With the measures being introduced in this Bill it appears that once again civil servants will be victimised by the Coalition Government because they belong to one of the few groups who come directly within the Government's power.
As I said, the measures being taken in this Bill are grossly inequitable, if we take them in combination with the other measures outlined in the budget — health charges, the 1 per cent levy, the levy of 3.75 per cent above £8,500 and the increase in VAT from 10 per cent to 15 per cent. Taking the health charges and the levy together the total PAYE sector will contribute £127 million, the self-employed £6.9 million and the farmers £7.2 million. It is admitted that there will be some shortfall in these figures because of the difficulty in collecting from the self-employed and the farmers. Given the difficult situation farmers are facing, it is obvious that there will be difficulty in collecting this tax. Assuming all this money can be collected and taking into account the effect of the 3.75 per cent levy above £8,500, which only applies to the PAYE sector, about 95 per cent of the contribution will come from the PAYE sector. That is not a particularly broad base. I am sorry Deputy Kemmy is not here to hear the size of the imposition falling on the PAYE sector. Out of approximately £347 millions about £314 millions will come from the PAYE sector. In my view these levies are a form of income tax surcharge and, if one looks at the way they are applied, one will realise that this is a very complex way of imposing an income tax surcharge of from 8 per cent to 14 per cent. The Government could have said that they were imposing a surcharge depending on the level of income but they choose instead to introduce this complex arrangement in an effort to cover up the fact that tax surcharges are being imposed.
The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance exaggerated the economic difficulties and over-reacted in their remedies. The principal burden of the recession is now being transferred to families. Since Fianna Fáil left office the mortgage rate has risen from 13.15 per cent to 16.25 per cent, adding £40 per month to repayments on a £20,000 mortgage. In such circumstances the Government have seen fit to remove the mortgage subsidy. Speaking on a radio programme last week the Minister of State concerned said he felt there were other priorities and that there was no great need for the subsidy at these levels. There is a suggestion that the rate may go to 18 per cent and in that event the situation would be examined to see if it would be desirable to reintroduce the subsidy. Matters are already extremely serious and a further increase would be disastrous. This problem greatly affects families in their budgeting and their plight should be eased by the Government even at this stage by the application of the subsidy.
The increase in the price of electricity is particularly important in relation to the credibility of this Government. They have allowed the ESB to increase prices from 1 October. In their report published at the end of April the National Prices Commission recommended an increase of 12.3 per cent but the then Government questioned the recommended increase in the fuel variation surcharge of over 50 per cent and said that the figures should be examined. The National Prices Commission questioned it to some extent themselves and wanted the matter looked into further; nevertheless they agreed to an increase of 12.3 per cent. We felt then that oil prices appeared to be stabilising and that the question should be examined to see if the 12.3 per cent increase was required. On coming into office the Coalition decided immediately to increase the basic price by 12 per cent and the fuel variation charge by 80 per cent, giving an overall increase of 25 per cent. This was totally unjustified.
The accounts of the ESB have since been published and show that they made a profit of £6.3 million in the year ended 31 March. They set aside £26 million for depreciation and an additional £26 million for amortisation. "Amortisation" is one of the more confusing terms, but essentially it is a tax on users for future electricity. This system has been seen by the ESB as an entitlement within the meaning of their Act and, while it has been debated from time to time, it has not been seriously contested, although it is necessary for them to make that reference in their accounts each year because of concern expressed about it. Their accounts this year show a cash flow of £58 million, and the Minister for Finance, notwithstanding that fact, has granted them an extra £100 million. The effect on consumers will be disastrous. In 1977-78 the ESB had a cash flow of £40 million, in 1978-79 £27.7 million, 1979-80 £34 million and this year £58 million. It must be concluded that their cash flow this year is the strongest for many years and in such circumstances the price increase which has been introduced is totally unjustified. I believe that this will be seen to be the case and the ESB will be somewhat embarrassed by the increase they have been allowed.
In their report published on 12 September they stated that they expected the price to drop in February. The Irish Press of that date stated that the possibility of a drop in electricity prices early next year was raised by an ESB spokesman following an announcement of a £6.3 million profit for the board in their last financial year. This profit of £6.3 million is only a small part of the financial health of the organisation. As predicted by Fianna Fáil, oil prices have been far more stable and the ESB will have an embarrassment of income. Even with the publication of the report the PR man stepped in and said there could be a drop in prices in February. Why, then, the surcharge which has been imposed by the Minister for at least a year? It is obviously wrong and should be dropped. An increase of 12.3 per cent would more than meet the requirements of the ESB. The implications of the increase which has been granted are very serious. It will affect the Estimates of all Departments, especially those which expend most money. Hospitals and institutions will have to spend more on heating, as well as coping with other cutbacks.
This increase was a rash action by the Minister. He said that because Fianna Fáil had not allowed the ESB to increase prices earlier he would allow them to recoup what they might have lost and this is why he allowed an increase of 25 per cent rather than 12.3 per cent. It was an extraordinarily rash propaganda-based statement. It will be seen historically to have been just that — a clear example of distortion of facts and figures by this Taoiseach and this Minister for Finance.
These actions, of course, are forerunners of the type of finance they will have to raise next year if they are to honour the promises in their manifesto. It means an increase of about £3 a week for the average family, but what will the effect be on industry? Last week I had contact with an industry in Dublin which employs 470 people. Their ESB bill is £1.25 million a year. In a debate with me on a television programme the Minister for Finance said that perhaps I had a point, and he promised to look at it. He even promised a commission to inquire into it. The Minister for Finance is responsible for the day-to-day management economy. He is in the driving seat now and, as I have said to him, he must manage the day-to-day economy of the country. That is his job.
What will he do? What will he do to relieve that company which employs 470 people? What will he do about its ESB bill of £1.25 million a year? He has set out to increase the ESB take from industry by 29 per cent. What are industries like the one I have cited to do? They have already had substantial redundancies. They are on a two weeks on, two weeks off system. The Minister's action is a rash, propaganda-based action and this will be seen historically to have been the case. I am putting that on the records of the house and I describe it as being dreadfully wrong.
The cost of electricity runs through most of our activities. Among other things, this will increase the costs of the Department of Health and this in turn will set off a new problem to be added to the existing pressures for economies there. The action in respect of ESB charges will affect the entire country.
The Minister's action seems to have stopped virtually all purchasing by the Stationery Office. Deputies used to be given folders in which to collect our queries about problems of constituents, but now we cannot get them. They are rationed. We might be given five or ten now and then. I do not blame the staff in Leinster House. They are doing all they can, but they know the Stationery Office will not supply them with materials for us to operate as Deputies on behalf of our constituents. That is a particularly undemocratic action on the part of the Government because it hampers the Opposition. If anybody cares to visit my office I can show him that I have not got folders in which to keep my queries and my constituency correspondence generally. It did not happen before the Coalition came into being and began their cutbacks.
That is only a small part of it. We will have to find some way to get over that; we will either have to buy or borrow folders. This is the Coalition's way to put the Opposition under pressure. It is an example of what the Coalition have been doing. It is an example of the pressure being put on Irish companies who had geared themselves to meet the challenges of the future, at the request very often of the Department of Industry and Commerce. Many of those companies had improved their standards so that they can now do work of a standard that can match anything to be found in Europe. They are now facing massive redundancies, particularly the general printing industry. Some of them possibly are facing closures. It is important that we get these problems out into the open and discuss them. It is too easy for the Government's propaganda machine to hide the seriousness of the actions being taken. It is too late to rescue many of those industries. The situation in the Stationery Office is an example of how our native printing industry is being savaged by the Government's approach. It is disgraceful because the printing industry has a lot to give to the country and it is bad business to cut them off without any concern for their place in our future economy.
There has been a 50 per cent increase in VAT generally, covering 60 per cent of commodities. They do not include luxuries. As Deputy Gene Fitzgerald said, if you take out the luxuries and the exempted items, the 50 per cent VAT increase covers the majority of commodities. It must be inflationary and it will be particularly severe on households and families. We cannot get over that. That is what the Minister is doing in this Finance Bill. As many Deputies have said and as the newspapers have told us, it hits school books particularly, and I will give examples shortly. It has hit medicines, medical equipment, dental bills, diagnostic reagents, and a wide range of machinery. It would require substantial allowances to offset the impact of the VAT increase on such items from the point of view of the health services, but we will come to that on another day.
When the budget was being debated earlier in the year, I asked the Minister for Finance to consider registering boards of management for the purpose of recouping VAT. This would encourage local involvement in particular schools and sectors. I hope that in his reply the Minister will say something about this, whether he thinks it would be a worthwhile contribution to the area of education. We appreciate there is an allocation of free books to schools but there has been a real reduction of 30 per cent in that allocation. I am sorry Deputy Kemmy is not listening to me now. If a school happens to be at the very bottom of the scale and it is using the free book allocation — a school must be very low down in the scale to get such an allocation — it is suffering a 30 per cent reduction effectively in that allocation. That is because of two things, the fact that more people have to apply because their circumstances have been worsened by the Government and, secondly, the effects of the VAT increase on the cost of books. The combined effect is 30 per cent. That is the reality school managers must face and that arises from the financial measures introduced by the Government who tell us we must accept them without question.
The great advantage to the Government of this ten to 15 per cent increase in the VAT rate is not the few million pounds it will bring in this year to the Government but the £188 million it will bring in next year. That is a lot of tax revenue and that is the main interest the Government have in that VAT increase. It is an extraordinarily savage increase on the main area of household goods and items used by families in day-to-day living. In the budget in January, as part of their contribution to the International Year for the Disabled Fianna Fáil removed VAT from aids used by disabled people. There was some debate later as to what would be covered but the spirit and the intention of this House, and of the Fianna Fáil Government, was to remove VAT from the genuine cases involved. A lot of the items covered were very straight forward ones such as wheelchairs and items of equipment for the blind and the deaf. Now we have cases such as that reported in last Sunday's Sunday Press of a 26-year-old Waterford girl, Carol Grant, who is paralysed from the shoulders down but was forced to pay £812 VAT on a machine which was imported from England. That machine enables her to perform such basic functions as switching on and off lights, the radio and television, open doors, draw curtains, use the telephone and operate an intercom system. The equipment, known as a POSSUM environmental control system, may be regarded as a luxury for those in their full health but surely it is not beyond the compassion of the Minister and the Department of Finance to extend that genuine exemption to persons, such as the one I have mentioned, who can genuinely benefit from such equipment.
Surely, it is not beyond the wit of those senior officials in Revenue, and the Department of Finance, to devise a way in which the spirit of the House can be implemented. If some modification is required to existing legislation it should be included in the Bill before the House. We should not continue to use such stone-age heartless approaches to genuine, deserving cases. I hope the Minister will consider that request in the context of the present discussions and inform the House that he is able to do this without legislative amendments, or, if necessary, make the amendments needed in this Bill.
I do not intend to dwell at any length on the savage increase imposed on motorists. Deputy Richie Ryan carried on with his usual line of so be it and said that he did not particularly like the removal of car tax. He seemed to take great delight in the fact that it was reimposed. He has inherited a successor Deputy Bruton, who, like himself, when speaking at budget time takes pleasure in reimposing such measures. In fact, one could detect a little vindictiveness in his tone. However, the overall effect on the motorist is crippling. We must bear in mind also the increases in insurance premiums allowed by the Government. The Government questioned the PMPA application but the others, which were of the order of 40 or 44 per cent, were allowed to pass. The PMPA application was questioned and an increase of 20 to 25 per cent granted. What about the companies who must face these increases? That was not raised when consideration was given to the increase in car insurance. Firms must face the car tax, the increase in the price of insurance premiums and the many increases in the price of petrol. Petrol prices have been pushed up by 15p or 16p recently. In fact, people have lost sight of the price of petrol since the Coalition came to office. We must bear in mind that an increase in the price of petrol is a serious matter. I am aware of a firm in Dungarvan which has a vacancy for a tradesman but although there are unemployed tradesmen in Waterford, 30 miles away,— the cost of petrol in that case at a rate of two gallons per day would run to between £20 and £25 per week — the vacancy cannot be filled. There is a point where the tax on petrol has a negative effect on the economy as a whole and employment prospects.
In addition to the measures I have mentioned we have also the ESB surcharge, the increase in CIE fares, the increase in hospital charges and the extra prescription charges. We are also aware that increased charges in the drug refund scheme apply from 1 August. We have been told that savings and cuts are to be made in many Departments including the Departments of Justice, the Environment, Education and Health and that the number of employees in those Departments must not exceed the numbers employed on 21 July last. That can have some ridiculous effects. If one takes the team in a hospital operating on a patient it is not possible to carry out such an operation successfully without each member of that team being present. I hope those responsible for the measures being imposed willy-nilly throughout the health services do not find themselves short of an anaesthetist in the event of an emergency. I am sure the Minister, like the rest of us, would like to be oblivious of what is going on until an operation is completed. I have had a case such as that reported to me recently. This is an indication of the ridiculous way things can be applied down the line if there is not an acceptance of the function of management at supervisory, middle and senior management levels, throughout the whole service. There has to be an accommodation. We had many meetings with the helpers and hospital people to try to find this kind of accommodation and to try to sensibly apply the economies which had to be applied last years and in the first half of this year. Without that approach things are going to be extremely difficult.
I have received representations from the South Eastern Health Board area concerning a particular physciatric hospital in Kilkenny where, in view of the embargo on increasing the numbers in the public service issued on 21 July 1981, there is no immediate prospect of increasing the domestic staff on the wards in St. Canice's Hospital and the people there will have to wait until the position is changed before any improvement can be made. In this case the situation is exceptionally bad. That is the way the Coalition look after everybody so wonderfully. If they are going to look after people they have to put money with that looking after. The propaganda just blows away in the wind. It is very easy to hire a few specialists to do a nice job of propaganda. But ultimately the real question is whether they will deliver the goods on the ground. Will they alleviate hardship where it exists or will they just increase that hardship with the kind of imposition that is being made by the Minister? We will know a lot more about that in a couple of months because it looks as if things are going to be extremely bad.
Of course, as I said initially, the whole area of social welfare and the lack of care for the social aspect is one of the great deficiencies in the financial provisions of this Government. We were told that from 1 October the widow would get an increase of 85p a week to meet all the increases we have talked about here; for the first two children she gets 25p a week each, and for the other children she gets 25p. I would call that a lollipop increase. It would buy perhaps one good sized lollipop. I was talking to a young child who said it would only buy an ice cream. That is the kind of insult which this Government are handing out to those who are on lower incomes and in greatest need.
If one happens to be on disability benefit or unemployment benefit one is getting an extra personal increase of 75p a week and, for the first two children, 20p a week each; if one happens to have more than two children only 15p a week can be spared. Some very interesting features arise, but basically what is happening here is that the gains which were made under Fianna Fáil are being systematically eroded. While the Minister of State for poverty attempts to create an image of concern, Deputy John Kelly, the Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism represents the truer voice of the Coalition as can be clearly seen from the policies which are being pursued at the moment. The recent statements of the Government Ministers have been intended to consolidate the policy of the Minister for Finance of the survival of the fittest. That is the policy that is being implemented here. It is not in the centre as Deputy Ryan seems to think. As he spoke, it was very hard to see where the centre was, although I know that we have not got great extremes here. But Deputy Ryan was speaking of the harshness of some of these impositions here, saying that if we have to reduce everybody's standards by 10 per cent let it be done, and various other statements like that. But Deputy Kelly's attack on the welfare state is based on a number of biased misconceptions. First, those of welfare benefits contributed 80 per cent of the annual cost and approximately 20 per cent is contributed by the State, depending on the time of the year and the number unemployed. Second, the Minister's midsummer panic budget was directly responsible for a 5 to 6 per cent increase in the consumer price index and that is now reflected in prices. There are further price increases still to come.
In the meantime he has offered the old age pensioners a pittance. The derisory 3 per cent for widows and the unemployed is clearly seen as a sop to the Labour Party to sell the whole concept of Coalition. In fairness to them, they probably did not think much about the implications and the effects of that in reality. But it shows the haste with which this uneasy alliance was convened and that the homework on the figures was not done by people that one would assume to have been interested in the lot of the less well-off. For example, how much was given to the elderly living alone? They were given 10p. It would not even buy an ice cream. In one case the increase was 5p. A blind pensioner over 21 who has two to there children got an increase in the allowance for a child dependant of 5p a week — I hope Deputy Kemmy takes a note of this — to offset all these terrible increases that we are seeing here and the others that are still to come, to offset the ESB charges, the CIE charges and the charges on school books and all the items used in the house.
That is disgraceful. It shows a desperate lack of consideration and it highlights the fact that this sop was thrown in and was never thought out by Fine Gael when the deal was done. They were not thinking about the poor people they claimed to be so concerned about. They were only thinking about selling the package and putting it across, with Labour saying that they would have to have something for the poor and the Taoiseach saying that he would give them 5 per cent for the old age pensioner and 3 per cent for all the others and that it sounded like a reasonable package to sell. It cannot have been any other way because I honestly do not believe that Deputy Michael O'Leary, Tánaiste and Minister could have condoned that kind of increase. I do not believe that members of the Labour Party would condone that kind of increase for a blind pensioner over 21 or the other increases that are there. It certainly is a very sad reflection on this Coalition Government.
I am saying those things now in the hope that when the Coalition Government come along to the grandiose budget of next year they will show a little more concern for the elderly, the disadvantaged, the handicapped and the poorer sections of our society. No matter how much we progress if we do not look after those people we have gained nothing for ourselves or the country. The one shilling off the old age pensions is still the mentality on the far side of the House. The only problem now is that the Labour Party are tied in with them, which must be very embarrassing for them when they meet the people. When they meet Labour supporters they are certainly very embarrassed at what is happening. The people on social welfare benefit and assistance will need a 30 per cent increase if they are to maintain the standards set by Fianna Fáil. Even when times were bad — and Fianna Fáil took a lot of abuse from the Government side of the House when they were in Opposition — we gave the old age pensioner, the widow and the long-term beneficiary a 20 per cent increase in two successive years. We gave them £144 million in the last budget, a very substantial sum, despite the very difficult economic circumstances.
We also gave something to those people on whom they are commenting a lot at the moment. We gave them a double week at Christmas. The Minister for Finance should tell us now if he will give the double week to the old age pensioners and those on long-term benefits this Christmas. If they needed this last year they will need it twice as much this year. The Minister would need to give a special grant-in-aid to the Society of St. Vincent De Paul, because from what I hear they cannot keep up with the demands for money for real hardship. Those are the realities of the high-flown ideas thrown out here by the Minister for Finance. We are likely to end up very soon with the old concept they had in America, "Buddy, can you spare a dime?" Why is this? How can we so quickly get back to those circumstances? How can a Coalition Government of Fine Gael and Labour come to this so quickly? I believe the reason is because the Labour Party have been gobbled up by the Fine Gael Party. I believe everybody outside the House realises that. It is a bit like "Jaws" on television. The Taoiseach has gobbled up the Tánaiste and the rest of the Labour Party. Now they are paid off and they have to keep quiet and stay in line or the whole thing falls apart.
The people who are implementing those policies are people who have not known a poor day, certainly for a long time, and do not know the problems facing the poor section of the community as they come up to Christmas. They must be remote economists who are away from realities. I know they have been referred to as the "Donnybrook set" but that is not fair to all of Donnybrook. It certainly conjures up a concept of being reasonably removed from the harsh realities of the problems of the moment. They must also be many of the captains of management and industry for they are preaching at us every day, like Deputy R. Ryan was this morning: "It has to be done. It has to be harsh. You have to take it". Even the very small drop which might occur in their incomes will have a negligible effect on their operations and lifestyle. Nevertheless, they are daily propounding those very biased theories from their particular orientated background. I do not have to name those people. One only has to turn on the television set and one hears about them. Anybody with commonsense can identify them, what they are at and how they are succeeding and convincing the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach to go along their line, which is so severe on the less well-off in our society. Will the Minister for Finance tell us if the social welfare beneficiaries will be held to the 6½ per cent norm and what is the purpose of this norm in relation to social welfare? Most of the things we feared earlier on in relation to the norms and the approaches to be taken by the Coalition have come true. I believe the social welfare recipients will need something nearer to 30 per cent if they are to stay where they are and hold on to the new position they had achieved under the Fianna Fáil Government.
I would like to refer very briefly to the free fuel scheme, which has had difficulties in getting off the ground this year. Last year we increased it on two occasions to £3 and extended the scheme to cover an additional 56,000 people. I thought the Coalition Government, who are so concerned about the elderly and those living alone during the cold winter months, might have done something imaginative in relation to this scheme. Fianna Fáil had broadened the scheme throughout the country and had covered all the health boards and introduced the voucher which gave the options. We increased the cost of the scheme considerably last year. We did this because we felt it was very desirable. I suggested before this years' scheme was due to commence that the £3 voucher should be increased to £5, the price of a bag of coal, but the Government settled for £4, which was not a very imaginative increase. The Government did not introduce any extensions to this scheme. They gave the absolute minimum possible in the circumstances.
The Government have sold the country out internationally. It is extraordinary the way in which it was done and that a Government could be so irresponsible as to set about that task. They told the world we were bankrupt. It was not sufficient to criticise the Opposition in the normal way or to say that the economy was basically sound, which is what most Irish men would say in any event. They could have said that the economy was basically sound but the previous Government were such bad managers that they had things in a mess and the new Government had to put things right. But that was not enough. They set about telling the world something that was essentially untrue, namely, that Ireland was bankrupt and they convinced themselves of this. The increase to the ESB is an example. The increase came up for review before the election and because it was held up for good reasons they assumed it was done for political reasons. The Government convinced themselves they should move rapidly and they increased the charge from 12.3 per cent to 25 per cent.
They succeeded in convincing the public and some of the media that Ireland was bankrupt and, as a result, we are facing Christmas with unemployment at a record level, with widespread poverty and with families suffering intensely under all the pressures that have been created. They managed to con a certain number of housewives with regard to the £9.60 tax credit from their husbands but now the Government are trying to find the money to pay for it. Apart from the administrative costs they also entered into a commitment in the "Gaiety Theatre Document" to pay it to those to whom it would not normally be due as a tax credit.
In a question in this House to the Minister for Finance I asked him to elaborate on that. He merely said it would be paid and that the whole matter had to be gone into. I presume it is creating considerable difficulty for the Government. If it is the case that our tax system is inequitable. now and if we begin to pay this benefit to people not liable for tax we may find that the system becomes totally inequitable. Taking into account the 250,000 wives who would not be due the allowance from their husbands' tax, the cost of this is estimated at £140 million. That is if all wives are included but the question remains whether farmers' wives, the wives' of old age pensioners and of blind persons and widows will be included. These matters must be clarified. Nevertheless, the Government put this whole proposal before the population without making clear that it would cost a tremendous amount in taxation of one kind or another, most of which it appears will come from indirect taxation.
Students were also conned. Before the election they were told they would get grants but now it appears that does not apply to those in college. They got an increase of 30 per cent in respect of college fees but many difficulties were created for families who are trying to put their children through third level education.
In all the approach of the Government with regard to financial measures has been quite disastrous. It is having adverse effects on the economy and especially on those who are less well off. I am opposed to this Bill because it is based on a false thesis. I contend that the economy was, and still is even at this stage, fundamentally sound. I disagree with what the Coalition Ministers have been saying on this matter.
The Bill proposes to raise taxes next year to pay for election promises made by the Coalition before the last election and which they grossly underestimated. An example of this is the amount of £188 million that will be taken from the population next year in respect of VAT. At the time of the budget we predicted it would have disastrous effects and people who have now overcome their initial shellshock are becoming aware of the true situation. The cost of living has jumped as a result of the measures taken by the Government and unemployment is increasing. The increase given to the ESB will not help because businesses and companies cannot afford to pay this extra charge in present circumstances and I do not see any reason why they should have to do so. Mortgages have a profound effect on household budgets but the rate has increased from 13.15 per cent to 16.25 per cent and there are fears of further increases. The increases given to old age pensioners, widows and other beneficiaries have been systematically eroded by the derisory increases introduced from 1 October.
The Government's policies are regressive and their taxation proposals will impinge most strongly on those with lower incomes. We will have an opportunity later to talk about the general tax package in the next budget. I think we will see in that instance that the whole mix is quite disastrous and will have adverse effects. It will be especially bad for employees and those on lower incomes. The tax package of the Government is a recipe for economic disaster and for the creation of widespread poverty and inequality and that will become obvious from now on. I do not think people fully realise the extent of the health charges and other increases that have yet to come.
I should like the Minister to clarify a few points. Does he intend to give the double week pension at Christmas to old age pensioners? At this time last year the recipients knew they would get the double allowance and the whole process of preparing for it was under way. It is time they were told what will be the position with regard to this matter so that they may plan accordingly. Further, will the Minister say if the 6½ per cent increase which is said to be the norm will be applied to social welfare beneficiaries? Will the 10 per cent reduction in living standards which the Minister has said all of us must accept be applied to those on social welfare?
I am in favour of doing away with abuses. While in office we did a fair deal to introduce systems which would be useful in that regard. I know certain short-term and long-term savings can be made. We made some of them. We can give the figures. I am talking mainly about the actual levels of payments to beneficiaries to whom they are genuinely due. Is the 6½ per cent norm to be applied to them? Is their standard of living to be reduced by 10 per cent, as the Minister has suggested all standards are to be reduced? Is the Minister suggesting that people he can control directly, public servants, social welfare beneficiaries, and anyone else who comes directly under the control of the Minister for Finance, must take these cuts while the self-employed, people in companies or business people will not be controlled and we will have a repeat of what happened in the periods of office of the previous Coalition Government when public servants and social welfare beneficiaries fell behind? When we took office we had to try to catch up and bring those people close to the level at which the rest of the community were operating.
In effect the Minister is using these people to solve the problems instead of using the higher management the Government are supposed to have, and have, at their disposal. Management means making use of all the resources, not just the poor social welfare beneficiaries, and not just people who are caught in a corner somewhere and cannot do very much squealing. We must use all the resources of our wealth and our management ability, which is one of our most critical resources, probably the most critical and importance resource.
Will the Minister use a broader management approach, or will he continue to depress social welfare beneficiaries and public servants with the pay controls he is planning to introduce? Will he revoke the ESB surcharge which he applied so hastily? I do not ask that tongue in cheek. Unless the ESB do some very rapid spending, the Minister will be shown up very badly in due course with the kind of money he is extracting from the population, from industry and from business with this 25 per cent increase.
Will he restore the mortgage subsidy to reduce the 16.25 per cent interest charge which householders have to carry at present? Will he undertake to allow public service workers to share equitably in wage increases and not have a repetition of what happened during the period of office of the previous Coalition Government? Will he take a more human view of the removal of value-added tax for the benefit of the disabled and specifically in the case which has been brought in detail to the notice of the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners. At the conclusion of this debate will he state specifically what he intends to do about that case, and the way in which he will approach the disabled and the handicapped in his interpretation of that measure?
This is the International Year of the Disabled. At the beginning of the year we brought in an initial programme costing a total of £6 million, if I remember correctly, involving a wide variety of measures. We said that by the end of the year we would have another look at the situation when the report of the committee for the International Year of the Disabled was available and that in the light of that report we would consider what other changes might be made. As a very clear earnest of our good-will, we introduced measures costing £6 million at the beginning of the year. It is now time to have a review at the end of the year. I am sure the committee for the International Year of the Disabled will have their report ready or nearly ready by now. I hope the Minister will consider what further measures will be suitable. Those are my comments on the Bill, which I oppose very seriously and strongly.