Ceisteanna – Questions. - Departmental Expenditure.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

1 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the costs which have accrued to his Department since January 2003 in respect of the working group on basic income; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15224/03]

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

2 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the costs which have accrued to his Department in 2003 in relation to the working group on basic income; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17659/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

No direct costs arose in my Department since January 2003 in respect of the working group on basic income. The group completed its work in March 2001.

The working group examined the broad implications of the introduction of a basic income and this work contributed to the development of the Green Paper on Basic Income which was published in September 2002. Costs relating to the printing and translation of the Green Paper fell to be paid in 2003. These were €6,296 and €2,244, respectively.

What is the future agenda planned for the working group? Has it finished its reports, or are further reports outstanding? Is there a working agenda for the group for the period ahead?

The work on my end of the matter is finished. The Department of Social and Family Affairs will look it at further, as will the Department of Finance. The primary aim of the Green Paper is to bring the issues to the attention of the wider community. I am aware that there is ongoing debate on this matter. CORI has been very much at the centre of this issue, as have others. The Green Paper is encouraging debate on the many issues involved. People have already submitted papers in respect of some of the issues. The focus of the debate is the structure and implementation of tax and social welfare policies to increase the prospects of achieving the benefits of basic income. It is primarily now an issue for the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Department of Finance to examine at a departmental level.

I am conscious that there are also other outside interests. Opinion is already varied on the merits of the concept. The debate on the basic income scheme and the information this has generated at least provides for a more informed debate than was, heretofore, the case. As I said before, I will keep in touch with CORI in regard to the debate.

During our exchanges on this matter on 9 April, the Taoiseach stated that the working group under the original social partnership model in the Department of Finance, which is considering tax and social welfare measures, is taking the Green Paper on Basic Income into account, although it has not reported yet. The Taoiseach undertook to indicate when the report would be published. Is he now in a position to give us that information?

If I heard the Taoiseach right, he said that he, personally, believed the basic income system was workable. On foot of the various cutbacks in community employment schemes, job initiative schemes, back to work, enterprise allowance, social economy programme, even the county enterprise boards-—

The Deputy is moving well away from the two questions—

—if the Taoiseach is going to act—

—which deal specifically with costs accruing to the Taoiseach's Department.

As regards those costs, a Cheann Comhairle, is the Taoiseach prepared to act on his belief that guaranteed basic income is workable in light of the evidence which seems to be going in the opposite direction? Will he deal with that matter, given the EUROSTAT findings that we have achieved only 60% of the EU average on our levels of social protection expenditure, and that we have the greatest wealth disparity in the EU? Will he act on that fact—

The Deputy has made his point.

—and make sure that guaranteed basic income is not just workable but worked?

In reply to the first question, the taxation and budgetary group in the Department of Finance is the group that will take this into account. I did highlight that. There are probably more questions in respect of welfare issues. Those who have an interest in the matter from a welfare point of view have made most of the responses, of which the Department of Social and Family Affairs should take account.

I do not wish to go back through all of the issues that I did before. I think they are all included in the Green Paper. Some people think this is totally unworkable but that was also the case when we changed our taxation system some years ago to make it more targeted. Although some people did not believe that was possible, it proved to be most effective and people now acknowledge that we have been able to target the less well-off.

We have put five or six hard years of work into it and it should be examined at the very least. Even some of its proponents see that there are difficulties with the original thinking, following the studies that were done by the various experts. That is to be expected but I think it is worth continuing to look at it.

Is there a date for the report?

No, but that tax group is now set up and it normally works from this time of the year right through to the budget.

We are all aware of the difficulties that relate to the concept of a basic income and its working out. I recall having discussions with the Taoiseach during the Labour-Fianna Fáil Administration. I think a working group produced a report then which has stood the test of time.

The primary groups which have failed to be assisted to the level which they deserve, by whatever mechanism one would choose to use, are, first, families with children on lower income, because as the Taoiseach is aware, the child dependant allowance has essentially stayed frozen down the years and, second, older couples where—

This question is specifically to the Taoiseach about his Department. Perhaps the question the Deputy is raising might be more appropriate to the Minister responsible.

It has always been deemed possible in most countries to provide the concept of basic income to working families with children on low incomes.

That question would be more appropriate to the Minister responsible.

The Government is not doing that, nor is it sufficiently assisting couples who are old age pensioners because of the dependency structure which still exists in social welfare.

The Deputy has made her point.

I know the Taoiseach has taken some steps, but he has not done enough on either matter.

Without getting into the detail, I am sure the Deputy is aware of the recent study by the OECD which shows where this country is placed. I am not saying everything has been resolved, but it shows this country in terms of the groups the Deputy mentioned – younger people, not older people – is the best of the OECD countries.

It is not when one considers child care costs.

Deputy Burton, allow the Taoiseach to reply.

I remember working with the Deputy on the issues she raised. I am sure she remembers the debate which concluded that the position we adopted in terms of child benefit was the fairest to people on the lowest incomes. It was not the best for people on the highest incomes, but that was the reason we made that decision. There are some aspects which should be followed in the groups. It may not be possible to implement the overall paper within one group, but there are good suggestions to be taken forward.

Will the Taoiseach come clean and acknowledge once and for all that there is not the remotest prospect of the Government adopting the basic income idea? This has been strung out over several years and repeated questions have been asked at set intervals, yet all we get trundled out are the same old hackneyed answers. Would it not be better to be open and frank with the House and to redirect whatever resources and personnel to look at the essential need for fundamental tax reform given that one in three PAYE workers are still paying tax at the higher tax rate, despite the Taoiseach's commitment to reduce it to one in five?

As I said to Deputy Burton, that question would be more appropriate to the Minister for Finance.

Perhaps the Taoiseach will respond to the earlier part of my question and I am sure he will note the latter part.

I reject the second part of the Deputy's question because he knows he is talking nonsense. There has been more effective fundamental reform in this country than anywhere else and that has been proven by every survey.

If the Taoiseach regards the reality as nonsense, that is a reflection on himself.

The Deputy should read some of those surveys.

The Deputy should allow the Taoiseach to answer.

The commitment to complete the Green Paper and take everything into account has now been undertaken. The commitment came from an earlier social partnership agreement. That work has been completed. Some Deputies have followed this closely. I have honoured the commitment, which I set out to do.

Honouring a commitment and adopting an idea are two different matters.