I appreciate that it is difficult for the Opposition at any time to speak on a Bill of this kind because it is merely implementing the provisions outlined in the budget by the Minister for Finance. I recall listening this time last year to members of the multi-purpose front bench of the Labour Party being critical of Fianna Fáil and its attitude to employment. One Deputy asked for specific and detailed explanations as to how exactly the measures contained in the Finance Bill would be implemented so far as employment was concerned. Members of the House do not need to be told what the subsequent results of the provisions in that Bill were. We created 23,000 new jobs in 1978. We have taken people off the dole queues. We have renewed confidence in the people generally. The community at large is grateful for the amount of work and the success of the programme and targets set by the Fianna Fáil Government. It was the single largest increase in employment since the foundation of this State.
It is worth noting where the jobs were created. In the public sector the concentration was on the greatest need. The number of new posts created, mostly in the health services, was 12,500. In the last general election one of the major issues was the need to provide extra teachers and extra support for schools. The pupil teacher ratio was something that needed to be taken care of. To a large extent the Government's programme in this area has been an enormous success.
Additional jobs were created in the prison service, the Garda and the Revenue Commission. This budget has provided for 500 extra jobs in the Revenue Commission for examination of accounts and in an effort to bring to heel those people who have made a profession of avoiding paying tax.
I listened to Deputy Barry yesterday when he accused us once again of being anti-family and anti-farmer. My view is that they cannot have it both ways. If the Opposition are reduced to attempting to drive a wedge between the urban and rural communities they have the wrong end of the stick. It is reasonable to point out that we are not a nation of begrudgers but of survivors. We have come through good times and bad together as a people. We will not accept any policies based on envy or greed.
Last year the Government set a target of 5,000 new jobs in the building industry and this target was exceeded by 500. The major contribution to the Government's job creation programme for the construction sector came from the industrial, educational and hospital building projects.
Our commitment to youth has been far ahead of any of the Opposition parties. We were first to recognise the importance of youth and we gave them a special place in our movement long before Labour or Fine Gael or any other party recognised the strength and the needs of young people. On assuming office one of our first tasks was to tackle the problem of school-leavers who could not find jobs. Many parents found themselves unable to support their families as they left school. Times were difficult. The Government initiated work experience programmes and environmental improvement schemes in addition to the construction industry apprenticeship scheme and the Ballyfermot community survey. This involved almost 4,000 participants.
At the time the Opposition took office the overall level of taxation represented about 40 per cent of national income: by 1976, in their first full year in office, that figure was marginally below 46 per cent. At the outset this Government set up a plan to reduce taxation with the result that the overall tax burden is now about 41 per cent of the national income. That speaks for itself, but we have not finished. We recognise that a radical change is needed, that the PAYE sector has a legitimate grievance. In my view that grievance should not manifest itself in endangering employment prospects for those who need work and have not got it. That is one of the dangers of what we saw yesterday and before that. We must not forget those with no work, those on social welfare, the pensioners, the old people, the sick, the disabled who are all living almost on the breadline. Many of them have great difficulty in coming to terms with the position in which they find themselves. Many of the older pensioners find their existence very lonely and unhappy.
The nation cannot be managed without reasonable taxation. Fianna Fáil recognised and did not need anybody on the streets to remind them that the taxation system in some ways is inequitable particularly in regard to distribution and fair incidence of tax in sectors other than the PAYE sector. But changes cannot be made overnight: I do not think even Opposition parties would pretend that they can be. The Government are committed to radical change and have shown that they have the will and the ability to bring about such change leading to a fair distribution of wealth in the whole community.
Substantial reliefs have already been given to taxpayers over a wide spectrum covering income tax, rates, car tax and so on. This has put a great deal of money into taxpayers' pockets. Also, we provided the greatest-ever increase in personal income tax allowances in the two years we have been in office. We have increased the value of the single persons' allowance as much as 68 per cent and the married persons' allowance by 103 per cent, in effect doubling that allowance. That does not take into account acceptance of the national understanding. All that is well ahead of inflation. Fianna Fáil have never been behind in dealing with social welfare recipients, the poor, the elderly and so on. Albeit slowly, but more rapidly than any other party, we have dealt with social welfare children's allowances in the budget and introduced fully pay-related social welfare contributions. These are only two examples. In the budget the Minister for Finance provided for an average increase of 28 per cent in expenditure on social welfare children's allowances. The Minister and the Government deserve credit for that.
In passing, I may say that I spent some time recently in two of the public social welfare offices in Dublin city and I could not speak too highly of the personnel employed there in their dealings with the public. Their job is most difficult but their service, their patience and the work they do are outstanding and they deserve the highest possible praise. The management of these offices is also worthy of praise.
If all the changes I have referred to are taken into account in regard to income tax allowances, social welfare children's allowances and pay-related social welfare contributions, it is obvious that the Government are making a significant contribution to increasing the take-home pay of all employees, particularly those at the lower end of the scale, which is where the emphasis should be. For example, a married person with two children earning £60 per week will now have his net income increased by over 6 per cent before acceptance of the national understanding. A man earning £50 per week will have a net income increase of over 8 per cent, which are certainly reasonable increases.
One thing that worries me is the desperate efforts of the Opposition parties to drive home an advantage that they themselves think they have in the matter of taxation. They attempt to drive a wedge between the urban and the rural communities. They appear to be indulging in the politics of greed and of attempting to separate one section of the community from the other in an effort to gain party advantage. That is regrettable. It ill-becomes political parties to indulge in such behaviour. In my first speech to the House I indicated that I considered each Deputy here should be guided by what is for the best interest of the nation but when I hear speeches such as those we have heard from Deputy Barry and others I get the impression that these people thrive on the difficulties of the nation. However, they have a long way to go before they will be able to dance on our graves. Such an attitude on their part will not reflect well on them in the future.
The changes in taxation this year will mean that 21,000 married people and 19,000 others will be free of taxation. The rural community have indicated their willingness to pay their fair share of tax. The much more moderate approach now of the farmer representatives indicates a willingness on the part of farmers to participate in negotiations with the Government for the purpose of ensuring that a fair share of taxation is paid by farmers, that they contribute like the rest of us to the expenses of running the nation, in maintaining schools, hospitals and so on.
We hear a good deal of talk today about tax evasion. The policies of envy have entered into the area of the self-employed who are now the subjects of much criticism in regard to tax. I take this opportunity of paying tribute to the many fine people who worked hard for up to 16 hours per day on each day of the week to make a living for their families. I am thinking, for instance, of the small shopkeepers who, when times were difficult, extended credit and acted as banker, friend and adviser to many of the people who are now looking over their shoulders in envy at these business people. It is to their credit that they have expanded their businesses as a result of our improved economy. The materialistic society can be seen in terms of a disadvantage to the nation as a whole. The self-employed, too, are prepared to pay their fair share of tax.
Recently a plot of land at Monkstown was sold for a figure in excess of £1 million. It was sold to a builder who indicated his intention of building flats there. This man, according to newspaper reports, made it known that his mother had worked as a waitress in the hotel that had stood on that site. Here is an example of the son of working parents becoming successful. It is to our credit as a nation that we have people like him who are prepared, having made a lot of money, to come back to Ireland, invest here and create employment and wealth. Such people, too, pay their fair share of tax.
The year 1978 was a success. Perhaps it might have been more successful but we had an overall growth rate of about 7 per cent. This equalled our best previous performance. In addition, for the second year in succession Ireland had the fastest rate of economic growth in the EEC. Our inflation rate fell to below 8 per cent or, in other words, it was almost halved compared with the previous year. These factors were accompanied by a strong upsurge in the volume of investment which last year showed an increase of about 15 per cent. However, the most important change in 1978 and also the most satisfying was represented by our performance in the field of employment —an overall increase in employment of 17,000, allowing for redundancies and the previous figure I mentioned of 23,000. That is a fair record in one year. I do not think that any Opposition Deputy will be ungenerous enough to deny the contribution we have made in this area.
Deputy Woods dealt with the comparisons in employment between 1973 and 1978. When the Coalition were in power they felt that nothing could be done to bring about a change in employment. Things could have been better last year if we had not had strikes, particularly unofficial strikes. The Post Office and Are Lingus disputes caused disruption and cost the nation a great deal of money.