As the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will know, the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, published its quarterly report this morning. It makes for very alarming reading. The ESRI says inflation could peak at 8.5% this summer before averaging out at 6.7% for the year as a whole. This, as the Minister knows, is the highest annual rate of inflation since 1984. Inflationary pressures that were already building have escalated further due to Russia's criminal invasion of Ukraine. We are presented with a very serious situation for workers and families as households struggle to keep their heads above water now face with a prolonged cost of living crisis. As the Minister knows, everything is going up and even now the very basics are pushed beyond the reach of many ordinary people. Our airwaves are filled with people sharing their stories of how incredibly difficult it is just to make ends meet. People can barely afford to light and heat their homes and we now need to talk about food. The soaring cost of energy and fuel, problems with supply chains and the impact of this criminal war means the price of groceries is going through the roof. Families now in real terms are stretched to put food on the table and money does not go far when it comes to the weekly shop. People are down the bare essentials and have very little left at the end of the week. They will be very worried and alarmed hearing the news this morning.
The ESRI is projecting strong economic growth and a budget surplus this year. That is the good news. The Government therefore has elbow-room within the public finances to intervene and cushion people from the sharpest impact of this crisis. We must ensure workers, families and small businesses come through this crisis in one piece. We must ensure especially that people on low and fixed incomes have enough to live on. The Government cannot stand idly by while people are pushed into poverty. Its members are not observers or commentators on people's hardship. Their job, as the Minister knows, is to respond with speed and urgency to the extraordinary difficulties households now face. However, the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, has said the Government has no plan to intervene with cost-of-living supports until October's budget. He said: "I can be really clear that we are not considering any further steps." Does the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform agree with the Minister for Finance's position because October is seven months away and people are trying to stay afloat now. They cannot wait that long for Government to implement measures that will bring the cost of living down.
Tá sé geallta ag tuairisc an ESRI go mbeidh an ráta boilscithe i mbliana mar an ceann is airde ó 1984. Ní féidir le hoibrithe agus teaghlaigh dul tríd an ngéarchéim costais mhaireachtála seo. Tá an cumas airgeadais ag an Rialtas déileáil leis seo so caithfidh sé gníomhú anois. I accept the Minister cannot do everything. There is no expectation of that on him or on the Government but they must do more. The Government has to cut the cost of energy and fuel. It will need to go further than that but it needs to start there. I asked the Tánaiste yesterday and now ask the Minister to engage with the EU Commission to remove VAT from energy bills for an initial three-month period and remove excise from home heating oil. These are two initial actions the Government can take to give workers and families the break and the breathing room they desperately need.