I thank the Deputy for the question and I am glad he asked it. Let us consider the tax cuts that have taken place since budget 2015 and ask where the money should come from. The income tax change that year resulted in €405 million being lost to the Exchequer as a result of tax cuts. Changes to USC cost €27 million and the USC threshold cut the following year was €772 million. I can list figures for other areas, but the total is €2.7 billion.
If we want to address housing, health care or other areas, perhaps we should stop giving tax cuts as a first priority. In terms of the households the Deputy mentioned where there are problems, that is a direct result of the cut of 65% in the budget for water services. The two points are linked. The €405 million figure I mentioned was targeted at the top 17% of earners at a time when we were trying to impose water charges on the poorest of our population, one in ten of whom is already experiencing food poverty. We also have the highest fuel poverty rate in Europe. The introduction of water poverty is not the way forward for us as a society.
We have evidence across Europe and the rest of the world from all of the people we have met from Detroit, Berlin, Rome and France about the implications of introducing water charges. Every single one of the places I have mentioned now has water poverty. The UK has a 23.6% water poverty rate. There is a 15% water poverty rate in Wales.
Let us address the core issue of what is best economically, environmentally and socially. In terms of economics, in 2011 Gerry Concannon warned the Government that introducing water charges would mean doubling the cost of providing our water services from €350 per annum per domestic unit to €700. All of that involves extra costs such as the metering process and the advertising budget - Irish Water spent €3 million in 11 months on advertising and €6 million on postage costs. There is a significant cost to introducing water charges. The best way to address the water crisis is to stop giving tax cuts and instead invest in the water infrastructure which has been severely damaged by the underfunding that has happened as a result of successive Government cuts.
When we talk about ring-fencing money, the expert commission's report covers that area. An excessive charge for over 150% of domestic usage could raise between €14 million and €30 million. To me, economically it does not make sense to try to raise €14 million to €30 million chasing down 7% of households. Spending €270 million for a return of €30 million makes no economic sense.
In terms of environmentalism and conservation, the report states that there is no evidence that there is any excessive wastage of water in Ireland.
In terms of social implications, 70,000 families across Detroit have had their water shut off. People say that happened in America and could never happen here, but the same has happened in Rome, parts of France and in the UK. Five people from the Detroit Water Brigade who have no access to water because they could not afford to pay their bills came to visit us. One of them has had her water shut off three times. In Detroit, if one's water is shut off one has 48 hours to have it switched back on, otherwise the authorities can take dependants away because it is a requirement to have water running in a home. After 72 hours one's house becomes condemnable. That is what we are trying to prevent by bringing in water charges.
The first part of that process involved installing water meters, and that is why the Right2Water campaign and the 62% to 66% of the population who are opposed to water charges are mobilising on the streets and saying this is not good enough. We need to stop giving tax cuts and instead invest in water infrastructure.