues are being told by employers and employees. The scheme is very successful. Six months is a long time to be unemployed. If people unemployed for six months were allowed to access JobBridge employers could take on more employees, some of which could be permanent positions, and create more business. This is already happening under the scheme as established. I would welcome the extension of the scheme to persons unemployed for six months, if possible.

In the UK, there is a cap on benefits. I congratulate the Minister on not introducing a cap here, although it is something that should be considered in the longer term. There are other things happening about which I am concerned. For example, I understand an issue arises in regard to social welfare payments being exempt from the Fines Bill. However, that is a matter for another day. It is important it is easy to move from social welfare benefits to work and vice versa. We need to put in place more measures to allow this to happen.

I would like now to speak a little about illness and so on. I was struck recently by the number of people in Ireland on disability benefit. Tens of thousands of people have left the workforce due to disability. This has occurred despite that we have a younger and healthier workforce. Since 2006, there has been a 37.7% increase in the number of people who have left the labour force, citing a condition that substantially limits one or more basic physical activity. Many people cite psychological and emotional conditions. The question we must ask is how has our population become dramatically more unhealthy during the past few years and is the State recognising conditions which up to now were not regarded as conditions which deemed people unfit for work? David McWilliams has done a lot of work in this area, which I have been examining carefully. In a perverse type of way some of our schemes incentivise people to be unwell. Perhaps we should be incentivising people to be well. We all know the power of the mind. One can almost convince oneself to be unwell. I accept that there are people who are genuinely unwell and people with genuine disabilities. We must be careful not to categorise people as fraudulently or genuinely unwell. However, there is a middle ground in this regard. We must focus on fitness, wellness and health. We need to consider incentivising employers to ease people back into the workforce. I know there are already schemes in place which do this but we need to do more. I am alarmed at the number of people currently unwell in our society for one reason or another. We need to undertake more research to find out why this is the case.

As stated by David McWilliams, there are some cases that are not legitimate and are fabricated or exaggerated. This makes life more difficult for people who do have disabilities because taxpayers will come to think of all people who are stressed, bullied, immobile or injured as faking it. This is an issue we need to address. We need to ask ourselves if we are in some way or other incentivising people to be unwell and what we are doing to incentivise people to be well. Many of our schools operate the Green Flag system. Perhaps consideration should be given to what can be done in our schools to encourage teachers and children to be healthier during the school year, at the end of which an analysis could be undertaken to see if they have improved over the course of the year. Those schools which are successful could then be awarded a flag, similar to the Green Flag. This would be worth investigating and doing.

This year, €19.6 billion will be spent in the area of social protection, which is a huge amount. I know there was pressure on the Minister to reduce that figure. One way of decreasing that amount is to get people back to work. If this means additional training schemes and so forth, so be it. I was recently told by an employer that there was a vacancy in his business, in respect of which the salary was €33,000 per annum, but he was finding it difficult to find someone to fill the position. He was extremely annoyed that this was the case. We need to start linking employers with people looking for jobs. We need to make it easier for people who want to hire to do so. I welcome the change in respect of social welfare offices, which are supposed to be doing this work. It is important we push to ensure it is happening.

In 2006, a good friend of mine, the late Seamus Brennan, put forward proposals for supporting lone parents. Despite that those proposals contained some good ideas, nothing in that area has happened since then. I would like to see that debate reopened to see if we can do more in that area.

The next speaker is Deputy Dara Calleary, who I understand is sharing time with Deputy John Browne. The Deputies have ten minutes each.

I will come back to Deputy Stanton's remarks later. First, it is important we acknowledge, as we always do when debating social welfare and pensions Bills, the enormous amount of work done by the staff of the Department of Social Protection, including those in its regional offices and thank them for their assistance to us through the Oireachtas inquiry lines. If other Departments were as helpful as the Department of Social Protection, our lives and the lives of those we serve would be an awful lot easier.

I heard many Government Deputies refer to work and getting people back to work. One does not have to be in the House to hear what is said here. We all sign up to that desire. However, to provide work one needs to create the conditions in which employers can create jobs. This Bill continues a trend of undermining support for employers and the support available to employees from the Department of Social Protection. For example, illness benefit has now been extended to six days, which will result in a €22 million saving for the Department but which will be passed directly on to small business. The lower rate for employers' PRSI is also being abolished. I spoke to a gentleman last night who employs 14 people, seven full-time and seven part-time, in a retail business. The change in PRSI alone will cost him €10,000 next year. He is also operating in a very difficult environment. The change in PRSI will result in the loss of two of the seven part-time jobs, which people will end up dependent on the Department of Social Protection for support.

As I said last night during the debate on older citizens, when one aligns decisions taken by the Department of Social Protection with decisions taken by another Department, some people are getting more than their fair share of the budget hit. Much was said during last night's debate about elderly people and the abolition of the bereavement grant, which does not make any sense in terms of the upset it will cause versus the relatively small saving being made. I know the Minister has outlined the other supports available. However, there are difficulties in accessing those supports. At a time of bereavement there are many demands on the family pocket. This little grant, in terms of the overall cost of a funeral, was a specific allocation used to pay the undertaker's bill.

The other issue is the increase in DIRT. I know this is not a social protection initiative, but many people put money aside to pay for their funeral. We are all used to hearing this, and now they will lose whatever little bit of interest they were making on that because of the decision in the budget. Again, it shows how different Departments have different initiatives but nobody seems to be co-ordinating. It is not just this Government that does that, but every government. We need to stop the silo way we have of doing business in this country.

Some of the awful cuts in this Bill, such as the single parent tax credit, do not seem to recognise the difficulties that separated couples have when they try to make provision to look after their children collectively, for the sake of family stability. Two parents may be working to support their children and they have different pressures on them. This cut undermines the very difficult circumstances that apply in situations like this when parents try to work together. We have got many e-mails from men - from women as well - which show the efforts that people are making to try to give their family some kind of stability in a break-up situation. This measure undermines those efforts and sends a very bad signal to those who are trying to make those efforts.

We had a very good presentation on Pathways to Work at the enterprise and jobs committee a few weeks ago. Much progress is being made in reaching the targets. However, it is one thing to reach the target, but quality is another. How effective are the one-on-one profiles and the interviews in the time that has been given? While that work is being rolled out, the decision to reduce the social welfare component for those new entrants aged under 25 is wrong, given the vacuum that exists. There are still not enough proper activation places for a large cohort of people, and there are still delays in getting it. New entrants have options under the back to education scheme, but it may not suit many of them and we are now reducing their payments to €100. Nobody wants to become dependent on welfare, but I do not think the supports and backup are properly in place yet. Perhaps the Minister might clarify whether a particular emphasis in the Pathways to Work scheme will be put on the targets on those aged 25 and under, but I think this is a very ill judged cut. Coupled with the letters going out to people recommending job vacancies abroad, this sends the wrong message to people.

I have spoken already about the cuts to community welfare offices around the country. The Minister and I will agree to disagree on this. I am still not convinced it is the right thing to do. I notice that it is not in the Bill, so I presume that the Minister has to sign an order, but getting rid of the telephone allowance is the wrong decision because it is not just Eircom that is getting the line rental. It is not only the telephone but the pendant. We all like to think we can live without a landline, but we cannot. However, older people are not mobile friendly and in recent years that pendant has become very important. The Minister needs to look at that decision again. It is not part of the Bill, so she has a difficult decision to make. At least she must ensure that the funding to community organisations is ring-fenced to ensure that nobody will lose their landline and then their emergency pendant. From a security and health point of view that does a huge amount of work.

Deputy Stanton referred to the issue of illness and invalidity. He has a point there. This is one of my difficulties with the way this Bill is being rammed through the House, for no apparent reason other than to slam down dissent that may arise in Government Buildings. Many of these changes do not take effect until 1 January. In respect of Deputy Stanton's proposals on illness benefit, some good work has been done on the "fit to work" schemes that could have been debated on Committee Stage if there was a proper Committee Stage. The issue in respect of the telephone allowance and the different supports available could have been debated if there was a proper debate. If there is to be any real progress with Dáil reform the first week after we proposed a change in the legislation, the notion is that Second Stage is for speeches and Committee Stage is where it happens, but we are going to ram through Committee Stage in four or five hours tomorrow. This Bill will suffer as a result. Changes that might enhance the Bill, and might enhance the experience for those who need the support of this Bill, could have been done if Committee Stage was debated over a number of weeks in the proper fashion.

Deputy Stanton must have got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning. I listened in 2009 and 2010 to the Minister, when she was in opposition, slamming the cuts introduced then. We have heard what the Taoiseach said in 2008 about medical cards and what he is saying this week. Now the Minister is publishing Government funded PR material about all the adjustments being made, without saying that the majority of the adjustment was done under the last Government, every single measure of it opposed bitterly by the Minister. If we should apologise, then perhaps the Government Members should apologise for the false promises made immediately prior to the last election, in full knowledge of the seriousness of the situation. These included the promise not to change welfare rates and other changes that the Government is now making. At the end of the day, people who are in receipt of any payment are looking for an understanding within the political system that this Bill is impacting on many people in a very negative way. Unfortunately, the way it is being rammed through the House will not allow us to examine it sufficiently. The Bill will take effect when enacted and only then will we see the real impact of it, which will be a very negative impact for many hundreds of thousands of people in this country.

I compliment social welfare officials across the country who have been very helpful to us over the last year. They are working under serious constraints. Their offices are understaffed. It is taking 18 months for appeals to be heard and between six and nine months for carer's allowance applications to be dealt with. It is taking months for jobseeker's benefit to be dealt with. There is a problem in that the offices are completely understaffed at the moment. The Minister should look at this issue, particularly in respect of the carer's allowance. The length of time it is taking for people to get approval for carer's allowance is a scandal. I have had many situations in my own county where people applied for carer's allowance and by the time it was approved, the person who needed to be cared had passed away. The Minister should look seriously at that situation.

The cuts that the Minister for Finance announced in the budget include the abolition of the bereavement grant, the reduction of jobseeker's allowance and the supplementary welfare allowance for those aged under 25, the abolition of the mortgage interest supplement, the reduction in the maternity benefits and the issues that we are not discussing tonight for some reason, such as the abolition of the telephone allowance, changes to the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance which were seriously reduced, and a reduction in exceptional needs payments, which is causing major problems for poorer families. Then we had the reduction in the ESB allowances as well.

The Government has continued to hit the less well off in our society in the last two years. Perhaps the new Deputies are not up to speed with what their older colleagues said prior to the last election, when promises were made to protect the old and the less well off, and that everyone would receive the medical card and so on. Clearly there are were a lot of false statements. Many issues were used before the last election and when the then Opposition parties formed this Government, the tune changed.

I would like to raise a couple of issues in respect of young people.

The cut in the social welfare payment for young people will have a serious effect. Obviously many people will emigrate to Canada, Australia and America. The Department of Social Protection is already advising people that jobs are available in Canada and so the thinking of the Government seems to be to get more people to emigrate.

When young people go on a Tús scheme, community employment scheme or any of the other schemes, after one year they are placed back on the dole queue, which is not right. In many cases the training courses available are not suitable. The south east was very dependent on the building industry over the years. Many young people are out of work because there are no longer jobs in the building industry. These young people are looking for further education and training that is relevant to the jobs available in the region. Most of the jobs available in the south-east region are in farming, fishing or related industries. It is important that the new FÁS training schemes and the other training schemes coming on board should be made relevant to an area. One size does not fit all and it is very important that we have training schemes that are relevant to young people.

The social welfare system at present does not encourage people to take up temporary work. While people might get a job for three or four months in the fruit area or other areas, they then find it very difficult to get back on social welfare. This is a major problem that needs to be addressed. As a result people are not taking up temporary work because they claim it takes several weeks to get back on their social welfare. A new system needs to be introduced. I have taken this up with my own Ministers in the past. When people go on a temporary work scheme they should automatically resume getting jobseeker's payment as soon as possible.

That is available for up to six months.

The Minister should not be taking up speaking time.

I can talk to the Deputy separately.

It is not happening.

It is not happening on the ground.

I am just trying to be helpful and I see other Deputies nodding. If the Deputy talks to me, I will examine the cases he is discussing.

I appreciate that the Minister might be trying to be helpful. It is not help that is needed but action on the ground. I see it in the strawberry industry in Wexford where people get three or four months' work. People in the local area will not take that work because of the difficulty of getting back their jobseeker's payment. That issue needs to be addressed.

As Deputy Calleary said, the elimination of the telephone allowance will cause major problems in rural areas in particular. In many cases older people are the only ones who have a landline. People who supply the panic buttons say that a landline is required. I know the Taoiseach and Minister have said that we will talk to those involved in Community Alert and others to see what can be done. It does not cost a huge amount of money and the telephone allowance should be restored to these people as quickly as possible.

People in my constituency are very annoyed about the reduction of the bereavement grant. It was not a huge amount of money, but it was significant for older people and families on the breadline. It was another mean cut by the Government.

Some people get on FÁS schemes or community employment schemes in general for a year. They go to the local GAA club, rugby club, soccer club or whatever organisation is involved. When the year is up they go back on the dole. They go through all that for the sake of an extra €20 a week. I do not know why this happens. Putting them back on the dole is certainly no help to the person. I do not think it would break the Government if they were allowed to remain on those schemes for a particular time. A number of organisations have informed me that if they were allowed to keep the person, they would pay the €20 a week, which is €1,000 a year. We should be more inventive with these schemes to ensure people stay on them allowing them to stay in some kind of work. People like to get up on the morning and go on the scheme. They like to be involved in the local community and they like to help out those local community organisations. However, dumping them back on the dole at the end of a year is not good enough.

I would criticise many of the Government's reductions. When the Minister was on this side of the House, we were lacerated for not giving more - let alone making cuts. This Government's budgets have been regressive and not in the interests of the less well off in our communities. The Minister will need to look again. Perhaps she is unable to fight the battle at the Cabinet table to ensure that the less well-off are protected. I come from Wexford where there has been the heartbeat of Labour for many years. Given the position he now holds, I certainly expected the Minister, Deputy Howlin, to protect the less well-off and vulnerable, including the older people who marched to Leinster House this week to protest at the change in medical cards. However, seemingly the Labour Party has abandoned all of the ideals and beliefs it had throughout the years regarding the less well-off and poor in our society. That is a pity because these people built up the country. They have worked hard on small incomes throughout the years to ensure we had a prosperous country. People like us have been elected to this House to look after and protect them, and to ensure they have a decent standard of living. Somewhere along the way the Labour Party has abandoned these ideals. I do not know why.

It abandoned them to get power.

It may have allowed the Fine Gael Party to take over completely and protect the well-off, the big farmers, and those who are not short of a shilling. I hope that on Committee Stage the Minister will consider some of the suggestions-----

A Deputy

It will not make a difference.

-----that have come from this side of the House and even from some Government Deputies. In particular I point to the cut to the telephone allowance and the other reductions that will seriously affect families. I hope the Minister will change some of the decisions outlined on budget day.

She will look at nothing because the Sunday newspapers are calling her "wonder woman".

The next slot is for the Technical Group and there are seven minutes remaining. I will be calling the Minister at 9.45 p.m.

It beats them all - wonder woman.

I thank the Deputy.

The Dublin love affair with media.

I wish to share time with Deputies Donnelly and Healy Rae, if he allows it. The cut to the time available to us is very unfair. We were allocated a certain time and we have now been deprived of that time.

It is in the reactions to the budget that we see the fairness or otherwise. I was trying to imagine a budget that would be welcomed by those on low and middle incomes, by those people who have worked all their lives, reared their families and given great service in their communities as opposed to being outside the gates of Leinster House protesting as they have been last week and this week. I was trying to imagine a budget that would be welcomed by those with mental and physical disabilities and by young people. However, we saw the reaction to the budget and see the essential unfairness of it.

The Minister met many of the groups making pre-budget submissions. Organisations such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Focus Ireland, the Simon Community, and Social Justice Ireland are the ones most directly involved with the people who always tend to be affected most by budgets. There are glaring discrepancies between what the Society of St. Vincent de Paul called for beforehand and its reaction after it. A small point is that those in full-time third level education no longer qualify for the back-to-school clothing and footwear payment. That was fine at a time when there were jobs for people at third level, but they have gone.

The one-parent family tax credit will bring independent families into depending on organisations such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul thereby further increasing the demands on its services.

I believe there will be major problems with the measure relating to young people because some of those people are parents, some live with their children and some live apart from their children. They may have been in private rented accommodation but they are now going to be back with their families, putting an extra burden on them. We know there is a major housing crisis in Dublin Central. Therefore, I am unsure where all these people are going to live. For those who do not have a place to live, the changes will drag them into homelessness and we know the demands on those services already. Those who go into emergency hostel accommodation will find it difficult to access training and education. The hostel charge is between €50 and €75 per week. What will be left for people then? We are going to see an increase in the numbers begging on the streets. I met representatives from the Centre for Independent Living immediately after the budget and they had grave concerns about the effects on the people they represent as well as fears of more cuts coming along.

We could pay for all of these things and it could be a fair budget if we collected all the corporate tax and perhaps even increased it a little. Furthermore, if we brought in a financial transaction tax many things could be paid for.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to contribute to what can only be described as a farce of parliamentary democracy in this country. This is a lousy Bill. We all know that tough decisions must be made and that the deficit must be closed, but that is not why this is a lousy Bill. It is a lousy Bill because it does not represent tough decisions. In January last year, a senior unguaranteed bond relating to Anglo Irish Bank for €1.25 billion fell due. The bond was bought in 2007. According to the rules under which that bond was bought, rules fully understood by the people who bought it, no more than a few hundred million euro should have been paid out. Instead, the Government paid out €1.25 billion plus profits.

To ask that group of people to contribute to the deficit reduction of the country would have been a tough decision and a leadership decision. Even to find out who owns the bond would have been useful because it was probably brought on the secondary markets for a fraction of the price. That would have been leadership but that is not what happened. What happened instead was this Bill to close the deficit, targeting pensioners, pregnant women, the grieving and the young.

As the Minister knows the Bill will bring in approximately €100 million to the Exchequer next year. Therefore, 13 years of the cuts that this Bill will bring in would pay for one Anglo Irish Bank bond that was paid last year. That is what is happening in this country and that is why this is a lousy Bill.

It is not only a lousy Bill, it is a dangerous Bill because it is discriminatory. Regardless of what any of us think about the need for training or the lack of motivation for people to train, the Bill discriminates against people based on their age. The Equal Status Act 2000 states that discrimination shall be taken to occur where a person is treated less favourably than another person is, has been or would be treated on a variety grounds including gender, race, sexual orientation and age. This Bill discriminates against Irish citizens based on age.

Approximately 180,000 young people have emigrated since 2008 and the vast majority of these, some 84%, say they are leaving to find work. For those who stay, we have an unemployment rate of 28%, which does not include anyone who works for even one hour per week. God only knows what the real rate of unemployment is if we include people who work a Friday night in the local pizzeria.

The logic that I have heard from the Minister, her Cabinet colleagues and the Government backbenchers is that this Bill is being brought forward because the young people in the country are not sufficiently motivated to take up a job or a training course. The Government view is that it will take their pocket money away and those affected can simply move home. However, the latest analysis from the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice estimates that the amount of money a person needs to live at home with his parents and lead a dignified life will be €184 next year. After this Bill such a person will be left with a little over half of that amount. The only logic I can find in the Bill is the following: because we care for young people so much, what we are going to do is deprive them of the opportunity to lead a dignified existence and then perhaps some combination of humiliation and desperation will get them up off their lazy flatscreen-television-watching backsides.

What is the result? It is not more jobs. This Bill will not create jobs. The result is discrimination, emigration and homelessness. It is getting worse. According to the Central Statistics Office, more young people will leave the country this year than since the start of the crisis. The rate at which they are leaving the country is accelerating. The so-called tough decisions in the Bill are being made because the real tough decisions, that would have put it to international anonymous foreign investors that they must share the burden, have not been made. This Bill represents the worst aspects of a weak dysfunctional political system in this country.

Before I call the Minister, I call on the Minister of State and Government Chief Whip to make an announcement.

Debate adjourned.