I call on Deputy Naughten. He has approximately 13 minutes remaining.
Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2009: Second Stage (Resumed).
I am pleased you used the word "approximately". I presume I will be given the same leeway as the Minister was given earlier.
I spoke previously about fraud and I wish to move on to the treatment of children in the budget. This country is one of the few developed countries in the world that has failed to recognise children within its taxation system. As I indicated last week, we have a crazy situation where one can get tax relief for waste collection but not for raising children. Child benefit is the only recognition that is provided by the State of the costs associated with child care. A cut of 10%, as proposed in the Bill, will hit every family in the country, but it will hit families on low incomes hardest. The compensation package proposed by the Government on the qualified child dependant increases and supports such as family income supplement will create welfare traps but will also leave families short-changed.
In her press statement yesterday the Minister had the headline, Pensioners and Vulnerable Children Protected Despite Budget Cuts. That is clearly an untruth. Pensioners will pay an extra 50 cent for a bale of briquettes and an extra €2.40 for a bag of coal. They will pay 50 cent for every prescription item they get on their medical card. They have already lost their Christmas bonus. The cut to child benefit amounts to €221 million. That will hit every family, and it will hit the lowest earners hardest. Mothers who are on social welfare or working in low paid jobs will feel the brunt of those cuts. Many of the latter will wonder whether it is worth their while to continue in employment.
Last night I examined the three examples the Minister provided in her document of families with children who are on social welfare. The jobseeker couple with no earnings and two children will be worse off after the budget by €59 per month. That is nearly twice the child benefit cut. A lone parent with earnings of up to €145 per week with one child will be €35.50 a month worse off. Again, that is approximately twice the child benefit cut. Even a working couple on low income in the public sector with four children will be just short of €600 a year worse off as a result of the budget. It is another example of the short-sighted measures taken by the Government in saving money while, at the same time, turning its back on the protection of the most vulnerable in society.
The Government has given no recognition to child care provision. We see in the fine detail of the budget that there will be cuts in funding for child care supports and in the capital programme. For the vast majority of families, child benefit is not a luxury. For thousands of households, it is used to assist with mortgage arrears or to make up rent payments or by those trying to cope with personal debt. Why should children living in households in which there is a high level of personal debt and a limited disposable income be penalised as a result of the changes in this budget? This comes on top of the changes to child benefit earlier in the year where it was axed for those of 18 years of age and over in full-time education. The early child care supplement will be cut from 1 January next.
The reality is that this Government is singling out parents and penalising them. I cannot understand why the Government is not honest with the public and does not say that it wants to tax children because that is what this will be seen as in the long-term, that is, a Neanderthal step by the Government. Every other country in Europe is trying to support children and women but in this country, we are trying to undermine them.
On the other hand Fine Gael, in its pre-budget proposals, specifically set out to protect child benefit because we believe it is a vital part of the income for every child and has a fundamental role in meeting the cost of rearing children in our society. The child dependent allowance was seen as causing poverty traps and that is why the Government moved away from that focus and put the resources into child benefit. Now it is turning that on its head and creating further poverty traps.
This is a budget for recession and not one to get us out of recession. Despite the obvious challenge the Government faced, it failed to set out a clear and deliberate jobs strategy to arrest and reverse the tide of increasing unemployment. The best way to make savings in social welfare is to get people back to work but instead Fianna Fáil plans for an extra 75,000 job losses next year at a cost of €1.5 billion. We had to wait until page ten of the Minister's speech before she mentioned jobs because it is not the priority is should be.
Fine Gael is the only party to publish a credible jobs stimulation package that takes people off social welfare and gets them back to work or into further education and training. There is no job creation strategy from the Government. The budget lacks conviction and lacks ambition. The only strategy the Government has is to put more funding in the discredited FÁS organisation and to leave responsibility for creating jobs to the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. What jobseeker's need is the hope of getting a job. That is where their focus is and what they are looking for from this Government.
Fine Gael is the only party to set out detailed proposals that would create and protect more than 250,000 jobs and training opportunities in the economy. We take an entirely different approach to the economy than the Government. We are serious about creating jobs. We are not only talking about jobs but we have serious, detailed and costed plans for the generation of jobs and protection of existing jobs.
We set out proposals in regard to a PRSI tax break to support 6,000 jobs, the roll-out of an €18 billion stimulus plan to create 10,000 jobs in 2010, youth unemployment initiatives that would take 30,000 people off the live register next year, the abolition of the airport tax, the reversal of the VAT increase, which the Government has acknowledged, and the reduction of the 13.5% VAT rate to 10% which would create 7,500 jobs next year.
There was very little mention of jobs in the budget. What it does is encourage more people to give up work and sign on to the live register. Public sector employees on very low income will take serious pay cuts as a result of yesterday's announcements. An office cleaner in the Department of Finance will take a greater proportionate cut in pay than the Minister for Finance. The Government flunked its own target of €1.3 billion in savings and is targeting those on low incomes with significant cuts. We have not heard about the rationalisation of quangos or the targeting of waste in the public service.
More public servants will be eligible for family income supplement. For example, a public servant on €45,000 per annum with three children will now be eligible for family income supplement from January. Some 162,000 public servants fall into that income category. I got an e-mail earlier, which I believe was sent to every Member, from a public servant with four children earning €62,000 per year who is a grade seven section head, has 25 years service in the public service, has three honours degrees and qualified as a solicitor. She would get an additional €121.30 per week on the dole than what she is getting currently. That does not include the impact of the medical card. She would not have to pay €100 per month for medication, €600 per year for school transport or €2,256 per year for VHI. That is a clear example of what the changes in the budget will do to public sector workers. Again, the Department of Finance has ignored the calculation in regard to the impact that its cuts will have on very vulnerable public sector employees who will now be eligible for family income supplement.
Sadly, this budget ignored youth unemployment, makes little effort to stimulate job creation and is sending out a clear message to young people that the only future they have is to emigrate. Budget 2010 should have been all about jobs but instead it is a budget of despair. The budget will not get the economy up and running and will not get the country back to work. It sends out a clear message to young people that they are not wanted, that they should get on an aeroplane and leave. That message is being sent out because of the lack of direction and thinking in this budget.
The Minister said she will reduce payments to people who unreasonably refuse offers of work, training or education. What is the definition of "unreasonable"? Will we penalise people who cannot get a job or go on a course? It is great in theory but not in practice. Where are those jobs and training courses?
The Minister announced in the budget that €56 million will be made available for short term courses in FÁS but he also announced a cut of €48 million in regard to Youthreach, the vocational training opportunities scheme and student grants, which will have a direct impact on young people. That is the message being sent out. He is giving with one hand and taking back with the other.
It is a pity this new found attitude in regard to getting people off the live register was not thought of during the boom when people were claiming unemployment payments because allegedly they could not find work at a time of full employment and when Ministers were travelling all over the world asking people to come to this country to take up jobs as we could not fill them. We are now begrudgingly giving those people who came to this country, contributed to our economy and paid PRSI social welfare because they have lost their jobs. If we had taken a different attitude at an earlier stage, perhaps we would not be in this mess and we would not have had a 158% increase in unemployment among the under 25 year old population in the past two years leaving 84,000 young people on the dole. There are 659 in County Leitrim and 829 in County Roscommon. One in four young people is now out of work in this country and very little is being given to them by the Government. It is giving it to the FÁS project but taking it away by undermining the VEC structure.
The Minister is setting a target of 4% or €20 million for rent supplement. We all know that far more can be saved by moving people from rent supplement to the rental accommodation scheme. If the long-term leasing initiative from the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, could be scrapped, it would save €20 million by itself. Reform of rent supplement in terms of a deposit retention scheme would bring in an additional €7 million. A reduction in rents, an average of 8%, would save €14 million. There are significant savings to be made.
I remind Members that the Taoiseach stated recently that budgets are not simply about balancing the books, that they are about acknowledging what we see as important to society. I agree with the Taoiseach's comments but penalising carers, the disabled, widows, children and the blind while bailing out the bankers is not what I consider important to society. The Bill before us is appalling as it victimises the most vulnerable in society while letting the Seán Fitzpatricks of this world away with blue murder.
The 2010 budget is the most socially divisive budget we have ever seen. It pits rich against poor, the employed against the unemployed, public sector worker against private sector worker and old against young. It was a "divide and conquer" budget and this social welfare Bill is the main instrument.
For the second budget in a row, the social welfare Bill will, incredibly, yield more savings for the Government than the finance Bill. Whatever happened to a Minister for Social and Family Affairs who would stand up for the poor? There is a long tradition among Ministers for Social and Family Affairs of fighting the corner of the less well-off. One thinks of previous Ministers, such as the late Séamus Brennan, who was not particularly interested in the social welfare area when first appointed but turned out to be a strong and effective advocate of the socially excluded.
It is a pity the Deputy did not say that when he was alive.
In addition, there were outstanding and visionary Ministers like Brendan Corish and Frank Cluskey. Deputy Michael Woods turned out to be a real champion of the social welfare system during his time in the Department. Even in difficult times he always fought his corner on behalf of the poor at Cabinet to ensure the social welfare budget was protected. He saw his role as being the voice of the poor and being in Cabinet to protect the social welfare budget.
Regrettably, the present Minister has done the opposite. She has bought entirely into the right-wing agenda and has absolutely failed to protect the poor. In the lead-up to the budget, sickeningly, she repeatedly stated that the last thing she wanted to do was cut social welfare but at the same time she was engaged in negotiations to do just that. The social conscience of Fianna Fáil seems to be dead and gone; one could say it is with Ernest Blythe in the grave.
I have already read the wording of the amendment which I propose to the Second Stage reading. Given that it is already on the record I remind the Ceann Comhairle that I will press the amendment at the end of Second Stage.
The 2010 budget allows those who are largely unaffected by it to praise the Government for taking the right decisions and for making the tough choices, as they say. Tough decisions are only right if they are fair. This social welfare Bill is patently unfair because it makes those on the lowest incomes pay the price for the recklessness of Fianna Fáil over recent years.
In the annex to the budget, an example outlines the effect of the budget's provisions on a single person in the private sector earning in excess of €250,000, and it shows no change in such a person's net income as a result of the budget. How on earth can the Minister justify taking €8 per week from a carer or a person with a disability, for example, when an individual with an income of €250,000 or more is not asked to contribute a single extra cent?
It seems that as far as the Government is concerned, it is okay for over-generous and unnecessary tax reliefs to remain untouched. The Government could have yielded the same net savings of €760 million if they had scrapped property tax relief schemes and reformed the multi-million euro pension relief schemes. In the run-up to the budget the Minister repeated that she did not want to touch social welfare or that it would be the last section to be touched but there is no choice. That is absolute nonsense as the Minister had choices. She should at least be honest enough to admit that. Choices were set out, for example, in the pre-budget policy document produced by the Labour Party.
The Minister for Finance outlined in last April's budget the manner in which he intended to proceed to achieve the €4 billion in savings. He indicated a mix of tax measures, tax spending reductions, ordinary Government spending reductions, public sector pay savings and savings in the capital fund. The proposal put to the ECB last April indicated that a mix of measures was required to achieve the savings. He has since flipped his position and moved entirely from the notion of making any savings whatever on the tax front.
As the Labour Party has pointed out, the result is that we continue to have a position where multi-millionaires and the very wealthy in this country can avoid paying tax as a result of the many tax breaks which continue for them. For example, there are property-based tax reliefs and it was possible, without any serious difficulty, to save more than €400 million on those schemes. They are untouched. Some wealthy people can afford to put away pension pots of €5.5 million and the Minister cannot wash her hands of that pension policy.
People can stash pension pots of €5.4 million and when it comes to retirement, they can take tax-free lump sums of €1.3 million. How can the Government justify not touching those people in the budget? It allows rich people to take lump sums of €1.3 million and sees it as acceptable behaviour. Instead of touching those people, the Government has decided to hit people at the very lowest level of income who are dependent on the State for a fairly miserly social welfare payment of €200 or less per week.
Where is the justice and fairness in such action? I have given two examples of blatant unfairness in our system. People who are very well off and have done extremely well from the boom years can continue to avail of ridiculously generous tax reliefs to assist them in avoiding paying any tax. The Government is saying that is fine. It is all right for a wealthy person to be given a tax free lump sum of more than €1 million but it is not all right for people struggling on social welfare to retain their payment rate. The Minister should answer that question. She said on several occasions that cutting social welfare was the last thing the Government wanted to do. It turns out that was not true at all; in fact it was a blatant lie. It was one of the earliest decisions taken on cutbacks.
It is inappropriate to make that accusation against any Member and I ask the Deputy to reconsider her comment.
I withdraw it.
The claim made by this and other Ministers that social welfare was the last item they wanted to cut is completely and utterly untrue. It was one of the first items they decided to target. She decided it was all right for rich people not to pay a price or to make a contribution to our recovery. It is all right to allow them to avoid paying tax through property-based tax relief schemes and outrageously generous self-administered pension schemes and reliefs for director's pension, yet she will hammer people on social welfare. When the Minister concludes the debate tomorrow, will she kindly explain her thinking in that regard? How can she justify cutting social welfare while an extraordinary, ridiculously generous corporate welfare regime is retained?
The Government will provide €11 billion for the banks, while, at the same time, falsely claiming it cannot avoid cutting welfare for people who need it. This is the backdrop to the budget and it is an affront to the public. It is wrong to say these welfare cuts were necessary and the Minister repeated this comment twice earlier. It is simply untrue. This Bill represents a direct attack on the less well off and it is cold, deliberate and calculated. It will make the poor pay for the mistakes of the Bertie, McCreevy and Cowen years, and it has turned the recession into a repression of the least well off. Much of the commentary by so-called experts in the run up to the budget referred to the need to cut social welfare, yet these people know nothing of what it is like to live on little money. If they ever experienced hardship, they have long forgotten what it is like. They know little about what it is like to struggle to cope with demands from the bank, the utility company and one's children unlike when one was in a position to provide for oneself.
It is of equal concern that much of this was done with the agreement of Fine Gael. The run up to the budget was characterised by a hard man competition between the two Civil War parties to see who could be the toughest. I was gobsmacked when Fine Gael advocated a 3% cut for the unemployed. Is that meant to represent an alternative to the Government? It was an act to look tough. It was more like macho economics than macroeconomics. Representatives of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael said the unemployed are lazy, they are unemployed because it is their own fault and they need to be forced back to work by squeezing their income. The fact of life for people who have lost their jobs is different from that. I do not know whether the Minister ever speaks to such people in her constituency clinics to realise how devastated they are. They spend hours every day applying for the few jobs that are advertised and they go around handing in curricula vitae to businesses. They are utterly demoralised when they cannot find a way of earning an income to look after their families. The Minister should try telling them to their face that it is their fault they are unemployed. That is what she is doing by targeting the unemployed for cuts. It is hard to be more heartless than that.
This approach hits the less well-off for the sake of political gain and credibility in the media and it has nothing to do with improving the economy. I am disappointed with those in the media who, through laziness, bought the entire Government spin on the budget hook, line and sinker. Many of them are economic commentators who have vested interests. As Deputy Gilmore said earlier, they often fail to disclose those interests. Several others work on behalf of media outlets that have clear vested interests and they came out talking tough about how the unemployed and others on welfare, those on the minimum wage and public servants needed to take a cut. They have an absolute cheek to do that. There is no prospect of them having to survive on €204 per week. They would not think twice about spending it on a night out. It would be small change for them and they have a neck to use the media to act as cheerleaders for this right wing Government and to encourage Ministers to cut welfare.
We have a high welfare bill because the Government has failed to stem the explosion in unemployment we have experienced over the past two years and not because payments are over generous. The Government parties have taken their eye off the ball regarding job protection and job creation and that is why the social welfare bill is high. They need to address that now.
I refer to the practical effects of this Bill. Everyone on welfare aged under 66 will be hit by a reduction in their basic income of approximately 4%. On top of this, there will be no Christmas bonus next year, which represents a 2% cutback. They face higher drug payments, new prescription charges, cuts in dental services and a 4% reduction in rental support if they are in the private rented sector. The cumulative effect of all of these cuts is vicious. Someone who has recently lost his or her job and who is in receipt of jobseeker's benefit not only has to deal with a substantial drop in income but he or she now will also lose €432 as a result of the budget. This is the same as kicking people when they are down.
A jobseeker in his early 20s stands to lose €2,823 annually. Child benefit has been cut by 10% just as the early child care supplement is abolished. A family with two children aged under five could lose €1,380 and a new poverty trap has been created to boot. A widow stands to lose €641 per year in the budget. A person with disabilities on disability allowance will lose €636 annually. In addition, she will have to pay €5 per week under the drugs treatment scheme, 50 cent for every prescription she fills, and she will have to go on a long waiting list to access dental treatment because of cutbacks under the treatment benefit scheme. A couple on invalidity pension aged under 66 will lose €1,100 per annum. Carer's benefit has been cut by €648 per year while a blind pensioner couple stands to lose up to €1,455 annually. There is still no reform of mortgage interest supplement or of any of the many other poverty traps throughout the system.
I will now consider some of these cuts in more details. The cut of 10% in child benefit payments proposed in section 7 of the Bill represents yet another attack by the Government on families. For families with very young children, the cut comes just as the early child care supplement is abolished. In addition, child benefit has already been cut for 18 year olds, a decision which will undoubtedly lead to a much higher rate of young people dropping out of school and college.
The effect of the two budgets this year is that a single income couple earning €40,000 per year with two children under five years of age — not wealthy people by any means — will have €370 less income per month. That is without counting any cuts in pay. It proves that the Government is placing the biggest burden of adjustment on families. Despite the general decline in prices, many of the regular costs faced by working families, including crèche and doctor fees, remain very high and have not been reduced. In addition, the measures targeted to compensate low income households for the general cut in child benefit effectively ends the universality of child benefit. This is a huge social policy error which introduces yet another poverty trap into the system.
The family income supplement, FIS, continues to be a payment that is simply not achieving what it is meant to. It has a low take up for many reasons; it is complex, employers do not like it, it does not suit flexible working times or intermittent work patterns and it does not factor in costs such as child care or mortgages. It is disappointing that yet another social welfare Bill is presented to the House without reforming FIS, particularly so when the Minister is relying on it as a targeted measure. It is quite clear that many of the people in families where the head of the household works for a low income will feel the brunt of the cut in child benefit and will not have the benefit of the proposed compensating measures because they do not claim FIS. Everybody knows FIS has a low take up and those families and children will be the ones to pay the price in the budget. I thought the comments of the Children's Rights Alliance on the effect of the budget were interesting. It stated that selecting for cuts payments targeted at children demonstrated that nothing, not even childhood, is safe from the Government's knife.
The impact on young jobseekers is particularly harsh. Section 6 seeks to restrict jobseeker's allowance payments to €100 per week for those aged 20 and 21 years. A jobseeker aged 22, 23 or 24 years stands to lose €54 per week or €2,823 per annum. For a 21 year old, the loss is €5,424 per annum. This loss of income is bad enough, but it is the intention of these measures that is particularly offensive. It is abundantly clear that the real purpose of these reforms is to promote emigration. It is profoundly hypocritical that the Government continually uses the "brain drain" excuse for not increasing income tax on very high earners yet is introducing a series of cutbacks for those aged under 25 that actively promotes such a brain drain.
Young people who have gone through college, worked hard and obtained degrees and who now find themselves unable to find employment through no fault of their own will be driven out of their home country through this measure. There is no question about that. Those affected by these cuts can boost their income if they attend a training course but where are these training courses? When a cut was made for those aged under 20 in the April budget it sounded fine. The principle is grand; people can go on training courses and receive the full rate payment. However, this is not what happened. Figures released to me recently show that three out of every four people under the age of 20 in receipt of jobseeker's allowance did not get a training place and are trying to survive on a payment of €100 per week. There is an obvious financial disincentive for the Government to provide training courses because of the substantial costs involved. That is what this is about; putting the squeeze on young people and getting them to pay for this recession. It has very little to do with training when one considers the dearth of training places available for those looking for them.
Insured workers paying into PRSI have a legitimate expectation of receiving dental and optical treatment and this is being cut. There is also a cut of €30 million in dental treatment for people on medical cards.
Tomorrow, we will vote on all of these measures and it seems that the Government will be supported in those votes by a number of people who do not hold the Fianna Fáil Party whip. I am speaking about Deputies Grealish, McDaid, Healy-Rae, Lowry, Devins and Scanlon. I am a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs of which Deputy Healy-Rae is the Chairman for which he gets paid a handsome allowance. There is no obligation on Deputy Healy-Rae to support these social welfare cuts tomorrow. As Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs he would be acting in absolute bad faith if he supported them. Over the past year, umpteen groups have come before the committee to outline to us the very real hardship caused to many of their people as a result of the previous two budgets. They have made it very clear to us that the poor simply cannot take any more cuts. Deputy Healy-Rae is not in any doubt about the hardship that people on social welfare encounter. He has to make a decision either to support the Government by voting for these social welfare cuts or to vote against them and continue as Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs. It is completely and utterly incompatible for somebody in the role of Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs to vote to implement the harshest cuts on the most vulnerable people.
Yesterday, he was on the airwaves telling us a cock and bull story about a deal for a 42-bed hospital. Did the Minister for Health and Children know anything about this? The chances of that hospital seeing the light of day are slim to none. I hope the constituents of Kerry South, those people dependent on social welfare who have disabilities or children or who are unemployed or lone parents, are aware of what their Deputy Healy-Rae plans to do tomorrow. If he votes for the Government's cuts he is selling his constituents down the Swanee. As is the case throughout the country, many people in Kerry South are dependent on social welfare payments. If he votes in favour of the cuts tomorrow I will call on him to resign. If he has any shame at all he should resign his position as Chairman of the committee.
I call on the other five Deputies who seem to be positioning themselves to support the Government to make it clear to their constituents what they are doing. There is no obligation on them to support this. They are not under a whip. It is their choice. If they vote for these cuts they must face the consequences in their constituencies.
It is quite clear that Fianna Fáil no longer has a social conscience. It could not have introduced this budget if it had any element of a social conscience remaining. The Government had choices; it could have hit those who can best afford to pay. Instead it chose to leave millionaires alone. They chose to hit the most vulnerable and those who depend on the State to survive. That is a far cry from the kind of ideals espoused by the founding fathers of the Fianna Fáil Party.
It is clear Fianna Fáil has lost its social conscience. The position in respect of the Green Party is simply incredible. Fianna Fáil is the party of the developer, the banker and the speculator and it shows little regard for ordinary people who are trying to get by. In such circumstances, one would have thought the Green Party would have tried to exert some influence on Fianna Fáil so that the budget might have included some element of fairness. I do not know the whereabouts of the Members who represent the Green Party. They have not been present in the Chamber today at all. They rarely appear when a serious debate takes place in the House and I do not believe they understand the concept of social welfare. Their heads appear to be in the clouds. They do not understand the reality with which people are faced in the context of trying to survive and rear their children while on social welfare payments.
The Members of the Green Party are an absolute disgrace. Those of us who thought they would have put the brakes on Fianna Fáil and prevent it from running riot in respect of the most vulnerable were wrong. It is clear, however, that those to whom I refer have bought into the Fianna Fáil ethos. They have lost the run of themselves and, just as Fianna Fáil did long ago, sold out on ordinary people.
I wish to share time with Deputy Conlon.
That is agreed. There are 20 minutes available so I take it the Deputies will each take ten minutes.
Yes. Only those who have undergone the experience know how difficult it can be to try to survive on social welfare payments. All Members can do is imagine what must be involved. I worked in employment exchanges for many years during the 1980s and 1990s and I saw at first hand how important welfare is to people. The choice with which the Government is faced is whether it should continue to provide the type of welfare system that will prove adequate to meet people's needs.
I am particularly annoyed by social welfare fraud. Such fraud has been occurring for many years but recent television coverage has highlighted the problem again. In effect, fraud takes money out of the pockets of those who need it most. Any attempt, such as that in the Bill, to crack down on fraud must be welcomed. Every euro saved can be given to those who need it most. It is hoped that in 2010 the anti-fraud provisions in this Bill will lead to €500 million being saved.
During the past ten years, social welfare payments were increased across the board. It must be accepted that when one gives someone something on which they then become dependent, it is extremely difficult to take it back. No one on this side of the House wants welfare payments to be reduced. However, we must also be cognisant of the fact that we will still pay out €21 billion in this area in 2010. It is a difficult choice. By means of this Bill the Minister will, by making reductions no one wants to see being introduced, protect two particularly vulnerable groups, namely, the elderly and children whose families depend on social welfare payments.
The Bill will ensure that those most dependent on social welfare will continue to enjoy what remains one of the highest rates of payment in Europe. For us to sustain that rate of payment, we must manage the income available to the country. When we had the facility to do so in recent years, we managed to increase payments so that people benefited greatly. People should not lose sight of that fact.
The elderly continue to enjoy reasonable pensions and they will retain the additional benefits that go with them, such as those relating to fuel, travel, TV licences, electricity and gas supplies and telephone services. I have first-hand knowledge of how important such benefits are to older people living in my constituency, regardless of whether they have families. The elderly appreciate what has been done for them and several of them have informed me of that fact.
As the Minister pointed out, the main thrust of the budget is to retain as many people as possible in employment during 2010 and to protect those who have lost their jobs. The PRSI incentive scheme for employers contained in the Bill will provide assistance to employers taking on new employees. This will make a major difference and will result in an 8% to 10% saving in respect of the cost for each job created. That is a major incentive for employers to continue to take on new employees.
I welcome the fact that there will not be a change in respect of family resource centres. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs, which has met numerous groups which have highlighted the importance of such centres. The family resource centres play a major role in urban areas and they have a major impact on local communities in rural areas. I welcome the fact that we can continue to fund these centres to ensure that the services they provide on a day-to-day basis will be maintained.
If changes are not made in respect of the amount we spend on social welfare at present, we run the risk of being obliged to make massively savage cuts in the future. The idea behind the budget is to avoid that eventuality. If we do not have money available to make social welfare payments, then people will suffer even more. The point with regard to the changes contained in the budget is that they will reduce the effect of any cuts that have to be made. The average reduction in payments for social welfare recipients under the age of 66 will be 4.1%. In light of the fact that prices in general are falling and that the cost of living has decreased, it makes much more sense to make these modest cuts now rather than waiting and being obliged to drastically cut some payments at a future date. The alternative would certainly do those dependent on social welfare no favours.
Families and individuals in my constituency depend on having access to some of the services and payments provided by the Department of Social and Family Affairs on a daily and weekly basis. The changes being introduced now will ensure that in the future we will be able to sustain, to the best degree possible, social welfare rates of payment.
When young people leave school or college, they require a way forward. That is particularly true in the current climate, when employment is scarce. Young people need an incentive to remain in education, to engage in further training or to reskill. In that context, many courses and back to education opportunities will be provided next year. Such courses are not inexpensive. We must maintain the level of spending in this regard and ensure that choices are available for young people.
Even in the good times a number of graduates chose to go away for a number of years after university. That will continue. If we can encourage people to remain here by providing alternatives for them when they leave second level and continue to third level or pick up new skills, it is a worthwhile investment. Some of the changes made in this aspect of the budget dovetail with the additional training places made available by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. No one welcomes the fact that we must adjust our welfare payments downwards. We are doing it for a reason, which is to sustain payments into the future. That is the only way we can manage to get through this situation.
I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution.
By any standard, expenditure of €21.1 billion is a significant amount for a Department. This represents an increase of €676 million. I am sure the Minister wishes the sum was falling because the increase is due to the fact that more people are signing on the live register. However, it is accepted by all sides that savings of €4 billion were needed. It would be foolhardy to believe social welfare could remain untouched. Social welfare spending accounts for one third of our day-to-day spending and represents one of the biggest spending Departments alongside the Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children. We could not leave it as it was. As a country, we could not continue to borrow €420 million per week to sustain our day-to-day spending. Any household, business or individual spending more than is being taken in must put on the brakes. One has to do something about this, make sacrifices and make changes. One must take steps to rectify the position. The Government had no choice but to do this. It was faced with a dilemma of whether to cut rates or services in respect of social welfare. Cutting the rates was a better option because diluting frontline services will place undue hardship on those who need services most. No amount of money can compensate people for inadequate services.
I welcome the fact that we have excluded the State pension from any cuts. The recipients of this have made their contribution to society, paying taxes during previous recessions, when times were bad and it was very difficult for them. We recognise that they are in the later years of their lives and have made their contributions. They do not have the opportunity to supplement their incomes and it would be unfair of us to expect them to rely on their families to support them. I welcome the fact that the household benefit package remains intact. Many elderly people have a new lease of life because of this. They can hop on a bus and take a tour around the country or take the train. They also receive free telephone services and this has made life much better for them.
I spoke to a woman in her 80s last week before the budget. She was widowed when she was in her 30s and was left with a very large family. She told me that she had seen the best of times and the worst of times. When she was raising her children it was very difficult for her to tell them that they could not have certain things they wanted because she could not afford them. If the kitchen needed to be painted and she did not have the money, she did not do it. She did not have the capacity to borrow and did not want to put herself into serious debt. As a person who benefited from the State pension, she told me that if contributing €20 a week of her pension would help make the country a better place, she would be willing to do so. She said that she could not afford to do it but that she would make sacrifices again if she had to. These are the kind of people we have in this country, people who are willing to make sacrifices.
A man in receipt of welfare payments telephoned me this afternoon. He was not pleased that he faces a cut of more than €8, but he has decided to stop smoking. The reduction equates to a packet of cigarettes and he will do without them, which would be healthier for him. He will make that sacrifice if it is for the good of the country. As a country, we support those who need welfare. It is widely recognised that the increases have been very generous over the years. We have one of the best welfare systems in Europe. In the past 12 years, pensions have increased by 120%, unemployment benefit has increased by 130% and child benefit payments have increased by 330%. These are not insignificant increases by any standard.
I do not underestimate the difficulties facing Irish families, nor do I want to be insensitive to them. Every family in this country is hurting for one reason or another. What is important is that we have a social welfare system that is sustainable for the future. We must continue to protect those who are most vulnerable. If we did nothing, and left the social welfare system as it is, we would find ourselves in a worse situation. Standing still is not an option. If our country ends up bankrupt, what good would it be to those who rely on the State to support them and provide them with an income? That is the reality we face. No Minister or Deputy wants to make difficult decisions. Would we not all like to be popular? However, we cannot be distracted or attracted by the lure of populism. It is much more important to do the right thing.
As a mother, I understand the feelings people have on the reduction in child benefit. I would have preferred if we did not have to reduce child benefit but the straight cut was the fairest way. There are major logistical and legal difficulties with taxing and means testing. This is a universal payment to the mothers of Ireland for the most part and it is important that they still receive some payment, albeit reduced, for their children. I welcome that the Minister sought to protect people on welfare by increasing the qualified adult amount to compensate for the reduction in child benefit.
One of the major responsibilities of this Government is to encourage people to get back to work or undertake training or education. We cannot have a culture of dependency on welfare. We cannot create or sustain it and the longer young people remain on welfare, the more difficult it becomes for them to get back into training, education or work. We must provide incentives to ensure they get back into work.
Should people starve?
It is a very reasonable proposal——
What about the blind and the disabled? Where will they get a job?
——that if one is on jobseeker's allowance and has refused an offer of education or training then one's benefit is reduced to €150. This measure was introduced in respect of 18 and 19 year olds and has been most effective.
I commend the Minister on the measures she introduced to tackle welfare fraud. In the past year, I have noticed increased activity by the Garda Síochána, the Customs and Excise personnel and officials from the Department of Social and Family Affairs. They have mounted checkpoints to crack down on welfare fraud and this is welcome. Anyone who engages in welfare fraud is stealing and taking money from the pockets of taxpayers. It is wrong and it must be stopped. I welcome the rollout of the public service card, which will go a long way to assist in the elimination of fraud. I also welcome the provision whereby social welfare officers may stop a vehicle and check people if they are suspicious of welfare fraud. They can also gain information from financial institutions if people are suspected of engaging in welfare fraud. We must make every effort to tackle this. It is incumbent on us all to ensure that this is stamped out. I also welcome the new scheme which encourages employers to take on unemployed people who have been signing on for six months or more. They will be exempt from PRSI for the first year of employment which saves employers 8% to 10% of the cost of each new job created. This is welcome because many employers are in difficulty.
I also welcome the fact that the funding for the family resource centres has been protected. I have been very involved with the resource centres in Cavan-Monaghan which are anxious to have their funding protected. They provide a very valuable service to the most vulnerable in our communities. Any savings will be secured through re-structuring the regional support agencies which is welcome.
Recessions are cyclical events. This one too will pass. By making the right choices, not the populist ones, to correct our public finances we hasten the day when more people will return to work and our economy will grow again. None of us takes pleasure in making these difficult decisions but they are necessary for the sustainability of our welfare system and our country.
I wish to share time with Deputies Lee and O'Dowd.
I was disappointed yesterday that neither the Minister for Finance nor the Taoiseach apologised to the people for the way they have left the country. They should have apologised to those on social welfare, the public service and to the people. They have never once admitted that Fianna Fáil has destroyed the country. The weak, the sick and the public service are paying for this. I am glad to see that officials from the Department of Social and Family Affairs are here tonight with the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Finneran.
The last time I spoke on a Social Welfare Bill a Minister accused me of being racist because I raised the issue of personal public service, PPS, numbers. The Department and the Minister did damn all about it because they were not fit. I am asking them again to examine and check how many people outside this country are receiving child benefit. How often have they been checked to establish whether they are still living here? There are many people receiving child benefit in other parts of Europe who do not live or work here. It is time the Department started to check up on them instead of attacking the people on farm assist who cannot live in rural areas.
Since I was a boy, I and my father before me, have heard Fianna Fáil talk about Ernest Blythe taking the shilling from the pensioners. Fianna Fáil in the present Government took €4 a week from pensioners this year by stopping the Christmas bonus. They are every bit as bad as Ernest Blythe. The republican party attacked the elderly and the weak by not giving them their Christmas bonus.
Tonight we are receiving text messages and e-mails about people on disability benefit. People on disability benefit have many other needs and find it difficult to live on what they receive. The €8 cutback announced yesterday is a further attack on them. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, and her party, the Progressive Democrats, PDs, are a part of the Government that has destroyed this country. For 20 years we heard about the wonderful PDs, how we needed them to reform society with an economy led by PD thinking. Deputy Harney has destroyed the PDs and they have destroyed the Government. The charge on prescriptions is a sick one. That will cost people on disability benefit €10 a month because they are sick and must visit the doctor and collect prescriptions regularly. This charge is wrong.
I never thought Fianna Fáil-the Republican Party, would take money from the blind and from carers. The late Seamus Brennan did an excellent job on behalf of carers as Minister for Social and Family Affairs. He must be very disappointed tonight in heaven watching Fianna Fáil-the Republican Party attacking carers who look after sick people. We do not pay them enough. They do a great job for us, keeping people at home for whom the State cannot afford beds. It cannot look after them. In every report on the subject elderly people who are sick say they want to die at home. I compliment carers for the job they do. I am disappointed that Fianna Fáil-the Republican Party would do what it did yesterday to carers. I never thought that would happen.
I have always made this point and will continue to do so, child benefit is one of the few payments that women receive into their hands. Many a woman who has come to my clinic has said that her husband has a good job and is the earner in the house but does not give her anything more than a bit of money for food. Child benefit is the money those women use to look after their children. They put the money away for school books, shoes or Santa Claus gifts. Fianna Fáil-the Republican Party took €16 from child benefit. I am disappointed in Fianna Fáil for the way it has treated people who pay PRSI contributions.
There will be more cuts from the Department of Social and Family Affairs. I am disappointed that the Government has attacked the sick, the weak and the people who most need help. I never thought that I would see the day when Fianna Fáil-the Republican Party would do this. I am not surprised by the PDs but the people spoke to them. The Green Party was wiped out in the local elections. God help it in the next general election. We will return to the old days, with Fianna Fáil holding approximately 24 seats on this side of the House and Fine Gael and the Labour Party in the majority. It will be a different Government. I am sorry that neither the Minister for Finance nor the Taoiseach apologised to the country for the state it is in.
I am terribly disappointed that we are introducing a social welfare Bill that for the first time in living memory cuts social welfare payments to the poor and the most vulnerable, and that those choices have had to be made, particularly those that are being made and pushed through here. The cuts in social welfare payments are between 3.5% and 4.2% but the reduction in the social welfare Christmas bonus is in effect another 2% reduction. As a result the net disposable income of the most vulnerable people in the system for 2010 is 6%. The Bill has cut payments for carers despite the enormous value that they produce for our society, payments for the blind, for widows and the disabled. One third of requests to the Society of Vincent de Paul are for food and fuel costs assistance. The welfare benefits were too low to begin with. To cut them now is absolutely cruel and unfair and it is a shame. A total of 25% of people with disabilities live below the poverty line. They must be terribly distressed tonight to know that the Government will make them even poorer. They already have very high living costs in terms of heating and transportation. What we have at present is a disgrace because we will make their situation so much worse.
It is young people I have a particular bee in my bonnet about in regard to the Bill. Young people aged 18 and 19 had already had their social welfare payments reduced to €100 last year. In this budget, young people aged 21 to 22 have had their dole reduced by more than 50% to €100 a week. If the person is aged between 22 and 24, the payment is reduced to €150 and it is only those who are aged over 25 who will get the full adult social welfare payment. This is age discrimination. The difficulty we have is that somebody who is 24 may well be married with children and many other commitments. When such people become unemployed, they are being told they are not a full individual or a full adult. They may have worked for years and paid social insurance contributions and full tax but they are not considered to be a full adult or full individual, and are not given the same rights as somebody else.
Article 40 of the Constitution makes the position very clear. It states: "All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law." It qualifies the position by also stating: "This shall not be held to mean that the State shall not in its enactments have due regard to differences of capacity, physical and moral, and of social function." However, it says nothing about age.
The whole point about age is that it is being used here as a discrimination and a differentiation. There are no "differences of capacity, physical and moral, and of social function" between a 24 and a 25 year old. There is no way one can differentiate between them yet, in the Bill, that is exactly what the Government is trying to do. There is no more difference between a 24 and a 25 year old than there is between a 34 and a 35 year old.
Take the case of a person who has worked from the age of 18 until the age of 24, paid a full six years of tax and social insurance, who is perhaps married with children and has become unemployed through no fault of his or her own. What does that person find? Despite all of their contributions, moral obligations and social functions, when they go to sign on, they will find they receive significantly lower social insurance support than somebody aged 25 who may never have worked and who may have come out of the system with just one year's contributions. I believe it is unconstitutional to treat people like that. I hope that, one day, some young person has the bottle to take the Government on, take it to court and prove that this is unconstitutional. They are equal before the law and the Government cannot discriminate like that. It is a disgrace. There are many people aged below 25 years who have plenty of social and moral responsibility and who have made a great contribution to this country.
There is no point saying we should look to Northern Ireland because it pays young people less. The British Government does not operate under a written constitution. We have it written down in black and white in front of our faces in our laws. We are not allowed or enabled to treat people in an unequal fashion like that. It is wrong, it is cruel and it is unfair.
With regard to families, a 10% reduction in child benefit was made as the Government wants to hit families because there is not enough money in the system. There is not enough money in the system because of the individualisation of the taxation system which happened in 2000 under this Government. In that system, single income families and families with children were discriminated against. As a result, child benefit payments were increased in a recognition that there had to be some balance. Now, when the chicken has come home to roost and there are insufficient taxes in the system, those families are being asked to pick up the tab again.
It is the child benefit payment that is taking the strain in regard to the reduction in the resources the Government has at its disposal. We are told that vulnerable children are those whose parents are in receipt of social welfare payments or social welfare support. That is a cop-out. There are plenty of vulnerable children whose families may well be working but who are heavily indebted, where perhaps one member of the family is unemployed and may not qualify for social assistance. Those children also require support and are vulnerable, but we are told they are not. We are told that qualified child allowance will be increased to help those on the dole. The reality about qualified child allowance is that we recognised previously, year in and year out, that it creates poverty traps and traps families in unemployment. When they get off the dole, they find they lose their allowance and they cannot afford the fall in income when they go back to work. It is a failed policy of the past and it cannot be used to get us out of the situation we are in at present.
I accept the social welfare bill at €21 billion is very high and that something had to be done to contain elements of it. However, what should have been done is to tackle the fraud. It has been reported this week that up to €2 billion of fraud is going unchecked in the social welfare system. People can use fake PPS numbers willy-nilly to establish new identities and claim for years with no consequences from the social welfare system. Who picks up the tab? It is the weak, the vulnerable, the children, the unemployed and the young. The Government must do the job. It must go out there and clamp down on that fraud so we do not have to suffer the indignity of having a society which makes the choices which are written into this law. It is a disgrace. The Government has hit the easiest and most vulnerable. It should go and do the hard job. It should clamp down on the fraud, get the €2 billion and recover the social welfare system so we can all hold our heads high in dignity, and so the values we support are reflected within the system.
This is a very important debate because it fixes forever in the eyes of the citizens of the Republic what our State is really about. If we measure anything in a modern society, it is that a caring democracy, a true republic, values all of its children equally but values particularly those who are disadvantaged — the disabled, the blind, the carers and the very young — in order to give them more — to give them respect.
We have to look after these people. Looking at the television earlier, I saw a blind couple being interviewed on RTE. Whereas in previous years, one would have expected to see that they benefited from the budget, they are being made the scapegoats for these Government policies. They have done nothing wrong in their lives. They have suffered from their disability. Most people who are disabled or blind suffer greater structural unemployment but they do their very best. They are loyal, honourable citizens of this State and the Government is damning them by taking from them their independence and their rights, including their right to go out and buy food for their families and to look after themselves. They are entitled to be held on high pedestals in this State. We must respect them, but the Government respects them least of all.
This is the Government of the builders, the bankers, the Galway tent, the corrupt politicians. The former leaders of the main Government party were absolutely and totally corrupt yet the people trusted them with their votes. Unfortunately, the Government has been in power for too long — for 18 of the past 20 years. It has lost touch with reality and the truth on the ground. The truth is that the people who are suffering most in this budget under the Government's iron fist are the weakest and poorest of all. The spin doctors say that 45% of people have not been affected, the middle classes are fine and the people who are not in State employment are fine. The only people who are suffering are this category of person. The Government's sums are wrong but at the heart of the Government is absolutely no respect for those who are most disadvantaged of all.
The Government is increasing the fee that people pay when they go to the chemist. At present, they pay up to €100 a month for medicine but the Government is increasing that to €120, which they must pay. We should examine the case of a person or family that has to get that amount of medicine in any one calendar month. These are not people who suffer from flu or a minor ailment. In many cases, they are seriously ill. They are cancer patients, heart patients and people with kidney problems, whose lives are held by a thread through the medicine they get. The Government is charging them more when they need that money as their demands for heating, food and sustenance are greater than they might ever have been at this time in their lives. Yet, the Government daggers them to the heart with this extra charge.
Take the general medical scheme. If a person has a medical card, he or she now pays for prescriptions. The Deputies opposite know this because such people come into their clinics as they come into mine. They come in with the long lists they got from the doctor. If I go to the chemist for a prescription there might be one or two items on it but these people have multiple items. Many of them are senior citizens and they will be fearful that they will not be able to pay for their medicine at the chemist. If they have five or ten drugs on a prescription what will they do? This Government will make them pay for them when they cannot afford it, it is making them suffer and even greater indignity. In this modern State, the weakest of the weak are being made to suffer, the poorest of the poor.
This Government is a disgrace. Government Members were shameless in the trite speeches they made tonight. It was absolute rubbish from the other side of the House. The Green Party, the lickspittles of this Government, should be standing up for those who are weakest in society but they are silent and absent, just as the Minister for Social and Family Affairs is absent. They will not be absent from the minds of the people when the election comes, they will be driven from office, along with Fianna Fáil because of their disgraceful conduct during the 20 years they have been in power and because of this appalling, shameful imposition on the poorest in our society. It is unbelievable that the State has come to this but this is where it is at. By God, the Government will get some payback for this.
I find the pathos and indignation of the last speaker entirely unconvincing.
The Minister of State will hear from the people on the ground in his constituency when he visits it, they will give him his answer.
I agree that the statement that the most callous thing the Government could do would be to find itself in a situation where it is unable to pay because of indebtedness and not being able to borrow.
The Minister of State is engaging in spin. He is being disingenuous.
Allow the Minister of State to speak please.
In 2010, even after the budget reduction, more than €21 billion out €54 billion will be spent on social welfare, some 39% of gross Government expenditure——
Why is that?
Is the Minister of State telling them they should be glad to get it?
——in a context where the Exchequer deficit would amount to €18.78 billion, or over 11.5% of GNP.
Did Deputy Mansergh ever try to live on €200 a week?
Please allow the Minister of State to make his contribution.
Perhaps those on the opposite side do not want to pay any attention to economic and financial realities. So be it, that is their choice.
The social welfare system generally tracks the cost of living. In certain periods, after we joined the EEC, and I pay tribute to the national coalition of 1973-1977 in this respect——
The Minister of State is so magnanimous.
——during the early 1980s, during the early 1990s when the commission on social welfare report was being implemented, which former Minister for Social Welfare, Gemma Hussey, said in 1986 would be unaffordable——
The Deputy had to go a long way back to find that.
——and during the boom years, payments considerably higher than inflation were paid.
I am immensely proud of what Fianna Fáil has managed to do——
—— on social welfare payments over the past 22 years. It stands up to any examination. The Taoiseach mentioned this morning the 330% increase in child benefit at a time when inflation rose by 40%, most of the payments increased by more than 100%.
Did Deputy Mansergh ever try to live on €200 per week?
The reality is that social welfare payments achieved increases that have never before been achieved in the history of the State. The idea that the boom was wasted is wrong, a great deal of it went into social expenditure and I well remember, particularly in the 2002 election, constituents being grateful for both the increase in old age pensions and in child benefit.
Wait until the next election.
There was a narrowing of inequality and a reduction in child poverty and the numbers at risk of poverty. There are studies that have established this.
Fianna Fáil is trying to reverse that now.
In the mid-1980s when we were last in similar difficulties, of financial necessity there was a more restrictive social welfare policy. Food subsidies were abolished and the Christmas bonus was suspended for two years. Social welfare increases barely matched the cost of living.
There were no cuts to social welfare.
We are now in a different situation where the cost of living has fallen.
It will be a lean Christmas. There will be no Santa for old age pensioners.
For the first time in history since the 1920s it has fallen by 4%, and given there has been a 6.5% fall inflation from October 2008 to October 2009, or 4.4% estimated for the year——
Has the Minister of State any shame about the way he has attacked the carers?
No speaker in the House will be shouted down.
The way he attacked the carers——
Either the Deputy respects the House or he will leave it.
We take in silence very strong attacks from the other side so I might be allowed to have my say.
The Taoiseach spoke this morning about the psychology which comes from belonging to the single currency and deflation. Exactly the same thing in real terms had to be done by Fine Gael and Labour in the mid-1980s as we have to do now. I have not the least doubt that if and when the Opposition enters government, and if and when it faces a similar financial situation, it will do exactly the same.
The important thing is that the capacity to pay be maintained, that cheques are honoured and they do not bounce.
There were other choices besides cuts to social welfare.
I accept that social welfare is a safety net for most people and there is not much of a margin with it. I know and understand people find it a struggle. Nonetheless, we are maintaining 2008 rates of payment on 2003 rates of revenue.
Reference was made to fraud. A photographic identity card is being introduced next year and I am sure that will help to limit fraud.
Eleven years late.
I want to congratulate community welfare officers around the country for the tremendous work they have done during the recent flooding crisis. Incidentally, that is a discretionary scheme that is not capped and so they have been able to spend whatever has been needed along with administering humanitarian aid.
I do not think the 50 cent prescription charge is excessive. People need medicines but there is also a vast waste in the amount of medicine dispensed and sometimes a small charge has a disincentive effect. The tax on plastic bags is minimal, it would not ruin anyone and it is not really complained about but it had an effect.
People have to take their medicine, they do not have to take a plastic bag. Ridiculous.
This, unfortunately, is a necessary reform.
The Minister for Social and Family Affairs is a caring and effective Minister. She has defended the social welfare to the limits of the possible.
No she has not, that is untrue.
We must do what we have to do and it would help if Opposition Members would sometimes explain the underlying realities. It is not in anyone's interest that cheques from the Government to public servants or social welfare recipients bounce. We must get our public finances back in order.
Are there many recipients in south Tipperary?
I would say that to my constituents in south Tipperary and, this might surprise the Deputy, but I do not mind a damn whether I get back into the House. I would prefer that we sort this problem, that we exercise our responsibility over five years and that we hand over to the next Government, whoever it is, an economy in reasonable health. Whether I am back in this House is unimportant compared with that.
Does the Minister of State give a damn about social welfare recipients?
Fairness does not matter.
I support the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill. In doing so, I acknowledge the difficulty of this decision for the Government and all of us in terms of supporting it. There is no question but that, as a number of Opposition spokespersons have said, cutting social welfare for the first time in the State is a very difficult decision. It is one that one would rather not have to make. It is one that is only made in the context of the overall budgetary situation. Irrespective of who was in government at the present time, it is a decision that would have to be taken.
While we have the Labour Party on one side saying we should increase taxes and not cut expenditure, the reality is——
What about cutting tax expenditure for the wealthy? I refer to the kind of schemes from which Deputy Fahey is benefitting.
——that up to 80% of public expenditure now goes on social welfare and the payment of public servants. Irrespective of who was in government——
The Government did a fine job of it too.
——difficult decisions would have had to be made. It is important to put the difficult decision in perspective. The reality is that in the 2009 budget, social welfare increases were of the order of 3%. The net reduction on this occasion is 1.1%. The cost of living has come down by about 6% in the past 12 months——
Where does the Deputy do his shopping?
——bringing it back to what it was at the beginning of 2007. Child benefit is back to 2006 levels. Therefore, the changes that are being made——
Does Deputy Stagg wish to raise a point of order?
In recognition of the value of the speech being made I am sure a quorum would be desirable.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,
As I was saying, the cost of living has come down by about 6% in the past year. Taking into account all those factors, the difficult decisions that had to be made ensure people will not suffer hardship. Pension rates have increased by 120% during the past 12 years. Unemployment benefit has increased by 130% and child benefits have increased by more than 330%. I reject the suggestion being made by the Opposition and by some speakers — which has been portrayed in a most unreasonable style — that this Government has no concern for people who are on social welfare.
Did the Deputy hear the last speaker?
Social welfare increases have been very significant in recent years. There is an argument which states that the wedge that now exists between job seeker's allowance and what people are being paid on the minimum wage is quite narrow and the incentive for people to get out to work is, perhaps, not as much as it might be. A very significant issue in this budget is that, for the first time in this country, we are faced with a situation where if those decisions are not taken there is the strong possibility that outside influences would force us to make much more significant reductions in social welfare..
That is completely untrue.
It is clear from the levels of social welfare being paid in Northern Ireland and in the UK that a much lesser amount of the national cake is being paid out.
They have all kinds of additional income supports.
And the national——
For example, unemployment assistance in Northern Ireland is about £80 sterling. That is the level of——
What about housing support?
——payment for unemployment assistance. The reality is that if this Government did not take the hard decisions we now have to stand over in this Chamber, there is no question or doubt that the IMF would be involved in this country.
That is a good invitation for it.
We would have a situation where the ability of whatever party is in Government to continue to do so would be very strongly challenged.
That is rubbish.
It is interesting to note that in today's international——
On a point of order, this is such an amazing and remarkable speech that I think we should have a quorum present to hear it.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,
It is clear that the Labour Party does not like to hear the unvarnished truth about the position we would be in if we were to pursue some of the policies it has outlined. It is clear from the response in today's international press that the Irish Government is doing the right thing in terms of cutting expenditure across the spectrum. It is quite clear from some of the comment in today's international press that the example of Ireland will now be followed by other countries. I note the UK has failed to address issues of public expenditure and it is now acknowledged by both main parties in the UK that they will need to address the issue of public expenditure and bring that public expenditure down very considerably right across the spectrum. It is an acknowledgement today that the UK was mistaken in the way in which VAT was reduced to 15%. This was being called for by Opposition parties particularly the Labour Party.
It is quite evident that the decision taken in the UK to reduce VAT to 15% had no other impact other than to increase the level of imports into the UK. This again points to the reason we have got to take the difficult decisions at this time. A failure to do so would result in a catastrophic situation in the public finances.
When I was Minister of State with responsibility for children I played a significant role in increasing child benefit rates which have increased by 330% over the past number of years. This was done at a time when we had full employment and when we wanted to encourage women in the family in particular to go out to work. The result of the increases enabled women to go to work and have child benefit. We made a very conscious decision that the advantage being given to women who wanted to go to work should not be denied to women in the home. Among a number of policy decisions at the time we went for the one which gave the greatest increase in child benefit to all families across the country. Unfortunately, at this time of difficulty, it is necessary to take a €16 reduction or thereabouts in child benefit and there is no other option but to do that——
Of course there is. That is wrong.
——in the circumstances.
This is a time of solidarity and a time in which people must pull together in order to see us out of the difficulties. I am convinced that when this is done and when we get back to economic growth and wealth creation, the first thing we should put back is the moneys we are taking away from social welfare. I have no doubt that this Government——
Is this a new tactic?
——will be in a position to restore welfare payments which it is now necessary to take away. They are certainly the first payments that should come back when we see economic growth and we will see that economic growth quickly. Failure to take the hard decisions in this budget and failure to cut public expenditure to the extent we are doing, would result in a prolonged recession in this country which is something that as a Deputy representing the west of Ireland I am not prepared to see. We saw too much of that in the 1980s. Between 1982 when I came into this House——
——and 1987, when we finally took hard decisions, all parties in government failed to take hard decisions in regard to public expenditure, Fianna Fáil on one side and Labour and Fine Gael on the other. We lost five years as a result of not confronting the issues of public expenditure——
The Deputy must have been too busy elsewhere.
That is not going to happen on this occasion. The hard decisions have now been taken. If we were to fall on this budget and Fine Gael and Labour found themselves in government after Christmas, they would be forced to make the exact same decisions.
Is the Deputy calling an election?
There is no other way out of it. We must be straight and fair about it and let us be honest with the Irish people. This budget is a good budget; this social welfare Bill is a good Bill, even though it is a difficult Bill and I stand behind it four square.
It is good for the rich.
I wish to share time with Deputies P.J. Sheahan, Ulick Burke and James Bannon.
It is very interesting to sit here in the House and listen to some of the rhetoric of the past few hours. What has brought us to this situation? It has been a combination of the builders, the developers and the bankers. They are the ones who have brought us to absolute catastrophe, not those on social welfare or those on the minimum wage in the public service. It is an extremely difficult social welfare Bill to speak on because it contains very savage choices. All parties accept there is a problem which has to be dealt with. The cutbacks in Government spending had to be implemented. However, we were promised by the Taoiseach and by others that the budget would be fair and that everybody would share but it is not fair. It is similar to the Fair Deal scheme for the elderly that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, promised us. She said that the scheme would look after the elderly for the rest of their lives but we soon found out that was different and it has not even been delivered yet.
The first people to suffer in this Bill will be the blind, those on invalidity pensions, those on disability pensions and the widows and widowers. Another speaker is said to have stated that widows did not have a problem with the budget but they were not the widows who were ringing me. Can anyone suggest that these groups of people are in any position to deal with their income problems compared with those on full contributory pensions or above all, the bankers? Can anyone suggest that it is the fault of a widow, a blind person or a disabled person to be on social welfare? We have gone to a very low level of so-called fairness when these are the people who have to pay for the billions put into Anglo Irish Bank and which will be spent on further bank bailouts and on NAMA. I wonder where NAMA is today.
In the short time available to me I want to deal with issues close to my heart such as the problems of the self-employed and farmers. The Minister gave me a commitment in this House a few weeks ago and last spring, that self-employed and farmers would be judged on this year's income rather than on historic income but this is not the case. Different social welfare inspectors have made it clear to me and to customers that they cannot deal with the current position. Only yesterday I received a call from a dairy farmer in County Cavan regarding his unpaid REPS. He told me he has financial difficulties. I asked him why he did not go to Farm Assist. He replied that he had tried but was told to come back at the beginning of next year when they would take into account the 2009 figures instead of the 2008 figures. That is the reality. I can name several other cases which I brought to the attention of the Minister. Another young farmer is supposed to have earned €32,000 on the mythical cattle he never owned but his income was only €14,000 and he has been told he does not qualify for anything.
This is an extremely serious situation. Farmers' incomes have dropped by 30% this year on top of a decrease of 11% last year. They cannot live on fresh air or on promises. The IFA and The Irish Farmers’ Journal are publicising the availability of this scheme to farmers and that money is available through this scheme. Right across my constituency, whatever about anywhere else, although the IFA have told me the situation is similar elsewhere, it is not happening. While this may not be relevant to the budget it is relevant to people who need social welfare. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, as somebody who is familiar with life in the west of Ireland, to speak to the Minister. People are desperate.
This Government has put 250,000 people on the unemployment register. Many more have been put out of work but are not receiving a welfare payment and we do not know how many of our young people have been driven abroad. This Bill is a damning indictment of a disastrous Government that has failed its people. The Government does not give a damn for anyone or anything other than surviving and looking after its speculator friends in the banks and building industry. It has always claimed it would have to make the national cake bigger before sharing it but in spite of adding so much self-raising flour it fell flatter than a pancake.
There is a silent army of workers on duty 24 hours per day, seven days per week and 52 weeks a year who cannot protest or threaten to strike. It is because of the perceived silence of these workers — the Garda Síochána which upholds law and order — that the Government has reduced their weekly payment.
If any recipients of social welfare are worth their weight in gold, it is carers, each and everyone of whom saves the State at least €1,000 per week or five times the carer's allowance by caring for relatives at home. The Government, like a pickpocket, took money out of their pockets and handbags.
My colleague, Deputy Leo Varadkar, has discovered that the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government is responsible for a dog licensing scheme that costs twice as much to administer as it raises in revenue. It costs €5.7 million to administer and raises only €2.6 million in revenue, proof that the Government's thinking has gone to the dogs.
A Government that cuts the welfare payment of the mentally handicapped and physically disabled can only be described as mean. The Fianna Fáil Party has no compassion and does not care for the weakest and most vulnerable members of society. The reduction in the number of special needs teachers shows where the Government's priorities lie and it is not with the weakest and most needy in society. The cut in the children's allowance also shows that the weakest have been targeted by this arrogant and smug Government. In allowing tax relief on wheelie bins while cutting payments to those who must buy prams, the Government has demonstrated that its priorities are in the gutter.
The Taoiseach forecast a soft landing. If this is the soft landing he predicted, it reminds me of the executive jet which landed in the darkness of night on Mallow racecourse where its passengers discovered in the mud that there was no runway to take off again. Sitting in their safe cocoon, members of the Cabinet have opted to take a smaller pay cut than anyone else and are wandering around shell shocked, asking who will build the runway for them to take another flight of fancy.
The message from this Bill is that Government Members are cowards. He who shouts loudest and longest will survive while others will be targeted. I do not see a provision to increase the fuel allowance next autumn when the carbon tax will be levied on central heating oil and natural gas and, possibly, coal and turf. Must people burn logs or will the Minister introduce a amendment on Committee Stage to provide for such an increase?
Mortgage payments are not prescribed for inclusion in calculating means for jobseeker's allowance, whereas they are included in calculating means for a medical card. I ask the Minister to have this issue examined to ascertain if a formula can be found to allow persons who do not receive the maximum payment of €196 to deduct at least the interest part of their mortgage in calculating means.
I cannot understand the reason the Minister is extending the scheme which robs young people of the maximum rate of jobseeker's allowance. Do those aged 24 years have fewer costs than those aged 25 years? Is their rent, food or transport cheaper? It appears the Minister is switching off the light at the end of the tunnel and sending these young people across the Great Barrier Reef to Van Diemen's Land to find work and earn a living.
The Government may rush the division to have it done with before Ministers and the Deputies behind them face their constituents at the weekend. Some day, probably sooner rather than later, they will have to ask their constituents for their vote and when they do so people will not vote the same way as the Ministers and their backbench Deputies do tomorrow evening.
I thank Deputy Crawford for sharing time. For years, we have listened to rhetoric from Fianna Fáil-led Governments about protecting the poor and vulnerable and how they are at all times fair to those most in need. This ceased yesterday with the introduction of a budget that is anti-poor, anti-family and anti-children.
The Minister for Social and Family Affairs chose to take money from large numbers of the poorest people while ignoring waste in her Department. I will cite one example of the continuing waste in Departments. What is the cost of producing the propaganda sheet titled "Budget Factsheet"? The document makes no reference to the cuts in social welfare and states that older people are protected from the cuts. Has the Minister forgotten the old age pensioners who were at the gates of Leinster House this time last year? More recently, the Government abolished the Christmas bonus. These matters have been forgotten. If ever we had an example of waste — this Government is supposed to be conscious of the financial state in which we find ourselves — this document is it. The Minister must think again.
Who would have thought the Government would cut €8.20 per week from the widow's pension and reduce the pension for blind people by €8.30 per week? Has the Minister forgotten the national disability strategy, as set out in the Towards 2016 document? The agreed programme for Government featured a commitment to reverse the exclusion of people with disabilities and ensure their full and equal participation in all aspects of life. Once more, this is a forgotten dream.
The Government will not pay the Christmas bonus to pensioners but pretends it has been lenient and understanding of their circumstances in the budget. Those who are dependent on social welfare will have to take a greater hit than Ministers whose pay has been reduced by only 5%, notwithstanding the valiant efforts in yesterday's Budget Statement to confuse people by claiming the cut is 15%.
Speaking on radio this morning, the Minister for Finance stated that cutting the entitlements of the elderly and disabled was the right thing to do to bring about financial rectitude. A few moments ago Deputy Fahey took a similar line. The Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, stated he did not give a damn whether he is re-elected. He does not want to face the electorate. That is the attitude that prevails in this Fianna Fáil-led Government.
The Government has shown callous disregard for people in need. The reduction of €16 per week in child benefit was a means of slashing the living conditions of the poor to pay for the economic mess the Government created.
The Deputy has less than five minutes left in his slot.
I will finish on this point. Why must the carers carry the can for the Government's ineptitude with a cut of €8.20? The list goes on. However, the people are aware that this Government which stated it had turned the corner has simply turned its back on the poorest in this society and they will not forget it.
This Bill is another example of the Government's rushed legislation presented to the House with the principle of striking while the iron is hot. Legislation to copper fasten the cutbacks in welfare such as that contained in budget 2010 should never have to be debated in a 21st century parliament.
The inequality that results from the Government's heartless cutbacks recalls the era of indoor and outdoor relief and the Poor Laws, which still haunts rural communities today. The UK Beveridge Report of 1942 was a revolutionary step forward in British social policy. It revived the social security system completely such that the British became leaders in Europe and the world in this area with cradle to grave welfare provision. This was to impact on Ireland especially in respect of children's allowance, introduced in 1944, one year ahead of Britain. In other words, in respect of the provision of child welfare we were the leaders of Europe. Where are we some 65 years later? We are at the mercy of a Government that regards child welfare as less important than the sale of alcohol.
Does budget 2010 indicate that the Minister for Finance believes the old chestnut that the children's allowance is only spent on drink and is, therefore, of dubious wisdom? Has the Government decided if money is deducted from social welfare but tax removed from alcohol then the books are balanced? If this is the case it shows how far removed from reality are the Minister for Finance and the other members of the Government, including those from the Green Party.
The Government drove people out of work onto the dole and then it cut dole payments. It has cut widow's pensions, the children's allowance and, above all, the carer's allowance. Shame on the Government.
The most vulnerable sections of society.
This budget does not cut Minister's expenses nor does it impact on the wealthy.
Last night, I met a man in this House who earns €400,000 per annum, but this budget will not see him lose one cent. Shame on the Government again for that.
The budget is not in spite of Government policy but because of it. A strong stench of failure and hopelessness is hanging over the Government side of the House. Sadly, that stench has escaped from this House and made its way into the public arena. People who have worked hard and achieved a reasonable standard of living are being ground down by a failure that is directing and dictating their lives. However, it is not their failure, but the failure of this corrupt Government.
The Capuchin Day Centre for homeless people in Dublin has seen an increase from 350 people waiting for food parcels this time last year to a current figure of 1,100.
Those waiting include elderly inner city dwellers, non-nationals and well-dressed, middle class young men in their 20s and 30s, who are the new poor of Ireland. In my constituency of Longford-Westmeath, the midlands Simon Community has experienced a 25% increase in referrals for settlement services from local authorities and community leaders. Yesterday, the Minister provided no information in respect of how the Government will save the proposed €20 million from the reduction in rent supplement, leaving people stressed and fearful.
Concerted efforts should be made to get people back to work. The community employment scheme must be reinstated urgently to give people a realistic chance to return to employment. Youth is no safeguard against poverty. Our young people entered into their studies full of hope, but now leave the system with the prospect of no job and a mere €100 to live on. It is beyond a farce.
The Deputy's time has concluded.
In Longford-Westmeath there are 3,202 people under 25 years of age out of work, 2,124 in Westmeath and 1,078 in Longford. One in four young people is out of work throughout the country. This budget has left them only one option, namely, emigration. No Government in the history of the State has done more to foster a rich-poor divide in our society. We have never been saddled with a more incompetent, bungling Government than that which we have today. Its record is one of failure, betrayal and letdowns for the people.
The Deputy must conclude. His time is up.
During the good times, the Government failed to put money aside for the rainy day. That was its decision but it is now looking to middle and low income earners to make good its mistakes. As with all bullies, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance will not hit the big guys. The Government saves its aggression for the weak and elderly in society.
The Deputy must finish.
The famous Roman statesman and philosopher, Cicero, who lived from 106 BC to 43 BC had his finger on the pulse of good government and an apparent insight into the political position in Ireland in 2009. He said the budget should be balanced, the treasury should be refilled, the public debt should be reduced and the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled. That man knew what Fianna Fáil and the Green Party were about. They are about corruption.
I thank the Deputy. I have to call the next speaker.
They are about being in the Dáil with dodgy developers and builders. They have let this country down and shame on them. They electorate will give them its answer for budget 2010.
Well done, Deputy Bannon.
There was 17% unemployment when the Deputy's party was in power last.
Deputy Bannon has just crawled up the leaderboard and overtaken Deputy Ring as the hero in this Chamber of mock indignation.
He is defending the nation.
Deputy Ring does it very well. I cannot keep a straight face when I attempt to do it, so I try not to.
The Deputy was always a waffler, from day one. Last year, when the education cuts were announced he promised the people of his constituency that he would walk out of the Government if necessary. He is useless.
Deputy Gogarty should speak through the Chair. That way he will not over-excite anyone on the other side.
I will address that issue first. My party was accused of corruption.
The Deputy is a parliamentary hypocrite.
I deserve a right of reply before addressing the legislation.
The Deputy has 20 minutes.
That represents a rampant hypocrisy from a member of a party, the leader of which gladly took donations from National Toll Roads, Treasury Holdings and other retail outlets in 2006. It was glad to dip the dirty hand into the trough, like Fianna Fáil, I should acknowledge.
I hope this is of relevance to the debate.
The Deputy should not tell untruths in this House.
The Deputy need not worry; I will trace the origins of it. It smacks of hypocrisy or, let us be fair, stupidity for a Deputy from the Opposition side of the House and Fine Gael to accuse the Green Party, a party which has never taken a cent from any developer, speculator or banker, of corruption. I am on the record as having said that I disagreed with the Fianna Fáil policies of 1997 to 2007 which overheated the bubble and wasted some stamp duty revenue. However, as I have stated on previous occasions, in councils throughout the country Deputies of effectively every party in this Chamber, although to a large degree it was restricted to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael as very few Labour Party and Sinn Féin members were involved, have gladly taken legitimate political donations from developers and rezoned land that does not require to be built on for the next 60 or 70 years.
I am sorry for interrupting. Deputy Ferris may wish to speak for Sinn Féin.
Does the Deputy wish to make a point of order?
I call on the Deputy to withdraw that remark. No Labour Party member ever took a donation to rezone land. Whatever planet Deputy Gogarty lives on, it is a place with which we are becoming more familiar.
He is on cloud nine.
I am unsure whether it is drug-induced or whether he is naturally that way. He had better withdraw that remark.
I agree. Deputy Gogarty is on cloud nine.
My party leader, Deputy Gormley, has put on the record the Labour Party's record on rezonings.
I do not care what Deputy Gogarty's party leader said. I am telling him to withdraw his remark, and withdraw it now.
Is Deputy Lynch saying her party has never taken money from banks?
What is Deputy Gogarty saying?
Deputy Lynch should resume her seat please.
Her party has taken money from trade unions.
Deputy Gogarty should withdraw his remark now.
I cannot have three Members of the House standing at one time. Deputy Lynch should resume her seat, please.
Withdraw the remark.
It is a diversion and a deflection and it is taking away from Deputy Bannon so I will not waste time rebutting it right now. Our time will come, Deputy Lynch.
I am serious. Deputy Gogarty needs to withdraw that remark.
As for drugs, the only drug I have ever taken is fresh air. I have never taken a drug in my life, so do not start coming out with your guff, Deputy Lynch.
The Deputy should stay off it then.
I wish to clarify what has been said.
No member of our party has taken any money from developers.
I am glad Deputy Ferris has clarified that.
Both Deputy Ferris and Deputy Lynch have had an opportunity to speak. I ask them both to resume their seats. Deputy Gogarty should continue.
Deputy Gogarty is supporting a Government that is taking money off the blind.
Deputy Gogarty should be allowed to speak.
These exceptions that prove the rule——
I ask all Deputies to please resume their seats.
The point I am making is that over the past God knows how many years people like you have rezoned land, left, right and centre.
Deputy Gogarty .
Deputy Gogarty should be allowed to speak without interruption, please.
Money has been taken off the carers and the blind by the Government.
Deputy Gogarty should resume speaking through the Chair and stop encouraging other people to interrupt.
Deputy Gogarty should be allowed to speak without interruption.
What about Deputy Gogarty's language?
I will focus on the hypocrisy of——
I did not hear the language because of all the interruptions on the right hand side of the Chamber. Deputy Gogarty should be allowed to speak without interruption.
I will talk about hypocrisy.
Deputy Gogarty should speak about the Bill before the House.
Yes. In this budget, cuts are being made——
The Government is taking money off the blind.
And the carers.
Cuts are being made everywhere. I have outlined the reason for that. It is because of Government mismanagement and dodgy rezoning decisions. We have to face the reality that——
Deputy Gogarty should talk about the Bill.
Deputy Kehoe should allow Deputy Gogarty to speak without interruption.
——we have had to bail out the banks.
Talk about the Bill.
We have borrowed €25.2——
What about taking the money off the blind and the carers?
We have borrowed €25.2 billion to pay interest this year. A total of 9.8% of our income is going to pay interest on the national debt.
The Government is taking more money off the blind.
That is €3.2 billion. As our party leader, Deputy Gormley said today, if we take no action by 2013 it will cost €11 billion to service the interest on the national debt.
If he does not stop counting the frogs it will be €28 billion.
That will be 25% to 30% of our taxes. We know we are screwed. We know we are in a precarious financial position.
You were screwed already.
You have the nation ruined.
I have outlined——
I have just been informed that Deputy Gogarty might wish to share his time with the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary.
The Minister of State indicated he did not wish to share.
Each Member can have ten minutes.
I will give Deputy Gogarty a dig-out if he wishes.
I will continue, as I have been heckled to be damned. I must say, I love it. I love getting a rollicking from Deputy Bannon.
I do not particularly love it.
In the interests of putting a clear speech on the Dáil record I will try not to invite more heckling.
Come back tomorrow.
We are considering the social welfare cuts. The cut in social welfare is small in the grand scheme because the amount of increases in social welfare in the past 12 years more than compensates for the small cut that has to be made this year.
For God's sake, what is the Deputy talking about? The past 12 years are gone; they are history.
I do not like the fact that social welfare has had to be cut.
I do not like the unfair cuts on the public sector.
Then do not vote for them.
However, they are unfair——
Deputy Gogarty has a choice.
——because of bankers and speculators——
You have a choice.
The Deputies will have an opportunity to speak without interruption.
——and other people wrecking our economy. However, the fact that the economy is wrecked means it needs to be remedied and there is no way out of remedying it.
Is Deputy Gogarty saying it needs to be wrecked again?
There is no way out of remedying it. The Labour Party has probably missed a digit in its calculations in trying to get €5.1 billion from its proposals.
Deputy Gogarty is missing a digital in his head.
Deputy Gogarty should please be allowed to speak without interruption. Deputy Gogarty should please not invite interruption.
He is inviting interruptions himself.
I will not even comment on that, mean-spirited as it is.
It is because he cannot.
He does not have the honesty to vote according to his convictions tomorrow morning.
The public sector cuts are fundamentally unfair but absolutely necessary. That is the problem. It has to be done. Taking back something one has given to vulnerable people is fundamentally wrong.
So, if one does not take from the sector that makes up a third of expenditure then one will have to inflict more pain on the public sector and those on middle incomes.
On a point of order.
People are paying a fair whack of money. Unfair as it may be——
A point of order.
I am not taking a point of order at this stage.
Deputy Durkan is entitled to make a point of order.
Does that mean that if Santa Claus came for each of the past ten years——
I am sorry but that is not a point of order.
——and he gave a present, on this occasion he would be pardoned if he is allowed to take everything in the house and leave? Is that the true story?
Deputy Durkan should please resume his seat. That is not a point of order.
The Green Party is taking the Queen's shilling.
Deputy Gogarty should please continue.
Yes Deputy, there is a Santa Claus.
No one likes a bad Santa coming and taking stuff back. That is the reality. Do I like it? Absolutely not, but I am going to vote for it——
Of course you are.
——because it is fundamentally the right thing to do. Two months ago——
Masochism is no excuse either.
You may throw yourself on the ground and roll around.
Two months ago on 9 October I got a telephone call from my parliamentary colleagues asking me why I was not at the parliamentary party meeting. We had not made a few decisions at the time on education. We had not got exactly what we were seeking.
You still do not have that.
I said I would go in when there was something to be agreed. I was asked what I was doing and I said I was shaving as I was getting my election photograph taken. On an issue of conscience I would have been prepared to urge the Green Party to go to the country.
You should go shave. Continue with the shaving.
However, we did secure reversals in the cuts to education, which is overwhelmingly protected compared to other areas.
So the Green Party has a say in Government.
That is where the money is going, to protect the children.
Imagine what would have happened if the razor had slipped.
On that basis we are prepared to make tough, nasty, unpopular cuts. I fundamentally believe there is no other option.
Deputies should bear in mind that they are in the national Parliament. Can we have order please?
That is what I was worried about. I was not too sure about that.
The budget is relatively conservative and did not go far enough. The Green Party was pushing for more reform of the taxation sector. We understand that it will be forthcoming next year. I thought more reform should have come this year. We had some reform in April when the higher earners were taxed——
You have no clout.
It is now the case that the top 4% of earners pay 48% of all tax. In this budget it is very welcome that Irish nationals who are not in the country will have to pay €200,000. It is a step in the right direction.
That will be a big help in reaching €58 billion.
Taxation could have been reformed more but it was not. I am led to believe that next year's budget will focus on tax reform. As regards the carbon tax and its impact on the social welfare budget, the carbon tax is matched by a fuel allowance for those on lower incomes.
I never thought I would see the Green Party introducing a scrappage scheme.
We have to take into account the impact of carbon emissions, not just on our planet but also in terms of the fines this country will face.
You want to keep an eye on the planet. That is big.
This was a progressive start. Fine Gael did not think so. Its party members said they believed in carbon taxes but they did not tell the truth. Their party leader said that he never rang the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, asking him to talk to Deputy Ó Caoláin. That was not the truth either.
I am glad they did not.
We could have had an alternative coalition.
Imagine the mess we would be in now.
When I listen to accusations of corruption and hypocrisy being thrown at me I think about the budget in the early 1980s when John Bruton put VAT on children's shoes.
You are taking money from the blind and the disabled.
The members of Fine Gael believed fundamentally that had to be done. The Deputies are throwing references to the blind and carers at me.
And the widows, the most vulnerable group.
All that Deputy Gogarty can throw back at us is tax on children's shoes.
Will Deputies please stop enticing each other? Deputy Gogarty.
I do not remember in recent years when social welfare was going up that Deputies were singling out the blind or any other grouping to get more than someone else. The cost of living has fallen by 6% and it will continue to fall.
It is not. It has stopped.
In relative terms those on social welfare are doing better than they did five years ago. That does not mean I am happy that money has been taken off them. I am not happy, but where does one make up a third of the budget?
Another point of order. Have your fun. Christmas is coming.
Given the high quality of the speech being made, the least the Government should do is provide a quorum.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,
We have a quorum so Deputy Gogarty can resume his speech. I ask him to stick to the Bill in hand.
I will do my best. How many minutes remain?
Despite the talk about the vulnerable being hit disproportionately by this social welfare reduction, the reality is that the additional child support measures compensate for the cut in children's allowance. Those who can afford to take the hit on children's allowance will take it and those who cannot afford to will be compensated. This is not hitting the vulnerable. When the reduction in children's allowance is averaged out, it is €16 per month, less than €4 per week, although I believe Deputy Burke said it was €16 per week. It is regrettable that this had to be done but, as I said when I was being heckled, the overall social welfare budget accounts for more than one third of our outgoings so if one does not hit it, where does one hit? Although social welfare accounts for one third——
Hit the helpless.
What about prescription charges?
Although social welfare accounts for one third of overall expenditure, it is not even one eighth of the overall cuts.
Is the Deputy going home at the weekend?
The people for whom I feel most sorry are those who are working on low and medium incomes. They will bear the brunt of this. Social welfare had to be cut proportionately or else it would be more beneficial not to work. We have a national minium wage. If one introduced the public sector pay cut, which was absolutely necessary, and one did not do anything about social welfare——
Is Deputy Gogarty going to his holiday home this weekend?
It must be balanced.
I did not know Deputy Gogarty was a right winger.
The Deputy is calling me a right winger. The only time I played on the right wing was during my GAA days.
I ask Deputy Gogarty to address his remarks through the Chair.
Would everyone else who had silence while speaking allow Deputy Gogarty to speak?
Hypocrisy has that impact on me; I just veer towards it.
The Deputy has just been advocating classic Tory policy.
Deputy Gogarty has the floor.
Margaret Thatcher would be proud.
I ask Deputy Gogarty to resume his contribution.
I will resume my contribution. I have never been called a Thatcherite before and it is refreshing.
The proposals in the budget very much protect education. I am sure some of the Deputies opposite would have been ranting and raving if it had not been.
The Deputy would have been too.
I have been criticised for ensuring that protection because it has meant that other areas have been hit harder. However, we had to make a choice between protecting our children to ensure our future economic prosperity and social cohesion or cutting our education budget. I make no bones about protecting education over other areas. Other areas have suffered a little bit more because of it.
The Government cut the capital budget for new schools.
The price of tenders has gone down; it is proportionate.
I ask Deputies to listen to Deputy Gogarty's contribution.
If Deputy Bannon looked at the overall figures for cuts in each Department, he will find education is way up there.
What about special needs assistants?
If the Deputy read about the review of SNAs and how they are allocated, he would understand why a review is being carried out. However, I will not go into that debate now. We are talking about the social welfare budget.
That is an excuse.
As I said, this is regrettable but necessary. Everyone on this side of the House will stand by this because it must be done.
That is what they said during the French Revolution, that it was regrettable but necessary.
Does any Member opposite believe for one second that Members on this side of the House would not take a populist decision, say that they cannot do this because it hurts the vulnerable and that they will vote against it? The temptation is to save one's seat. However, I fundamentally believe the right thing to do is to lose popularity and try to get our economy on a sound footing.
Why does the Deputy not attend his parliamentary party meetings?
If we do not take in more tax revenue and do not create more jobs, there will not be money for social welfare. There will not be money for services. That balance must be struck.
With due respect to the Labour Party, it sees things from a slightly different perspective and I respect that view. I hope people will also respect the fact that certain decisions have been made not to bail out bankers and developers but to try to make the cutbacks in as sensitive a way as possible and to share the pain.
Would the Deputies on the Fine Gael benches allow Deputy Gogarty to continue? If Deputy Gogarty addressed his remarks through the Chair, he would not invite constant interruption.
I reluctantly, but wholeheartedly, support the proposals. I heard the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, on the radio and I have read the document to see who is being hit the most and what protections are in place and I am satisfied that while no one will like it, it will not lead to an increase in the poverty rate.
Similarly, the public sector pay cuts will hurt many people but the mortgage protection measures the Government is putting in place will ensure people will not lose their homes.
If the Deputy believes that, he will believe anything.
I hope that as the economy turns around — it will be a greener economy because carbon tax is being introduced for the first time and local government reforms will be made over the coming years — we will be better able to compete. We are four times greater carbon emitters than the Chinese. We get three times as much social welfare as people in Northern Ireland. If one leaves out VRT and the sterling exchange rate, they have a much lower cost of living. We could emulate people in Northern Ireland.
We have lived beyond our means. Everyone loved the Celtic tiger years. Money was wasted and it was splashed out and people gladly took it. We can no longer afford that luxury.
The Green Party Minister squandered €125,000 counting frogs.
As a member of a party that was not responsible for the mess — I acknowledge people made mistakes but that some good things happened during Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Administrations — I want to share in the responsibility for cleaning it up. Therefore, I reluctantly commend the social welfare measures to the House.
I would like to share my time with Deputy Ó Snodaigh.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I wish to continue on from Deputy Gogarty's last remark. He said that we were all overspending and we all had to cut our cloth to suit our measure.
I meant as a nation.
It reminds me of the old phrase "What do you mean ‘we' pale-face?".
It is cowboys and Indians at this stage. I cannot remember who Tonto used to be with.
The Lone Ranger.
It is country and western.
I always think the Green Party is more reminiscent of Steve Silvermint — its members are cool, clean heroes.
Pale-face speaks with forked tongue.
That sounds like the Minister's line.
We are being persecuted.
The notion that somehow we all overspent in the good times and we all benefited from the Celtic tiger in full roar is a myth that must be exploded. I know women who did not go out to work and whose husbands are postmen, for example. They did not benefit from the Celtic tiger.
That is why it is unfair.
They did not go on three holidays a year or away to Prague every second weekend.
They reared kids and tried to put them through college. They were doing what they had to with very meagre incomes. The downturn will not affect them that much but their lifestyle has not altered unrecognisably either during the Celtic tiger or after it. The notion that we all in some way contributed to this culture of greed that exists is wrong.
Not all of us bought into it.
What about overspending leading to credit card debt?
There are people who lived very meagre lives on meagre incomes and who now find themselves unemployed. The same people sent money into the Exchequer at a time when the Government could not get its figures right at any time of the year and underestimated the total every year. These people are now hit by the downturn. Deputy Gogarty has indicated it is only a small cut in the social welfare rate but I will tell him and anybody else who cares to listen that the small cut is €8 a week. If a person's income is very low, one would realise it is half the price of a bag of coal. The price of a bag of coal has gone up because of the carbon tax.
There is a fuel allowance.
The price will be higher again, so that half a bag of coal might be the difference between a person being warm from Thursday to Friday or even Saturday if that person is very careful. Some — although not many — people in this House have lived off social welfare or had very low wages at one time. Only people who have lived in such circumstances should make the type of cuts we are now looking at.
It costs more to live for a person with a disability because he or she cannot cut the grass or clean windows and needs additional heat and clothing. A person with a disability cannot get a car or a taxi because we do not have the appropriate regulations to ensure they are out there, despite giving tax breaks to that end.
They are proportionate cuts. In relative terms——
Living costs are greater for a person with a disability and such people have had their allowances cut.
Nobody should preach to me about the small cuts in social welfare because the small cut to social welfare is the equivalent of the 5% cut that this Minister and the rest of us are taking. Attempts were made to imply that Ministers were taking a 15% cut when they were not. It is mean to cut social welfare when the big boys are still getting away with it. We created enormous wealth in this country and the people who created it are now on the dole and having their allowances cut. The people who benefited from the wealth are not being taxed and are being allowed to get away with it.
I do not want to get into a slanging match with Deputy Gogarty but the green of the Green Party and the green of Fianna Fáil have bled into one another. They are all the one.
There are 40 shades of green.
I expected more from the Green Party.
The Deputy's comments are shocking.
I expect more from you.
What about the hypocrisy of the Labour councillors?
The Deputy should make her comments through the Chair so as not to invite interruptions.
I will discuss the outrageous way that the public workers and Civil Service in this country have been vilified. I dug out an article written in November 2008 around the time the attack on the public service started.
It began with an argument that we did not get value for benchmarking. All of a sudden people said public service workers were overpaid, underworked and useless. We will live to regret the type of division created in this country. A friend was out doing some shopping last weekend and had a few messages in her hand coming out of a supermarket. Her neighbour attacked her for being a civil servant.
It is dangerous.
We will regret that type of behaviour.
Some things must be put on record. Very few people know exactly how many people work for us in this country as our servants. The gross is approximately 369,000, of whom 91,000 are pensioners, so the net is approximately 280,000. Some 38,000 form the Garda, the Prison Service and the Defence Forces. Some 100,000 work in education, although I am sure that number is smaller now with the cuts in special needs assistants and classroom assistants.
It will be bigger.
Some 143,000 work in the HSE, 6,000 in the Revenue Commissioners and there are 1,000 in the Courts Service. Which one of these should be fired? Should we have fewer gardaí, nurses, doctors, teachers or classroom assistants? We should not.
That is why we must cut pay instead.
As for there being no cuts to education——
We are protecting education.
I would ask the teachers if they consider that there has been a cut to education. We have been cutting education for the past 18 months. There have been cuts to class sizes and special needs assistants for children who need help. Those children will now be at the back of the classroom but we will have to support them into the future. With the disability allowance being cut every year, they will not cost so much.
The Deputy's figures are from cloud cuckoo land. She is getting them from the wicked witch.
The Deputy got 20 minutes and would not take it so he should be quiet.
About ten minutes of that was heckling.
The Deputy should be quiet.
I will heckle the Deputy.
The Deputy should be quiet.
The Deputy has just over a minute remaining.
People have been vilified in this country in order to create an atmosphere where wages can be driven down. That is what the agenda is about and we heard about it tonight.
That is not right. On a point of order——
Drive it down.
If it is a point of order I will take it.
They are the same people we expect to serve us on Monday morning with a smile on their faces.
I must take a point of order.
The Deputy is misinterpreting my remarks. I want to clarify the record.
That is not a point of order.
That is not a point of order so the Deputy should sit down. He is here long enough to know what is a point of order.
I never said anything about cuts to staff. I did not vilify public servants. Those people are brilliant.
They are the same people who we expect to serve us on Monday morning with a smile on their faces, whether it is in the accident and emergency department, on our buses, the gardaí if something happens to us or if people rescue us from our top window when a house floods. Those people will not have a smile on their face on Monday morning and they will be dead right. They have been at the receiving end of abuse and vilification in this country.
Labour's figures do not add up.
These are the same people we expect to help those with disabilities. They are suffering cuts as well. It is a shameful budget. There are tax exiles, tax fugitives and other tax dodgers, and in addition we have people in this country who made large sums of money but are not paying their taxes. There are people in banks that we now control and they are unfortunate enough to have to survive on €500,000 a year. My heart bleeds for them.
Their salaries would have been higher except for the Green Party.
The Deputy should be quiet. The Green Party is irrelevant.
Controlling the population is one thing, controlling the salaries of bank executives is quite another.
Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le Partái an Lucht Oibre as am a roinnt liom.
This is a despicable piece of legislation, ceann dena píosaí reachtaíochta is grána a chonacthas riamh. It attacks the incomes of the most vulnerable, those the Minister for Finance claims the Government is trying to protect. Widows, the disabled and carers are targeted for cuts, as are lone parents. Particularly savage cuts are targeted at young unemployed people. Ba mhaith liom a mheabhrú don Aire, gur Lá Cearta Daonna na Náisiún Aontaithe é inniu, UN Human Rights Day. Smaoinigh ar an masla atá san reachtaíocht seo do chearta daoine óga agus a lán eile chun maireachtáil.
Sinn Féin rejects in its entirety the thinking behind this Bill that the economic crisis can be addressed by in large part cutting the incomes of those who have the least rather than those who will remain comfortable at the very top. Token gestures of cuts to the salaries of Ministers and the Taoiseach are laughable when put into the context of how, on the flip side, cuts will impact people on €100 or €150 a week. Earlier, on Newstalk, the Minister referred to a €10 a week cut as minimal in the greater scheme of things. Such a cut can mean the difference between having food on the table day in, day out for many families. Such a reference highlights the disconnect and disparity between what is being experienced by those in Government and that being experienced by the normal worker or unemployed person in our country. It is arrogant, out of touch and nothing short of an insult to those struggling with the little they have to get by. In addition, the €8 reduction per week in most social welfare payments will make a huge difference to the household budgets of many people who are struggling to get by.
Deputy Cyprian Brady said earlier that only those who have had to survive on welfare can imagine what it is like. As somebody who survived for a number of years on social welfare, it is damn hard and I was young and single. I did not have a family and all that entails. The imaginations of Fianna Fáil Members cannot get to grips with exactly how hard it is to survive on social welfare. It is about time they learned. The only way to do so is to live on social welfare for six months, without the trappings of wealth and then they might begin to understand the hardship involved. It is not good enough for Deputy Brady to say, "I see it when I travel around my constituency". If he believes that, it is time to do something to end poverty. He should not vote for cuts in social welfare payments and a cut in the pay of lower paid public servants if he believes there is a way to address poverty and if he understands what it is to live in poverty, which he does not.
The budget and this Bill are brutal for the poor, the unemployed, the pensioners, the low paid workers in both private and public sectors, the disabled, carers and families or young couples struggling with massive mortgages. Real people are being hit and this is not about figures in an accounts book in the Department of Finance. A salary of more than €150,000 could be cut substantially. What many of us cannot abide is the injustice of making those most at risk of poverty bear the burden of the economic crisis and the sins of the speculators and their pals. People are also furious that, without any consideration of alternative proposals, the Government remained steadfast in protecting the wealthy, the banks and developers. Yesterday's budget was devoid of vision and this Bill reaffirms the absence of vision.
Cutting social welfare will further deflate the economy. Earlier, even the economist, Mr. Eddie Hobbs, declared on Newstalk that the Government's decision on cuts in social welfare would bear long-term catastrophic effects to the economy. With further deflation, more jobs will be lost and more people will be unemployed but the penny has still not dropped for the Government and it has not copped on. This is the wrong strategy at the wrong time.
Fr. Seán Healy, director of Social Justice Ireland, said that without social welfare payments, 43% of Ireland's population would be in poverty. The Minister's logic is warped. The contention that a decrease in social welfare payments will get people back to work is absolute and utter nonsense. Has she not noticed there are no jobs and every training scheme and education course is oversubscribed? PLC courses were five times oversubscribed. That reflects the scale of the problem. The Bill provides that if those seeking to better themselves in the hope of gaining a foothold on the employment ladder cannot access places or jobs, they are nothing better than welfare spongers. Shame on the Minister and the Government.
Rather than declaring war on poverty, the Minister is preparing to wage war on the poor. The people she has targeted gained little or nothing during the so-called Celtic tiger years. The Celtic tiger is now seen for the fraud it was. It was a Celtic scam for the developers and friends of Fianna Fáil. The Government should get off the backs of the people. It should represent them or resign. The cuts proposed will increase inequality in society, which continued to increase during the supposed Celtic tiger years.
Cuts to funding for educational disadvantage, drugs services, community support services, and family resource centres will all contribute to the hardship felt by the marginalised in society. The Minister is shaking her head.
There is no cut to the funding for family resource centres.
There will be cuts in the number of places available on community employment schemes and the jobs initiative and that will have an effect on those who avail of family resource centres. The Minister should listen to the people who deliver programmes in family resource centres. They are ideal locations for many people who avail of the services and other organisations' help as well. The Minister is wrong and I will prove that over the next two days.
It is not as if Fianna Fáil does not know what it is doing. I recall the party's election slogans in 1987 — health cuts hurt the old, the sick and the handicapped. Ignorance of consequences cannot, therefore, excuse the scale of cuts being proposed. Hopefully, the Minister will reap her just desserts for her despicable attack on the poorest in society.
The Minister for Finance referred to how we need to regain our optimism but, as the impact of this budget sinks in for many families today, parents and young people will plunge into despair. They will see no future, no choices and no way out. The blight of emigration looms once more over many communities, particularly in the west and working class areas of Dublin. Unemployment is rampant in my own constituency. More than 3,300 people aged under 25 are unemployed in Dublin South Central while overall in Dublin the number is 20,363. One in four of our young people is out of work nationally. Yesterday's announcement did nothing to give them hope.
The Minister had the gall earlier to state that after the cuts "welfare recipients are, therefore, still better off in real terms". I can understand the Green Party being in cloud cuckoo land, but for a former teacher and a Minister to say people are better off after cuts in payments, new charges for medicines and increases in electricity costs is lunacy.
I never said that.
You did say that. It is in the script.
It is in the script but I never said it.
I apologise. I will withdraw it. However, the Minister intended to say it——
No, I did not.
——but she ran out of time.
I did not say it. I changed the wording.
The cost of living has not dropped for those surviving on social welfare payments, it has increased despite the figures the Minister tried to present today. I repeat that the Minister should try to live on social welfare payments and she will find out exactly how difficult it is and how the cuts she is proposing will hit the weakest and most vulnerable in our society.
I wish to share time with Deputy Mary White.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and I congratulate the Minister on increasing the Department's budget. That she has a budget of more than €21.1 billion to spend in 2010 to support 2.1 million people was referred to earlier. I accept that more people are in need of social welfare as unemployment has increased. It has stabilised and I hope it will remain so for next year.
The Minister has spoken much about fraud and I am glad the Bill provides for new anti-fraud measures such as exchanging information with other countries on people in receipt of social welfare payments; increasing the powers of social welfare inspectors and customs officers; and obtaining more information from financial institutions about individuals suspected of involvement in welfare fraud. This is all very welcome.
There has not been much debate about one particular payment that I would like to discuss and that is farm assist. It has been raised at many IFA meetings I attended. We know farmers have had a very difficult year. I attended nine IFA meetings with my colleagues in east Galway over the past month and many of the contributors at the meetings spoke about extra farmers applying for farm assist. Perhaps the Minister will provide us with figures on this when she replies. A question of funding is raised for people making these applications.
On top of all the difficulties in farming, in my home county of Galway there was serious flooding which affected north, south, east and west Galway, particularly the town of Ballinasloe in south Galway where it is still a huge issue. Many people have spoken about a single authority to maintain and manage rivers and drainage districts. I call for a single authority to provide funding for people affected by flooding, whether householders or farmers. No matter where the money comes from we must have a co-ordinator, one person or body, to deal with that funding. The Department of Social and Family Affairs has been very involved in the humanitarian side of the funding. I wish it well and I hope it continues to do so. A figure of €70 million was mentioned in the budget for structural funds. A total of €10 million was mentioned earlier which I do not think is enough but I hope it will be increased. A figure of €2 million was mentioned with regard to fodder for livestock. Let us hope the Department of Social and Family Affairs will continue to provide assistance.
I was very glad to hear the Minister state that the 107 family resource centres will be protected. I recall a meeting held a month ago in Ballygar in County Galway to which all of the family resource centres in County Galway were invited and where we had an excellent debate on the work done by the resource centres. The work was explained, particularly that with the less well off and disadvantaged. It is very important that those resource centres are supported. I welcome the extra payments in the qualified child allowance and the increase in the thresholds for the family income supplement.
A total of €7 million has been allocated for the roll-out of the new public service card. This card will contain a photograph and signature which will help to combat fraud. The Government has an important role in giving priority to job creation and the Department of Social and Family Affairs can play a great role in this. The Minister spoke about a scheme whereby an employer takes on an extra employee with an exemption from paying PRSI for the first year of employment. That is very welcome.
I hope the €6.4 billion for labour intensive projects in 2010 will be successful and school buildings and maintenance, energy efficiency measures and investing in tourism and tourism infrastructure will be important in this regard. An extra €50 million will be provided for retrofitting programmes and will create up to 5,000 jobs in 2010.
I welcome the fact that the State pension was not decreased. The elderly have made a great contribution to society. They do not have the option of going back to work to supplement their incomes and having worked all their lives they should not have to rely on their children to live in dignity. That is very welcome. No change has been made in the threshold for medical card holders. Those aged over 66 years of age, amounting to 474,000 people, are fully protected in the budget and I welcome this. I also welcome the fact that as well as receiving the State pension, older people will continue to receive free travel, a free television licence, electricity and gas allowances and that other allowances such as the living alone allowance, the over 80 age allowance and fuel allowances will not change.
There are very good proposals in the Bill and in the budget for 2010. It is difficult when payments are not being increased. All Governments in the past stated that they would make announcements. One change is that the cost of living has decreased. We see this in tenders for school buildings, to which reference was made earlier. The Minister for Education and Science told us of the reduced tender prices he obtained for schools. One's euro goes a little further and that is welcome. As I stated, initially the Department of Social and Family Affairs received more money for all of its schemes at a very difficult time. Now, we must try to support the extra people who need help. The extra €660 million which the Minister managed to put into the social welfare budget is very welcome.
The concept of a one-stop shop has been mentioned on many occasions and it could be introduced in conjunction with the new card being introduced. Once one has a card with one's photograph and signature on it, which I hope will deal with fraud, one would also have an opportunity to consider work. A controversial aspect of the Bill is the question of young people losing funding. A central place where they could go and make their case for job opportunities would be very welcome.
I am not convinced that many opportunities exist in rural Ireland, particularly for FÁS courses, because FÁS schemes are filled in most places. There is a rural social scheme for those who draw farm assist and that is very welcome. Sometimes that has more opportunities because there is not the same time limits on the amount of years one spends on a scheme. It would be great for people to avail of opportunities and incentives to work through FÁS, where we need more places, or through the rural social scheme, which could cover a larger area. If courses are held in larger towns we will have a problem.
I commend the Bill. This is a start. The Minister has the extra money and I hope that in the years to come, particularly when we have more people back in employment, we will be able to use some of the extra funding to help those in long-term unemployment, whether people with disabilities, pensioners or people who do not return to work. We face a big challenge to find jobs for those unemployed and for those seeking employment.
I thank Deputy Michael Kitt for sharing time. This has been a particularly tough time for families. The past year has been especially bleak. The challenges faced by both families and the Government have been immense. There is a need to take control of the public finances and protect the families to which I refer in order to prevent future generations from inheriting the kind of debt with which Ireland was saddled in the 1980s.
It was saddled with such debt in the 1970s as well.
We must ensure that resources are spread adequately and in a thoughtful manner among those who most deserve assistance at this time.
I wish to refer in particular to two groups in our society, namely, the elderly and the young. I will begin with our senior citizens. I am glad the elderly are protected in the budget and that there will be no reduction in the basic rate of their old age pensions. Pensioners have devoted their lives to this country and many of them are well into their 70s and 80s and do not have the capability to generate revenue. I am delighted, therefore, that their pensions will be protected. The news that their pensions will not be reduced will give these people peace of mind. I am also glad that the supports which accompany people's pensions will also remain untouched.
What about people with disabilities? What about the reduction in their rates of pay?
The 11% increase in the fuel allowance will help many older people who cannot yet take advantage of the opportunity to retrofit their homes and make them more comfortable. This increase will help to offset that which will arise as a result of the introduction of the carbon tax. Deputy Shortall is aware that there will be an 11% increase in this allowance.
What about vouched expenses for Members of the Oireachtas?
A dedicated fuel poverty strategy will be initiated by the end of this year. That strategy was negotiated by the various Members, of whom the Minister, Deputy Hanafin was one, from the Green Party and Fianna Fáil who negotiated the programme for Government.
I am delighted that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, is increasing the funding available for housing adaptation grants. I welcome the increase from €65 million to €80 million in funding for this scheme, which is in high demand and which can assist many of the elderly and give them confidence to remain in their homes throughout their latter years.
Our children are also being protected. The accusation has been made that the cut in child benefit is an attack on children. We know parents will find the 10% reduction a financial burden but this budget's strong protection of investment in education is a sign of the Government's commitment to providing children with an opportunity to develop to their full potential. When difficult decisions relating to cutbacks in education were taken in the context of the previous budget, I recall the furore that arose. I am delighted that those with special needs, those with particularly good abilities and those in need of encouragement will be protected and that the pupil-teacher ratio will be maintained. The latter is a good development.
One of the many positive provisions relating to education in 2010 is the reinstatement of the collective grants. I am delighted that parents who are obliged to access back to school allowances, the grant for school books or whatever will be able to do so. Many low-income households that might have struggled to meet the cost of school books, uniforms or whatever, will be able to obtain grants and thereby offset some of the costs that arise at the beginning of the school year. I welcome the immediate allocation of an extra 200 teachers, additional psychologists — who will assist children with special needs — and the maintenance of current grant and capitation levels. I also welcome the fact that third level fees are not being reintroduced. Many families which have been affected by unemployment but which wanted their children to attend third level can now rest assured. The Green Party, in conjunction with its colleagues in the Government, is committed to investing in youth.
What about VTOS?
Those opposite have a funny way of showing that commitment.
I am pleased that certain social welfare rates are not being altered in the budget. The household benefits package and the free travel schemes are very important for those dependent on social welfare and I welcome their retention. I have always been someone who considers the glass half full. I am not a naysayer who considers it half empty.
The Deputy is trying to disassociate herself from the savage cuts.
She should have gone to Specsavers.
When times are tough, we must ensure that we adopt a positive attitude and identify those who require our help.
Will the Deputy get real?
The decision not to reduce the domiciliary care allowance——
If one can qualify for it.
——or the respite care grant is extremely positive in nature. The Minister is aware that I am extremely pleased by the fact that all 107 of the family resource centres will be retained. There are several such centres in my constituency, including the Forward Steps centre at Tullow, the Bagnelstown family resource centre, the Newpark centre in Kilkenny and the Fr. McGrath centre. Despite what Deputy Ó Snodaigh stated, these centres do the most fantastic work. They cater for the most vulnerable in society and provide breakfast and homework clubs and literacy support services.
Why is the Deputy not discussing the Bill? She should confine her remarks to the legislation.
The Minister listened to the views of everyone who spoke with her with regard to these centres. I congratulate the family resource centres on their well-run campaign which was free from insult and aggression. It was run to the highest standards and I am delighted the resource centres are to be retained.
Everyone is aware that the family income supplement provides a tremendous boost to those on low wages. It also acts as a buffer in the context of preventing them from falling into poverty. The increase in the thresholds relating to the family income supplement is welcome and will be of assistance to those on low incomes to whom child benefit is vital.
The new measures to tackle fraud are welcome. The introduction of a new public service card, one on which people's photographs will be printed, is a good development. This will hopefully ensure that the State will not lose as much money and that fraudulent activity relating to social welfare will be eradicated as quickly as possible. The Minister has set a target in respect of the amount of savings she hopes to achieve in this regard.
To help those who are unemployed and struggling, the Government is investing a very significant level of resources in the areas of training, job creation and job retention. I did some arithmetic before coming before the House and I worked out that the Government is providing almost 333,000 places — through the Departments of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Social and Family Affairs, Education and Science and Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs — on employment and training schemes. Such schemes provide people with a way out of the poverty trap. If they can access training and then obtain jobs, when the green shoots appear they will have upskilled and hopefully will be able to avail of the new opportunities that will arise.
More green shoots.
We should shoot the Greens.
Employment stimulus packages such as that being provided by means of the retrofit scheme to insulate 100,000 houses a year — which will be extremely good in the context of tackling fuel poverty and allowing people to live in comfort and which is particularly targeted at low income households — the investment in research programmes, the temporary employment subsidy scheme, the enterprise stabilisation fund and the new employers' job incentive scheme should all be seen as supports for the unemployed. We want to assist people in obtaining employment and the best way to do so is to provide protection against poverty and ensure that people are upskilled.
I wish to conclude by quoting George Bernard Shaw, who had great links to Carlow. A George Bernard Shaw summer school will be held in Carlow next year——
The Deputy quoting Shaw will be of major assistance to the unemployed.
Shaw will be turning in his grave.
——which will bring great cultural and artistic capital into the county. Perhaps Deputy Durkan would like to listen to the words of the great man himself.
I have read his work.
Deputy Durkan is a poet himself.
Shaw stated, "We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future". This is a tough budget but it is also a responsible one. It will secure all our futures.
It is a pity Shaw was not around in recent years.
Deputy White has not convinced Deputy Durkan of her arguments.
I wish to share time with Deputies Durkan——
The lord of north Kildare.
——Deenihan and Feighan.
That is agreed.
People are reeling as a result of yesterday's budget and no one more so than the thousands of people on social welfare whose payments are being cut at a time when they need them most. The pain, anger and distress caused by the Minister for Finance's announcement are immeasurable. The people feel betrayed by the Government, which has cemented the two-tier society that exists in this country. Never before has a budget been awaited with such dread or greeted with such anger.
The Minister for Finance stated that the Government's plan is working and that we have turned the corner. For many people, turning the corner has led them to a much darker place. The most vulnerable have been used as pawns by the Minister for Finance in his struggle to make up for the massive overspend made in the past. For widows, widowers, carers, the blind, the disabled, the unemployed and the young, this budget will make them pay.
This Government prides itself on looking after the poor. Yesterday, the Minister for Finance repeated his commitment to be fair and to protect the most vulnerable. Who is he talking about? If it is the blind, the disabled, carers or children then they are certainly not protected in this budget. The first hammer blow fell last April when the Minister for Finance announced that the Christmas bonus was being axed. Last week I talked to shoppers and stall owners in Meath Street. They all said the loss of the Christmas bonus would have a major effect on Christmas shopping. I invite the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to pay a visit to Meath Street to see for herself the impact the budget and the loss of the Christmas bonus will have on those who shop in Meath Street. They do not wear designer clothes and they do not shop on Thomas Street because they cannot afford it. Now, just two weeks from Christmas, the hammer struck again for people on social welfare already struggling to make ends meet without the Christmas bonus payment. In January they must cope with a further reduction in payments. This is supposed to be the season of goodwill but no goodwill is coming from the Government.
Yesterday's budget brought bad tidings for thousands of young people receiving jobseeker's benefit. The vast majority of young people do not want to be on the dole. They want to earn a living and live an independent life but, with very few jobs on the horizon, they are forced to join the dole queue. What does the Government do? It reduces the jobseeker's allowance for people under the age of 22 to €100 per week and for those aged between 22 and 24 years to €150 per week. How can we expect young people to survive, especially if they have moved out of home? With no jobs and little or no financial support from the State, the only option for many young people is to emigrate. As a parent, I face a major dilemma at the end of this month when my daughter will lose her job. I fear she may have to join hundreds, and possibly thousands, of people who must board planes and go to Australia, the UK and the USA. Many of these young people feel they have been betrayed and let down by the Government. They do not want to be a burden on their families or friends.
The average full-time carer earns just over €12,000 each year. When they are saving the State €40,000 per year, this is a small sum. I know very well the importance of our carers and the great work they do. I can vouch for this in respect of my family. My mam, who passed away this year, was cared for and loved 24/7 by my brother for the miserable sum of €221 a week. He was expected to pay for special food, clothing, bed sheets and high heating and gas bills out of this sum. These people do not want payment; they do this out of love. However, they deserve recognition and support because they provide a great service for their families and for the State, saving the Government thousands of euro each year.
I refer to child benefit, the disabled, the blind and widows. When I struggled, when my husband was unemployed, child benefit was very important at the end of the month. It paid not only for food and rent but many other things. I fear for the future of those who are disabled and blind, particularly widows. In today's world, where many are struggling, why pick on the most vulnerable in society? The Minister for Social and Family Affairs should be protecting these people, allowing them to have some joy and peace. I refer particularly to those with disabilities. Those with disabilities have many complications living their lives on a daily basis and should not have to decide where the next few shillings will go.
I received an e-mail today sent to Deputies and Senators from a woman called Maureen. She expresses her disgust and concern at yesterday's attack on the disability allowance. She says that the €8 per week her daughter will lose will have a serious impact on her attempt to live independently with all the extra costs associated with living with a disability. She adds that the mantra that we must all share the pain is not a credible defence to this assault on the most vulnerable. She says shame on all who voted for this budget provision to pass and that it will be remembered at the next general election.
This social welfare Bill is not fair; it is unjust. After all the years we aspired to a united Ireland, we now have a divided Ireland because of this Bill. We cannot blame Europe. All our lives we blamed the British. The blame for the divided island lies fairly and squarely with those who have been in Government for the past 12 years. The only difference between the Minister for Finance and the famous highwayman Dick Turpin was that Dick Turpin wore a mask.
He rode around on a horse.
The Government is taking the money off the vulnerable. The annual fraud target of €533 million is lower than the target of €616 million referred to in the context of this debate. I refer to last week's "Prime Time Investigates" programme. Who was minding the shop? It is estimated that fraud amounts to €2 billion, 10% of the social welfare budget. People in this society claim welfare and benefits all over the country. We all know this is going on. In this small country, where everyone knows their next-door neighbour, the estimate of €2 billion is shocking. I ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to put additional staff in place to stop this fraud. Decent, genuine people on social welfare will start asking themselves what will happen if they try it. Money is being squandered. If Ryanair can introduce a photo identification requirement, we must have some form of scheme to stop this wanton fraud.
It sends out the wrong signal and it is not on. If the shop was run correctly and €2 billion was not wasted on fraud, none of these cuts would have to be made. The shop has not been run well. Even though there are some great aspects to social welfare benefits, money was squandered and there were no checks and balances.
The 4.1% cut to the blind pension represents an attack on the most vulnerable. We all know that where community welfare officers were giving out rental allowance, rents were exorbitant. Local authorities are doing an excellent job. This measure was introduced in 2004, with responsibility allocated to local authorities. I cannot understand why 22,400 people have moved since the scheme was established. Competent people in local authorities are not dishing out money but are checking and putting people in the right areas. We must ensure that local authorities implement the rental accommodation scheme. Community welfare officers are too busy to carry out checks and balances. In my town, people were in receipt of €600-€700 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. In contrast, a three-bedroom apartment in Sligo or Dublin rented by people working as bankers or nurses cost almost half of that figure. That was wrong and the local authorities can do a much better job on this. The work should be given to them.
Bill Vaughan said it would be nice if the poor could receive half of the money spent on studying them. There are far too many quangos and vested interests. When the people come marching to Leinster House, the Garda should direct them away from Leinster House to Anglo Irish Bank on St Stephen's Green. These people were not elected but they ran Ireland. They had access to Ministers and the next protest march that comes up here should be sent to Anglo Irish Bank.
I felt compelled to speak on this Bill on behalf of the almost 100 people who e-mailed me, particularly those with a disability background. That may be because I am a longtime campaigner and fundraiser for several groups for people with disabilities in my county but it is more than that. There is massive revulsion amongst a certain sector of our community at the Minister's proposals.
We all received an e-mail from Fr. Seán Healy, of Social Justice Ireland, who was a great supporter of Fianna Fáil in recent times.
I do not think so.
He addressed the Fianna Fáil conference numerous times.
Yes in Inchydoney.
That does not make him a supporter of ours.
He was one of Fianna Fáil's great supporters and because of that and because he came out so strongly in favour of its social policy so many times his comments are important. He described this budget as anti-family, anti-poor and anti-children. He said that poor people will take a bigger hit than those who are better off, those living in poverty where one in seven of the total population, 18% of children, are being asked to endure greater deprivation. He says this is unjust and unfair and that the Government's arguments based on falling inflation, which numerous Government spokespersons mentioned this evening, are profoundly ill-informed. They fail to recognise the fact that costs for poor people have risen in key areas of their expenditure over the past year. That sums it up.
This morning the Taoiseach claimed that the budget protects the most vulnerable. This is not the case. Everyone here with any connection with his electorate knows that. As numerous commentators have said people with disabilities, and carers, will face cuts of up to 4% in their weekly payments, cuts of between €8.30 and €8.80 would have a very real impact on the 96,000 people in receipt of disability allowance and the country's 30,000 carers.
Cuts in the disability allowance will have a major impact on people with disabilities who already find it difficult to make ends meet on a daily basis. This sector already has much higher poverty levels than other population groups. People with disabilities have a higher cost of living particularly in respect of heating, housing and transport. The Rehab group has proved that people with a disability face an additional cost of living estimated at €40 per week. That, coupled with the drop in income, will put them under major pressure to survive. That figure was given in research on disability payments that we all know and that has been used several times. People on disability benefit have more medical expenses, need disability aids, home adaptations, transport and heating costs, than other sectors. The decision to cut their payment takes no account of the fact that people on disability benefit are two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than people with a disability. The decision takes no account of the cancellation of the Christmas bonus. Blind people should have been exempted from these cuts. The €500,000 that was available to train guidedogs for blind people has been scrapped. That is penal. That at least should be restored.
Two things threatening our society are fraud, which should be taken on, and the black economy. I forwarded a letter from a builder to the Minister on this subject. Legitimate builders are unable to compete with people who are drawing welfare and do not go through the books. The black economy is one of the reasons for the decrease in the tax take. These two issues must be taken on.
I am sure Fr. Healy will read all these statements. He said that a society is measured by how it treats its vulnerable people. Using this yardstick this budget has failed all of Ireland's people. I do not believe Fr. Healy will address the Fianna Fáil conference next year.
If Fianna Fáil is brave enough to go to Inchydoney again next year I am sure that Fr. Healy will be happy to address it but with a different admonition. It is with sadness that we address this House tonight in these circumstances. I bear no malice toward the people on the Government side. I have known them all since they came into this House. They are all decent people and I know that they mean well but God in Heaven I do not think they know what they are doing now. If they did they would never allow the things that are unfolding before them. They would never give their names and votes to what is falling on the heads of the people. We have listened for the last few minutes to people talk about social welfare fraud which was spread across our television screens two nights before the budget was announced. The presumption is that there is a lot of fraud.
I wonder how our economy got to this point. Was it by following due process and justice? Did it entail having due regard to rules and regulations? Was there fraud? Was this country sold down the river because of malfeasance and was any action taken against anybody? No. All of a sudden we have become politically correct and outlandish in our condemnation of what is seen as social welfare fraud. Maybe there is some. It is easy to take those people out and name them. Nobody will go to the European Court of Justice about them. They are just ordinary people. That is the sad aspect of this problem.
Within the Department of Social and Family Affairs there are already lots of swings and balances that are reported on weekly, monthly and quarterly. If they were suppressed it was not during the time of the rainbow coalition. They were active then. The then Opposition criticised it but the system was active. If there has been fraud the responsibility rests with the Government which allowed or encouraged it. The presumption that people from outside this jurisdiction have no right to obtain benefits here is wrong. The Government introduced that idea. Anybody who worked in this jurisdiction and paid contributions in recent years is entitled to gain benefits as a result, just as Irish people who have worked abroad for several years have done. People in this House should be careful about any attempt to change that.
The banking and property sectors have hijacked the economy. They have walked away with the economy. They raised the bar to such a height that nobody could reach it. They walked away and nobody says a word about it. Nobody says they were wrong.
The Deputy has one minute left.
It is impossible to say all the things that one has to say at this time about the carers and people with special needs and the domiciliary care applicants. Somebody said that allowance was not interfered with. God love that person. It is nearly impossible to qualify for it as we all know from dealing with such cases. What message have we given to the young unemployed? We tell them to go out and get a job. Where? What do we have to offer them? What are we handing over to them? What are we doing about them?
The 1980s did not cause the problem. In 1977 the people were bought in a general election and the country was sold down the river. In the 1980s we had to pick it up. The only thing that stood to the country then was that the division in society to which the Acting Chairman referred did not exist. We were all poor together, we were all sucked down together and carried the burden. Nobody blamed anybody else. Now, we have that problem. That division in society is dangerous and could well explode. I hope we can contain it for the benefit of everybody because, if we cannot, society will have failed and we will have failed society. I could go on but, sadly, despite the fact we are dealing with such a crucial Bill, we get only five minutes to speak.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. Like every other public representative, I find it is not easy to discuss the cuts that have had to be introduced due to financial necessity. In saying that, I commend and congratulate the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, for the way she has balanced this huge portfolio in a very fair way. When one considers there are 400,000 people on the live register, 1.1 million children in receipt of child benefit and 470,000 senior citizens on the State pension, to divvy that up in a fair way is not easy. The Minister has done a remarkable job.
The budget of €21.1 billion for 2010 compares to one of €20.4 billion in 2009. That is a huge budget at two thirds of our entire tax take for last year and probably the same for next year. It represents 35% of the entire spend of the Government. Therefore, it is not easy for any Minister to put forward a balanced portfolio of cuts. Equally, it is not easy for any Deputy or for those who will be in receipt of less money. However, we must recognise that the overall position of the public finances demands that we take action because, if we do not, we will be in the unfortunate situation where others may well do it for us.
Who put them in the position they are in?
The priority of this budget and of the Government is, first and foremost, to stabilise the public finances. Anyone who ignores that fact is not living in the real world. We are aware from discussions throughout the year with those such as the ECB and the IMF that they expect us to take the corrective action we are taking.
I commend the Minister for leaving the State pension for our senior citizens unchanged. I went on public record a number of times during the year to state that it is important that those who built up Ireland through their blood sweat and tears, and their taxes, which made this country what it is, are protected. As a society, we should recognise that they deserve special treatment for what they have done for the country. They have always recognised the benefit of the free television licences, free bus passes, the fuel allowance, the telephone allowance and the ESB and gas allowances. These are very important and I have no doubt from the discussions I have had with senior citizens over the years that those benefits are important to them. I am delighted the Minister has been able to retain them.
Similarly, I welcome the fact the half-rate carer's allowance scheme is staying in place, as is the half-rate illness benefit and the jobseeker's benefit payments for widows and lone parents. It is also welcome that the additional payments for lone parents and people with a disability who are on CE schemes are to be maintained in full. Many speakers referred to domiciliary care allowance which is paid to parents and guardians of severely disabled or ill children under 16 years of age. That payment is being retained and amounts to more than €1,700 in a year.
Many speakers referred also to family resource centres. They play a very important role. The counselling and mediation services they provide are fantastic. Maintaining those is very welcome and I am sure those 170-odd bodies through the country will welcome this. The people involved do great work. I commend the Minister in this regard.
The social welfare budget at €21.1 billion is two thirds of our entire tax take. Some on the other side of the House suggest there should be no cuts, although Fine Gael is a bit out of tune because its programme actually calls for 3% cuts. Despite this, I heard some of its speakers throughout the day deriding the Government.
We saved the carers and the disabled.
Does the Deputy want a copy of the programme?
The Deputies referred to child benefit. Deputy O'Mahony may not have heard some of the earlier Fine Gael speakers but they castigated the Minister for changing the benefit. Fine Gael recognises as much as we do that serious financial retraction is necessary. When I consider the difficult choices the Minister had in this portfolio, I believe she has acted in a very balanced way.
I would be surprised if the Deputy said anything else.
We all recognise that parents will not welcome the fact that they have €16 less in child benefit. However, Members should recognise that this benefit has increased over 300% in a ten-year period. When one considers that for the past year we have had deflation of 6.5% to 7%, the purchasing power of that payment has also increased. To suggest that it is not reasonable to make this cut is not reasonable. My Fine Gael colleagues should look into their own souls on that issue as well as to their record when last in Government.
For people on high incomes to receive child benefit is wrong. We have to get to a stage where it should be means tested or taxed. It is akin to a business person borrowing to pay himself or herself an increase in salary. No sensible business person would do that.
"Treat all of the children of the nation equally". Who said that? The man the Deputy spoke about only a week ago, Eamon de Valera.
It was the 1916 Proclamation.
When people have sufficient resources and their taxes are paying the €22 billion deficit of last year and next year, we will see how they feel about it.
We would not know they were in Government at all.
Has Deputy Durkan joined the Labour Party? I thought he was a bit out of place with Fine Gael.
Unless the Deputy and his colleagues join something very shortly, I am afraid the dole queue is staring them in the face.
Deputy Durkan was not in tune with his colleagues in Fine Gael.
Please, Deputy Durkan. Allow Deputy Kennedy to continue.
Our benefits are substantially higher than those in the UK — the mighty British empire, with all of its mighty finances and North Sea oil. Yet, our benefits are two or three times higher.
It is the Deputy's party that is in Government.
When one thinks in terms of where Ireland has come from and where it will go, the programme we have before us today is very balanced and reasonable.
With regard to jobseeker's benefit, I commend the Minister for making people under 24 go on educational and training courses. It is one issue I have heard many comments on from my constituents over the years. Quite a number of young people never seem to do anything to further their education, they are never interested on going a training course but will walk down to the dole office every week to collect their €200.
That is an appalling thing to say. There are no jobs for them and the Government took away half their incomes.
We must incentivise those people to upskill for their own good. Putting a financial disadvantage in their way is one manner in which we may achieve that.
If there are no courses for them to do, what can they do? There are not enough places for them on training courses.
That is a challenge that we must meet and another Department will deal with that.
It is quite a challenge.
The fact it may be an issue is not something we should ignore.
The Government ignored FÁS for long enough.
We should not leave people sitting at home doing nothing.
If the Government created employment for them, they would not be at home doing nothing.
If the Deputies talked to their own constituents, they would tell them that people should be made to do courses or not get the full benefit.
Where are the places for them?
There will be places for them.
I know what places the Deputy has in mind.
If the Deputy listens to other Government Ministers he will hear that.
One in three young men under 25 are out of work. I hope there are enough places for all of them.
A sad fact.
I am well aware of the figure, I am just making the point that as long as there is no incentive for young people to upskill themselves, we will have a situation where they will continue for their lifetime to draw the dole.
What about 23 year old engineers or architects? How are they to upskill?
We know that is not in their interests, those of their families or those of the country.
That is a sad situation.
Deputy Durkan has retaken his place on the Fine Gael benches so perhaps he might let me finish my contribution. He had his opportunity.
I would be inclined to take any place after hearing what Deputy Kennedy just said. It is a sad reflection on this Government and its backbenchers.
Deputy Durkan, please.
I apologise. He is upsetting me again.
Even I would not do that.
Perhaps Deputy Durkan should go back to the Labour Party benches.
If there was a bench Deputy Kennedy could go to, I would advise him to go to it fairly soon.
I welcome the reduction in the rent supplement budget from next April. Rents have fallen. There are, however, differentials within towns, particularly in Dublin and the other large cities. There are differences within estates and I would recommend that when the Minister introduces the reduction in rent supplement, she would allow discretion. Not every estate will have reduced rent, that is my experience in my constituency. People have come to my clinic telling me they cannot get a house or apartment for the rent the CWO would allocate. We must use discretion.
I welcome the new welfare fraud measures. This irritates many constituents, because they believe there is a lot of welfare fraud, even though when they are asked for names and evidence, it is not always forthcoming.
What about the fraud in the banks?
We must recognise that fraud is going on and we must get to grips with it. Last year there were more than 600,000 claims reviewed by inspectors. We must continue that programme.
Punish the people at the bottom of the line.
For fraud we might do what was done in the insurance business, where newspaper and television advertisements were taken out that referred to fraudsters putting their hands in people's pockets and stealing their money.
It is the Government that is putting its hand in the pockets of the unfortunate, the disabled and the sick, the unemployed.
Welfare fraud must be tackled, people expect it. Those who are genuinely in need of benefit should have those extra resources. I welcome the work done by the officers of the Department. The new photographic identity card will go a long way to eliminate fraud, as will the new provision whereby welfare officers can stop cars and question the occupants.
The Deputy wants to make us like a police state. That is what they used to do in eastern Europe once upon a time. The Berlin Wall was taken down because of that.
Is the Deputy suggesting we should not check?
Does the Deputy want the Berlin Wall to go up here?
He wants fraud stopped but not the means to detect it. That shows how ludicrous his comments are. Allowing welfare officers to check people is necessary.
Provided their constitutional rights are upheld.
I equally commend the Minister for Social and Family Affairs for the employer PRSI incentive. Allowing employers who take someone on who has been unemployed for six months to have a PRSI deduction is a welcome measure. It is good for the person who gets a job and good for business people in these hard times. It will help to sustain that person by upskilling him and getting him back into the workplace in these difficult times.
I recognise that making any deduction is not easy, even allowing for the fact we have had a 300% increase in the last eight years.
A 300% increase in what? There has been a 500% increase in the price of housing and accommodation.
What we are doing in this Bill, retaining full benefits for senior citizens, making a 10% reduction across the board in child benefit and reducing social welfare benefits, is reasonable. As resources come back to where we hope they will be in the next year, Fianna Fáil will be to the forefront in increasing welfare benefits as it is the party that has introduced all these increases, unlike when Fine Gael was in Government.
Fianna Fáil took it out of the hand of the child in the cradle. Government Deputies should be ashamed of themselves.
The Deputy should look at what his former leader, John Bruton, did for welfare beneficiaries when he was Minister for Finance.
He brought in 20% of an increase. If Deputy Kennedy knew his history he would know that. The Deputy knows nothing about recent history, never mind past history.
The Fine Gael record is very unsatisfactory.
Deputy Kennedy does not have a record here, he should be ashamed of what he just said.
Is a 300% increase not a good record?
When there was a 500% increase in the price of housing and accommodation?
At a time when inflation was only 40%? That is a good record.
There was €600,000 of a good luck gift for the bankers while the ordinary pleb was punished.
Perhaps Deputy Durkan's maths is not good but that is seven times more than the rate of inflation. If he goes back to his calculator, it will confirm for him that seven times 40 is 280, when there was a 300% increase.
We now have a mathematician over there.
If Deputy Kennedy addressed his remarks to the Chair there would be fewer interruptions.
Mathematics is certainly not his Government's chosen subject.
I ask Deputy Durkan to let Deputy Kennedy conclude.
I apologise. He has upset the people of this country as well as me.
I draw attention to the rates of welfare payment in Britain. Job seekers there get £51 if they are aged between 16 and 24. If they are over 25, they get £64.30. That puts our rates into perspective. Old age pensioners in Britain get £95.25 and if they are over 80, they get another 25 pence.
The Government created that problem when it bought a general election. It gave medical cards to old people to buy a general election. The Government Deputies stood up at the budget and applauded. There was a standing ovation for the Minister last year and the year before. What for? They should, "Give us more, give us more".
Deputy Mattie McGrath is coming. He will sort it out.
I was making the point in respect of the old age pension in Britain that a person over 80 years of age gets an extra 25p on top of the £95.25. When we compare that to our €230 the record speaks for itself.
That unfortunate man is deluding himself and everybody else. He is now boasting about how well he has done. This is outrageous.
Deputy Durkan, please.
It is not much use if the Deputy does not mean it.
I do mean it.
I wish to share time with Deputies Deirdre Clune, Pat Breen and Deputy Tom Hayes.
The Deputies will have five minutes each.
When he introduced the budget in October 2008, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, asked all here and all in the country to be patriotic and to pull together so that we would get out of the financial crisis that was looming. Subsequent revelations in FÁS and the banks suggested that people in high places were not very patriotic for a very long time. Yesterday when the same Minister stood up to introduce his budget he said we are on the road to recovery, that we have turned the corner.
Five minutes later he announced a reduction of €8.50 or €8.30 in the blind pension, the disabled allowance, the carer's allowance and a 10% reduction in children's allowance. We have turned the corner but around that corner the vulnerable, the disabled, the blind and the children are savaged in this budget. That is the reality. These are the carers who have given up their own jobs to look after their mothers and fathers in their final years and who are saving this country millions of euro. In the past 18 months the House sat until 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. on occasion to keep the banks afloat. We passed the NAMA legislation in order that the taxpayer could pay billions of euro over the odds for the developments and the developers of this country.
The Government has never said it was sorry, that it made mistakes, that it had learned from the errors of its ways and that it would not do it again. In many respects that is the least that would be expected and the least that would be required. However, it has learned something from the mistakes of last year. The budget was a week late. It is passing the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill before going home for the weekend so that Government Deputies in particular cannot waver or wobble. Let me explain. When the medical cards were removed from the over-70s the Government thought they could not speak up but it learned to its cost in the weeks following the budget. This week it has cynically delivered the budget close to Christmas to try to minimise the objections and the street marches. It will torpedo the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill through the House by tomorrow evening not to save the skins of the poor, disabled, blind or carers, as it did for the bankers and the developers. One should not underestimate the less well-off and those earning less than €30,000 and assume that they will not be distracted by Christmas or Santa because for most of those there will not be a Christmas or a Santa. The Minister has said there was no option but to hit the low paid, the vulnerable and the social welfare recipients. There was an option. I agree with Deputy Kennedy that if the fraud element was eliminated there would be an option. During the past three or four days we have been almost overrun by the charade of Independent TDs and some backbench Government Deputies——
——negotiating and announcing sweetheart deals to secure support for this penal budget. This country is either broke or it is not. If it is, where is the money to buy the vote of the wobblers? If not, why cannot those in most need, the blind, the disabled and the carers, have the burden eased? Why did not some of the wavering TDs ask to save the carers and the disabled? At least Deputy McDaid did not get involved in a Dutch auction. Will he vote for the Bill tomorrow evening?
It is a cynical move by the Government that measures have to be voted through by tomorrow night. It will mean that every mother, carer, and blind person will be hit by all these cuts in the first week of January. They lost the Christmas bonus in December and now they are taking a further cut. During the past few days we have heard how the payments were increased during recent years. Most of the increases came not in the 48 hours after the budget but in the case of 2007, two weeks before the general election. In the same way as the voters were bought off in 2007, the Government bought off the wavering backbenchers during the last few days. The more things change the more things remain the same.
Fianna Fáil first, the county and, in particular, the vulnerable, the disabled and the carers a very poor second.
I will probably repeat much of what has been said but I wish to express my disgust at the fact that the disabled, the blind and carers have been targeted in this budget. Those with disabilities are probably the most vulnerable in society. They have greater needs and expenses, certainly in terms of public transport, clothing and aids and the record shows they are at greater risk of poverty than many others in society. The employment rate is 14% among those with disabilities. All in this House are aware of the contribution carers make to society. The 161,000 family carers provide more than 3.7 million hours of unpaid care each week——
——and contribute more than €2.5 billion to the Irish economy each year, yet they have been targeted in the budget.
Why? They make a valuable contribution to society. They keep those for whom they care in their homes, they do a service to the State and what they want is recognition. They certainly do not want their payment cut in such a savage way. I do not understand why the blind pension has been cut. The percentage of the budget they receive must be minimal, so why target them? The cut in child benefit is a statement about where the Government perceives families and children in society. I have heard the argument that some people who receive child benefit could do without it. The State recognises the value of having and rearing children and the costs associated with same but, more important, it needs to recognise the contribution that those children make to the future of society. Similar to the debate on individualisation some years ago, it is about what we are as a nation and how we recognise children, families and those who care for children. That is an important statement but the proposals before the House certainly undermine the type of society and State in which I want to participate. Children and families have been always very important in this country. It has been recognised that those who have or support children need to be supported. Those cuts are particularly difficult for people and I do not understand why those sections of society have been targeted. It is a backward step. There are other areas which could have been targeted by the Government.
In the short time remaining to me I will concentrate on the young unemployed. CSO figures show that youth unemployment has jumped by 51,000 in the past two years. In November 2007 the figure was 32,000 of under-25s on the live register and in November 2009, this figure had increased to 83,000, an increase of almost 160%. This is a great many young people. We need to give those people hope. We need to recognise they have a contribution to make to society and we certainly do not need to tell them there is no future for them here and that their benefits are being cut. We all know there are not enough places for them all. What is one to tell a 21-year old who has graduated from CIT or UCC in the past year, that he or she should go on another course or they will not get any payment? There are no jobs for them. What this budget missed is a focus on creating jobs. Fine Gael proposed a number of measures that could have tackled youth unemployment such as supporting work share policies, an internship programme, education, community employment and apprenticeship schemes. There were many and varied options available to the Government but they chose to ignore them. Instead, they cut the benefits and told the young people to find a course and if they could not find a course they would not be paid.
The Government backbenchers may not have heard some of the policy statements put out by the Fine Gael Party. We are not afraid to publish a budget prior to the real budget. I was proud that our party stood up and said that we were not afraid of making changes and we published exactly and in detail what should be done. Unfortunately, the Government failed to acknowledge what we have said. It brought in a budget designed to ask the people who are already at financial breaking point to pay more and continue to pay more.
The Government is asking people to pay out in every direction for everything. Those families who are struggling financially will see a cut in one of the real and solid incomes going into their house. This is a direct cut which affects children and families. For the past 15 years, in the majority of cases, child benefit was used for food and for children's clothes. In the past year, child benefit has become even more essential for families to survive. The Minister for Finance and this Fianna Fáil and Green Government have chosen to impose a cruel and difficult cut which will mean that many families face a cold and bleak new year and they will be under increasing pressure. This budget hit the same people again and again without consideration for how they would manage in the future. There is a further increase in the drug payment scheme which will hit the people who most need our support.
Worst of all, one of the best group of people in this country who consistently save the taxpayer money and who work in many families all over the country, are the carers. Deputy Mattie McGrath will know the wonderful carer's association in south Tipperary under the chairmanship of Richie Molloy, a Fianna Fáil councillor. I wonder how he feels tonight with the slashing and the cut. The carers came to Dublin to lobby and I heard them, week in, week out, being told by Fianna Fáil TDs that they would protect them and look after them. At 6 p.m. tomorrow evening these Deputies will vote against those people.
I need a half an hour to go into the details of what I have to say because the reality is a disgrace. On behalf of the people of south Tipperary I ask Deputy Matthew McGrath, to come with me tomorrow evening and vote for the carer's association which has given great support to families and people in our constituency and families who live beside Deputy McGrath and me. I ask Deputy McGrath and the many other Fianna Fáil backbenchers to think of those people. If there is anything that needs changing or any amendment that needs to be put into the Bill, it should be the scrapping of the adjustment in the carer's allowance. It is wrong, it is cruel and the Minister should not have done it. The Government should be ashamed of itself and any Deputy with any guts on the Fianna Fáil backbenches, if he or she is worth his or her salt, should stand up and vote against it tomorrow night because that would effect something and it would bring something to our constituency.
Show you have the bottle, Mattie.
Yesterday morning I listened to "Today with Pat Kenny" and I heard the Minister for Finance say that the people hit by the cuts should live in the real world. That is a very strange statement for a Minister to make because the Minister and his colleagues in Government have no idea what it is like to live in the real world. The cuts they announced are savage. They are an attack on our children, on our young people, an attack on our carers, on people with disabilities, the very weakest and the most vulnerable in society. These cuts will drive people deeper into poverty and will consign another generation of our young people to emigration.
In the real world these welfare cuts will seriously impact on the many people who are dependent on these payments. The Government is picking the pockets of the most vulnerable in our society to help pay for the mistakes of the past. While social welfare rates are being reduced by 4.1% across the wide range of areas, there is no real plan to reform the system, no plan to make it fairer, no plan to make it equitable.
I refer to the decision to reduce the jobseeker's allowance for those under 24 years to €150 a week. I spoke to a young man in my constituency today who has lost his job. He is 22 years of age and is living in rented accommodation in a rural part of County Clare. He has a car because he needed a car when he was working as there is no public transport in his area. He has a car loan with three years left on it. He asked me to tell him how he could live on €150 a week. He said he could not move back home and neither can he sell his car because nobody will buy it. He told me his only option was to get a ticket out of the country. As well as the reduction in the jobseeker's allowance to €150 a week, I am also aware of a number of applicants who are in regular contact with my office and they have told me of the delays in processing the applications which is causing serious distress for people. Many young couples bought homes at inflated prices and they are now in negative equity through no fault of their own. In some cases both partners have lost their jobs and in other cases one partner is out of work. I spoke to a constituent who told me he was out of work and his wife had her own business but her take-home pay was €300 per week. I was helping him to claim jobseeker's allowance. He eventually received a payment of just €39 a week while their mortgage is €1,300 a month. The current system is too rigid as it is based on income only and does not take into account situations such as I have described.
The 2006 census showed that one in ten people reported as having a disability. Disabled people are already under pressure and struggling to cope with extra heating and clothing bills. A constituent of mine who had been waiting for three months for an assessment for disability allowance payments said he could wait no longer. Social welfare staff around the country are doing their best and working in very difficult conditions but they do not have sufficient resources to deal with the large number of applicants. I ask the Minister to address this problem. Applications must be processed as quickly as possible because people are struggling to pay their bills.
The decision to reduce the carer's allowance is wrong and should be reversed. It is also wrong that the Bill will be guillotined and it is a disgrace that the weakest people in our communities are being forced to pay the biggest price for the Government's mistakes. People on social welfare do not matter to the Government. The only people who matter are Independent Deputies whose votes are required to save the Government's political skin. If the choice is one of protecting social welfare recipients or building a new hospital to secure the vote of an Independent Deputy, the Government will choose to save its political skin every time.
I understand Deputy Mattie McGrath will speak next.
I will speak first to allow Deputy Mattie McGrath take his breath after the extraordinary attack on him by his constituency colleague.
I look forward to Deputy McGrath's contribution with great interest.
As will his constituents.
He will keep the Deputies waiting. Deputies will not express wholehearted support for the Bill because no one wants to introduce many of its measures.
The Deputy will vote for it tomorrow.
However, I remind Fine Gael Party Deputies that their party proposed significant social welfare cuts in its mini-budget.
We did not propose to cut payments to carers, the blind, children and the disabled.
Fine Gael proposed cutting the lone parent payment.
At what stage will everyone agree that prices have declined? While certain prices such as insurance have increased, almost every other price has reduced.
The Deputy should tell that to the women of Ireland. Even Deputy McGrath would not believe that.
Deputy Byrne is clutching at straws.
I am not clutching at straws. In the past 12 months, the price of food and non-alcoholic beverages has reduced by 7.6%. This deflation has also resulted in a reduction in revenue to the Exchequer by way of taxation. Deputies must acknowledge that money is not flowing into the Exchequer because prices have fallen. For this reason, readjustment is required in pay and social welfare levels, even if none of us likes it.
The level of the old age pension was maintained because the deflation rate for retired households was only 3.35%, half the deflation rate for working households. Expenditure on insurance, for instance, is probably higher in retired households than other households.
Having removed their medical cards, the Government did not want to kick the pensioners again. That is the reason the pension was not touched.
The clock does not stop every time the Deputy is interrupted.
I appreciate that and nor does it stop when the Chair interrupts me.
Deputy Durkan must allow Deputy Byrne to continue without interruption.
The rate of deflation for working households is 7.5%, a significant decline about which no one can cast doubt.
For God's sake, what has happened over the past ten years?
What would I or the Minister say to a blind person, carer, lone parent or person with disability if his or her payment was not made next March because the Government had failed to take difficult and unpalatable decisions? That is a serious question because our finances and economy are at serious risk. Deputies may laugh if they like.
Does Deputy Byrne think I am codding?
If we do not recognise the decline in prices and taxation receipts, the position will become so serious that making many payments will not be possible next year. We must admit this is the case and recognise that many of the subsidiary and ancillary benefits for social welfare recipients, for instance, free travel and household benefits, are still available. These benefits provide significant additional help to people on social welfare, particularly older people.
They have been left with a little bit.
The living alone allowance, over 80 age allowance and fuel allowance are still in place and are very important. When the carbon tax is introduced a system will be established to assist people who have difficulty with the higher fuel bills that will result. None of this is mentioned by Opposition Deputies who also ignore the fact that the cut in child benefit will not affect hundreds of thousands of children owing to an increase in the qualified child rate. This is a progressive step.
I would have preferred if the Minister had been able to enact a scheme under which many higher earners would no longer be paid child benefit. While this was not possible, I urge the Minister and Minister for Finance to examine this issue over the next year to ascertain what is the fairest and best approach. I am not convinced a universal payment is the fairest or best system.
I support this Bill with a feeling of sadness that these measures must be taken. However, the consequences of shirking our responsibilities would be too great.
I, too, support the Bill. My constituency colleague, Deputy Tom Hayes, should note that Government backbench Deputies must keep the show on the road, unlike Opposition Deputies who can speak and act as they wish.
Deputy McGrath has been very loquacious in recent times.
His one man show is as good as MacLiammhóir's.
I will not respond to interruptions as I would lose time. I will make my contribution nonetheless.
The Deputies opposite are taking a blunderbuss approach
The public finances are in deep disorder.
That was caused by the Government.
Irrespective of who may have caused the problem, our finances are in deep disorder. We can blame the banks or whomever else but we are in a crisis. The Government expects to have to borrow €26 billion this year. One third of Government spending has gone on social welfare this year. As Opposition Deputies will privately admit, this is an unsustainable position and we must face up to tough decisions now. Everyone, including welfare recipients, must share the burden. It does not come easy for me to say this, especially as I am the parent of a large family.
Unfortunately, we must do more with much less. The main measures in the massive social welfare budget include a reduction in rates of between 3.5% and 4.2%, which equates to a reduction of €8.30 on the basic rate, and a reduction in child benefit of €16 per child per month, which will affect me and many other Deputies in the House.
While rates have been reduced, it is important to note that the euro is going further. Deputies will talk about this later when we are next door. The real value of the increases provided by the Government last year is still in place.
Is this the same Mattie McGrath we hear on Newstalk Radio expressing completely different views?
The Department of Finance has carried out a technical analysis which suggests that between September 2008 and September 2009, the consumer price index fell by approximately 3.25% for retired households, 5.75% for unemployed households and 7.5% for working households. Prices fell by approximately 7.5% for those in the highest income bracket and 5.25% for the lowest income bracket. We must take on board these figures when we cast our vote tomorrow night.
The Fianna Fáil Party has always been committed to protecting the most vulnerable.
Is the Deputy sure this is not last year's budget speech?
Deputies did not refer to the schemes which have been retained. They all lobbied strongly in recent weeks and months to save family resource centres. I compliment the Minister and Minister for Finance on retaining these valuable centres in every town and village. Deputy Tom Hayes and I have three such centres in our constituency of Tipperary South. They are run by participants in community employment schemes. We must also be mindful of the members of the voluntary boards. These enablers, as I call them, run resource centres and often suffer sleepless nights worrying about legislative requirements in the areas of child care, employment and so forth. The Government has protected this group.
It is cutting the community employment schemes which run the centres.
There has been a cut of €2 million in funding for the national agencies and their number has been reduced by two. Services on the ground have been maintained. However, we are keeping the services to which, according to Deputy Durkan, everyone will be flocking. I accept more people will be going to these organisations and will be in need of more supports. Thankfully, they will be in place, fully staffed, open and fully funded. That is an achievement the Opposition does not acknowledge.
The back to school allowance has been kept and increased.
The way the Deputy is going, he will not be able to breathe.
I cannot hear the Deputy. I am not listening. I should not listen. I shall continue to say what I intended to say when I entered the Chamber.
We will listen very carefully to what the Deputy has to say.
I refer to protecting the pensioners. Almost a half a million people aged over 66 years are fully protected in this budget. This is something to which they are entitled and richly deserve. We will support them. We have also avoided any cuts in the State pension. Other supports will not be cut, such as the household benefit package, which included free TV licences, electricity and gas allowances and a telephone allowance. This is an area which should be examined and perhaps we should take the money from RTE that the Department of Social and Family Affairs pays and use that €50 million to support some of the cuts waived. That is something I will seek and for which I will campaign.
To what end?
RTE receives sufficient subventions from the Government and licence fee payers without the need for a further subvention from the Department of Social and Family Affairs. I will lobby on that matter because RTE does not deserve it.
What does this have to do with the budget?
The cuts could come from the wages of certain people. It could address the mismanagement on the board of RTÉ, which pays the millionaire presenters.
What about the sweetheart deals?
RTÉ need not worry because the Deputy has not been very successful in his lobbying to date.
We will keep lobbying and we will not give up. The Deputy should note that the idea is to try and try again. We will succeed in the end. There is no point in stopping because empty vessels always make the most noise. Unfortunately, we are challenged with the problem of running the country.
The Deputy is certainly challenged.
We are stabilising the public finances and protecting the most vulnerable people across the board. It has been a fair budget. I do not like the cuts and I appreciate that families will suffer. There is a level playing field. The big people are being touched and I wish to see more of that. In case there is any doubt I will be supporting the legislation. Deputy Hayes called on me to go on a walk with him. I will walk along his road in Tipperary tomorrow night until we sort out the flood up the road from his place.
There are many pot holes that must be filled.
However, I will not walk across the lobbies to do anything he might wish me to do in this House. I realise he has no wish for an election either.
Is the Deputy under pressure?
I commend the Bill to the House.
What a disappointment.
Tá brón orm go bhfuil Bille chomh holc leis an mBille Leasa Shóisialaigh agus Pinsean (Uimh. 2) 2009 os comhair na Dála. Ba cheart go mbeadh náire ar Theachtaí Fhianna Fáil agus an Chomhaontais Ghlais agus ar na Teachtaí eile atá ag tacú leis an mBille seo. It has been 80 years since we have had social welfare cutbacks in this country. When the former Labour Party Minister for Finance, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, left office in 1997 some 1,000 export led jobs were being created every week. The rainbow coalition Government handed over an economy in very good shape to the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrat Government. Who would have believed that some 12 years later the economy would have deteriorated to the extent that social welfare cuts would be contemplated, let alone implemented? If and when it is enacted, the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill 2009 will do exactly that in the most savage, uncaring and unfair way.
There were other ways to find the €4 billion required, rather than to attack the income of the least well off in society, while those best able to pay got away relatively unscathed. This Bill is a focused attack on widows, carers, widowers, disabled and the unemployed. It is also an attack on children. Each child in the State for whom child benefit is being paid will be penalised to the extent of €16 per month. Families on low income are to be compensated by an increase in qualified child payment for those on social welfare payments and through the family income supplement for those on low pay. It should be remembered that there is a low uptake on family income supplement and for those families on social welfare payment, there is a 4.5% decrease in personal rates and the qualified adult allowance.
This amounts to a reduction in the personal allowance in the jobseekers' benefit of €8.30 and a drop of €5.40 in qualified adult allowance. Therefore, for a couple depending solely on jobseekers' benefit, this constitutes a reduction of €13.70 as of 1 January 2010. How can anyone seek to justify such an appalling attack on the income of the less well off? "Harsh" is too soft a word to describe this totally unfair beggaring of the unemployed. Equally, where is the justification for penalising widows, widowers and deserted wives to the tune of €8.30 per week on their benefits, or for reducing carers benefit and constant care allowance by €8.20 and the carers allowance by €8.50? I repeat that there are other ways of finding this money, rather than plundering the income of these vulnerable groups.
One is tempted to suggest Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and the Independents who will support the Bill have forgotten why there is a social welfare system in the first place. Although this might seem unlikely, it is difficult to find any other explanation of why the Government parties and other supporting Deputies can do this in good conscience.
I refer again to child benefit and those families not on social welfare payment or in receipt of family income supplement. There are increased costs in 2009 to factor in for such groups. Child care costs have increased by 6%, primary and secondary education costs have increased by 7% and health care costs have increased by 3%.
The worst budget in the history of the State has hit disabled people as well. Disability allowance and the blind pension are reduced by €8.30 per week. A society which does this cannot describe itself as civilised. It is estimated that the cost of living as a disabled person amounts to an additional €40 per week. Let us consider the one parent family allowance, which is to be cut by 4.1%. It is estimated that almost 20% of single parents live in poverty, while a further one in three are at risk of poverty.
I refer to the cuts in jobseekers' payments, especially the jobseekers' allowance. From 1 January, the allowance for new claimants will be reduced to €100 per week and the allowance for those between 22 and 24 years will be reduced to €150 per week. There are two direct consequences of these changes and I question whether this is what is behind all the cuts. Will this cause emigration? It is estimated that 40,000 people will leave the country in the coming year. There is also a more sinister issue, that is, this may be the thin end of the wedge in terms of forcing down the cost of employment. In other words, in an indirect way this could undermine the minimum wage and there may be a situation in this country whereby the minimum wage could drop considerably. This is something to which the Labour Party is completely opposed but it appears this is the logical outcome of the Government's budget.
This is the worst ever budget in the history of the State. It is the first time in 80 years there have been social welfare cuts. When I was growing up, I remember the luminaries of Fianna Fáil boasting of how a different Government had cut social welfare. They stuck out their chests and claimed never to have done so, nor would they ever. Now the social welfare recipients of this country are going to be devastated. It is being done in the name of there being no other way to deal with it. The Labour Party not alone showed how €4 billion worth of cuts could be effected, it demonstrated how €5.8 billion worth of cuts could be effected without this savage attack on the least well-off in society.
The Fianna Fáil that claimed to be socialist and that looked after the less well-off in society has disappeared somewhere. Fianna Fáil in the past would never have gone down the road this Government is going down. People can put on long faces and say they do not like doing this and they do not want to do it, but that there was no other way. The truth of the matter is that there is another way, and there are many other ways of doing that.
I know it is no use appealing to people not to vote for the Bill tomorrow evening at 6.30 p.m. They will do so. The Government has made sure that its backbenchers will not have to face the music in their constituencies to the same extent if this Bill was not passed until next week. One can duck and dodge in the short term. One can run, but one cannot hide. At the end of the day the Government will have the take the responsibility for this. In the interests of this country and the less well-off, the sooner the better.
I have been listening to a number of Fianna Fáil backbenchers over the past hour or two and I think they have been taking lessons from my constituency colleague, the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea. My former colleague, the late Deputy Jim Kemmy, once described him as being Mighty Mouse in the constituency of Limerick and Mickey Mouse in Leinster House. I am afraid we have a whole set of Mickey Mouses in the back seats of the Fianna Fáil Party.
We have a whole Disneyland of them in this Chamber. They are all speaking with a mighty voice in their constituencies and on the airwaves, for example, no lesser a man than Deputy Mattie McGrath who has just left the Chamber, about how wonderful they are in fighting for this, that and the other, but they are all going to meekly walk through the lobbies tomorrow. I would be very surprised if any of them do anything to protect their constituents from the budget.
As well as that, they have managed to distance themselves in some way. They have been using the third person rather than the first person. Deputy Kennedy referred to cuts that unfortunately had to be introduced as a matter of necessity, as if he had no hand, act nor part in introducing the cuts. It was like some divine body had come down to introduce the cuts and the poor unfortunate Fianna Fáil backbenchers had nothing to do with it. Someone else said he supported the Bill with sadness. Another speaker said he did not like the cuts. The fact is that they are elected to this Chamber to represent the people of this country and they had better take responsibility for what they are doing, namely, introducing the harshest budget that has ever been introduced. I do not think Ernest Blythe's actions are ahead of it.
Despite the fact that backbenchers and Ministers are claiming that they managed to save the pensioners, they have not saved them. Pensioners will lose the Christmas bonus as well and pensioners with medical cards will have to pay 50 cent for every prescription charge. I know many pensioners in my constituency who have up to ten items of necessary medication. Many of them have a number of long-term chronic illnesses, including diabetes, asthma, and heart conditions. They have to have their medication and they will be charged 50 cent for every prescription filled. The pensioners have not been spared either.
Many other speakers in the House have referred to widows, blind people and carers, who along with those with disabilities and above all children are the targets of the budget. Last night I argued vehemently against the reduction in the price of drink. When one takes the average row of not very expensive houses in Cork city, Limerick city, Waterford city or Dublin city or in County Roscommon, in deference to the Members present in the Chamber, the blind man in one house is hit, the carer in the next house is hit, the family with a number of children is hit, the disabled person is hit, and the man who sweeps the streets or the woman who does a bit of cleaning who are public sector employees at the lowest level are hit. The only person who is smiling is the man who drinks too much who is living in the last house on the street. He is the one who has been rewarded in the budget. He is being encouraged to spend another few bob in the pub because the price of drink has been reduced. Yet, the backbenchers and the Minister and her colleagues have the cheek to tell us that they had to make this choice; that there was no other option.
Of course there were other options. As my colleague, Deputy O'Shea has just said, the Labour Party spelled out clearly a series of other options that not just found the €4 billion but a little more than an extra €1 billion in order that we could have a significant job stimulus programme in the alternative budget we were presenting. In the context of the job stimulus programme that is so vital I wish to focus on young people. We are now, unfortunately, going to be breeding young people for the boat or aeroplane or whatever mode of transport people will use to emigrate. People will have to emigrate as they are not being given any incentive or help to stay in this country. If a person has the real possibility of a job, work experience or an appropriate training place then there is an argument for reducing their unemployment benefit or assistance, but the fact is that one in three young men in this country under the age of 25 is out of work. The minuscule number of training places does not address the issue. There is a sense of hopelessness among young people. Whatever else we need if we are to get ourselves out of the problems we are in in this country, that we were led into by Fianna Fáil led Governments in the past 12 years we will not get out of it if we do not give some hope and possibility for employment to young people. They have been savagely let down by the Government, as have the most vulnerable of people on low incomes.
It is all very well for leading economists and others to say that it is fair to cut welfare at more or less the same rate as ministerial salaries are being cut. I do not know if any of those people have tried to live on €196 a week. Deputy Thomas Byrne referred to the cost of living and price reductions. I do not know how many conversations they have had with the kind of people who have been telephoning me today. One man who lives in a village in County Limerick told me that his bag of coal has increased from €19 to €20 in the past year. It might be cheaper in the cities but he is living in village and he does not have any transport. He has a disability. A bale of briquettes has increased by 50 cent. His sliced pan is €1.83. He is a diabetic so he has to control his diet. He told me the cost of the kind of foodstuffs he has to buy. He simply cannot afford them on his disability payment. We are talking about real people. I have read much of the media commentary. Many media commentators have no idea what it is like to live on €196 a week. It is very easy to let it trip off the tongue. We have been listening to monopoly money about the banks earlier in the year. We were talking about billions. The ordinary person who is trying to live on very little money is being told he or she has to take a cut. These people have been listening to those kinds of figures earlier in the year and they are despairing of the possibility that anyone in the Government might even begin to understand their situation.
There are alternatives. The Labour Party has set out alternatives that would work, protect the weakest and those on low incomes and avoid the kind of poverty traps that are in the budget, which will become apparent as time goes on, especially for people with families on welfare who are going to find it extremely difficult to have any incentive to go to work because of the way in which child benefit in particular has been cut.