Social Welfare Bill 2011: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Social Welfare Bill will give legislative effect to certain social welfare measures announced in the Budget Statement of 5 December 2011, which are due to come into effect from 1 January 2012.

The German Chancellor, Ms Angela Merkel, said recently that Europe faces its toughest hour since the Second World War. We are certainly dealing with a global financial crisis of enormous proportions. The European Union is at one of its most important junctures in its history as European leaders grapple with a banking, sovereign debt and currency crisis that has already lasted four years.

The initial crisis in Ireland was home-grown, caused in large part by a reckless Fianna Fail-led Government, with their greedy developer pals, reckless bankers and lame regulators.

It is the Government's problem now.

The home-grown problems have been made greatly more difficult by the global financial crisis and the euro crisis in particular. We have only a modest role as a country to play in resolving the euro crisis.

That is not what the Deputies opposite told the Irish people before the general election when the Deputy Kenny ran off to meet Chancellor Merkel in Europe.

The job of getting the books balanced is one which is definitely within our control. It is vital that this Government secures economic recovery in our country.

There are two chances of that.

To do this we must put the public finances back on a sustainable footing. We must bridge the gap between Government expenditure and revenue which is currently filled by borrowing. At present, there is a shortfall of €16 billion in the Government's finances. Unless the rate of borrowing is reduced, the burden of debt servicing will take up an increasing proportion of tax revenue. This would mean that expenditure on vital schemes and services such as those provided by the Department of Social Protection would become increasingly unsustainable.

The Government decided to make an adjustment of €3.8 billion between tax and spending in 2012. Of this, €1.4 billion is to come from day to day spending, including health, welfare and education. As the biggest spending Department, the Department of Social Protection must play its part in that adjustment. This Department currently accounts for approximately 40% of all current government expenditure. This means that €4 in every €10 that the Government spends are spent on social protection. The reality is that it is not possible to stabilise and reduce public spending without any impact on my Department's budget.

However, despite the extremely challenging financial environment in which we find ourselves, the adjustment in social protection spending next year will be limited to €475 million or just over 2% of the Department's spend. This compares with a reduction of €810 million in 2010 and a reduction of €515 million in 2009 when the previous Government was in power.

Some on the Fianna Fáil benches have been critical of these measures and I can assure them these are not the measures I would have hoped to introduce in my first budget. However, let me be very clear, this Government has done more to protect the people who turn to the Department of Social Protection for help than its predecessor ever did.

God help them.

Remember McCreevy's dirty dozen, lads.

Surely the Minister did not write that speech.

We have also remembered those who are working on low incomes and not claiming social protection.

The Minister did not convince Deputy Patrick Nulty of that.

They are equally entitled to be served by the attentions of this Government in helping to remove some of the burden of the universal social charge. We have minimised, in so far as is possible, the spending reduction in social protection because we recognise that people are totally dependent on the support provided by the State to enable them to eat, keep themselves warm, provide shelter for themselves and their families, and bring up the next generation of Irish workers and citizens.

There are many people who are new to need as a result of this deep and prolonged recession. On the outside they are coping but behind closed doors they are just about making ends meet.

A Deputy

The Minister is making it worse for them.

I want to make sure that these people do not slide helplessly into a cycle of deprivation and long-term welfare dependency. I want to protect them from the worst consequences of this very deep recession by delivering on this Government's promise not to cut primary social welfare payments.

But the Minister has cut them.

I want to ensure that the communities they live in remain sustainable and welfare spending contributes to this by stimulating and supporting local economies. I want to make clear that the measures in this Bill follow very detailed analysis and discussions by both parties in government. Tough decisions had to be taken on where to reduce expenditure while trying to minimise the impact on those most in need.

Before I detail the areas where changes are being made, I will outline first the supports which are being fully maintained at their current levels, so as to provide reassurance to people who had been concerned that they might be cut. This Government has delivered on its promise not to cut primary social welfare rates. The personal rates of all weekly payments such as jobseeker's benefit and allowance, illness benefit, invalidity pension, disability allowance, blind pension, carer's benefit, carer's allowance, State pensions, widow's pensions and one parent family payment will notbe reduced next year. In addition, increases which are paid for spouses and partners and dependent children are fully protected. Extra allowances which are paid to pensioners who live alone and those who are aged over 80 will continue at their current rates. The free travel scheme and free television licence will not change. The half-rate carers allowance scheme and the extra payment for caring for more than one person are retained as well as the respite care grant at its current value of €1,700 per annum.

I turn now to the question of supports for families. In 2011 supports for children and families account for 12% of total social welfare expenditure, or nearly €3 billion, of which €2 billion will go on child benefit. As we all know, the environment in which a child grows up is a major determinant of health and success in adulthood. Social protection resources must be targeted to ensure that those most in need of support receive it and to ensure the supports are used in the best way possible in the formative years.

The budgetary measures that directly affect child related payments are measured and the rates of payment continue to ensure that the needs of families are met. The standard rate of child benefit will remain unchanged at €140 per month. There will be no reduction in child benefit for the first and second child. Importantly for women, it remains a universal payment paid to the caring parent usually the mother.

I find it amazing that Sinn Féin is so critical of this measure when one considers child benefit in Northern Ireland is just €67.70 a month for the second and other children. I have a question for Deputy Gerry Adams.

It would be a lot easier to ask David Cameron. You might get an answer from him.

Ask David Cameron and the Liberal Democrats.

How can Sinn Féin stand over paying the woman in Newry €67.70——

It just shows your ignorance; you do not even know where the money comes from and who sets the rates.

——for her second child——

Ignorance is bliss. The problem is that you do not seem to understand.

——while criticising this Government——

I am criticising you for ignorance.

——for maintaining the rate at €140 for both the first and second children. Let me remind you that in 2012——

Who sets the rates and——

——the monthly rate for the third child in the Republic will be €148.

——raises taxes? It is Westminster.

It will be €160 for the fourth and each subsequent child. How come your party can manage to extract only €67.70 for the second child——

You have absolutely no idea what goes on.

——from your paymasters in Westminster, whereas this Republic can still manage €140 despite being in a bailout programme?

Answer me that.

I have answered already but you will not listen. Your hearing aid is broken and you will not be able to get it replaced now.

Why is the child living in Lifford less deserving than the child living in Strabane?

You can claim £1 million on expenses and you are not even going over there.

Deputy Buttimer does not have a clue what he is talking about. Our only offices are constituency offices. If he wishes to debate it——

We are not having a debate.

I would love if the Minister put the correct figures on the record.

Everybody wants to Chair the Dáil but I am chairing it at the moment.

I appreciate that reductions in child benefit will be difficult for some families. However the provision of cash supports for children is only part of the solution to providing better long-term outcomes for our children. Ireland has comparatively generous child benefit rates but this does not guarantee that our children fare better when they become adults. We need to look at the way in which we use money to address these problems to find better and more sustainable outcomes for our children.

Since being appointed Minister for Social Protection in March this year, I have looked with fresh eyes at the existing social protection system. One of my key priorities has been to balance the books, in particular by starting to put the social insurance fund on a sustainable footing. The fund is expected to have a deficit of €1.9 billion this year and another €1.5 billion in 2012.

Rebates to employers and lump sums paid directly to employees are paid from the social insurance fund. I consider that the level of rebate of 60% is not sustainable in the current economic climate.


Hear, hear.

I propose therefore to reduce the rebate to 15%. While this may cause difficulties for some employers it should be noted that redundancy rebate payments to employers are not common in many EU and other jurisdictions. In the UK, for example, the redundancy payment is funded 100% by the employer and there is no recovery from the State. Given the low level of employer PRSI payable in Ireland, I do not see why we should dip in to a fund that is already in deficit to compensate often profitable companies for the cost of making their employees redundant in Ireland and, in some cases, transferring their employment abroad. We should spend our money on retaining jobs and not on incentivising redundancy.


Hear, hear.

This is a change to which the country will have to adapt because it is what happens in countries such as Germany. We need to learn how to retain jobs rather than incentivising redundancy.

A core principle of sustainable social protection systems in advanced economies is that citizens receive benefits in proportion to their contributions. Some of the changes I will introduce today in the area of pensions put this principle into practice. Another principle is that we should gradually move towards a system where everyone should have an entitlement to one weekly income support payment only with no special arrangements or top-ups for particular groups. It is no longer possible to have a social welfare system where some people get more than one primary weekly payment if we want to avoid reducing the level of weekly payments generally. We have delivered on our promise to retain core rates, but we are discontinuing entitlements to certain concurrent payments whereby some people end up receiving more than one social welfare payment in a week.

Just over half the savings announced come from five main measures. I will reduce the rebate for companies which make staff redundant. The fuel allowance will in future be payable for 26 weeks, a reduction of six weeks.



The level of the allowance and its duration have greatly increased during the past ten years. The scheme is unsustainable, given the increase in numbers and costs and the fiscal position of the State. Of course, we will still pay the fuel allowance for the coldest six months of the year——

How do you measure it?

——from mid-October to mid-April. It has always been the case, and will continue to be the case, that a person in difficulty with fuel or energy costs can go to their community welfare service. This service has been integrated into my Department and it is ready to assist people in difficulty.

I will reduce child benefit to €148 for the third child, while the rate for the fourth child will be reduced to €160.

I will increase the minimum contribution to rent or mortgage interest supplement by €6 a week for a single person and €11 week for a couple. Curtailing access to the mortgage interest supplement scheme is consistent with the Keane report on mortgage arrears. I am determined to get value for the €500 million which the Department spends on rent supplement each year.

The amount of earnings disregarded for the purposes of the one parent family payment means test will be reduced from €146.50 per week to €130 per week next year. There are a number of other changes to the one parent family payment scheme. The scheme cost €1.1 billion in 2010, an increase from €751 million in 2005. Despite these significant levels of spending on one parent families, the results have been poor in terms of tackling poverty and providing for social inclusion.

This will make it worse.

The budget announcement included a number of other measures which are not provided for in the Bill. Some of these measures relate to non-statutory schemes and do not require legislative amendments. Other measures will be implemented through regulations and through legislation to be brought forward early in 2012.

In this regard, I specifically welcome the measures to broaden the PRSI base agreed in the budget by my colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan. The revenues of more than €50 million to be raised from these measures will contribute to filling the €1.5 billion hole in the social insurance fund.

I also welcome the recognition by the Minister, Deputy Noonan, that absenteeism is a problem in the public and private sectors in Ireland. In 2012 I will bring forward proposals to deal with absenteeism in the public and private sectors. I will engage in discussions with all interested parties and stakeholders.

I will also introduce changes to community employment, CE, schemes. The number of CE schemes operating at present is more than 1,143 with 23,300 participants and an overall budget of €360 million. We will seek value for money reviews of schemes emphasising good outcomes and experience for participants. The national training fund will provide €4.2 million for training on CE in 2012. In addition, SOLAS will continue to provide access to its training programmes to CE participants. The Department for Social Protection will spend €977 million on employment supports including CE schemes in 2012, an increase from €882 million in 2011. This is an increase of €95 million in the budget for 2012. It is in this context that reforms of how labour market activation and labour market supports including CE are funded and managed are being examined.

Community employment schemes make an important and valuable contribution to social employment and the provision of training for unemployed persons.

They cannot survive with these cuts.

Please allow the Minister to continue, without interruption.

As Members are aware, many community employment schemes provide vital community services across the country.

They cannot survive.

Let us hear what the Minister is saying.

This is a nuke job.

In addition, there are community and voluntary sponsoring organisations which receive funding from a multiplicity of State agencies and which will be examined in terms of their ability to continue programmes with funding from the Department of Social Protection. The Department will be working closely with the Department of Education and Skills with a view to providing training for community employment scheme participants.

It is welcome that my ministerial colleague, Deputy Brendan Howlin, has allocated another €20 million for activation measures to help to get people back to work and educational training, including a planned programme for people with disabilities. As the Government signalled yesterday, I will be proposing an amendment on Committee Stage to withdraw sections 8 to 10, inclusive, of the Bill.

They should not have been included in the first place.

These are the measures I had proposed to reform disability allowance and domiciliary care allowance. I am sorry if these proposals caused anxiety among people with disabilities and their families. I have listened, in particular, to the concerns of families with severely disabled children and asked a barrister, Ms Ita Mangan, who chairs the advisory group on tax and social welfare issues and her committee's group to carry out a review of domiciliary care allowance and disability allowance with reference to children and young adults.

I will now outline the main provisions of the Bill. Section 3 provides for the abolition of entitlement to payment of disablement benefit in the case of assessments of loss of faculty amounting to less than 15%, with effect from the beginning of January 2012.

Section 4 provides for discontinuing the entitlement to payment of a half-rate qualified child increase where the spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the beneficiary has a weekly income in excess of a prescribed amount of €400 in the case of new claimants of carer's benefit, the State pension — contributory, the State pension — transition, and invalidity pension, with effect from the beginning of July 2012. The section also extends the reference to the spouse of the beneficiary. Existing claimants in receipt of half-rate qualified child increase will not be affected.

Section 5 provides that the implementation of certain provisions of Schedule 6 to the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005, relating to changes in the entitlement conditions for the State pension — contributory — and the State pension — transition, with effect from 6 April 2012, will not apply to existing recipients of these pensions.

Section 6 provides for increasing the number of qualifying contributions required to qualify for widow-widower's and surviving civil partner's contributory pension. Existing pensioners will not be affected by these changes. I will be proposing an amendment on Committee Stage to change this section to increase the number of paid PRSI contributions required to qualify for these pensions from 156 to 260 from December 2013.

Section 7 provides for the discontinuance, with effect from January 2012, of the transitional measures which enable the one-parent family payment to continue to be paid for a period of up to six months where a claimant's weekly earnings exceed €425. Existing OPFP recipients who are benefiting from these transitional measures at the beginning of January 2012 will continue to receive the transitional payment for the unexpired balance of the six month period.

As I said, I will be proposing an amendment on Committee Stage to withdraw sections 8 to 10, inclusive, of the Bill.

Section 11 provides for the discontinuance of the payment of the grant for multiple births under the child benefit scheme with effect from 1 January 2012. It also provides for the phased alignment of the different rates of monthly child benefit payable, according to family size, into a single rate. The rates payable to the third and subsequent qualified children will be reduced with effect from 1 January 2012 and further reduced from 1 January 2013, when there will be a single rate of €140 for each qualified child.

Section 12 reduces the period for backdating claims to long-term contributory pensions such as the contributory State pension and other payments from up to 12 months before the claim was made to six months. The new backdating arrangements will apply to claims for such payments made from the beginning of April 2012.

Section 13 amends the rules relating to the assessment of means for certain social assistance payments, including the abolition of the income disregard for income from employment by the HSE as a home help in the case of all social assistance payment schemes, and increasing the proportion of income from farming and fishing assessed as means from 70% to 85% for the purposes of the farm assist and jobseeker's allowance schemes. These amendments apply to new and existing claimants of the relevant schemes with effect from 1 January 2012.

Section 14 provides that for the purposes of calculating means for the one parent family payment, the weekly earnings disregard is being decreased from €146.50 over a five year period to the same rate as for job seekers. The annual reductions in the weekly disregard will apply both to new and existing OPFP claimants.

That will drive single mums out of work.

If we achieve economic recovery, we will, I hope in a year or two, be able to review all of these changes. I have no difficulty in giving that undertaking on behalf of the Government.

If we do not, we are banjaxed. Did the Minister see the growth projections?

We will then be able to increase the disregards for those on jobseeker's allowance and bring both into alignment. It is just not affordable in the context of the resources available to the Government.

Section 15 provides for amendments to the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 by way of a reduction from 60% to 15% in the rebates paid to employers from the social insurance fund. This reduction will apply in the case of rebates paid to employers on or after 1 January 2012 in respect of the statutory redundancy lump sum payments made to employees made redundant on or after 1 January 2012.

I have stated I will be introducing a number of amendments on Committee Stage. These include changes to PRSI by extension of the liability for share-based remuneration and the abolition of employer PRSI relief on employee pension contributions. They will also include changes to discontinue, for new claimants, entitlement to receive a weekly social welfare payment where a person is also participating in a community employment scheme.

The transition to a more balanced budget cannot be made without reductions in social welfare spending. It is not possible to stabilise and reduce public spending without there being an impact on the Department's budget. If we do not make these changes now, we risk making the economic situation far worse for everyone, including welfare recipients, in the long term. We have done our best to protect the most vulnerable members of society by maintaining the primary weekly social welfare rates and the main child benefit rates in order that people can have confidence and an assurance about their primary weekly or monthly social welfare income. That is also important in terms of the power of the social welfare spend which accounts for 40% of all Government expenditure in every town and village.

Even after these savings, the Government will spend €20.5 billion on social protection measures in 2012. This sends a strong signal that the Government places a great value on the role of welfare payments in protecting citizens at this extraordinarily difficult time. I am saying this in terms of how the overall budget affects those on low incomes.

Earlier in the year I reinstated the minimum wage specifically for people on low incomes to protect them. This House must have regard to working families, with members going out and working every day while receiving very low incomes. That is why the Government has emphasised the reduction in the universal social charge for families on very low incomes. We must protect people on social welfare but we must also provide for elements within the social welfare budget, particularly areas like community employment, with which I have had a very long involvement.

Why did the Minister cut it then?

We must find a transition to work.

The Minister is cutting the grant

We must find arrangements for people to transit to work——

The Minister should check out Leaders' Questions. Check the record.

——-as well as education and training. I am inundated by people who want places in training and education.

Why was the training cut?

One day the recession will end and we want the people who, unfortunately, are currently dependent on social welfare because they cannot find a job in this very difficult recession, caused by the banking collapse——

The Minister is throwing people off community employment schemes.

We want more people on those schemes. The Deputy knows that in May there was nobody on the Tús scheme, and there are now several thousand people on it.

That came from the last Government.

Who introduced that?

I have liaised with Deputies on all sides of the House to ensure people got an opportunity——

Bad and all as it was, it can get credit for something.

People have taken it up, and since July the national internship JobBridge scheme has been operating. I am happy to say that 3,000 people who would otherwise be on the unemployment register are now getting valuable experience.

The feedback has been very good. We have a difficult job to do and we have inherited vast numbers of our people being unemployed. We have to remember the people working on low incomes and look after them——

Are they being put off community employment?

——as well as giving hope and a pathway to recovery to people and their families which are currently suffering the worst effects of the worst depression this country has ever had, thanks to the unfortunate bank guarantee and the ruination delivered to this country by greedy bankers and developers, as well as those in the main Opposition party.

Each elected Dáil to this State is charged with great responsibility to this republic. Our republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens and resolves to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and cherish all children equally. Many Dáileanna have been charged with dealing with various crises but no particular Dáil can claim to have been more important than another.

From the well-flagged date of the elections to this Dáil, the enormity of the task faced by the subsequently elected Government was known by all parties and none, as well as the electorate. Our people had been well aware of the gap to be bridged between the State's income and expenditure. Our people had been burdened by measures taken in closing that gap by €6 billion up to last year's budget, bringing the cumulative amount over three or four years to nearly €21 billion of an adjustment. There was a significant onus of responsibility therefore on all parties to be open, honest and forthright with the engagement with the public.

The outgoing Government made available to the then finance spokespersons all relevant accounts and finances of the State for their inspection. Department of Finance officials briefed these spokespersons, including Deputy Noonan of Fine Gael and the Minister, Deputy Burton of the Labour Party. The press reported at the time how ashen faced these persons were having emerged from these briefings and discussions. They had just opposed vehemently, as was their privilege, the recent budget and the recently passed Finance Bill. The language used in those debates could be described as the politics of anger, where damaging remarks, such as the nation being "banjaxed", and allegations of economic treason were made against people. These people had bestowed 150% increases in old-age pensions, 150% increases in social welfare payments and 330% increases in child benefits over many years previously.

They bankrupted the country.

Cheered on by the Deputy's party.

These people had committed reforming and long overdue massive investment in capital and expenditure spending for the development of services for the disabled.

They bankrupted the country.

That sector did not have the benefit of grandiose lobbyists or trade unions to fight for what was long overdue.

In the mouth of an oncoming election——

The electorate were conned.

The Deputy should have some manners for once in his life.

The electorate hung on to——

The Deputy's party bought the elections and mortgaged the country.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, is the Deputy to continue or will I be allowed to speak?

I am fed up of it.

I ask for the noise level——

The Deputy should put on his seat belt.

I am sorry, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, but the Deputy needs his seat belt.

The Deputy has a short memory.

Deputy Cowen, without interruption.

The Deputy should read The Irish Times.

The Irish Times will not bring the Deputy too far.

Deputy Durkan, please. There should be respect for all Deputies.

The electorate hung on to the irresponsible manner in which the then Opposition of Labour and Fine Gael had promised that, in government, it would reverse many of the unfortunate measures proposed in that budget and Finance Bill. It is necessary to remind our citizens of those comments, and I will take a few of them. The Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, stated "This budget is anti-elderly, anti-family and anti-children and it will have an effect on the most vulnerable in society." The Minister of State, Deputy Roisín Shortall, stated "child benefit should be available to the most vulnerable, the people who need it most, particularly those with large families".

There are many other quotes and I am sure the Deputy had a few himself during the course of debating the Social Welfare Bill last year.

They can be resurrected if required.

He was ranting as usual.

In the course of the election, which allowed all of us to engage with the public, which was angry——

It is called passion.

Has Deputy Durkan been allocated time to speak?

Stealing the election.

He can speak to his Whip if he wants a few minutes.

Those opposite should be ashamed of themselves. Why do they not admit their deeds and apologise?

Could we ask the Deputy to leave?

Will Deputy Durkan apologise for all the broken promises?

We know what Fianna Fáil is about now.

Three strikes and you are out.

Fine Gael deceived the people.

It is disappointing.

The person in possession must have order.

The Deputy does not want to hear it.

Hear it? We have lived through it.

I call Deputy Cowen.

I am not standing for this.

The Deputy should be honest.

Did I open my mouth when the Minister spoke?

Oireachtas reform, indeed.

Fianna Fáil bankrupted the country.

The Labour Party is morally bankrupt.

The electorate was fearful and filled with trepidation. Especially at the time, the public expected politicians in a potential Government to say it as it was and be truthful in describing how it would proceed.

We did. We told them about the cuts.

During that election, Fine Gael and Labour gave the distinct impression that there would be an easier and softer way of tackling our problems.

Deputies, please. The Ceann Comhairle spoke yesterday about this.

He is leaving, thank God.

He is out before he is put out.

Order. I call Deputy Cowen.

It is only right and proper that the people are reminded of some of the contributions made by the leading lights in the Government. The Tánaiste, Deputy Gilmore, said, "Child benefit is a red line issue." The phrase "Every little hurts" was used in a campaign by the Labour Party which lambasted its colleague, Fine Gael, for its proposed cuts in child benefit. The Taoiseach was quoted as saying in opposition, "I wish it to be clear in this regard that my party will achieve the savings that are required without touching child benefit." The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, said she would reverse welfare cuts when in office. Then we had the phrase, "Frankfurt's way or Labour's way." What we have is disarray.

We were promised 165,000 jobs in NewERA. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, spoke about "not another cent." Various promises were made on hospitals, Army barracks, Garda stations and health reform. All these promises allowed the Government to obtain its goal — more luck to it, as it secured a massive majority. We suffered a heavy, crushing defeat, which we will take on the chin. Decisions taken by previous Governments were immensely difficult. They were most unpopular but, unfortunately, necessary.

The previous Government did not implement them.

They were so necessary that the Government, on assuming office, immediately carried out its first U-turn, namely, to implement the same budget and provisions within the finance Bill that it had vehemently opposed. They were great men in opposition with great populist rhetoric. They made marvellous promises when standing on a soapbox in Roscommon, the back of a lorry in Castlebar or on the grounds of a barracks in Mullingar.

Or talking to a disabled child.

They were like Mighty Mouse but in government they are nothing but Mickey Mouse. They promised a new way of doing politics — transparent, open and reforming — but on 9 March at the first Cabinet meeting it was decided to adhere to, support and implement the Fianna Fáil budget, the one the Government parties had voted against and, more importantly, campaigned against. The Government has since claimed much credit for it. The electorate that voted for the Government has since been abandoned by it as we watch promise after promise being broken.

They are being fulfilled.

I refer to promises on hospitals, Army barracks, bondholders who cannot and will not be burned, child benefit and welfare cuts.

And student fees.

The beauty of the budget, if it could be so described, from a political prospective, is that at last — we have waited nine months — the Government of Fine Gael and the Labour Party can be adjudicated on its choice, decisions and cuts in specific and vulnerable areas.

It is Fianna Fáil's mess. The Deputy should not forget that.

The Deputy should not interrupt.

The Government has made efforts to seek to appease its supporters by putting it out that social welfare rates have not been cut but have been maintained, when, in fact, what it has done is targeted vulnerable and poor families, rural dwellers, the disabled, the elderly, students — primary, secondary and even third level — employers, SMEs and community employment schemes.

It could be argued that last year's rate cuts, as harsh as they were, were fairer than what we have heard announced this week. Last year €875 million was saved in expenditure on social protection measures. The proposed budget will save €475 million in the same area. The growth rates on which the budget is predicated are the most worrying of all because it could well be that the Government could be back before the House next year trying to entice backbenchers to support a cut of €800 million or €900 million.

When Deputy Michael McGrath, our party spokesperson on finance, responded to the budget on Tuesday, he said we would be constructive and responsible in opposition. We have voted for measures since the Dáil was convened. We have not opposed for the sake of opposition. We agree that a €3.8 billion correction is necessary, but we do not agree with the means by which the Government is seeking to achieve it. We produced an alternative document and will propose amendments to the social welfare Bill. As a party, some of us met the troika which gave us the same indications that they gave to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan. As he indicated to the House on Tuesday, "The troika made it clear that they had no difficulty in substituting one fiscal measure for another of equal value." The budget is not progressive; it is socially regressive.

The Taoiseach's announcement yesterday that a review group would "look at" the callous cuts to disability allowance for young people is simply not good enough. Despite being handed the opportunity by the Minister for Finance, the Taoiseach refused to acknowledge that the Government had made a mistake in singling out young adults with disabilities in the budget. He has had opportunities in the past two days to acknowledge that the cuts were cruel and that they should be reversed forthwith. Instead, he has kicked the issue down the road and announced the establishment of a review group. We do not need a review group to tell us that this is a callous and discriminatory cut that singles out a particularly vulnerable group which is not in a position to earn a wage. At approximately €7 million, the savings to the Exchequer are paltry, but the impact on the lives of the young people concerned is enormous.

There appears to be a Government split on how to respond to the cuts. On Tuesday night, in response to Deputy Michael McGrath, the Minister for Finance signalled a climbdown on the issue. Yesterday the Taoiseach pulled back, presumably on the insistence of the Minister for Social Protection. Who would have thought it would fall to the Minister for Finance to be the conscience of the Labour Party? The young people due to qualify for disability allowance, and their families, need certainty, not Civil Service reviews.

It is time for the Labour Party to swallow its pride and take the lead of the Minister for Finance to hold up their hands, admit their mistake and reverse the cut permanently and forthwith.

The provision whereby the rate for the third and subsequent children is to be standardised makes a mockery of the Labour Party's "red line" approach to child benefit reductions. Only last February the Tánaiste said enough was enough and that families could take no more. He said that was a prerequisite, not for entering Government with Fine Gael, but for entering discussions with the party. However, on Monday a Labour Party Minister announced that the rate of child benefit for the third and subsequent children would be standardised in the next two years at €140. For a family with five children, this will mean a loss of more than €100 a month. That is another critical blow to families struggling to make ends meet and is a breach of the trust given to the Labour Party.

It also flies in the face of the spin successfully sold to the media in the previous week. The Labour Party launched its pre-election manifesto on child care with a strong defence of child benefit, declaring that it was against any cuts because, first, family incomes had already taken a substantial hit in the previous few budgets; second, it was the State's own recognition that Ireland remained a very expensive place to raise a child; and, third, to do so would create poverty traps, work disincentives and increase the number of children living in poverty. All of that is still true; the only thing to change is the Labour Party's position. There is a growing pile of broken promises on social welfare rates, fuel allowance, one-parent families and hitting the most vulnerable. The Fianna Fáil pre-budget submission earmarked child benefit rates for protection, building on the major advances made in the past decade.

The announcement of a significant cut in fuel allowance is a crude and cruel cost-cutting measure, further exposing the hypocrisy of Fine Gael and the Labour Party. The programme for Government states: "We will complete and publish a strategy to tackle fuel poverty", but all we have seen is a six week reduction in the fuel allowance period from 32 weeks to 26. No strategy has emerged, only cuts. That leaves old age pensioners and welfare recipients increasingly exposed to poor weather conditions and heating cost increases. Contrary to its election promises and the programme for Government, the Government has produced nothing to tackle fuel poverty. To make matters worse, there are further increases in carbon taxes, which will raise fuel prices and put further pressure on vulnerable members of our community.

Only last year the Tánaiste criticised the reduction in the fuel allowance period and asked what would happen to the pensioners who were left in the cold. The previous Government gave those experiencing fuel poverty an additional €40 for the cold weather. The Tánaiste's cynicism on the issue has now been exposed. Several months ago on Question Time, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, went a little too far in espousing the Government's virtues by claiming that even the weather has improved since it came to power. I did not think he was enough of an expert on the climate to advise the Cabinet that the weather would improve over the next five years to the extent that it could reduce the fuel allowance period by six weeks. Fuel allowance is crucial for low income households and old-age pensioners. These cutbacks hit them directly and will have an immediate and negative effect on their quality of life.

The retrofit allowances are also being cut by 50% in some cases. These allowances were lauded when the Government came up with its jobs budget — sorry, initiative — which lacked targets for job creation. This is yet another election promise which the Labour Party has abandoned, perhaps forever.

The announcement of reductions in the six day week for jobseeker's benefit calculation is a cynical smoke and mirrors exercise aimed at covering up a major cut-back. The rate for part-time workers is in effect being reduced. People who can only get part-time work or who are caring for their children during the week will be hit hardest by this change. What is now calculated on a six day basis will be reduced to five days. This direct attack on the welfare rights of part-time workers reflects another broken promise by the Government. It is hiding behind the technical details but it cannot cover up the fact that the welfare benefits for these people will be reduced. It makes a mockery of the claim in the programme for Government that social welfare rates will not be reduced. That promise was repeated by the Tánaiste on the day Deputy Nulty was elected to the Dáil. I commend Deputy Nulty on the stance he has taken because the budget is at odds with what he had said during his campaign.

The reduction in the rent supplement is a crude cost cutting exercise that will not offer a long-term solution to the social housing waiting lists despite the Government's promises to introduce fundamental reform. The programme for Government stated that the rent supplement scheme would be reformed to move people off it to the rental accommodation scheme using local authorities. There was merit in this idea but while the Minister indicated previously that the reforms are still on track the budget says nothing about them. Once again the Government is failing to live up to its promises of reform.

This Social Welfare Bill is clearly anti-family. In addition to child benefit cuts, it will discontinue the once-off grant for multiple births of €635 per child and further grants for children at the age of four and 12. The back-to-school allowance is being eliminated for children aged between two and four. School transport charges will increase from €50 to €100 and the maximum payment is being doubled to €220. The increase in minimum contributions on mortgage interest subsidy does nothing to help those affected by mortgage arrears.

A previous Government fell after trying to introduce VAT on children's clothes and shoes. We have been reminded several times that the 2% increase in the higher rate of VAT is not applicable to children's clothes and shoes but hard pressed vulnerable families will have to contribute an extra €55, and €50 for additional children, to clothe their families. Will the real socialists in the Labour Party follow the lead of the late Mr. Jim Kemmy, who brought down a Government on this issue?

Bertie Ahern retired from politics after destroying the country.

The budget and the Social Welfare Bill is not only anti-family, it is anti-women. Child benefits will be cut——

He destroyed the country.

I am glad to see the Minister reciprocating the respect I showed by not interrupting her.

We do not share her negativity. The country has not been destroyed.

From 2014 the one-parent family allowance will only be paid until the youngest child reaches the age of seven. Last year the Fine Gael finance spokesperson asked Mr. Brian Lenihan what he had against third children. What has the Minister against children over the age of seven?

They have to be fed too.

The double child dependant allowance will be discontinued where a lone parent is on a community employment scheme. The earnings disregard will be reduced over five years from €146 to €60. The disregard for income from employment as a home help with the HSE will be abolished in all social assistance payment schemes. It just gets worse. The number of contributions for the widow's contributory pension will be increased from €156 to €520.

That is disgraceful.

The entitlement for certain new claimants to a concurrent half-rate of jobseeker's benefit or illness benefit will be discontinued.

The Bill is not only anti-family and anti-women but also anti-rural. The means test for farm assist will be changed, school transport charges will be increased and REPS and disadvantaged area payments will be reduced by 10%. The community employment schemes will be decimated by the loss of 1,500 capitation grants. That equates to the guts of €50,000 for a scheme employing 30 people. God help the person who is offered a job on a CE scheme as a grave-digger because he will not be given a shovel.

Small businesses, retailers——

——and SMEs employ 750,000 people but I do not know how much longer they will do so because of the VAT hike and the broken promises on upward only rent reviews. There were more soapbox promises on reforming rates to make them less regressive. The sick pay issue has been parked or, in the new buzz word, paused.

Stay of execution.

Fair play to all the small and medium enterprises that have managed to hang on over the past few years. They will work with their accountants to hang on until the new year. Perhaps they will launch new campaigns, target certain niches or announce special offers to hang on to their employees. If their efforts do not work where will they be? They will decide to let their staff go now if the Government is going to take 50% from them. This is what employers are saying to me. If the Members opposite have not yet heard from employers because their telephones are too busy or turned off, I am sure they will meet them in their clinics this weekend. I advise them to make arrangements for a long day.

The question most people remember from last year's budget is: "what have you got against third children?"

What has the Minister got against children of eight years and more? What has she got against the disabled, large families and the elderly? It is not too late to change this. The Minister has made one row back of sorts. She should reverse this straight away rather than wait for Pat Kenny to show a video of something in February that will force a climbdown on some issue. Children, the elderly, home helps and the disabled all face cuts. The list is endless. Today the cut in terms of home helps was thrown at us, but I am sure there are many other issues. I urge the Minister, seriously and earnestly, to listen to the contributions of the rest of the House and the Opposition who have been listening to their constituents over recent days. Let us engage with one another to come up with a formula that will achieve the savings necessary to close the gap, but which will be a lot more fair and appropriate and which will have more widespread approval in the House. Let the Minister join the rest of us in the House in doing what we were elected to do, namely, to get the economy and our finances back on track. While this will be at the expense of the taxpayer, let it be at their expense in a more fair, just and equal way. Then we can all progress and bring the country back to where it should be. I will not support the Bill in its current form.

Before the election, the Labour Party promised to protect those on low incomes from further cuts. Its candidates across the State proclaimed that child benefit was a red line issue and that social welfare rates were sacrosanct. Labour secured its election on the back of those promises, but no sooner were the votes counted than the Labour Party turned its back on the thousands of struggling families who elected Labour Party candidates in good faith. The Minister and the rest of the Labour Party candidates swindled votes from struggling families when they promised to protect them last February. A luaithe agus a bhí na vótaí comhairthe, tháinig athrú poirt orthu. The moment they had the votes bagged, they made a contradictory commitment to cut social expenditure. No longer was child benefit sacrosanct to the Labour Party. The only red line issue now seems to be the protection of the wealthy and high earners from tax increases.

Chonaic muid cheana féin an bealach slíbhíneach ina oibríonn Páirtí an Lucht Oibre. Níos luaithe i mbliana, nuair a chuir mise ceist ar an Aire ag coiste sa Teach faoi athruithe ar an phacáiste leasa teaghlaigh, dúirt sí liom nach raibh aon athrú ag teacht. Dhá uair a chloig níos déanaí, chuir sí na hathruithe sin suas ar an Idirlíon. Sin an sórt meoin atá aici. Tagann muid anois chuig an Bille Leasa Shóisialaigh seo atá os ár gcomhair. Más gá tuilleadh cruthúnais, is cruthú eile an Bille seo don athrú agus don dallamullóg toghchánaíochta a dhein Páirtí an Lucht Oibre ar a lán dóibh siúd a chaith vóta chucu níos luaithe i mbliana.

Let us be clear. We heard it from the Minister's mouth. This is her Bill. It contains social welfare cuts that she, the Labour Party and Fine Gael have decided to make. It is not a Fianna Fáil Bill and it is not an EU-IMF Bill. This is the Minister's Bill and her cuts and she has chosen to make these cuts despite her promises. From this week on, I do not want to hear another Government Deputy blaming Fianna Fáil, the EU or the IMF for cuts. These are the Minister's decisions. Contrary to the myth that she has been actively peddling, the Minister had and has options. She still has options, but she took the wrong options in this Bill. Her hands were not tied. Tá saoirse aici rogha treo a ghlacadh, agus tá roinnt roghanna treo leagtha amach i ndoiciméid a chuir muidne agus eagrais eile faoi bhráid an Rialtais maidir le bealach difriúil a ghlacadh. The troika made it crystal clear when they met my party's representatives that provided the deficit adjustment contained in the agreement is achieved, they could not care less how the figures are reached. If the Minister does not believe me or my party, she can ask Father Seán Healy of Social Justice Ireland or she can ask the troika the next time the Government is called in. She should ask was there an alternative and was she as tied as implied in the myth she has tried to peddle.

In our costed pre-budget submission, my party detailed a range of alternative cost-saving and tax-raising proposals from which the Minister could have chosen. Sinn Féin's alternative budget would have protected those on low and middle incomes, stimulated the economy and created jobs while making an equivalent total adjustment, as was required by the troika. I will not rehash those proposals here as my party colleagues and I have already done so over recent weeks. I have e-mailed the Minister another copy of our proposals so that she can take the time, before the passage of this Bill, to read it and to see how wrong she is with regard to an alternative. She does not seem to hear the message, perhaps because she cannot hear. That may be because the hearing aids have not arrived because of just another one of the sleeveen cuts in this budget.

Labour Party voters were led to believe that the new Government would reject the austerity approach of Fianna Fáil and would instead seek to grow the economy to a sustainable recovery while protecting the vulnerable and asking those who can well afford to contribute more to be made do so. Instead, the Minister is making social welfare recipients carry the lion's share. Bhí muinín acu siúd a chaith vóta le Páirtí an Lucht Oibre go dtabharfadh siad cosaint dóibh, go háirithe iad siúd atá i gcruachás in ár sochaí. In áit sin, tá an tAire ag cur tromlach an ualaigh orthu siúd atá ag brath ar liúntais leasa shóisialaigh agus ar an gcóras. Ní ag cosaint boicht na tíre atá an Rialtas, ach a mhalairt. Tá sé ag cur an tromlaigh sin ar ghnáth daoine na tíre.

During her press conference on Monday, subsequently in her piece for, and in her speech here today, the Minister was at pains to convince the public that she had secured some sort of victory for people on social welfare. She wrote: “Yes, there will be €475 million in cuts in my Department. But it could have been €665 million.” That is no victory. The full year cost is not €475 million, nor is it even €665 million. The full cost is €811 million. Tell the truth, Minister. She should tell the people that she is taking €750 million out of the pockets of the poorest in Irish society and giving it to the big rich German and French pension funds. She is taking €811 million out of the local economies throughout the country and adding to the dole queues and misery of many people.

Sinn Féin voted for the guarantee.

In addition, it is important to point out that €1.25 billion will be paid over by the Government to faceless gamblers on 25 January for unsecured, unguaranteed bonds. In March, a further €3 billion will be handed over.

These figures speak volumes. Consider these figures against the Department's total cuts. The Government has a choice. It does not have to hand over that money. However, it has made a political choice, to hit the weakest in society and at the same time to hand over that money. The Minister could have chosen to increase social welfare payments, if the Government had withheld that money, as should be done. Whether she likes it or not, spending on social protection will increase because of the choices she has made, which will lengthen our dole queues. Irish manufacturers, suppliers and retailers will announce their worst trading figures next year. Coupled with the VAT rate increase, the refusal to deal with upward only rent reviews and the undermining of the limited spending power of those receiving social welfare payments, the Minister and her colleagues have condemned thousands of small and not so small shops and suppliers to closure, consigning tens of thousands more people to the dole queues and adding to the spend on social welfare. That is not good mathematics.

I will now address some of the most odious cuts proposed in this Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition's attempt at a Social Welfare Bill. The first is the disability allowance, sections 8 to 10, inclusive, of the Bill. The Minister proposed to abolish disability allowance for 16 to 17 year olds and to cut the rates of payment for those between 18 and 24 years of age. I do not know whether the Minister watches the television programme "Shameless" — not the American version but the English one which is probably closer to real life in some ways. When she was dreaming up these proposals, perhaps she was watching it, was operating under some false cloud and believed the false assumption put across in the programme that, in some way, everybody on disability is, and I use the term the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, used, "wayward" — that they are wayward scroungers. If she had any understanding of disability, the Minister——

The Deputy should not speak about people like that.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, was the one who raised that.

The Minister did not call——

——people on welfare "scroungers". The Deputy should withdraw that accusation.

Has the Minister quite finished?

He never used the term "wayward" about anybody in any walk of life or in any situation. The Deputy should withdraw that.

The Deputy should withdraw that accusation about the Minister.

If the Minister would let me address her——

The Deputy should withdraw that——

I will not withdraw a remark made on "Prime Time" on RTE by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, who said——

The Deputy should withdraw that.

The Minister should have it out with the Minister for Finance.

The Deputy should withdraw that. It does not become him to tell lies in this House and attribute them to——

I do not believe——

The Deputy should withdraw that.

If the Minister shut up for a second, I might do that.

Order, please. The speaker has the floor.

If the Minister was not so ignorant, so impolite——

Is the Deputy man enough to withdraw it?

——and insulting, she might give me an opportunity to let her know that I do not believe anybody on social welfare is wayward or a scrounger.

Is the Minister man enough to withdraw that?

The Minister is the one who is declaring that.

The Deputy should be man enough to withdraw that now. Is he a man or a mouse?

Is he man enough to withdraw a false accusation?

I withdraw nothing because I did not make that charge. The Minister made that charge. The Minister has no understanding of disability. She needs to get one of those hearing aids she is cutting from many people.


Excuse me, speaker. The speaker has the floor. There has been far too much disruption throughout his speech. Can we please proceed, without interruption?

On a point of order, the speaker should withdraw an accusation ascribing the use of the term "scrounger" to someone who is not in the House. It is a term I am sure he has never utilised. Sinn Féin is very good at this kind of language. Will the speaker withdraw an accusation in regard to a term which I am perfectly confident the Minister for Finance has not used? The Deputy should be man enough to withdraw the allegation.

He also ascribed another word to me which I have never used. Does the speaker accept that I have never used that word? Other people may use that word but I have never used it. I hope the speaker will take my assurance——

I hope the Acting Chairman will credit me with some of the time the Minister is using from my slot.

On a point of order——

The Deputy has made her point of order.

On a point of order, in regard to the decorum——

It is not a point of order.

——of this House, it ill becomes Sinn Féin to use language which demeans people who have a disability. It ill becomes Sinn Féin to use that kind of language——

——in this House.

There have been too many interruptions during this contribution. The speaker has the floor. If he wishes to withdraw something, he can do so.

I will not withdraw something I did not say.

During the time of the British this use of language was called felon-setting.

This is what Deputy Ó Snodaigh is at and he should withdraw it and not take his example so much from the UK.

The Minister should sit down.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh, please proceed.

The Minister is losing the run of herself like she did with her proposals in the Social Welfare Bill and her true colours are starting to come out.

The Deputy's true colours are starting to come out.

Not my true colours. I am quoting the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and the Minister of State can listen to the tape.

In 2010, 11,869 people under the age of 25 were in receipt of disability allowance. This is a means-tested payment so, by definition, it is only available to people who are both poor and disabled. I do not think the Minister understands that.

This is my third Dáil term and sometimes it feels like ground-hog day because it is not only the Minister who introduced this type of cut but Fianna Fáil did in the past. In November 2008, the then Fine Gael spokesperson, Olwyn Enright, said the decision to slash disability allowance for 16 to 17 year olds was vicious and mean-spirited and that it was imperative that a full U-turn was made.

Yesterday, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, pleaded with the justifiably outraged public on radio. He had the cheek to claim that it genuinely was not intended as a cut but it was one of the reform measures. Who does he think he is kidding? Even the Minister's Fine Gael colleague, the Minister for Finance, began to see the light on Tuesday evening on "Prime Time". The Minister should watch that again. He indicated that this cut needed to be reconsidered. He said it was all the Minister's idea and based on the assumption that recipients were wayward. He said that not me. The Minister should never have proposed this cut. She has shown herself to be both clueless and shameless. She made an inexcusable decision to target young people with disabilities with severe cuts and in so doing, she heartlessly scared thousands of families. I welcome her removal of those sections from the Bill.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform also stated yesterday that the Government would ensure nobody in the disability category would lose money. I am precluded from saying in the Chamber that somebody lied, because the salient rulings of the chair prevent me from doing that, but it is downright untrue to say nobody in the disability category will lose as a result of this budget. There has been a 20% cut in funding for the disability education scheme. Department officials informed my office that the Minister will bring forward an amendment on Committee Stage to give effect to the budget measures abolishing concurrent payments for community employment scheme participants. People with disabilities and lone parents endeavouring to join the workforce by availing of the few activation opportunities technically open to them, will lose money. From this measure alone, they will lose a significant amount of money each week and as result the opportunity to enhance their longer-term employability because participation is becoming unaffordable.

Section 4 of the Bill also discontinues the current entitlement some people with disabilities and carers have to a half-rate qualified child increase. That is a sneaky income cut of €14.90 per week.

Does the Minister want some more truths to counter the lies being peddled inside and outside this Chamber? In the budget, the Minister also cut the grant for a hearing aid by €260 down to €500 and reduced its availability from every two years to four years. Contrast this with the €750 mobile telephone allowance available to Deputies. The Minister is willing to steal people's hearing aids while protecting Deputies' free mobile telephones.

Sinn Féin used our Private Members' time last week to move a motion defending child benefit, such was the importance of this issue to children and Irish society. I will not rehash that debate as I do not have enough time, but suffice it to say that child benefit is the sole universal payment. Some 30% of children are experiencing enforced deprivation thanks to the decisions of this and previous Governments, representing an increase of 7% in just one year. Those children are going without basics such as waterproof coats, one substantial meal each day, decent shoes or home heating. The child poverty statistics have been increasing in parallel with and as a consequence of the child benefit cuts imposed by Fianna Fáil. The vital role that child benefit plays in reducing child poverty cannot be overstated. As it is spent locally, it acts as a vital economic stimulus protecting jobs.

These arguments were championed by the Labour Party pre-election. I cannot mimic the Minister's voice, but I will let her own words outline the argument. She stated: "Child benefit is keeping many families afloat ... Child benefit is keeping bread on the table. It is paying the food bills of a significant number of families who have had a massive reduction in their income. Often the grandparents are helping to pay the mortgage to keep the wolf from the door, put food on the table and keep the house from being repossessed. That is true of so many families in so many parts of the country to which I have spoken recently and it constitutes a kind of stimulus in the current extraordinarily difficult economic conditions for so many families."

I stand by all of that.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh without interruption, please.

Despite the clear and categoric promises that Labour Party candidates made during the election, this Bill cuts the child benefit paid to almost a quarter of all families. Commencing in January, child benefit for the third and fourth child will be slashed over the course of two years. Child benefit for a family with three children will be cut by €27 and child benefit for a family with four children will be cut by €64 per month. Is this family planning the Labour way? Why is the Minister punishing large families? Even at this the 11th hour, I implore her to reconsider.

Why does the Government not cap consultants' pay instead? Even a cap of €150,000 per annum would more than cover the cost of these cuts to child benefit, saving the Exchequer approximately €100 million. As we have outlined, the Minister had many options from which to choose. Shame on her for knowingly impoverishing children.

Fine Gael and the Labour Party are hammering lone parents and their children in the budget. Between the harsh changes to the earnings disregard, the withdrawal of concurrent payments and the lowering of the age of the youngest child to seven years, the Bill will force thousands into long-term welfare dependency and further impoverish lone parents and their children. I remind the Minister that the special earnings disregard for lone parents was introduced for good reason, that is, to tackle an identified unemployment trap. With this Bill, the Government is defying an orthodoxy and reinstating a poverty trap that, according to her comments to an Oireachtas committee not too long ago, she wants to address. We did not expect that she would remove one of the supports intended to address it.

My constituency of Dublin South-Central has a significant number of single parent families, accounting for 38% of families whereas the national average is 19%. A greater proportion of families are headed by single fathers in Dublin South-Central than in the State as a whole. Government Deputies Michael Conaghan, Eric Byrne and Catherine Byrne are from my constituency. Voters will watch how they vote on this Bill. I urge them to break ranks with their parties and to vote against these devastating cuts.

While the Bill does not contain many of the elements of the cuts declared on Monday, it is the Government's intention to proceed with them. Further fundamental cuts to the system of support for lone parents will be contained in a second Social Welfare Bill early next year. For example, it will reduce to seven years the maximum age of the youngest child in respect of whom lone parents payment can be received. This is being done in the context of high unemployment and minimal activation supports. Given the reality that affordable child care and afterschool care are non-existent, is the Minister advising parents to leave their eight year old children at home? This will be the cut's consequence.

Reducing the redundancy rebate from 60% to 15% will hit workers who have lost their jobs. Sinn Féin has always encouraged employers, particularly those who continue trading after some lay-offs, to offer redundancy payments over and above the statutory minimum whenever possible. To date, good employers have done so. As a result of cutting the redundancy rebate, however, many more people who will lose their jobs because of the budget and other economic circumstances will only be offered the bare minimum by employers. Good employers will not be able to afford any more. This will increase the hardship suffered by thousands of families in the event of more job losses. A cut of this type will take money from the pockets of the unemployed. This measure will also cost jobs, as some employers will need to let more people go in order to afford a greater portion of the redundancy.

The Minister stated that she made her decision after a long discussion with her party and Government colleagues, but she did not discuss it with those tasked with its implementation or the legislation's drafting. Departmental officials confirmed to my office yesterday that, in devising this proposal, the Minister did not assess the impact of this measure on companies. She did not even seek to determine whether the measure could be linked in some way to the size of the firm, its profitability or its capacity to absorb the change.

My colleagues, Deputies Martin Ferris and Colreavy, will address the changes to farm assist. My colleague, Deputy McDonald, will address the changes to contributions required for pensions.

Section 12 reduces the period for backdating claims for contributory pensions from 12 months to six months. This measure picks the pockets of a group of pensioners to the tune of €18 million. Claimants are entitled to that money and have paid for it through their contributions over the years. It is a mean, low cut.

Some cuts will only require ministerial orders and will not appear before the House. The Bill is a partial outworking of the budget. I will address some of the odious social welfare cuts that do not require primary legislation and, therefore, will not be voted on by the House, let alone discussed. These cuts are to the fuel allowance, the back to school allowance, rent supplement, the non-contributory State pension, certain half-rate payments and hearing aids. They require the Minister's signature, but all such cuts should be debated in a committee of the House so that the potential consequences of her actions can be fully explored before she puts pen to paper. Where is the reform and openness promised by the Labour and Fine Gael parties before the elections? It is another broken promise.

The decision to cut the fuel allowance by €120 is scandalous and will cost lives. The Government is targeting older people and those with disabilities in particular. This decision follows on from the cut to the fuel allowance received by many people, particularly in urban areas, and the cuts of up to 25% in every allowance under the household benefits package imposed by the Government in September. This comes at a time when the Government has allowed fuel prices to increase by more than 20%.

We know already that 2,000 people die needlessly due to the cold. These deaths would be avoided if people were adequately supported in purchasing fuel. The Minister has tolled the death knell for hundreds more. The Minister chose to cut the back to school allowance by more than €50 despite the fact that the payment already falls far short of the cost of returning to school each year. Barnardos survey shows that the allowance falls short of the €270 it costs to send a child into fourth class or €500 to send a child to secondary school. The Minister is removing the allowance from children under four years of age. Some people questioned why this payment should be made to those not attending school but I remind the Minister that in 2009 the early childhood supplement was removed by the Fianna Fáil-led Government. This was €1,000 that many families depended on.

Rent supplement is another cut by ministerial order. Recipients will have to pay an additional €312 and in addition to that the rent limit looks set to be reduced, which will result in landlords demanding additional moneys from these tenants to make up the difference. Let us remember that rent supplement is paid to people who, by definition, are in need of accommodation and cannot afford to rent privately. They are among the 100,000 on social housing waiting lists with no prospect of being housed, such is the lack of investment in social housing. The waste of having tens of thousands of empty homes and idle apartments while thousands are homeless and the State is underwriting landlordism to the tune of €500 million each year via rent supplement is a scandal. This is a living disgrace and an insult to the memory of James Connolly whom the Labour Party is supposed to revere. I have more to say but, because of the continuous disruption and bleating by the Minister, I will leave it to my colleagues to pick up on some of the other points. The truth hurts. The Minister is targeting the vulnerable. Shame on her.

I call for a quorum. It important that backbench Deputies from both Government parties make themselves available to hear some of the contributions from the Opposition. They have every right to state their reaction to this Social Welfare Bill. Members from Government parties may wish to take part in this debate.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

I propose to share time with Deputies Catherine Murphy and Maureen O'Sullivan. These cuts in the Department of Social Protection are the meanest, cruelest, sneakiest and most unnecessary cuts this Chamber has seen. It has shocked people in the communities that a Labour Party Member is implementing these measures with so-called reluctance. In the last week of the election campaign, the Labour Party appealed to voters not to allow Fine Gael into government on its own. There was a clear indication that Fine Gael in government on its own would put the boot into working and poor people. If this is the Labour Party protecting the poor and working people, it is more akin to the outcome of the pigs in Animal Farm when they came to power and implemented the austerity they had previously overturned.

The Minister has not abandoned these people but has targeted them. She has certainly spread the pain across every vulnerable sector in society including the unemployed, carers, people with disabilities, pensioners, widows, part-time workers, community schemes, people who depend on mortgage interest relief because they lost their job, people forced into private accommodation who are in receipt of rent supplement, the 93,000 people on the housing list, those in receipt of fuel allowance, lone parents, women and children. What part of the poor and the vulnerable have escaped this assault on the already low living standards? The Minister's proposals could aptly be described as death by 1,000 cuts.

The Minister claimed not to have cut the basic rate but this is a false claim. The Department of Finance estimates that in 2012, inflation will rise by 2.5% on top of the VAT of 2%. If income remains the same and inflation increases, it is an effective cut. Electricity bills, gas bills and other fuel bills have already increased by 12% to October of this year. Having the same basic allowance and facing these increases is hardly being protected.

I am glad to see that the Government has responded to the anger at the unbelievable attempts to slash the disability benefit for young people between 18 and 24 years of age. This was a cruel, vicious and offensive cut that should never have seen the light of day in a budget. We have heard a variety of excuses from Ministers, starting with the unbelievable and nonsensical claim that it came from families with disabled children because it caused children to be wayward. This was stated by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, on "Prime Time" on Monday night. Different words were used, but it is the same thing as saying that people forced on to jobseeker's benefit made a lifestyle choice. This has now moved to the unbelievable guff that this is all the fault of the IMF. Not only was this cut to disability allowances cruel, unnecessary and mean, so are all the cuts being proposed in this Bill.

The savings of €475 million could easily have been achieved by taxing those on large incomes. One simple way to raise money to close the deficit is to make a marginal rate of tax for people on higher incomes an effective tax rate. It is claimed that the marginal rate is 52% but individuals earning more than €100,000 only paid 31.4% in effective tax. More recent figures from the Revenue Commissioners show that the highest paid 10,000 earners, who make up 0.5% of all earners, earned €6 billion or 7.3% of all income in 2009. That is an average of €563,000 per year and only 29% of their income was taken in tax. A simple way to make marginal rates effective is to increase the 30% effective tax rate progressively on incomes of more than €100,000. This would provide the Government with enough revenue to avoid these cuts in the budget and to reverse the cuts since 2008.

If the Minister was really serious about being fair, spreading the burden equally and protecting the most vulnerable, these are the measures the Labour Party would advocate and implement. This budget is a continuation of the policy of previous Governments made up of Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats of recession-proof budgets for the wealthy on the backs of the poor and those who can ill afford to take any more cuts. Reducing spending on social protection to 2008 levels by 2013 is the Minister's target. This is a 14% to 15% cut despite the rise in unemployment and despite the rise in people depending more and more on social protection. This can only be achieved through savage cuts in social protection. This will completely reverse the limited progress made between 2000 and 2007. I will oppose every amendment the Minister will put before us, not just in today's or tomorrow's votes in this talking shop, but in the future.

The Minister will know many of the community development projects, CDPs, have been running a "Book of Grievances and Hope" campaign in their communities; many of the Labour Party Ministers and Deputies will know of this campaign. The idea comes from the lists of grievances during the time of the French Revolution, where people put their grievances into a book to show how the wealthy in France were beating them down. This is a Christmas book of grievances from Kilbarrack CDP after-school children's project and I said to some of the children when they visited on Tuesday that we would read their contributions into the record. "Please Santa, can you afford me this year?" wrote Jody, age 8. "My mam and dad cannot afford to buy me new winter clothes" wrote Emma Grey, age 11. "We cannot afford to write a Santa letter, my mam lost her job as an SNA", says Lauren Carroll, age 12. Among the other grievances are, "Christmas will not be the same for children, do you know what sharing means Minister?", "Governments are making it hard on parents with big families", they knew the cut for third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh children was coming down the line, "You do not know how many lives you are ruining", "Please do not shut our club", "Dad has no money", and there are many more. I wanted to read them into the record because it is important these children who are feeling the brunt of the cuts have it registered in the House.

The United Left Alliance today in its fight back commits itself to supporting all community groups, lone parents, pensioners, widowers and anyone affected by these offensive cuts. There will be a fight back; those who have been hit by these cuts are very angry, their expectations have been battered by the cuts and it is through people power and solidarity that they will come out on to the streets to let this Labour-Fine Gael Government know these cuts are not necessary. It is another recession-proof budget for the wealthy on the backs of the poor and the most vulnerable. As the last speaker said, shame on the Minister and all Government Members.

When the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform introduced the first part of the budget, he said the sharp reality is that the Government faces a level of social welfare expenditure that cannot be sustained from the funding base now available. That is true because we were told during the election that we could not cut and tax our way out of this situation. The reality is that is exactly what is being attempted and what we are talking about today is the manifestation of that. The budget fails to address the fundamental issue, the fact that we need to get people back to work.

The Government also claimed it was committed to not cutting any headline social welfare rate. The reality is that the changes to the disability payments for people between 16 and 25 were a direct attack on a headline social welfare rate. I welcome that there will at least be an amendment to the Bill to postpone that but the problem is that there will be another social welfare Bill by Easter and all that is proposed is a review of the domiciliary grant, the 16 to 18 year olds' payment, not the payment for the 18 to 25 year olds. Families will be worried sick about what will happen. All that needed to be done was to reverse the cut for 18 to 25 year olds because nothing is being proposed in any sort of review of that cohort.

There is a sense of disbelief that the political judgment of the Government could be so flawed when it comes to such a vulnerable group. It was expressly stated that fairness would be at the core of the budget but that was simply unfair. There is supposed to be collective Cabinet responsibility but it is obvious the Minister for Finance wanted to dissociate himself from that decision and hung it around the neck of the Minister for Social Protection.

The cut was aimed initially at 16 year olds whose parents are paid a domiciliary care allowance. Anyone who knows anything about getting that allowance knows a person is put through the wringer to get it. Citizens Information states that this payment is only paid in respect of a child with a disability so severe the child requires care and attention and supervision substantially in excess of that required by another child of the same age. This care and attention must be provided to allow the child to deal with the activities of daily living. The child must be likely to require this level of care and attention for at least 12 months. At the age of 16 the child who up to now has been eligible for that payment on those criteria is now supposed to be in a position to compete on the open labour market. That is outrageous. Where was the political judgment when that decision was being made.

The sense of outrage is palpable. Parents are saying to me that they were so angry they could not even sleep. Even in the good times this was a group that always had to battle for services and supports. Anyone who knows someone with a child who has a disability will go into the house and there will be a bundle of files prepared by the parents who are constantly lobbying for the meagre and threadbare services that are already there. This is yet another attack on them. I am pleased to hear this is being reviewed but that is too tame; it should be reversed.

The Combat Poverty Agency states one parent families are more likely to be poor than two parent families or single people. Barnardos, even before we debated the budget graphically described how Croke Park and the Aviva stadium could be filled with the 130,000 children in this country who are living in poverty. That means poor diet, missing developmental milestones, ill health and struggling in school. A teenager who is out of work is more likely to be out of work as an adult.

Where were children placed in respect of this budget? Was there any strategy to look at children? If not, why not? They are the most vulnerable. All the evidence suggests that one parent families are most at risk of poverty. The principle of encouraging lone parents to upskill is a good one and it must be supported but it needs resources. I question the wisdom of doing that at this time when there are so few jobs and the transition for the parent of a seven year old is made all the more difficult by the inadequate supports for child care payments when someone goes to work.

Ms Nora Gibbons, the director of advocacy in Barnardos said that poor children live in poor households. The 4% cut to the adult welfare payments and the €5.30 cut in the qualified adult payment, on top of last year's €8 cut, mean many children will go without a full meal every week. I ask Deputies to imagine what it would be like if their children had to go without a full meal. As it is, the €10 and €20 cuts in child benefit will make it difficult for many families to pay for fundamentals such as heat and electricity. At the same time we are increasing the cost to the same families that are so challenged. Child benefit has been the Government's tool of choice in tackling poverty in the past ten years and it now appears to be under attack. OPEN, the group which represents one-parent families, has stated the most important statistic that should inform policy development as well as public debate is that children in one-parent families account for 65% of the level of child poverty in the State.

I declare an interest in community employment schemes as I am on the board — on the volunteer side — of a few schemes, including the County Kildare Centre for the Unemployed which has been established for many years. The cut from €1,500 to €500 in the materials allowance means it will not be able to pay the rent. It also means community employment schemes will no longer be viable. Participants are involved in packing bags in supermarkets and running raffles, even before the cut takes effect. The schemes offer people the possibility of progression into the workforce by giving them their confidence back. Very often a person will be on a community employment scheme before gaining the confidence to go back to education.

The Bill proposes to cut the eligible period for fuel allowance from 32 weeks to 26 at a time when fuel is increasing in price and will increase further as a consequence of the budget. I question whether this will be false economy. It will mean that people will not turn on the heating and will end up in accident and emergency units of overstretched hospitals, thereby costing more because we have so neglected them.

Some of these choices are very difficult to figure out. As has been said, there were others who could have been targeted, including, for example, the wealthy, which would have negated the prospect of having to do this. Those were the choices I had expected to be made, particularly given the Labour Party component of the Government. The budget has made a number of very serious attacks on some very vulnerable people, which is shameful.

I accept the Government has been left with an intolerable mess and it is a source of bitter sadness that so much of it could have been avoided. We know that it was due to the reckless greed of previous Governments and bankers, and lax or nil regulation. It was all human error and thus avoidable. Our membership of the euro probably contributed because the cap on Irish bank lending was removed. There was endless availability of credit, leading to repercussions in the property market and we now find ourselves with a shortfall of €16 billion and an adjustment of €3.8 billion between tax increases and spending cuts in 2012. At the beginning of the week we seemed to be going in the right direction — towards a more equal society when I considered the principles outlined by the Ministers, Deputies Howlin and Noonan, the principles of fairness and accountability.

TASC does very good work in presenting balanced reports and summaries. I am struck by a comment in its press release in which Dr. O'Connor stated:

Many of the measures introduced today will have a cumulative effect on low-income groups when considered not only in the context of the spending cuts announced yesterday, but also the impact of previous Budgets. [It is often overlooked that this is not the first austerity budget.] By the same token, some of the more progressive measures announced today, such as the rebalancing of USC, will be offset by the impact of yesterday's spending cuts on low income households, some of which may still find themselves worse off. This reinforces TASC's long-standing recommendation that all budgetary measures be subjected to equality-proofing prior to implementation, and equality auditing after implementation.

That is the crux because it is not a budget in which the citizens of the country are being treated equally.

The First World War poet, Siegfried Sassoon, wrote a wonderful poem, Base Details, which contains an analogy for us. He referred to the generals “Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,” who then “toddle safely home” to their beds. While we are not talking about generals, we have their equivalent — the very wealthy, the high earners, the executives and the directors who work in the State, semi-State and public sector, banks, universities, public life and the private sector. They are not hurt by the budget and will not be struggling. They will go on with the guzzling and gulping and it is a case of carry on regardless for many of them, whereas certain sectors of society have been hurt very badly. The other group mentioned in the poem were the young heroes who were being sped along the line to their deaths. While I trust that nobody will die because of the budget, there is such a thing as a metaphorical death. Some will suffer disproportionately. The pain caused by the budget is disproportionate because it will increase inequality.

I accept that there are positive aspects for senior citizens whose pensions, free travel pass, free television licence and living alone allowance are untouched. However, the change in the eligible period for fuel allowance will cause a problem. Perhaps the shorter period might be sufficient, but it is part of the psychology of old age that there is a fear that they will never have enough. That fear will prevent them from using the fuel initially to keep it for a time when they might just need it. Of course, they are very susceptible to the cold and there is a real danger that they will become ill or, worse, suffer from hypothermia. As Deputy Catherine Murphy said, this is happening at a time when gas and oil prices are rising.

There are other positive aspects. Basic social welfare payments will remain the same, including jobseeker's benefit, blind pension and one-parent family allowance. I accept what the Minister said about working families, but the tax system is not fair. The high earners — there are many — should be paying a higher rate of tax.

The community sector is being further eroded. This is the sector that provides the services and support for many vulnerable people and there has been an increase in demand for its services. Yesterday I mentioned Brother Kevin of the Capuchin Day Centre which two years ago gave out approximately 400 food parcels each morning; last week it gave out 11,000 on one morning. The Wheel organisation highlights how the other cuts will have a cumulative effect on those dependent on social welfare and low incomes. It points out that the increase in VAT will result in a considerable loss of income to charitable organisations which cannot reclaim VAT.

Community employment schemes are facing major cuts in the training grant — a 66% cut in operating budgets which will have a detrimental effect on the delivery of vital programmes in education, parenting, child care, vocational skills, after-school services, services for the elderly and the disabled, and drug rehabilitation, as well as the giving of work experience. Many participating in community employment schemes are early school leavers, persons who got caught up in addiction and are homeless. Through the schemes they are given an opportunity to learn and develop new skills. They become involved in developing literacy and numeracy skills on which they missed out when they were younger. Many use the schemes as a first step on the ladder towards further education. New participants will not be able to claim other social welfare payments at the same time and it was those other payments that enabled them to avail of the schemes. My experience of the schemes in the north inner city has been very positive because they have made a real difference in people's lives. I would hate to see those participants opting out or projects closing because of these regressive measures. The projects work with extremely vulnerable individuals. Some of the projects provide a lifeline and coping skills.

Without community projects, there will be further severe pressure on health and social services. The youth and drugs projects have coped with the cuts to date — some might manage with this cut, but others will fold. It is very difficult to reconcile what each of the Ministers is saying about increases announced in budget when we know the position on the ground is very different.

I supported the increase in excise duty on cigarettes and would have supported an increase in excise duty on alcohol. The sale on the streets of Dublin's inner city, and I am sure other areas, of cheap alcohol, cigarettes and illegal pills is leading to shattered lives and communities. Alcohol Action Ireland maintains that an increase in excise duty on alcohol would have raised an additional €186 million. We all know what could have been done with that.

I welcome what has been said in regard to disability payments. However, as I have stated repeatedly, people with mental health issues and disabilities should never have the added stress of worrying about their allowances being cut in a budget. I do not believe any humane government would consider doing so. There are people with disabilities and multiple disabilities who will never work but need and are entitled to an allowance that will enable them to live in dignity.

While many landlords take their responsibilities seriously, parts of Dublin central are plagued by irresponsible, unscrupulous landlords who charge rents that are completely disproportionate to the type of accommodation they offer. They are flouting all health and safety measures and are leaving people in vulnerable situations. Any initiative to deal with that would be welcome.

Budgets are about choices. There is a great deal of anger, frustration and hurt out there because of the choices made in this budget.

I wish to share time with Deputies Tom Barry and Peter Fitzpatrick.

The Government is attempting to create a necessary framework that seeks to reform and evolve the social protection code. I would like to address my comments to the budgetary measures introduced. If I stray from the exact contents of the Social Welfare Bill 2011, I do so because I want to comment on it in a wider context.

We must consider the Social Welfare Bill 2011 in the wider budgetary context. There are thousands of workers who are not in receipt of any type of social protection measure. There is, therefore, a strongly held view that reform of the social protection code is necessary. I take on board the views espoused by those speakers who preceded me. We must have due regard to the extraordinary fiscal pressures we are under in terms of the deficit reduction target to which we are aligned.

To be fair, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, has genuinely sought to address the disability payment issue. The Government has listened to what has been said by all sides of the House on that matter and has moved to address it. Some of us are only in government a relatively short time and we openly acknowledge that there are issues in the budget which need to be addressed. We acknowledge the statements made by Members on the opposite side in relation to that matter.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, stated that the pressures on our social welfare budget are enormous. The financial allocation for jobseekers' payments increased from €1.4 billion in 2007 to €3.9 billion this year, an increase of 176%. The provision for State pensions has increased from €3.75 billion in 2007 to €4.7 billion this year. We will need to increase this financial allocation year-on-year owing to the demographic profile. An additional allocation of €1.75 million will be required in 2012. The Minister, Deputy Burton, is honouring the Government's commitment not to cut welfare rates, increase income tax on working people, to protect carers and to standardise child benefit payments. The social protection measures in this Bill signal a move by Government to move our country closer to economic recovery and towards the restoration of our sovereignty. Some €4.2 million will be provided for training on CE through the national training fund. In addition, SOLAS will continue to provide access by CE participants to its training programmes. The Department will spend €977 million on employment supports in 2012, up from €882 million in 2011. It is in that context that reforms of labour market activation and supports funding and management are being examined, as well as funding received from other sources, including statutory organisations. We must reform our welfare and training systems so that people who lose their jobs do not drift into long-term unemployment. This is committed to in the budget. The need to shift from a passive welfare system to a far more active approach is vital. I am sure we would all subscribe to that philosophy regardless of our own political ideological views.

The Government will publish Pathways to Work, which will outline its approach to deepening the labour market activation policy area. In my view, the social protection budget needs to be viewed holistically. Capital spending on job creating programmes will be increased in 2012. My Department and its agencies will be able to continue current levels of spending on job creation, to increase the scope for some crucial programmes and to implement some new measures. In my area of responsibility, research and innovation, there is an allocation of €370 million for 2012, although that is a slight decrease at only 98% of last year's provision. However, it allows us to continue to support the collaboration between research and industry. It will enable us to support Irish companies to gain capacity to develop innovative products and services, which are vital for survival and growth, and will strengthen Ireland's capacity to attract high quality foreign direct investment companies and to embed them here as a consequence of our cutting edge innovative profile, the ultimate aim being the creation of jobs and to move people back to work or into upskilling and away from the social protection measures on which they rely. We know that companies that invested in research and innovation and ensured their products or services have a competitive edge have held or grown market share or employment.

The increased capital budget in 2012 will allow for a 4% increase in the Enterprise Ireland capital budget, maintenance of the IDA and County Enterprise Boards capital budgets, delivery of the partial loan guarantee scheme and microfinance loan fund, an €18 million spend on innovation fund Ireland to further improve the Irish venture capital industry and, specifically, in the area of research and innovation, it will enable new technology centres in cloud, e-learning and financial services to be commenced. There is also a 20% increase in the number of innovation partnerships, support for the Science Foundation Ireland research community of more than 3,000 researchers, including research teams working with more than 500 industry partners. The programme for research in third level institutions will be also maintained. The number of technology innovation development awards will be doubled to 200. We are also improving R&D tax credits. The first €100,000 of companies' expenditure on research and development will be allowed, on a volume basis, for the purpose of the R&D tax credit. The outsourcing arrangements for R&D purposes will be improved in a targeted manner to allow the greater of the existing percentage arrangement or €100,000. Companies will have the option of using some portion of the R&D to reward key employees who have been involved in research and development. All of this will ensure companies can grow, create employment and move people, in particular research funded graduates, into workplaces, thus reducing people's dependency on social protection measures.

The future for business lies in remaining competitive and maintaining an innovative edge over our competitors. The initiatives on R&D tax credits announced in the budget will send a clear signal to businesses that this Government is supporting their efforts to develop new products and processes and to assist them in winning new markets in the current challenging environment and, ultimately to create jobs. During the next two years, the Government will commit approximately €1 billion in enterprise capital supports. The enterprise capital budget is not alone being largely maintained, the capital provision is receiving a small increase in 2012, its highest level ever. In the context of total capital cuts of €750 million in 2012, this represents a major statement of Government priorities.

The Government has chosen to prioritise jobs and enterprise. The budget announcements this week are a tangible result of that choice. The budget provision of €20 million will assist this process and the measures are designed to ensure that the Government aids recovery in order that those on the live register can take up the work that is being created as a result of these initiatives. The Government has delivered on the commitment in the programme for Government not to cut primary social welfare payments. Child benefit rates for the first two children remain unchanged at €140 per month. The Government is unwilling to impose the level of cuts to social welfare spending espoused by the previous Government, that is, by an additional €665 million in 2012. Instead, it is limiting the adjustment in social protection spending to €475 million or slightly more than 2% of the Department's spend in 2012.

The primary weekly social welfare payments are fully protected. For example, jobseeker's allowance and jobseeker's benefit remain unchanged at €188 per week, while the child benefit rate for the third child will be reduced to €148 and for the fourth and subsequent children to €160 from 2012. If one compares this with Northern Ireland——

It is a different economy.

—— child benefit in Northern Ireland is £102.50 per month for the first child and £67.70 per month for each additional child. Moreover, the adult rate for jobseeker's allowance and benefit in Northern Ireland is £78.33 for an individual and £122.95 for a couple. The rate here will continue to be €188 for an individual and €312.80 for a couple. Payments to carers also will be maintained and the half-rate carer's allowance will continue to be paid to those who are full-time carers and who are in receipt of another welfare payment.

One must provide context to this Social Welfare Bill. Those who will pore over these debates for historical purposes must know that the loans that are financing our day-to-day spending are subject to the condition that we reduce our deficit to 3% of gross domestic product by 2015. While the Government has been obliged to take some tough decisions, in fairness it has preserved the basic rates. It also has acknowledged a mistake it made and is moving to address it. The Government is trying to create labour market activation measures that will move people from dependence on social protection into work and is doing its best in that regard.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the social welfare aspects of the recent budget. Now that the dust has settled, at least partially, it is possible to analyse the budget more objectively. This is of particular relevance in respect of some of the overzealous and knee-jerk comments Members have heard in recent days. That said, I acknowledge the objective and constructive critique offered by some in the Opposition. In particular, I welcome some of the measured and considered comments made by Deputy Michael McGrath.

Social welfare is an area that should not be dismissed lightly and is an integral part of society in every constituency in Ireland. I have witnessed at first hand its tremendous benefits, as well as the reassurance and comfort it provides to people who are in extreme need. I have first-hand experience of the role it plays for vulnerable families in my constituency, be they in Laytown, Drogheda, Dunleer, Ardee, Dundalk or Carlingford.

The Government has made a commitment to the people of Ireland that it would not cut social welfare payments in the budget and this is what it has done. This has been a source of great reassurance to many people, some of whom have contacted me to express as much. The absence of cuts to primary weekly social welfare rates is the obvious benefit that will accrue to people. However, there are numerous others. For example, rates for weekly payments such as jobseeker's benefit and allowance, illness benefit, invalidity pensions, disability allowance, blind pensions, carer's benefits and allowances and widows pensions will not change. This is a fair commitment by the Government to families, individuals and communities in Ireland. It is worth noting that these numerous measures have been selectively missing from much comment on the budget.

Further commitments include retaining child benefit at €140 per child, while older people will continue to receive their State pensions at current levels. These measures will help to reassure society. As stated, older people will continue to receive their State pensions at current rates, while other benefits have been continued, including the free travel scheme, free television licences, telephone allowances, living alone allowances and the over-80 years allowances. In addition, the weekly carer's allowance and benefit rates for carers will not be changed. The half-rate carer's allowance will continue to be paid to those who are full-time carers and who are receiving another welfare benefit. The increased payment to those caring for more than one person also will be retained. They also will continue to receive annual respite care grants of €1,700 for each care recipient. Consequently, it is clear to see that the vulnerable in society have been protected. Some of these measures will protect them from the worst consequences of this deep recession.

As a Government, the coalition is not perfect. However, I welcome the decision by the Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, to pause the cut to disability allowance for people under the age of 21. This shows that while the Government is fallible, it listens to the people and they, together with the best interests of the country, are at the forefront of the Government's mind. It is worth repeating that the Government is committed to the best interests of the country and if that means it must make tough decisions at times, that is what it will do. The Government will not waver in its firm commitment to the restoration of the economic vitality of this great nation. The simple fact is that the Government, ever aware of its social obligations, decided to reduce its correction in social welfare expenditure from €665 million to €475 million. However, it is worth remembering that these necessary savings have been made while not cutting social welfare payments, while maintaining payments to carers and while protecting older people, one of the most vulnerable groups in society.

Despite these necessary cuts, it should be remembered that the Department of Social Protection still will spend €20.5 billion in 2012. This is not an insignificant figure. I will make one final point, which is that the Government is committed to taking firm action for the greater benefit of Ireland. For this, I do not apologise and nor will I. The Government will not shirk the issue and will make tough decisions as and when necessary. However, it always will do what is fair in a just manner. I commend this budget to the House.

I commend the Minister on her great work to date. It is not easy to implement a budget like this in difficult times. It is very easy to criticise and while everyone likes to do so, unfortunately there is a job of work to be done. The Minister's Department is at present responsible for 40% of all current Government expenditure. This is a huge amount and it must be reduced because while we are relying on the kindness of strangers at present, we cannot do so forever. I am glad she has recognised, in a phrase that is new to me, those who are new to need. I would have described them as being the new middle-class poor. These are people who always got along reasonably well but who, through many mistakes in the past with regard to banks and mortgages, are now severely in debt. When in debt, it does not matter what class one comes from, one still is in debt and still is in trouble. It is important that Members recognise people who have fallen into these situations and who need help. The number of people who are not renewing their private health insurance is testament to this phenomenon but I note there are people at the lower end of the scale who are in receipt of free medical care. Balance is needed in this regard and many issues must be considered.

I congratulate the Minister on retaining the rates for jobseeker's allowance and other State pensions at their present level. This is important and sends out a clear message that the Government is anxious to support people in need. Child benefit must be considered because in the future, Members will need to know who should get it and who does not need to get it. It should be paid to the mother because the mother has a key role in the household. Perhaps it should be taxed subsequently or methods should be put in place to ensure it goes to those who need it most. I note the social insurance fund is in deficit, like everything else in this country, which is simply amazing. I have some concerns about the redundancy rebate being reduced from 60% to 15%, albeit not so much for large profitable businesses. I note some such businesses have blackguarded the system by letting go their employees, collecting from the State and then moving abroad. This was never meant to be how it would work. However, I would be concerned about small to medium-sized businesses which are hanging on by a thread. They pay their taxes and pay their way and this measure might catch them. I have spoken to the Minister concerned about it and he is keeping an eye on it. I hope it is something that will not cause us too much trouble.

I welcome that the issue of absenteeism is being examined because when a friend of mine who runs a company employing more than 200 employees allowed five sick days per year all five were taken and when he allowed three days per year all three were taken. They were regarded as a holiday. When he cleared that provision completely he reduced his absenteeism by 70%. That tells us something about the mindset of people. We have become somewhat casual in that regard.

I recall a commerce teacher of mine many years ago who said if one is ever in business, and I am in business, one should pay one's employees more in good times but in bad times never leave them slack. He said one should always make sure people turn up to work on time and finish on time because when one hits bad times one will always be able to stay in business with that work ethic.

Some people forget the way social welfare is collected. It is collected from those of us who work and businesses which pay their taxes and therefore it must be spent right. There is a demand that it be spent properly. I am delighted that the Minister is addressing the fraud and control measures because these affect many businesses when people operating in the black market work against legitimate businesses. I have a case in point in my business where I offered people work as late as last summer and they refused it on the basis of a lifestyle choice. That is something that must stop.

Better spent moneys targeted at those who need provision is the challenge, as well as to restore the position after years of squander. The challenge is to be fair to all people.

I thank the Minister for withdrawing sections 8, 9 and 10 regarding the disability allowance. It is a credit to her and a brave move, and she apologised in this respect, for which she must be commended.

The next speaker is Deputy Troy and I understand he is sharing time with Deputy Lowry.

Yes. I am pleased to partake in this important debate on social welfare. Unlike others have done in recent days, I will not start by complaining that there are not enough Members in the Chamber to listen to my contribution.

It is the quality that is important.

It never ceases to amaze me the number of Deputies with such high opinions of themselves who always start their contribution by wondering why the House is not full and yet they are rarely in the Chamber to listen to other speakers. It is a case of do as I say, not as I do.

Since the new Government was formed we have listened to the Taoiseach, Ministers and Government TDs talk about the need to protect the weakest and the most vulnerable in society and to ensure fairness and equity will be applied when making difficult decisions. Again, it was a case of do as I say, not as I do. On the front page of today's Irish Independent we read where the Minister once again broke the pay cap for a special adviser while implementing savage cuts on the weakest people in society. The Government is quick to point out that it does not wish to be doing these things but it is forced to do them.

It is true that the deficit must reduce to 8.6% of GDP next year but how we achieve this reduction is the prerogative of the Government. There is nothing new in this respect and both parties campaigned to get into office and made commitments and promises knowing these conditions. It is also true that a number of bankers recklessly lent funding very freely with no regulation from the independent Regulator, that the previous Government reduced the tax base while increasing public spending and that we have had the worldwide economic collapse which has ensured we are where we are today. I remind Government TDs that despite what they would have one believe, they too subscribed to reducing the tax base while increasing public spending.

If one were to look back on some of the points made in the Government parties' 2002 and 2007 election manifestos, one would note that in 2002 Fine Gael promised to introduce a birth grant of €300, child payments to all in full-time education, to include widows and widowers under 65 in the free schemes, to introduce a new tax rate of 30%, to exempt from tax those on the minium wage——

The Deputy is going back a long way.

——and individual investors in Eircom were to be allowed to offset their losses. In 2007 the Labour Party promised that the broad macro-economic outlook for the Irish economy was positive. It was going to reduce the standard rate of tax from 20% to 18% and to abolish means testing for carers. Again, these were more promises. While the memory of the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, who is not here today, may be fading on what his party promised in previous elections, ours certainly is not. The electorate has spoken and the Government parties have received a very strong mandate based on their election manifestos and promises.

Earlier this week we saw many of these promises totally and utterly smashed. Why have the proposed cuts in disability allowance payments only been paused? What is delaying the Government from saying it will not proceed with these plans and that they are dropped? Why does it need to refer it to some review committee? We had all the kites that were flown in the past six weeks and Ministers lurking around the corridors waiting to meet journalists to give them what they were leaking might come down the tracks. I could go on about different promises that have been broken.

One of the meanest acts was the dropping of the fuel allowance. It is a means tested payment that is made to the weakest in society and people do not receive it unless they have a income of less than €300 a week. That allowance has been dropped.

It has not been dropped. Have we a six month winter season?

What about the cuts in the value of grants for those on community employment schemes? I am inundated with people contacting me about the reduction in the grant from €1,500 to €500 for a person on a community employment scheme. Lone parents and people with disabilities will be disincentivised from partaking in community employment schemes in the future because they cannot claim both payments. What are the people on the community employment schemes to do?

The last Government bankrupted the country.

Deputy Troy to continue without interruption.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week Fianna Fáil produced an alternative budget, fully costed by the Department of Finance.

That last Government bankrupted the country.

Its members should be ashamed of themselves.

The Government had alternatives but it did not implement them.

The last Government bankrupted the country.

I remind the Government parties of the promises they made. What happened to the red line issue on child benefit? The Government had alternatives.

It was your legacy.

The Government made its decisions and it should stick by them.

It is your legacy.

No, I was not here.

Well it was the Deputy's Government's legacy.

The Minister of State should look back on the promises his party made in its manifesto in 2007.

I wish to avail of this short opportunity to register my protest on behalf of many members of my constituency as a result of measures imposed by the Minister for Social Protection in this Bill. There are several aspects of the Bill which are unfair, unjust and discriminatory. This is a budget that, through stealth, hits the pockets of some of the most vulnerable families and parents in our society.

While many of those on social welfare were initially pleased by the announcement that basic social welfare rates would not be reduced, that initial relief was replaced with the realisation that parents were being hit in an indirect and underhand manner and repeatedly from all sides. The true impact of budget 2012 will only become evident in the weeks and months ahead.

The effects of budget 2012 will have a particularly devastating effect on single parents and on families who are on lower incomes. While basic rates of social welfare may be unchanged, the reconfiguration of schemes and the alterations to the eligibility requirements will have a real negative impact on many families. The changes to child benefit, the back to school clothing and footwear allowance and the lone parent family payment are all extremely harsh and difficult. The reality is that poverty is rising in Ireland and this budget will accelerate that problem by failing to support some of the most needy children. Recent figures from the Central Statistics Office show poverty rates for families with three or more children have risen from 6.3% to 9.6%. Despite these statistics child benefit for large families has been cut. The changes to child benefit as a result of the budget will cost a family with four children approximately €430. This is a savage blow in any respect.

I will be very brief. I want to speak mostly about the disability allowance. I read in a newspaper today some of Deputy Ray Butler's statement with regard to intervening with Fine Gael Deputies to be the conscience of the Labour Party on this issue. I wish to declare an interest as I have a daughter who has been confined to a wheelchair since birth. I am very much aware of the difficulties of people with disabilities. Nine or ten of her friends, who are now aged 26 or 27, are regular visitors to my house and depend very much on the disability allowance to survive. We must take into account that many people suffering from spina bifida, Down's syndrome or MS will probably never be able to work. Some of them would like to work and others find it very difficult to get work in the current climate. The social welfare payment they receive is minuscule as it is but they must fight for every benefit they receive.

It is important to recognise the extra costs these people have. Perhaps in my circumstances — seeing that everybody says those of us in the House are well paid — I can afford to give my daughter extra money. However, the parents of many of those who visit my house are unemployed and in receipt of social welfare. They are certainly not in a position to help a child with a disability in any way, shape or form. People with a disability have extra costs for food and for taxis because many of them are unable to drive.

We have come a long way from the situation we had in the 1980s and 1990s. I remember when these children were in primary school in Enniscorthy they had no special needs assistant, SNA. The first SNA they had was in the vocational college in Enniscorthy when four students shared one SNA and they were very happy with that. It is very important that we do not undermine the quality of life for people with disabilities. It is not good enough for the Taoiseach to state it was put on pause. One cannot put people with disabilities on pause.

I welcome that some changes have been brought about but it is very important that full payment is restored to people from 16 years of age. I welcome that Deputy Ray Butler intervened with Fine Gael and the Minister, Deputy Noonan, and changes were made.

I want to put on record my abhorrence of any reduction in payments to people with disabilities. We should be trying to increase payments to them, but this is not possible in the present climate. I ask the Labour Party and Fine Gael, which are the parties in government, to ensure the suggestion by the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, is put to bed once and for all, to ensure that the payments now being made to people with disabilities will continue, and to ensure that they at least have a reasonable standard of living and that their payments will not be cut any further following the review. I do not believe there is a need for a review. The only review that should be carried out is to restore full payments to people suffering from disabilities who need the money to survive in the present climate.

Many of the budget day traditions have been changed, as this year the budget was delivered over two days with various presentations. A change from the scene of previous years was that the now Minister, Deputy Burton, used to come to the House and put herself into apoplexy in language and tone describing various measures in the budget which she abhorred and which horrified her. She threw into it every verb one can find in the English dictionary. The budget and this Bill marks the night that the Peig Sayers of previous budgets became Maggie Thatcher. She has launched attacks on the disabled about which Deputy Browne has spoken, and thank God Fine Gael has become the socialist party of Ireland and has had the conscience to keep the Labour Party in check. It is a measure of which the Progressive Democrats would have been proud. It is hard to believe the party of James Connolly would propose it.

The Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, has responsibility for small businesses. I accept companies such as Dell and TalkTalk and others which abandon workers here should not receive redundancy rebates. However, can he honestly defend the redundancy rebates for small and medium businesses in the country being cut from 60% to 15%? They are struggling to try to keep their doors open and now this full-scale attack on them has been launched.

Section 13 is an attack on home help service providers. The income they receive will be included in social welfare protection, on the same day that the Minister for Health told the joint committee there is a question mark over the viability of any community nursing home with fewer than 50 beds. We will close community nursing homes and penalise home help service providers. This is another example of one Department not speaking to another. We will send many people away from homes and penalise home help service providers.

This morning, the Tánaiste was trying to dance around the issue of community employment, CE, schemes and clarify that bodies in receipt of other funding will be examined, and they may not lose funding or may have other resources. The Tánaiste needs to examine the budget with regard to the Department of Health because contained in the budget is a cut — I love the word "efficiencies" which is used — of €50 million to organisations providing mental health and disability services. I presume this includes many of the groups which sponsor CE schemes in the sector. They will be hit by a cut in the materials grant, from €1,500 down to €500, which will undermine many CE schemes. They will also be hit by the €50 million cut which will come down the tracks in January and February when they are notified of their allocation.

Future widows and widowers will have to increase the number of contributions from 156 weeks to 520. This is madness. It will not even be phased; it will be done over two years. Other changes will be made to the way in which the contributory pension is measured. The way of assessing people who have contributed for 20 years will be changed and it will be cut from under them. This is all being done by a Minister of the Labour Party who made her reputation through what she thought was her ability to speak for the people. She came here and wailed for Ireland and now comes and proposes this.

You are not bad at wailing yourself.

Perhaps if she spent more time looking at her Department's proposals rather than running through the corridors of the House complaining and keening to journalists that nobody at the Cabinet table was listening to her——

Do not talk about impacting on people after what you did in the previous three years.

——she might have seen the impact these proposals would have on people and organisations providing services to people with disabilities, mental health services, services to widows and home help services.

The problem with the budget is that the more time we spend examining it, the more that is coming out in the fine print. The measures with regard to home help have come out only this evening. The effect of the €50 million cut to the community employment schemes will be rammed home in January and February when groups are notified of their allocation.

What are the alternatives? The Department will spend €1 billion.

There is an alternative. It was addressed to the Minister of State and submitted to the Department of Finance as he did in previous years.

What does Deputy Calleary suggest?

Thank God Fine Gael was there to keep the worst excesses of the Minister in check.

I wish to share time with Deputy John O'Mahony.

I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Bill, which I wish to put in an economic, political and social context because it is important to do so. We are all very aware of the economics and we have already removed €20 billion from the economy. We have removed €3.8 billion in the budget and we have a national target for our deficit of 3% of GDP by 2015. Intertwined with this we have a European challenge. In that context, in the next 48 hours it will be important to be aware of the very real challenges that lie ahead, as well as the concerns many people have. The danger in being in the House for too long — we have been here since Monday — is that we may miss what is going on outside. Nonetheless, we must be conscious of people's genuine fears.

We have a massive majority in the House and there is a dangerous perception any legislative proposal could be railroaded through, but it has been proved this week that that is not the case. It has been proved that there is a mechanism within government to allow various opinions to be heard, including those of parents of children with disabilities. Those parents still have to look after their sons and daughters with extreme disabilities into their 20s, 30s and 40s. As that was evident this week, we must indicate the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton's capacity to listen and her compassion on this subject. She has started a conversation about people with disabilities that we must bring to the next level on both sides of the House. We must create a socially inclusive environment to progress people with disabilities into the workforce. That challenge also faced the previous Administration which created quotas for public sector bodies to employ people with disabilities, but that did not happen. As we did not measure up, we must now lay that down as a marker in terms of it presenting a real challenge to everybody in the House.

The social complexity of what we are trying to do must be outlined. That broad outline involves categorisation. While the Minister is seeking progression for people with mild learning difficulties, certain levels of autism or mild Down's syndrome into the workforce, there is also a challenge as to what we can do for those with extreme cerebral palsy. People may be born unable to speak, walk or feed themselves. The only way they can communicate is by blinking, which represents the other end of the spectrum. That is why the issue of disabilities became complicated this week and was also very emotive for some. I congratulate all the parents who took it upon themselves to campaign and make their voices heard on the matter. It is an issue that does not rest easy with them.

I commend the political mechanism within government which created a facility to allow Labour Party and Fine Gael Members to have an ongoing conversation to see how we could change this decision. We came up with a proactive plan to deal with the matter by talking and listening to each other. My own colleagues had an involved discussion with certain members of the Labour Party. I spoke to Deputy Gerald Nash and the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Sherlock, and thank them for their help in achieving that victory. It was ultimately a victory for parents of children with special needs and various disabilities.

While our challenge is to get such persons into jobs as part of the workforce, we must also look at the broad spectrum. We must examine the complex interrelationship we have with disabled people which can sometimes be over-exercised in a patronising way. We may treat them differently because we feel they are different and need a leg up all the time. However, people with disabilities are not looking for a leg up. We are all different, but we are also all equal. People with disabilities are seeking equal access, equality of opportunity and to be treated like human beings. That is the debate we need to have. If we begin to categorise people with disabilities, it will be a dangerous road to take. We may say someone with mild Down's syndrome will eventually end up in the workplace. On the other hand, we may say a person with extreme cerebral palsy should be treated differently because he or she will never get a job. However, that is not so. I know plenty of people with cerebral palsy who end up in the workplace, even those with extreme cerebral palsy. It is a dangerous line to follow, therefore, in calling for categorisation.

I know the Minister is to undertake a review, an examination and analysis of how we can create some pathway for a more understanding mechanism to deal with people with disabilities. That is a challenge for us on the Government benches and the Opposition also has a role to play. It would be remiss of us to treat this issue as one for the political optics and look on the decision made as a U-turn. Those who wish to treat it as a U-turn can do so, but it is not so. The debate on the role of representative organisations is necessary. I received one communication from a group which represents people with disabilities, but the majority of telephone calls I received were from parents. In undertaking the review the Minister should involve parents who are engaged in their own voluntary representative groups. Parents have said to me that there is a vacuum and that their voices are not being heard. I am not including all representative groups in that category but those who work in the sector must rise to the challenge. They must analyse their work and the road they have taken. The only way we will understand this issue is by talking to those who have spent their lives immersed in looking after loved ones. I am thinking of one family with a 30 year old daughter. Since the age of ten she has been unable to walk, feed or dress herself. She communicates by opening and closing her eyes. That is a real challenge; therefore, we must not just show empathy in the usual way. We must involve every single aspect of the disability spectrum to find solutions.

We are obviously facing complex challenges, but the Minister has shown compassion. Yes, it was a mistake to include the measure in the budget, but there is a mechanism within government to change things. Others may decide to vote against a particular measure and go outside the tent. I have found out that there is a mechanism within government to deal with such matters. It is a more worthwhile way of doing business, rather than taking the easy option, which I was asked to do. An Opposition Member asked me to vote against it. The easiest thing I could have done this week was to vote against it, but the hardest thing was to do something about it. I am glad I did do something about it. I am also glad the Minister dealt with the issue.

It was the pressure exerted outside the tent that brought about the change.

The Deputy will get his turn to speak later.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill. We would agree that the Minister for Finance had an almost impossible task to get all the checks and balances right in this budget while achieving a sense of fairness and equality. I do not want to get into a slanging match with the Opposition for what has happened in the past and I have asked the Minister to adjust some issues. I will campaign to achieve further tweaks in this budget.

I have listened to this debate since it started this evening, both in the Chamber and in my office, and I listened intently to Members from the Opposition. Apart from the slanging that went on, I was looking for a magic bullet that could somehow be produced to increase social welfare allowances to all sectors in a manner we could all support. I have not heard one as of yet. I add my thanks and commendation to the Minister for the actions taken when parts of the budget were wrong. For example, the disability provisions were wrong and it takes a very good character to change one's mind and realise that a mistake was made. That is more than was done when the disability allowances, blind pensions, etc. were cut last year.

Young people with disabilities and their parents deserve all the supports they can get to give the equality they deserve. I had and still have some concerns about an issue mentioned earlier, the community employment schemes, particularly the reduction in funding for training and materials. That is going down from €1,500 to €500 and when I heard it first, I was very alarmed by the provision. Along with many others here I am very conscious of the effects of the schemes, having seen at first hand the positive role that participants can play in their community. Sometimes debate in the House can be divided between the rural and urban areas but the community employment schemes, whether in a rural or urban setting, play a magnificent part in their communities. There are 24,000 of them and there should be more. There were more than 40,000 of them when we had an economic crisis in the 1980s.

These schemes give a second chance, which we should remember. The first safety net is employment but the second safety net for many people is in these schemes. I have confidence that the Minister will not allow any of these schemes to wind down as a result of changes in provisions. I am glad of the assurances I received today that each and every scheme will be examined. Those doing a good job will get more funding to continue the work, which we need now more than ever.

As I noted at the beginning, this is an impossible task. Only seven, eight or ten years ago, the job support levels of FÁS, for example, were €1 billion per year. Deputy Troy mentioned some of the community employment schemes and I absolve him from any blame, but there is a monument to FÁS in his constituency that has not been used and which has a boardroom table in it costing €11,000. That is the kind of wastage that used to occur. The current Minister is trying to achieve a balance where there is little room. From the greatest challenge comes the greatest opportunity.

There is sometimes a perception that the participants on these schemes do simple or menial tasks but I was amazed to see, at first hand in my community, what is done. I am glad of the reassurances given by the Minister on the funding for these schemes. This is in the overall context of €100 million extra being provided for job supports, with €20 million announced the other day by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin. I ask that some of that €20 million be put into supporting and expanding the community employment schemes throughout the country. Many thousands of people depend on this second chance and cannot lose that safety net.

I received a communication today from somebody on such a scheme, which I will read into the record. The letter states:

I had worked full-time since my daughter was six weeks old in 2000 and continued to work full-time until the shop in which I worked closed in 2009. I was very fortunate to get a position on a community employment scheme in November 2010 and I was really struggling to pay the rent at that time. It was a life-saver. I had used any little bit of savings I had in the 14 months I was unemployed, so to get on the scheme was absolutely brilliant. We by no means lived a fancy life and even when I was working full-time we were just about getting by. I always had a very positive outlook and things were just getting better.

There is also the risk that my scheme will simply not be viable to run in the new year with the proposed cuts in training and materials so this job may be taken away from me. Believe me, I much rather being at work than sitting at home getting jobseeker's.

The Deputy should read the rest into the record.

It is just an example. I acknowledge the change in the threshold in the universal social charge from €4,000 to €10,000. During the election last February, people on low wages showed me deductions for the universal social charge on their payslips, and I am glad the Minister for Finance has brought fairness in his provisions in the budget on the universal social charge.

Some other issues have been mentioned, including the reduction in redundancy payments made to companies. I am not here to be patronising and I want to be critical where it is needed. There must be some tweaking of redundancy payments for small businesses to protect existing jobs. Taking all the circumstances into account, the Minister has done a good job in very difficult circumstances. A number of these provisions should be examined again, and I ask the Minister to do so and fine tune the sense of fairness that must exist.

I wish to share time with Deputies Ferris, Stanley and O'Brien.

As the party spokesperson on health and children, I argue this has been an anti-children budget and this is an anti-children Social Welfare Bill. It has followed weeks of cynical news management by means of deliberate leaks from the Government that served a purpose, as I noted previously in the Chamber, of softening up the public for the punishment to come. It was also used to fly kites, test public and media opinion and serve competing ministerial agendas in Cabinet. The leaks were designed to give the impression that the Labour Party, and the Minister, Deputy Burton, in particular, was putting up a great fight on behalf of the vulnerable. As the Minister, Deputy Burton, has a new-found interest in the North, to which I have referred and welcomed previously, she may know of Scarva in County Down, where the Orangemen put on what they call a sham fight every year. They dress up as the respective King Billy and King James. There is great excitement, roaring and shouting but the result is always the same. After the sham fight between the coalition partners of Labour and Fine Gael in recent weeks in particular, the result was the same: yet another anti-people austerity budget.

What needs to be stressed repeatedly is that not only is the budget cruel, it is also futile. It will not lead to recovery. It will not grow jobs and it will further depress the economy. That is patently obvious. The Minister should not take my word for it. Exactly a year ago yesterday on 7 December 2010, the then Labour Party finance spokesperson, Deputy Joan Burton, said in her Dáil speech on budget 2011:

This is our sixth budget or adjustment statement since July 2008 ... The first five budgets and adjustment statements took €14.6 billion out of the economy but those in the austerity and hairshirt camp want more ... Today, €6 billion of further austerity will bring the total taken out of the Irish economy over three and a quarter years to an eye-watering €21 billion, or 16% of GNP ... there is no modern example of a developed economy deflating to this extraordinary degree but claiming it can grow.

The Minister, Deputy Burton, did not get her wish to become Minister for Finance. She got the social protection portfolio instead. As Minister for Social Protection she has now signed off on a budget that continues the futile austerity programme that she lacerated in this Chamber exactly 12 months ago. Her Social Welfare Bill makes the vulnerable and the poor pay the price yet again for the austerity programme. It takes a massive €811 million out of the social protection budget. What Deputy Burton said of budget 2011 applies exactly to budget 2012: "There is pain for the poor, money for the rich, particularly for the bankers, and the rolling back of the State."

Last year also Deputy Burton pointed out that under budget 2011, a family with three children lost €40 a month, which was in addition to the previous cuts in child benefit in 2010, where a significant amount was also lost. Under Deputy Burton's Social Welfare Bill as Minister, which we are now discussing, a family with four children will be down €432 in 2012 rising to €768 by 2013. That is the measure of the achievement of the Minister, Deputy Burton, and the Labour Party in Cabinet regarding child benefit. Shame on them. We are expected to be grateful for the fact that there was not an across-the-board slashing of child benefit. Repeatedly over the years, Deputy Burton, her party colleagues and I sat in this Chamber and listened to a succession of Fianna Fáil, Progressive Democrats, and Green Party Ministers point out what they called the generous universal child benefit payment in this State and used the payment as an excuse for not providing better child care, early education and health care for children. Now we see the Minister, Deputy Burton, proceeding with cuts to that universal safety net — child benefit. That is what it has been and must continue to be. She should forgive us if we do not thank her for wielding a knife on this occasion instead of an axe. Let us make no mistake, the child benefit cut for third and subsequent children is a direct attack on families with children, pushing more of them below the poverty line. That will become apparent in a short period.

It is not only the young that have been targeted in the budget. Our older citizens were targeted also. The cut in the fuel allowance from 32 weeks to 26 weeks is an attack on older people, more of whom will now experience fuel poverty. People will have colder homes for more months of the year. When one combines that with the increased excise on home heating oil, one has a recipe for greater fuel poverty and for deaths of old people from the cold. We have already had an example of that in the past week in this sad city.

It is reprehensible that the Government even contemplated a cut of €88 per week in disability allowance for 18 to 21 year olds and its abolition for 16 and 17 year olds. This measure, it seems, is now being withdrawn, but what is most alarming is the thinking — if one could call it that — behind the measure. It would represent the abolition of support on the basis of their disability for people with disabilities in the 16 to 21 year age group. Incredibly, the cut was defended on the basis of reform and equalisation.

Cuts to community employment schemes and community development projects will severely damage another safety net — the services provided by these schemes to communities across the country. These are services that the State is not providing directly, including preschool and afterschool care, breakfast clubs, family resource centres and a myriad of other projects.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, said, as a Labour Minister, he never expected to have to introduce such a budget. The point is that he and his colleagues led people to expect something very different from the Bill and from the budget. Instead, they have given us a recycled Fianna Fáil economic strategy. We reject it just as vehemently as we have rejected Fianna Fáil efforts in the past.

I spent part of today writing a speech for tonight but I will forgo it because of a number of e-mails I received this morning from people in distress, one of which was partially read out by Deputy John O'Mahony, but he left out the most alarming and painful part of it, which I wish to read into the record:

I have been thinking more and more in the last few days that my children would have a much better chance of life without me. I have provisions made for them in my will that would at least see them grow up in a warm house with food on the table and a chance to be educated properly. I lost my own mother when I was ten years old and I never thought that I would be wishing away my own life to make a better one for my own children. But the thought of them growing up in poverty is just too much to bear. I simply do not have the money to put oil in the tank I have run out of and being on €70 less well-off per week will mean that the only place I can cut back is on food. I beg anyone who cares enough or is bothered enough to actually read my email to please, please, please reconsider the proposed cuts. If you don't maybe some day you will hear my name and feel a bit of regret that you could have helped save someone's life and have two grown-up children with their mother who adores and loves them, loves them enough that she sacrificed her own life to give them a better life.

That is one email. The second email is as follows:

I am a married mum of four children writing in extreme distress at the proposed changes to the means testing of the family income supplement. I am a mum of four kids aged three, seven, nine and eleven. Our seven year old has classic autism with lots of problems. Our youngest, who is three, is being assessed for autism and according to his medical team most likely has autism too. At the moment our family, being on low income as my husband is our sole earner — and we receive FIS — I am in receipt of carer's allowance for my seven year old son. Now with the new criteria for FIS the carer's allowance I receive for my son will be taken as means in assessment for FIS, which means in effect we will lose our FIS payments at our next renewal date under the new means testing scheme.

In effect, our weekly income is down 15%. It means instead of just managing as we are now, we will be struggling even more, not for luxuries mind, I mean basic food on the table, bills etc. for heat and electricity. This cut was not even announced. It was sneaked in the back door and is pretty major for families. It has been an attack on the vulnerable and the weak, those who can't shout. I am trying to stay strong as I type and write this email but I do not know if I can. I really am at the end of my tether, yet again reduced to tears. I am sick of crying, sick of having to fight for every little thing. You gain one victory and yet something else comes along and pulls the rug from under your feet in case we are getting any idea that things would be okay.

That is just two of the emails I received. When I went into electoral politics I did so with the belief that we could make a difference and change things. I have been a socialist all my life and along with others who pronounce that they are socialists I believe that we could do something for the people most in need.

We could do something for the people who are on the breadline and who have been discriminated against by the system and the State. I believe that is possible. I believe people who espouse the politics of James Connolly will defend what he stood for, the working class. I wanted to believe that when the Labour Party went into Government it would espouse the principles of James Connolly and defend the working class, the poor and the people who have written these e-mails. Unfortunately, Labour has again betrayed the people most in need. They have succumbed to the bondholders, bankers and developers. They sit on the Government side of the House, when the people who sat there previously brought the country to its knees, and do the very same.

Shame has been brought on this House by people who said they would do good for people but, when they got into Government, turned their backs on them. They have brought shame to the electoral system. Those of us on this side of the House who espouse the politics of socialism will stand by the working class and the poor, not in order to gain privilege or a ministerial position but to defend them. The poor people of this country never needed leadership more than they do now. We will not be found wanting in that regard.

I ask Deputies on the Government benches, when is a cut not a cut? In particular, I ask Deputies Joan Burton and Kathleen Lynch that question. The answer is, when one feels the heat of public anger and calls for a review.

The Sinn Féin budget proposals, Route to Recovery, were based on the key principles of fairness, equality and jobs. The Government's budget was based on identifying the most vulnerable in society and attacking them. When Labour felt the heat of public anger at disability allowance cuts, the Government quickly announced that they would be subject to review. This review is a smokescreen. The truth is that if Labour Party Ministers had an ounce of fairness and equality, they would never have announced these dreadful cuts in the first place. They thought they would get away with it.

They live in some parallel universe, surrounded by ministerial cars, perks and allowances, and the thought of cutting €88 from a weekly income did not seem a lot. How wrong they were. Like their Fianna Fáil predecessors on the Government benches, they are feeling the wrath of the people, as Fianna Fáil felt the anger of pensioners over the medical card issue and quickly attempted a U-turn. The Government should forget about reviews and reverse the cuts now. People feel passionate about these cuts because they go to the heart of who we are and what we want to be as a society.

The proposed cut of 66% in the training and education allowance for community employment, CE, workers is nothing short of a disgrace. I know many people who have benefited from that allowance over the past 20 years and were able to move from unemployment to employment because there was a training allowance. I was one of those people myself. One of the worthwhile aspects of the CE schemes was the training and education element. The Sinn Féin office in my constituency has received numerous calls and e-mails from people pleading for these cuts to be overturned. They range from requests from people seeking to have a decision overturned to others expressing desperation at what is happening.

Community employment schemes continue to provide essential services to local communities. They range from drug rehabilitation projects, meals on wheels, crèches, community centres and all sorts of environmental works, all meeting the needs of the public who otherwise would not have these services in their communities. I commend the CE schemes on the work they have been doing and the vital services they provide.

A core component of the schemes is the training and education they provide. The Government, in its wisdom, has decided effectively to cut off that budget by reducing it to 34% of what it was, because what is left is meaningless. This not only drastically reduces the training, it will also force many CE projects to close because many of them depend on the grant to pay their rent.

The Government, nevertheless, found money to promote Tús and JobBridge, two programmes dreamt up by the Government as a fig leaf for the absolute failure to introduce any kind of real job creation strategy. Tús is CE lite. It has no training or education component and there is no commitment to long-term employment in it. It is the total opposite to CE and will not help people to move from unemployment to employment, which is the key thing. JobBridge is merely a headline grabbing exercise. Rather than strengthen the CE schemes, the Government has taken the worst option, which is to starve them of funds and redirect those funds into Tús and JobBridge.

Sinn Féin will continue to work with trade unions, community groups and community networks in campaigning to have these cuts overturned — not reviewed but overturned. I appeal to Deputies to put pressure on the Ministers to do that.

On the home page of the Department of Social Protection's website one can see, in the top left-hand corner, the mission statement of the Department. The Department's mission is: "To promote active participation in society through the provision of income supports, employment services and other services." Does the Bill justify that mission statement? That is how we should be measuring the proposals within the Bill. The Bill goes nowhere near that. In fact, it does the very opposite. The Bill prevents active participation in society by withdrawing income supports, employment opportunities and other services to our people. That is a shocking indictment of the Government.

The full-year cost of the social welfare cuts will be €811 million. I have heard speakers from the Government side say they had no choice and ask what was the alternative. Here is a novel idea for raising revenue, especially for Labour Party Deputies. They should implement their own policies. Before the general election Labour had a policy to introduce a third rate of tax at 48% on incomes in excess of €100,000. That measure alone would have raised €410 million, more than half that saved by the cuts in the social welfare sector. The Government may not want to go down that road, because some Ministers earn in excess of €100,000. Is it any wonder that proposal was thrown off the table? They do not want to pay more. They would prefer to inflict cuts on those who cannot pay more. That is a shocking indictment of the Ministers who sat around the Cabinet table and passed this budget. They came into the House and told us they had no alternative.

I will touch briefly on the cuts to the back-to-school clothing allowance. I challenge any Deputy to send a child to secondary school for €250 or to primary school for €200. It cannot be done. Government Deputies should not criticise the Opposition for not coming up with proposals. I have just given one. In fact, the Labour Party gave it to the public before the general election. Of course, when the Ministers got their seats in the Dáil, their bums in ministerial Mercs and their salaries in excess of €100,000, they looked down their noses at people and told them they would not take any cuts. They are in Government now and above all that. They have their perks and their pensions and to hell with the poor people in society. They have absolutely shat on people. Shame on them.

With the agreement of the House I will share my time with Deputies Spring, McCarthy and Dowds.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

It is 14 years since I made a contribution in the House on a Social Welfare Bill. It is a horrendous experience to come here after 14 years and ask oneself how has the country descended to the extent that every Department is slashing its budget. The answer is simple, but tragic: in the past 14 years Fianna Fáil has dragged this country down to the extent that we are being bailed out by the IMF and the EU. It is horrendous to come in here after 14 years and see how the country has deteriorated through the imposition by the IMF of a bailout plan for the country. It is horrendous that the Minister, Deputy Burton, must create cutbacks of €475 million in her budget. It is unthinkable. However, this is what must be done. I thank the Minister for her efforts at Cabinet level to achieve a cut lower than what was to be a far more substantial cut. I understand she whittled it down from €700 million to €475 million. However, the problem is that it is difficult to gain applause for hurting less.

I have a particular interest in the section dealing with community employment, as I am both a parliamentarian and a community activist. I am a voluntary community activist and a director of three voluntary organisations, one of which is Treasure Tots nursery in Ballyfermot, a not for profit organisation. I am on the Dolphin House community development association, another not for profit body, and I am a member of the board of directors of Crumlin Child Care Consortium. The best way to explain the difficulties for me as a director is to give an example. If the €1,000 cut in the allowance for materials and training goes ahead, this affects not just the individual community employment worker but also us as company directors. The money does not come into the hands of the community employment participant but comes to the board or the legal entities that must manage the programmes. For example, in Treasure Tots nursery we have 18 community employment workers on the scheme and we would not be able to deliver the excellent child care service we deliver without their participation. Treasure Tots nursery provides a very high quality level of training. All our CE workers go right through to FETAC level 5 training. They progress beyond CE and have been recruited locally by day nurseries and not for profit nurseries in Cherry Orchard. The Crumlin Child Care Consortium has also recruited those who have been upskilled through community employment. The difficulty we face is that if it is arbitrarily decided that the allowances for the 18 CE workers in Treasure Tots nursery will be lost, our shortfall will be €18,000 and it would be difficult to expect voluntary community activists like me and others to continue to provide that service.

In her speech, the Minister mentioned an additional €20 million from the Department of Education and Science for training. Now that her Department has linked up with SOLAS, the FÁS training people, there is a golden opportunity for the Government and various Departments, particularly those of the Ministers, Deputies Howlin and Burton, to take on board the recommendations of the ICTU submission regarding the challenges and solutions for the community sector. This submission was made in conjunction with the community sector employment forum. I am not just a community activist; I am, in a sense, an employer. Anybody else here who happens to be a company director of a voluntary company is also an employer as well as an activist.

This Bill gives us a great opportunity to engage as a Government with both employers and ICTU to create a tripartite discussion about how we will channel the various funds from FÁS, the HSE, the local authorities, the Department of Justice and Equality, the VECs, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs — the list goes on. The demand being made of us is to give workers a voice in the decision-making process. I appeal to the Government and to the Minister for Social Protection, who is now in an ideal position given the linking of the Department with SOLAS, to get the various bodies talking together.

I am reasonably confident that we will be able to rearrange the deckchairs around the issue of training and materials, given the announcement by the Minister of an additional €20 million being made available. However, it is important to engage in serious discussion with all the partners. It should not just be a case of people running a drugs task force programme or a community development programme being told all of a sudden by FÁS to cut the programme by 5% or 10% or by the CDVEC that youth services will be cut. We need those who are providing phenomenal services within the community to have a voice when decisions are being taken. The only successful way to achieve that is by bringing on board the ICTU document with a view to creating proper recognition for the voluntary and community sector in negotiations about their future, their role, continuing funding, salary scales for workers and continuity of employment.

I thank two key people: Jean Somerset from the community sector employers forum and Darragh O'Connor from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions community committee. These two excellent people are ready, available and willing to represent the community sector in talks with Government.

In these difficult times, I welcome the fact that the Minister is able to provide €977 million in employment supports. This is up from the €882 million provided in 2011. This is a remarkable achievement in the difficult circumstances in which we live.

I want to focus on the great value community employment schemes have provided and will continue to provide in terms of the uplift they give to the community and the individuals involved. It is important we focus on this because some of the organisations that only look at the pure economics of issues do not realise the significance of this contribution. I would like to pay tribute to three groups in my constituency, first of which is the school in which I used to work which catered for physically disabled children, Scoil Mochua. I compliment the great work that has been and is being done by community employment workers there, both for the children and for themselves through making use of the educational opportunities provided. Another example is the one I visited yesterday, a project in south-west Clondalkin where last year 66% of the people leaving the programme went into permanent employment. That is no mean achievement in 2010. I also compliment the great work done by the Clondalkin addict support programme which has done a great deal to tackle the scourge of drug addiction in our community as well as lifting some former drug addicts out of their condition. It is important to focus on these things in this debate.

I would like to outline how bad the country's position is. Everybody should recognise that we are borrowing €375 million a week to pay every Deputy in the House and those working for the State. This is filtering back into small businesses and is an essential part of where we are. Unfortunately, we will have to remove more money from the economy next year.

Nobody outside this Chamber is under any illusions as to who is responsible for the creation of the black hole the economy is in. Deputy Troy is the only fellow from that political party in the Chamber. The greasy pole to which Ireland will be attached for a long time to come will be attributed to Fianna Fáil and there is no getting away from this fact.

In the budget €3.8 billion had to be taken out of the economy for various reasons. The most important point is that we regain our economic independence. The most detrimental thing to happen to the country since the foundation of the State was the loss of our economic independence. It is nearly akin to the terrible situation in which Sinn Féin finds itself in the North where the Assembly is told by its paymaster how much money it has to allocate. Unfortunately, Sinn Féin is in a position where it must make cuts in schools, close down Garda stations and so on. I will not dwell on the matter, but that is the reality.

Garda stations.

PSNI stations. As the Deputy has been in both, it makes very little difference.

There is a question about the Labour Party's relevance to the Government. The easy thing for us to have done would have been to sit on the Opposition benches. I notice Deputy Ferris is wearing a Munster rugby tie. If he had played rugby, he would know that those on the benches and the sidelines sing the song, "Stand up and Fight". Does he know who stands up and fights? It is those on the pitch. Parties on this side of the House are on the pitch, while the parties on the Deputy's side are on the sidelines.

The Deputy is losing the game.

This is the courageous place to be. Deputy Ferris should take the bull by the horns for a change. We did not present the people with our manifesto for government and then tell them we had no intention of going into government. A motion at the 2010 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis called on Sinn Féin not to go into power with other parties such as Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, as this would be incompatible with its politics and damage the party. Is Sinn Féin putting itself or the country first?

I am man enough to front up and sit on the Government benches. I realise what must be done. Fair dues to Fianna Fáil, it did some hard work and made some mistakes, but it owned up to them.

There is no doubt that we will take some stick for this.

A lot of people are able to listen to simple rhetoric, but I would like to contradict some of the nonsense. Take a look at the corporation tax rate. In the past ten years only two people and one party used to look for the rate of corporation tax to be raised in this country. One was Deputy Boyd Barrett who is true to himself and would still like it to be increased, while the other was President Sarkozy of France because he is uncomfortable with the fact that we have such a competitive advantage as a result. The party in question was Sinn Féin, but it has completely given in on the issue and seen the light. It is now happy with the rate being 12.5%. That is a fact.


Deputy Adams said yesterday that anyone who interjected was an amadán. I do not agree. If anything I say is wrong, Deputies should feel free to interject or correct me.

I refer to the bank guarantee. The current Sinn Féin finance spokesperson said in October 2008, "We appreciate the move by the Government today and remind ourselves that it is a bailout by taxpayers for the banks." He went on to say that he intended to support the Bill, as his party colleagues did in the Dáil, when the vote was taken because the Bill was in the national interest.

We have taken €3.8 billion out of the economy in the budget. If we had burned the bondholders, as suggested by Sinn Féin, we would have had to go back to the markets because the National Pensions Reserve Fund would have been used up. Some €18.6 billion would have had to be stripped away because we have junk bond status. Germany is the strongest economy in Europe, but its bonds were not fully subscribed to——


The people need to hear exactly what Sinn Féin is proposing. If one is talking about stripping away that kind of the money from the economy, people will not take small hits. The country and the people would be decimated. Sinn Féin should sit on the Government benches or it should keep running for cover. When there were cuts to be made in Northern Ireland, the Sinn Féin leader came down here for cover and was elected.


I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Social Welfare Bill. I remind Deputies of the economic circumstances in which the country finds itself. It is all very well to come into the House full of bluster and inaccuracies and turn into a mini-heckler without accurately or truthfully representing the economic context in which the country finds itself.

There are a few things about which we can be certain in this debate. The first is that Fianna Fáil bankrupted the country and destroyed Irish society in the process. The main task of the Government is to restore economic sovereignty and our reputation abroad. We lost our economic independence and our reputation abroad was disgracefully lost by the exploits of Fianna Fáil. That is well documented and the party paid an electorate price for it and perhaps will do so for many years to come. Its plan for national recovery in terms of social welfare allowed for an extra €190 million in cuts. The immediate task the Minister had was to readjust that figure. It is still not pleasant but, nonetheless, it is a reminder of where we would be if there had not been a general election earlier this year and of the economic policies Fianna Fáil would have pursued in the area of social protection. It is the party which voted in this Chamber this time last year to take €5 from those in receipt of blind pension. Frankly, I will not take a lecture from someone who comes into the House and chooses to forget that Fianna Fáil spent 14 years destroying the economy, while minding its cronies and building a massive property bubble which ultimately crashed and left egg on the faces of hard working people throughout the country.

There is no denying this is a tough budget, but there is an element of fairness which would not be evident if my party was not in government. I remind those on the Opposition benches that the payments for carers, widows, pensioners and jobseekers have been protected. When the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste addressed the nation after 100 days in power, they gave two very clear commitments. One was that basic rates of social welfare would be protected in the budget, while the other was that income tax would not be increased. They have held true to their word, which is an outstanding achievement, given the economic context in which the country finds itself.

One should compare social welfare payments here with those in the North of Ireland where Sinn Féin is in power and pensioners receive £114 a week. Thank God, a motion was debated and passed at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis because if it was in government, those who depend on social welfare would be a lot worse off. Jobseekers here receive €188 a week if they are over 25 years of age, but in the North they receive £78.47.

Last week Deputy Joe Higgins compared Labour Party backbenchers to elves. Our job is to represent the people who elected us. When the people voted for us, they did so because they knew, if elected, we would go into government. We could have taken the soft or the cowardly option and stayed on the Opposition benches, but we did not do so. I take particular offence to use of the term "elves". Elves are very strange. They are very small, dress unusually, do not smile and rant and rave. That description of an elf is indicative of the Deputy himself.

I call Deputy Mick Wallace, whom I understand is sharing time with Deputy Thomas Pringle and Deputy Clare Daly.

Deputy Boyd Barrett will also speak at the end for two minutes. The most striking aspect of the budget is its obvious lack of fairness. There is not much of an attempt to tackle the growing levels of inequality in society, nor is there a serious attempt to protect those who need the Government's help the most. I do not want to get into a big debate on how to raise the money we need, but I agree with the suggestion of a 55% tax band on earnings of more than €100,000, which would accrue €750 million for the State. Given some of the measures that have been introduced, it would alleviate some of the hardships being suffered by vulnerable people.

The Credit Suisse report has been much discussed in the House this week. It showed that 5% of our population owns 46% of the wealth, with a net value of €219 billion. I am in favour of a one-off solidarity tax on that wealth. Just 1% would bring in more than €2 billion and 5% would bring in more than €10 billion. Things are not easy and we are in a difficult position, but the better off need to carry a greater burden if we are to have a fairer society. Unfortunately, this is not being done.

I do not have time to challenge all of the Bill's many aspects. The One Family group approached me today to highlight a few issues. Some 65% of the poorest children live in one-parent families. A person in a one-parent family is four times more likely to live in consistent poverty than is a person in another family. In 2010, half of one-parent families went without essentials such as adequate home heating, substantial meals, clothing and footwear because they were unable to afford them. Lone parents were the most negatively affected by the previous budget, losing almost 5% of their annual incomes, compared with the 1.3% decrease endured by high-income married couples. Lone parents and their children were poor under the Celtic tiger and remain so. According to the ESRI's "Persistent at Risk of Poverty in Ireland 2011" and "Growing Up in Ireland 2011" publications, one-parent families tend to achieve lower educational levels.

Budget 2012's immediate financial impact on the poorest families in Ireland include an additional €6 per week to be paid towards rent supplement, a loss of €120 per year towards fuel costs, a loss of €228 per year for one-parent families with three children and €432 for those with four children, a significant loss of €50 per primary school age child and €55 per secondary school age child in back to school clothing and footwear allowance cuts, an increase in VAT, fuel costs, school transport costs as well as school capitation grants and the loss of €29.80 per child per week due to the cut in the two qualified child increases where the parent is on a community employment, CE, scheme and one-parent family payment. New CE scheme applicants will no longer be able to retain the one-parent family payment and their salaries from CE schemes.

This morning I received a telephone call from a distressed woman from Ballycullane, County Wexford. Ms Nicola Purcell has two children and is in receipt of one-parent family payment.

I would appreciate if Deputy Wallace did not name members of the public. He should supply the details only.

She got a job in her local crèche in September but needed to wait for Garda vetting to qualify. Her vetting only cleared yesterday. She was told that, once she had been vetted, she could start immediately, but FÁS has since told the crèche that she cannot start until January, meaning that she will lose her one-parent family benefit. This measure disproportionately hits the less well-off and is unfair, doubly so for the woman in question. Will the Minister reconsider it?

I need not go to great lengths to emphasise that many people will suffer badly due to this unfair budget. I do not accept the Government's argument that it is balanced, as the budget does not affect the rich as much as it affects the less well-off.

The cuts to social protection announced on budget day place the Labour Party firmly to the right of politics. The attack on the lowest paid in society shows where the Government's priorities lie. No longer can it blame Fianna Fáil. It is now responsible through the decisions that it has made. The decision to row back on the cut to disability allowances is welcome, but it was a headline social welfare rate and it is beyond belief that it was even included in the budget in the first instance.

Children in single parent families are at the highest risk of poverty, with 65% of the poorest children living in single parent families. A one-parent family where the parent is on a CE scheme with three children living in a rural area will be more than €2,000 per year worse off. This does not even include the extra costs incurred by the VAT increase.

The slashing of child benefit for third and subsequent children is a direct attack on poor families. Anyone can tell the Minister that larger families are mainly poorer families. The Minister referred to Fianna Fáil picking off low lying fruit, but this is one of the lowest lying. The complete refusal even to contemplate a way to target high earners for reductions in child benefit, something that none of us would have had a problem with, shows clearly where the Government's sympathies lie.

Increasing the contribution of tenants on rent supplement hits them directly and lets landlords off the hook. The introduction of minimum rental levels a few years ago has created a black market for landlords where, in order to get rent supplement, tenants must make off-the-book payments to landlords to be able to find somewhere to live.

A bit like King Canute, the Minister has tried to shorten winter by cutting six weeks from the fuel allowance. Each year, almost 2,000 elderly people die from winter-related illnesses and this cut sadly will lead to an increased number of deaths among people who will not be able to heat their homes. This is not my opinion alone, as the Institute of Public Health, IPH, has estimated that 70% of the additional winter mortalities from cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses occurs in the poorest socio-economic groups. I have received calls from elderly people who have told me that they would be turning off their heating because they were afraid that they would not be able to afford it.

Increasing the income assessed from fishing and farming for farm assist and jobseeker's allowance is a further regressive cut that will affect more than 5,000 people living in the most neglected areas in the country where there are no other employment options.

Changing means testing to include income from home support attacks the poorest. The Department explains this by claiming that home support is now a well paid job. This shows how dysfunctional the Government is. It would not take long for the Minister to find out that hundreds of thousands of hours of home support have been slashed by the HSE in the past two years. Many home support workers only work a half hour per day without any assistance towards their travel. Their incomes will be slashed on the double.

The Government had choices. It chose to target lone parents, young people with disabilities, people in fuel poverty, widows and widowers. It chose to hit poor families by more than Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen's pension cut. It chose to give its members' advisers €35,000 pay rises and it chose not to tax high earners. It has chosen to widen inequality in our society.

The Social Welfare Bill is only implementing some of the cuts, with another Bill to appear before the House in the new year. The latter will savage part-time workers and reinforce the inequality that the Government is forcing on us. The full impact of changing jobseeker's allowance to a five-day week calculation has not even been fully evaluated by the Department, yet the Government is going to hit part-time workers anyway.

The economic think tank TASC has called for budgets to be equality proofed. I support this call. By any measure, this budget has failed on equality proofing. The lack of communication between Departments about the cross-departmental impacts of their slashing plans highlights the need for equality proofing even more. It is no accident that the most equal societies are weathering this recession better than the most unequal. Unfortunately, Ireland rates as one of the most unequal societies in Europe. This budget will only increase that inequality further.

All Labour Party Deputies started their remarks by telling us about the deplorable state of the economy, but its condition was common knowledge when they contested the election and promised to be the guardians of people's welfare against that backdrop. Over the past few days, all of us have received letters from Barnardos, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Social Justice Ireland and others that are hardly the most radical campaigners or mad lunatics begging and pleading with this Government to call a halt to the butchery it has engaged in and to reverse some of the decisions it plans to ram through. If this process is to be meaningful, the Government should take heed. The expression "protecting the vulnerable" has been the most misused phrase in vogue over the past number of days. In reality, it is code for kicking the living daylights out of those at the bottom of society. It is nothing more than nauseating hypocrisy from the Labour Party, in particular, when people had such hope that it would offer something different. In fairness to Vincent Browne, as he spent the week saying, one would be hard-pressed to find a single vulnerable person or group who this Government has not targeted. The Government has gone after every one of them and if that is what protecting the vulnerable means, it is a severe misuse of language.

The Government has been forced to pull back on the attack on disabled young people. It displayed some brass neck that anyone could consider reducing the income of these young people by €88 or 42% at the same time as it leaves the wealth of those at the top of society untouched. We know that this is a stunt in order to have a headline saying that the Government did not attack basic social welfare rates. Behind that, the reality is a devastating blow with many other stealth attacks behind the scenes. We must see this in the context of the reports issued by Social Justice Ireland, the European Anti Poverty Network Ireland and others, who were quite clear in advance of this budget that the unemployed, lone parents and those out of work on disability are those with the greatest level of poverty and that poverty levels of those at work has increased over the past number of years. Continuing or implementing policies such as increasing VAT, flat rate charges and attacks on social welfare only increases the inequality. That is what the Labour Party Government has done. It is correct to pinpoint the remarks of Deputy Burton when she said the cuts of last year were on top of two previous sets of butchery. Not only has she not reversed the cuts, the Government has added more cuts. Over the past number of years, there has been a 10% reduction in social welfare, with 4% over each of the past two years and a 2% reduction in the axing of the Christmas bonus. The Minister has not touched any of this.

It is lunacy to say that the social welfare rates in Ireland are too high. Against an EU average of 27% of GDP spent on social welfare, Ireland only spends 18%. We are not interested in the waffle that social welfare payments have been protected. Why did the Minister not reverse the cuts implemented by Fianna Fáil when she railed against them in opposition? That is why people voted for Labour and they are sorely disappointed. This Government had choices and chose to target those at the bottom. The point about lone parents was well made and that is the group with most deprivation in society. Over €100 million has been taken out of their pockets.

Against a backdrop of rising prices and an earlier cut in allowances, a cut was made to fuel allowance. The CSO told us that 14% of people in local authority houses would not be able to heat their homes. What is the solution? It is to cut their fuel allowance even further, as if that will help considerably. The Minister's press release says, in justification, the size and duration of the allowance has greatly increased over the past ten years. The scheme is unsustainable according to the press release of the Minister. In order to save €51 million, a pittance in the overall scale of things, a measure was taken that will costs lives and cause extreme hardship. One sixth of that amount could be raised by tinkering with a hike of less than 1% in corporation tax on a sector that generated profits of €37 billion last year. I do not have time to make points other than that on the community employment scheme. It is disgraceful that this is being downplayed as it will cause huge damage. I strenuously encourage everyone to turn out at the protest tomorrow at 2 p.m. to make this Government see sense in that regard, rethink its policies, go after those at the top who have money and stop picking on those at the bottom.

The Minister hit out at people with disabilities, the fuel allowance, rent supplement, footwear, clothing and back to education allowances, child benefit, hearing aid grants and lone parent support. It is absolutely clear that when talking about protecting the vulnerable, the Minister has done the exact opposite. She has hit every definition of vulnerable group, the disabled, the elderly, children, women and the poor. This is from the Labour Party. It is simply outrageous. At this point, it is time for the Labour Party to take off its political paraphernalia and any reference to James Connolly or James Larkin. James Connolly died for this country in a fight against control by empires. James Larkin died in poverty although he could have become a Minister and joined the club of the Free State. Instead, he died in poverty because he would not sell out. That is the mantle the Labour Party has historically claimed. They have decisively betrayed the mantle in attacking the very people that James Connolly and James Larkin dedicated their lives to protecting.

When faced with this criticism, the Government continues to repeat the mantra that we do not offer an alternative. We have comprehensively offered an alternative. The Government will not answer the question of why it will not put a wealth tax on the €220 billion held by the top 5% of the population. Why will the Government not do that? We say it will derive €10 billion but maybe we are wrong and it will only raise €5 billion. That would cover all of these cuts and even if it raised only €1 billion it would do away with all of the attacks on the elderly, the disabled, the young, lone parents and the poor in the Social Welfare Bill.

I refer to one commitment of this Government, which keeps saying it is in favour of labour activation measures. It has tried to justify some of these attacks as labour activation measures. The transitional payments being cut, the concurrent payments and the income disregards are all aimed at lone parents and are a direct attack on lone parents trying to get back into work or who are working. They are a direct disincentive for lone parents to be in the workforce and they will drive lone parents out of work, out of community employment schemes and back onto dependency on social welfare. Most lone parents work and want to work but cannot survive without the support that the Government is cutting. It makes a mockery of the claim that these are labour activation measures. I ask the Minister to reverse these cuts.

The one lesson we have learned in the past number of days is that people power can change Government attacks. The only reason the Government reversed the disability allowance measure is the fear of public outrage against an attack on the disabled. Lone parents, people on community employment schemes and other vulnerable groups who have been attacked should learn the lesson that protest and expressing outrage can get results. They should get on the streets and force the Government to reverse these cuts. If the Labour Party wants to save itself the trouble of that kind of public outrage, it can reverse these cuts tomorrow.

I propose to share time with Deputy Kieran O'Donnell.

Deputy Durkan will not have enough time.

I know my colleague across the floor will respect every word I say and hang on to it for dear life, as would be his wont.

I have listened very carefully for the past couple of days and some things have stuck in my mind. It does no harm to remember them. No one who has been elected to this House would be in any way disposed towards cutting payments to persons in receipt of disability allowance, the old age pension or whatever social welfare payment to which they are entitled.

Why did the Government do it then?

No one in this House has a monopoly of knowledge of the hardship being suffered. I do not want to hear anyone lecture us from any side of the House about what it is like to be in that position; we have been those soldiers and done that.

Why did the Government cut the allowance then?

It might come as a shock to Members that some of us in this House in the early days received net pay equivalent to that of a man and a wife and four children who was on the dole. It was not nice. We had the experience of putting cardboard into the soles of shoes. No one should lecture us about bringing us back to reality; we know all about the hardship. We feel it intensely at this time.

Deputy Boyd Barrett made a valid point about lone parents: they want to work. All the lone parents I ever dealt with had an urge to work and scrounge and scrape to do whatever they could for their child or children. At all times I stand by their right to make their case. Do not let us have this nonsense, however, of using the Government as the whipping boy and pretending no one understands, except someone sitting on the Opposition benches.

That is a big change from when the Deputy was sitting over here.

We know full well about it and some of the Members sitting at the front on the Opposition benches know full well about it also because they were here.

The Deputy was over here giving out.

Some of them were not, but if fate smiles on them, I hope they will be. With the passage of time, they will learn a little more about it.

What really makes me angry is that I was here during all that time; I lived through it. I saw all of this unfolding before, which is why I object to what Deputy Barry Cowen said. It is not personal, but I am telling him now that what happened in this country in the past ten years was an absolute disgrace. The country was sold down the river in a way that had never been done before. That is not a personal accusation, but I want to see someone on the other side of the House accept some responsibility for it. I do not want to see the sanitisation that is taking place, this re-emergence, like the slug that becomes a beautiful butterfly, without some explanation for it. What has been done to this country is a mortal blow and we must never let anyone in this House forget it. The inheritance of the present and next generations has been swept from under the noses of the children, the adults and the elderly and we have been left bereft. Deputy Browne knows this as well as I do, as he was here and experienced it.

Fine Gael called for us to spend even more.

The sad part is that the Deputy applauded it. He probably thought he was doing the right thing at the time. Those of us who had the temerity to raise questions were ridiculed; now the entire population is being ridiculed. We have been told to consider our position and asked if we understand. We have been told this is something that should not happen. Has anyone told those on the Opposition benches that there is no money available and that we are inches away from tipping over into the abyss?

Do we fully realise what can happen? Do we realise how tenuous are the payments on which we all depend — everyone inside and outside this House, those on social welfare and every other payment, the employed and unemployed — how they could disappear right before our eyes if something goes wrong?

The Minister well knows — we have had many discussions, sometimes animated — that I understand the position she is in, but I equally understand the plight of the people. Someone has referred to the friends in The Irish Times who have been criticising me of late. I am sorry for them, but they would want to get real also. We live in desperate times and if there is any doubt in anyone’s mind, we had better recognise what lies before us. Recognition of the full extent of the problem is half the battle. Of those who say we can get money somewhere, I ask: where? Can someone tell me the answer?

It will not be found by cutting payments to people with disabilities.

I am glad the Deputy mentioned that because I have been listening to the same auld mullarkey since I was so high. Have they all forgotten what has happened? Wealth has disappeared from the country. This was supposed to be the third or fourth richest country in the world two or three years ago.

I was hearing it day and night; everywhere I went I was told this was the richest or second richest country in the world. Fianna Fáil used to state it was the second richest, but we used to say the third or fourth richest because we did not believe it.

That is what I am sorry for——

I am sorry I have to listen to this.

Like a number of others in the House, including the Minister and some members of the Opposition who should know better, we knew this was going to happen and suggested it would happen if we kept going the way we were — by "we" I mean society. I almost doubted my own judgment.

Join the club.

I almost doubted my own judgment and thought perhaps I was wrong, but I was not. To all the soothsayers, the experts who said we did not understand what we were talking about, that we did not have proper contact with the people, I say we did and, unfortunately, we were right. Unfortunately, the corrective measures now being taken could have been minuscule had they been taken back in 2002.

In 2007 Fine Gael wanted us to do more.

That was the golden sale, when the people were bought and paid for with no purpose other than to win the general election.

The Deputy should have read the Fine Gael manifesto.

When the election was over, health boards were abolished and free medical cards were handed out to anyone who wanted one. Having provided them, the then Government callously and cynically took them back. The same individuals are saying the people are cynical about politicians. I am not surprised that they are. We then hear that we are all the same, that we are as bad as Fianna Fáil. Poor old Fianna Fáil is selected, but that party had colleagues in government, it was not alone. We are not all the same and do not wish to be. In future let us remember one thing: this budget was forced on the Government and the people through necessity and there is nothing left. It is not just that Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard is bare, the hinges have come off and the cupboard is also gone.

Bertie is in the bottom of the cupboard.

It is disgraceful because this is the third time I have seen this happen in my political lifetime. That is the sad part. It happened in 1977, 1987 and 1997. If I was a member of a party which had contributed to it, I would come into the House with my hands up and beg for forgiveness.

In fairness, the Deputy has just done that.

I would throw myself at the mercy of the House and apologise to my colleagues. I would admit it should never have happened, that I was ashamed and then walk away.

What about the 2007 manifesto in which Fine Gael promised everything?

I want to touch on a few points. On the Social Welfare Bill, I welcome and acknowledge the fact that the Minister for Social Protection is withdrawing sections 8 to 10, inclusive, dealing with disability allowance and domiciliary care allowance. I acknowledge the work done by the Minister in this regard and the discussions that have taken place with Fine Gael Members and other parties on this issue. It is a welcome move that shows the Government is listening and takes on board people's concerns. I welcome that Ita Mangan of the Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare is carrying out a review of this measure. It takes away the anxiety of young people with disabilities and their families. I acknowledge the work done by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, in this regard. I have a significant personal interest in people with disabilities. When we considered this measure, and spoke to the people involved and their families, it was clear that we needed to put the measure on hold and carry out a review.

By definition making an adjustment of €3.8 billion in a budget will be hard on people. In those circumstances we need to come up with a budget that is as fair as possible. It will always be difficult with €1.4 billion in cuts in current expenditure as I am sure the Minister for Social Protection will acknowledge. We have tried to make it as fair as possible and we will continue to strive to do so during our time in government.

I welcome the value for money review of the community employment schemes as any reduction would be of concern to the people involved in such schemes which do very good work. The context of the budget is simple: we need to get people back to work. I heard some Deputies mention lone parents. Many lone parents who want to get jobs come to all our constituency offices. We need to reform the system — the Minister has started to do so — to allow them to get back into work. It is incumbent on the Government to ensure that labour activation measures — with €20 million going into a fund — work in a more efficient way and are more streamlined to cater for the needs of lone parents and people with disabilities. We need to ensure that people with disabilities get the best possible opportunities to work. I have no doubt all Members of the House will agree with these proposals. Fundamentally people have an entitlement to work. There are more than 400,000 people unemployed — either full-time or part-time. The key focus is to get labour activation measures going, get growth in the economy and get people back to work.

Unfortunately as a country we cannot borrow independently on the world markets and are dependent on an IMF-EU programme to get funds to pay social welfare and public sector wages, and pay for public services. There are constraints and while we are in a difficult space at the moment, growth has returned. I worked as an accountant in the private sector for many years. It is about stimulating the private sector and getting jobs going. Even though it is a very harsh budget, it contains many good measures which have been overlooked. We have delivered on our general election and programme for Government commitment not to raise income tax rates or change tax credits. We have not touched primary social welfare payments meaning that people have certainty in that regard. We have increased the exemption limit for the universal social charge from €4,004 to €10,036 thereby benefiting 330,000 people. It should be acknowledged that that is a good measure, which improves the changes of people getting into work.

On mortgage interest relief, whether right or wrong, many young couples and single people bought houses at greatly inflated prices between 2004 and 2008. Many of them felt forced to get on the property ladder because if they did not get on the property ladder they would not be able to buy a home. Many of them bought apartments in the expectation that they would appreciate in value and many of them now cannot afford to pay their mortgages. We have honoured our commitment to increase mortgage interest relief to 30% for first-time buyers who bought houses between 2004 and 2008.

I keep coming back to the jobs area. For business, we have improved research and development tax credits, provided the partial loan guarantee scheme which will free up credit for the SME sector and introduced the micro-finance fund. We will continue tax exemption for start-up companies, which was a good measure introduced by the previous Government, for another three years.

We are an agriculture-based nation. There is now an incentive for people to pass farms on to the younger generation. We need to get people to continue to stay on the land and these are good measures.

In the jobs initiative that we introduced earlier in the year, we reduced the VAT rate for tourism-based items and halved the employer's PRSI rate for people on lower pay, which are positive incentives.

When we are taking €1.4 billion from current expenditure, it will be a harsh budget on people. We are trying to make it fair and the thrust of the budget in terms of policy and theme is to get people back to work. We need to reform the social welfare system to make it a labour activation fund. People should regard it as a temporary measure allowing them the opportunity to get jobs into the future and thereby get out of the poverty trap.

I acknowledge the positive work the Minister has done in withdrawing the proposed change to disability allowance for young persons and having a review carried out on it. The key thing is to get people back to work.

As Chairman of the committee that covers this area, I compliment the Minister on managing to keep the reductions down to €475 million. Others, including some on this side of the House, had planned that we would be heading for a reduction of nearly €1 billion in this Department. It was never going to be easy for any Minister to find reductions of €475 million. We need to get real here: we are trying to do the best we can across a range of rates. The basic rate has been more or less kept the same for nearly everybody involved. The core income of those who depend on social welfare has been protected. Even in a large family with five or six children, if child benefit had been cut by €10 across the board, it would end up in nearly the same place. The key is to protect the basic rate so people know exactly what they will have to work with from year to year.

We can reform many other areas of social welfare in order to make savings while protecting those who are more vulnerable. I welcome many new initiatives the Department of Social Protection has presented to our committee. In the coming year we need to spend a considerable amount of time working with departmental officials to get reforms that will deliver better value for our money. That means reviewing all these schemes.

I welcome the Minister's proposed changes to sections 8 to 10, inclusive, on the disability allowance and the domiciliary care allowance. We now have time to carry out a proper review of that area to decide how best to spend that pot of money. I believe there are people in those categories who are not getting all they need and there are others who may be able to manage with less. We need to ensure it is spent properly. When I say that some people might be getting more than they need, we have a duty to get those people back into training or work if the can at all. I fully acknowledge that there are certain people who, for whatever reason, might not be able to get back into a job and they would need more. We need to look at all these areas of social welfare and ensure we get the best value for money while reforming. In the current climate when we are trying to find such large cuts it is quite an achievement to have got it down to €475 million.

I welcome the additional €20 million for labour activation schemes, an issue I raised often when in Opposition. Putting more money into labour activation leads to people gaining qualifications that will lead them into employment, thus benefiting the communities in which they live. The community employment schemes, which also assist people in this way, are being reviewed. People have nothing to fear from our achieving value for money. These schemes should not be abolished. I acknowledge that some schemes require more money than others. It is about using our heads to achieve balance, making savings along the way, which we can do.

Let us not get hysterical about what the Government is trying to do, which is to protect as best it can people who need the back-up and protection of the Department of Social Protection until such time as they return to employment. We must do this as best with can with minimum resources and by making cuts and adjustments to the overall budget.

I wish to share time with Deputy Kirk.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on Second Stage of this Bill. However, I welcome the Bill with a sense of dismay bearing in mind the commentary on it by many organisations who for the past number of years were led to believe that there was an easier way to address the challenges facing individuals, communities and the country. These organisations were led to believe there was a painless, easier way out of the difficulties we were in. I will leave the issue of how we got here to commentators and historians.

The general election held in February of this year was an overwhelming victory for the Government parties, which is evident from Fianna Fáil's representation on this side of the House. However, it is important to highlight and analyse what was said by the parties in Government during the weeks leading up to that election and, more important, what was said by them in this House over a number of years prior to the election. What was said then and what has happened since is, in almost every facet and area of expenditure, diametrically opposed. When one looks back, the promises, commitments and stoking of fear perpetrated by Members opposite when on this side of the House was alarming.

Following a lecture from the Minister, Deputy Noonan, on Tuesday about Richard Mulcahy and the fiscal impropriety of our party, I took a look at Fine Gael's 2002 manifesto, which is an alarming read. If we are genuinely to engage in new politics, we must first have honest debate in this House. I have no difficulty, and have never had difficulty, accepting responsibility for decisions I made as an individual, as Minister or as a party member supporting a Government. I stand over those decisions, many of which were unpopular and did impact on the quality of individuals' lives. However, the intent of those decisions was never to hurt or offend people. Every decision I made, I made for the right reasons, despite their being difficult at times. Being a member of the previous Administration was exceptionally difficult. The decisions made caused huge upheaval in society and huge difficulties for individuals and families. However, collectively, we know that those decisions, as unpalatable as they were for individuals and for us as politicians to make, were made in the best interests of saving our economy in terms of the difficult period ahead of us. Many members of this Government were aware of the situation we were in at that time.

The first question I tabled in this House following the election of the new Government was to the Minister for Finance. I asked him if he was satisfied with the briefings he received from the officials in advance of the election, if they were full, fair and honest and if he was made fully aware of the difficulties and challenges facing the country at that time? The Minister, Deputy Noonan, following a briefing from the late Minister, Brian Lenihan and Department of Finance officials was under no illusions in regard to the distressed state of the economy. The Minister, Deputy Burton, then Labour Opposition spokesperson on finance at that time left the Department of Finance ashen faced on a number of occasions having learned of the full import of the difficulties and challenges we faced.

I will now comment on the Social Welfare Bill 2011, which contains many nasty cuts and has targeted particular sectors. I welcome the belated withdrawal of sections 7, 8, 9 and 10 in respect of entitlement to the domiciliary care allowance, disability allowance and disability allowance amendments. The reason for withdrawal of these sections is distressing. The Government thought it could slip this through, that it would not immediately impact on people and so would not be spotted for some time. Had it been passed, it would have meant that as people with disabilities reached the age of 16 years they would begin to lose benefits which others currently receive.

That is not correct and the Deputy knows it.

Others will have an opportunity to speak when I have finished.

The Deputy should say what is right.

Please allow the Deputy to continue without interruption.

It was brought to the Taoiseach's attention that a personable conversation between him and a young girl from Cork on the issue of disability was being uploaded on YouTube. Many people were genuinely disturbed by the inclusion of this nasty measure in the Bill, including Deputies opposite, who raised the issue with the Minister.

I am duty bound to highlight what I believe is a mean cut. Prior to the election, the Government engaged in a populist campaign with promises of no cuts to social welfare and no increases in tax. Given its need to honour that commitment, and in pursuit of populism, its hands were tied behind its back, leaving some people to carry the can. Unfortunately, those chosen were people in receipt of disability allowances. People on disability allowance carry the can for that populist decision and the Government's attempts to be all things to everyone.

The conversation in which the Taoiseach engaged with the young girl from Cork was uploaded onto YouTube. It was then that the Taoiseach foresaw a problem with this cut and met with the Minister for Social Protection in an effort to resolve it.

The Deputy is wrong.

Deputy Buttimer will have an opportunity to speak soon at which time he can correct what Deputy Kelleher said.

If you want to go——

On a point of order——

What is the Deputy's point of order?

Deputy Kelleher is misleading the House.

Deputy Kelleher has only one minute remaining.

If Deputy Buttimer wants to go the full nine yards——

The Deputy is playing politics with disabilities.

Deputy Buttimer will soon have ten minutes to make his contribution, at which point he can correct the record.

The Taoiseach came into this House on another matter and categorically stated that he never gave a guarantee to the people of Roscommon that the hospital there would remain open.

That is not relevant.

The Taoiseach was approached by a journalist who had a tape recording of what he said, at which point the Taoiseach had to acknowledge what he said. I have been lectured many times. However, I am big enough to take it. It is time for us to move on and to acknowledge what was done during the election in terms of the deceit and dishonesty perpetrated with wild abandonment throughout the country. How many more promises were made that were not recorded by journalists or uploaded to YouTube?

If we are to engage in honest politics, then let the debate begin. Let us be mature.

I will take on the chin criticism for my part in terms of where we are, but Members opposite equally have an obligation to the broader body politic and, more importantly, to the Irish people, who need leadership and to be able to trust their leaders to mean what they say, as opposed to simply trying to be populist for the sake of the pursuit of power. These are difficult times and Ireland is far from being out of the woods. It is far from turning the corner because there is a long way to go. If people genuinely believe in political parties and in the body politic, we will have a better opportunity to bring the people with us, rather than being divisive and fractured or having society turning on itself. This already happened to a certain extent before the last election, when there were private sector versus public sector debates and when parts of society were blaming others for their misfortunes. As this is a dangerous path for any Member to take, let them all be honest while trying to take the country out of difficult and uncharted waters.

I am glad of this brief opportunity to make a few comments. While I am conscious that Members are debating the Social Welfare Bill 2011, inevitably a Second Stage debate allows some flexibility and movement with regard to the points that can be made on different areas and the budget provisions naturally will receive an airing at this time. I will start by considering the principal features of the social welfare cuts that were introduced in budget 2012. I refer to the cut to the disability allowance for young people, the cut by six weeks to the fuel allowance period, the reduction in child benefit for third and subsequent children, the cut in jobseeker's benefit, the slashing of the back-to-school allowance, as well as the cut to the one-parent allowance. Moreover, pension eligibility has been cut and those who fall below the threshold of having an average of 48 contributions in the future will find themselves in a position of having reduced pension payments. In addition, the farm assist scheme will be affected and it is clear there will be a reduction in the amount paid to many small farmers in both Deputy O'Reilly's constituency and my own constituency of Louth. Finally, I note the redundancy rebate has been reduced.

There is one point on which everyone present in this Chamber can agree, which is that the total social welfare bill for the Exchequer each year is extremely significant. Moreover, this is at a time when Members are examining ways and means to save resources and money to get back into balance the fiscal position. While this is largely dictated by the troika, the Government freely admits there is flexibility in the changes and provisions it makes. However, there is one area of the social welfare bill to the Exchequer in which highly significant savings can be made. I do not have to hand the figures for the total outgoings in respect of jobseeker's allowance or jobseeker's benefit but it is reasonable to assume that when 480,000 people are unemployed, it is highly significant on either a weekly or an annual basis. If the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform had wished to effect real change to the Exchequer's social welfare bill, they would have considered the area of employment creation. It is generally accepted both by Members and external economic commentators that if one is to create the jobs that are so sorely needed, the domestic economy is the area on which one must focus.

Nevertheless, in a significant provision, the Minister for Finance decided to increase the level of value added tax from 21% to 23%. I have represented a Border constituency for the past 29 years and during that time I have seen the trading equilibrium change periodically. However, there was always one consistent aspect to such changes when the trade went northward in significant volumes. It is not that long ago that there were tailbacks and long queues of cars travelling to Newry, Banbridge, Lisnaskea and other towns and villages north of the Border because the balance of advantage in the expenditure of one's weekly budget lay in shopping in the North. As surely as Members are debating the Social Welfare Bill 2011 this evening, this will happen again on foot of the significant increase in the level of VAT. I do not advocate not having a trading equilibrium on the island whereby people can shop in Newry or Banbridge one week and in Dundalk a week later. I have seen people from south Armagh shopping in Dundalk in past times and they were very welcome. However, whenever there is huge movement one way or the other, retail businesses inevitably are directly affected by the impact of products being bought elsewhere. Inevitably, this in turn affects those who are employed in that specific retail sector.

All Members on both sides of the House accept that to return to a realistic employment position, activation measures must be introduced that will get the domestic economy moving again. However, I assure them that increasing the level of VAT from 21% to 23% is not the way to go about it. When the Government entered office not so long ago, it decided to examine private pension funds and a creaming-off process was proposed to create a fund to create jobs. At the time, there was general acceptance that if it was possible to do it this way, it should be tried. However, since that initiative was announced, there has been a significant increase in the number of people cast onto the unemployment register. This indicates the measures are not working. Members must become much more realistic about this area. They must consider the areas of the economy in which potential exists for clear, tangible and beneficial economic growth. For example, they might consider the primary wealth creation sectors in the economy that for some time have been growing steadily and have contributed substantially to the balance of trade, to the point where the export levels of produce out of the country have been the significant saving grace as far as the economy is concerned.

I read the relevant newspapers regularly and one reads of commercial enterprises here and there which are considering the possibility of expansion in the dairy sector or in growing new crops or which are considering expansion into areas of import substitution. The Minister for Social Protection is representing the Government in the Chamber this evening and I ask her whether it is not time to establish a task force to examine these sectors to ascertain what is the realistic job creation potential therein. If the provision of State support could be justified to ensure that economic growth takes place in such sectors to create the jobs that are needed, surely this should be a fundamental part of the budget provisions that have been put forward over the past week or so. Unfortunately this has not been the case. The announcement of the creation of an activation fund of €20 million is significant and I do not deride it by any stretch of the imagination. However, there must be a focus on the areas in which this money will be spent. One must ask whether, in 12 months' time, one will have succeeded in creating 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000 jobs in those sectors that undoubtedly have potential for such job creation.

All Members tend to be parochial about these issues and in my own constituency, I have in mind the Cooley Mountains, which face the Mourne Mountains across Carlingford Lough. The relevant local authorities have put forward a proposal to build a bridge over Narrow Water, which is the point at which the Newry Canal leaves Carlingford Lough. A total of €40 million is available in the INTERREG fund but it would require the Minister for Finance to put up approximately €1.5 million. It also would require his counterpart north of the Border to put up a similar amount or perhaps more to get that project under way.

I advise the Minister, Deputy Burton, that tourism is one of the areas where jobs can be created. We need to focus on projects in that sector. There is a clear justification for public expenditure on such projects. The Government should examine those areas. If jobs can be created in north Louth or elsewhere in Louth, south Down or south Armagh, they would have a tangible impact on the economy north and south of the Border. We need to focus on those areas. One sure prediction we can make tonight is that austerity alone will not get us out of the problems we are in. We need creativity, innovation and a Government that is prepared to think outside the box, which is a phrase I hate but it captures the point that needs to be made. We need to do those things urgently.

The next speaker is Deputy Joe O'Reilly and I note he is sharing his time with Deputy Jerry Buttimer.

What is remarkable about this budget and the social welfare dimension of it is what has been achieved in the context in which the budget has been prepared. In considering that context, there is no avoiding the fact that there has been a €16 billion shortfall in the public finances already this year. Neither can the fact be avoided that we are subject to the IMF-EU deal, that we need funding under that programme to maintain the country on an ongoing basis and that we must honour the terms of its lending. Furthermore, we must put our national finances into the kind of shape that will get us back into the bond markets, restore confidence in the country internationally and, ultimately, create the kind of consumer demand, consumer spend and investment in the domestic economy by people who have savings required to kickstart the economy. Against that backdrop and having regard to that economic reality, the achievements in the budget are enormous.

It merits mention again that the Department of Social Protection will spend €21 billion this year, which represents 40% of all Government expenditure. Only 2%, or €75 million, will be taken out of the Department's spending this year, compared to €810 million last year. Therefore, that is a huge achievement. Given Deputy Kelleher's selective memory and selective isolation of facts, he needs reminding that in contrast to last year, this year a huge achievement has been made in that only 2% of spending will be taken out social welfare expenditure.

Significantly, the existing rates of the primary payments of jobseeker's benefit and allowance, illness benefit, invalidity pension, disability allowance, widow's pension, the carer's allowance etc. are being maintained. That provision will be matched by a further provision next January in that recipients who are little more fortunate and in employment at present will have no alteration in take-home pay.

Child benefit for the first and second child is being maintained at the existing rate and there is only an adjustment for further children of the special top-up allowance that existed previously. That is an enormous achievement. I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Burton, on what she has achieved in this budget in that she has maintained primary payments and child benefit. I believe in a universal payment for children based on the fact that, irrespective of social class and wealth levels, there are tragic situations where children's allowance is the relevant payment and the mother or whoever is the primary carer needs it — there is no option on that one. Universality in the payment of children's allowance is valuable.

It is a great achievement that the carer's allowance and the half carer's allowance, which is paid where a person cares for an extra person, is being maintained. I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Burton, on that. There has been a distraction with one issue in the budget but that has been manfully corrected and strongly addressed by Cabinet, the relevant Ministers and the Taoiseach. Deputy Kelleher was also very selective in his isolation of facts on that issue. We do not want to get distracted from the fact that the achievements of this budget in maintaining the existing rates of all primary payments are enormous.

Turning to the carer's allowance, the potential of that allowance has not been fully exploited. I raised this issue in my parliamentary party on a number of occasions and I want to raise it with the Minister in the Chamber. I commend the Minister to carefully examine that payment, carry out research and consider establishing a pilot scheme with some extra attractions linked to that payment or to advertise it more to heighten people's awareness of it. I know anecdotally from my work within the constituency and from people I meet that many people, particularly people in less well paid jobs, could be attracted back to caring for people in their own homes and would enjoy caring for relatives, friends or immediate neighbours but particularly extended family. There is huge potential in respect of that allowance. We have not exploited fully the carer's allowance as an instrument for job creation and providing care for people where they most want it in their own home. I also put forward the suggestion of boarding out — which does not totally come under the brief of the Minister, Deputy Burton — as an option for older persons that has not been fully examined as a way of preventing some of the enormous costs surrounding care of the elderly.

I agree with Deputy Kirk that we need to address the job creation question but he is not correct to say that we have not made major efforts in this budget and previously to do that. A total of €977 million will be spent on employment supports next year in contrast to €882 in 2011. Some €20 million will be spent on a new labour market activation fund and there will be €514 million capital spending for science, technology and innovation funding. There will be a prioritisation of education and training places for people on unemployment for more than 12 months and more use of the Springboard initiative. The new micro-finance fund for small business and the State guarantee system to get credit flowing into the economy will be announced in January. These are the only initiatives that could be taken at present within the context of the national finances. The unemployment question is the core issue and that question should be attacked by the various initiatives in place and by more if they could be afforded because there are more capital projects if, ideally, they could be funded. It also should be attacked by correcting the overall finances and that has been achieved. The proper economic and fiscal environment must be created for job creation.

It is critical that we look at jobseeker's allowance as an entitlement and a right and people who get it rightfully deserve it; they should get it and get more if we could afford it, but it should be seen as a bridge or cushion that assists people on transition from a workplace moving back to work. That is implicit in this budget, in the Minister's contributions thereon and in the budget speech. There should much more engagement with unemployed people in terms of assessment for and provision of courses and involvement with training schemes. The Minister's strategy should be predicated on the transfer of people from unemployment jobseeker's allowance back into the workplace. That is implicit in a number of the provisions I have listed, but it is a kernel and critical factor.

This budget is an enormous achievement in the context of the times we live in. If we were down to the 3% budget deficit, had discretion over our national finances, had our economic sovereignty and lending capacity back and if things were better in an overall global context of course it would not be satisfactory, and we would be introducing very different measures. However, in the context of the parameters that existed, the overall fiscal situation and the choices available to the Minister, the budget is an extraordinary achievement. It is creative, fair, compassionate and sensitive. The essential achievement was to maintain core incomes and give predictability and certainty to people. We should be applauding that this was done in the present time. The public is much more discerning and discriminating than some of us might patronisingly think. They will know the difference. They know this is a huge achievement and that what was not apt in it has been corrected very courageously and publicly.

I compliment the Minister on being here, on her excellent speech today and on her stewardship of the Department over the past nine months. She has shown courage and bottle and deserves to be supported.

In this debate we are discussing people, many of whom need the State to look after them, and people with disabilities. It ill behoves Members to play politics with sensitive people. I apologise to Deputy Cowen for not being here for his speech but if I had been we would have ended up fighting and I chose to leave before he got into the body of his speech because I did not want to hear the empty rhetoric. This is not personal——

You left last night too.

It is extraordinary. Last night, I stated that the politics of recrimination is one thing, but it really sickens me to hear Members on the other side of the House who for 14 years were in government making decisions which condemned a generation of Irish people. It is genuinely sickening.

The budget is not easy and it is not difficult——

It is not difficult to defend because it is about people. It is about building a new Ireland. In her very fine speech today, the Minister stated she wished this was not the way she had to give her first budget. She is correct; none of us entered politics to be the purveyors of bad news or to make tough decisions. It would be great to come here and squander money, like Fianna Fáil did for 14 years, and tell people——

You wanted more.

You jumped ship Deputy McGrath and you stand for nothing in my mind.

Stick to discussing the Bill.

You are like the wind; you blow wherever it goes. At least Deputy Cowen has the courage of his convictions——

You are a bit of a statesman too.

——and to be fair to them the Sinn Féin Deputies also have their convictions. However Deputy McGrath has none.

You ran away last night when I was speaking.

I want to say to people outside the Chamber who are listening that I wish it was different. I apologise to them for the cuts we are making and for the hard calls we are taking. However it is for the betterment of the Irish people and for the betterment of Irish society.

I was a schoolteacher for 20 years and many of my past pupils and clubmates from Bishopstown GAA club have emigrated. Over the past nine months many of them have e-mailed me, particularly in recent days, and all of them bar one told me to make the tough call and the hard decisions and give them a chance to come home. They want a chance to raise their families in Ireland and have hope. These are young people, many of whom have no interest in politics. I walk around my constituency every day and I see poverty and people who were left behind by the so-called "Celtic tiger". I see middle-class families who had to buy in the boom with inflated house prices and banks throwing money at them. Today these people call on the Minister, Deputy Burton, the Cabinet and those of us in government to make the decisions to get our country back.

This afternoon when the Minister was making her speech, Deputy Ó Snodaigh made a comment regarding Westminster being the paymaster in the North and he is correct. It is the paymaster in the North and you work within the budget you have been given there. However, you should not come down here to us and say one thing when——

I live here. I was born and bred here. I did not come down from anywhere.

Let me finish. You make decisions in government in the North and you have accepted responsibility in the North.

This is silly. I am not from the North.

Perhaps Deputy Buttimer should stick to the Social Welfare Bill.

I will, because the Social Welfare Bill——

You need a geography lesson.

I do not need geography at all. I am as republican as Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

Shall we stick to the Social Welfare Bill?

The social welfare rate in the North is much less than here. We now have a paymaster here, the EU-IMF troika, which dictates what we can do. You can act dismayed and make faces at me but this is the reality.

It is not the reality.

Our economic sovereignty has been given away——

We still have choices.

——and it behoves all of us to reclaim it, not just to get it back but to give a generation of people, be they supporters of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, Sinn Féin or whoever, the opportunity to have an Ireland that is free where they can work and do not have to go cap in hand to Europe to get money, and where we can have a society, be it socialist or capitalist, where work, labour activation and growth in the economy takes place.

This is what it is about and let us be real about it. A total of €20.5 billion is spent by the Department of Social Protection, which is 40% of current Government expenditure. The Bill proposes an adjustment in social protection spending of €475 million which is 2.2% of departmental expenditure. Yes, it will have an impact on people but what should we do, bury our heads in our hands like some Sinn Féin Deputies want to do and have mockeyah and voodoo economics which do not add up? The days of voodoo economics are gone. We need facts.

He thinks he is still in school.

Irrespective of whether I agree with Deputy Cowen, at least today he was living in the real world. Sometimes Fianna Fáil voted with us, but Sinn Féin has abandoned all sense of realism and responsibility to the Irish people.

It is all our fault again.

The rhetoric of the general election campaign is different from being in government and some day Deputy Ó Snodaigh might know this. If he does I hope I am here——

It will be sooner than you think at the rate you are going.

You are digging a hole now.

I hope I am still here. In many ways I will probably be like Joxer in the Christy Moore song as I will have woken up from a bad dream because Deputy Ó Snodaigh will probably be Minister for Defence——

I would prefer to be Minister for Justice.

The Deputy beside him, Deputy McDonald, will be Minister for Finance, Deputy McLellan will be Minister for tourism, Deputy Ellis will be Minister for something else and Deputy Mattie McGrath will be Minister for catchall and the country will be bankrupt.

I thought you said it was bankrupt already.

The country is bankrupt and we know it.

You will have your teaching job to go back to.

I ask Deputy Buttimer not invite trouble upon himself.

That is good advice.

The Government by its decisions has ensured——

Do you still have your job in school to go back to? Múinteoir scoil arís.

"Scoile"; get it right.

The Government has ensured the personal rates of weekly payments such as jobseeker's benefit, illness benefit, invalidity pension, disability allowance, blind pension, carer's allowance, the half-rate, the State pension, the widow's and widower's pension and the one-parent family payment will not be reduced.

I welcome the Government's decision to listen to the concerns of many of us with regard to the disability allowance. We did not have to listen to Joe Duffy and neither did the Minister. It is a credit to her and says more about her than anything she has done. It was clear that concern existed, it was expressed quietly to the Minister and the change was made. As somebody who has spent most of my life involved with disability I welcome this change and I commend the Minister and the Government on making it. This is a Government that listens and recognises when something is wrong and needs to be changed. It made the change with the minimum of fuss and great promptness. It should also be put on the record that it was never proposed to change the payment for those already in receipt of disability allowance.

The job of Government and Opposition Deputies is to protect the most vulnerable, and it is also the job of the Government and the State. I very much welcome the fact that we have done this. I congratulate the Labour and Fine Gael backbenchers for going to the Minister, Deputy Burton, and for her proactive approach to that issue.

This is not just about ideology or politics, it is about people. It is about the Ireland that we want to see in ten to 15 years' time. Today, the Government has taken decisions which will have an impact. Tomorrow, the leaders of Europe will make decisions which will have an impact also. Both the budget and this week's summit meeting in Brussels are about ensuring that Ireland and Europe can prosper and families can flourish. It is about our nation restoring its sovereignty and being a proud, independent State making its contribution on the European and world stage. The Government has set out its stall to restore our country's fortunes. This is about taking tough decisions and making the hard call, but at the end of the day it is about people.

I wish to share time with Deputies Ellis, McLellan and Nulty.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I find it beyond ironic that this measure is entitled the Social Welfare Bill. If words were to mean anything it should be renamed the social hardship Bill. It is all the more reprehensible that a Minister who, it seems to me, has made it her personal crusade to target people on welfare and accuse them of making lifestyle choices, is the same Minister — and one of a cohort in this Government — who has chosen to pay €128,000 to her special adviser. That is some lifestyle choice for the person concerned. The absolute hypocrisy, inconsistency and double standard is there for all to see. This is about people, not ideology. It is about people literally getting by daily and weekly. Nobody on welfare payments is living a champagne lifestyle. Lone parent families do not do it, and neither do pensioners or jobseekers.

If it is worth mentioning that €21 billion is spent on the welfare budget, it is equally worth saying that we have an unemployment rate of 14.5%, and no sign of it falling. It is also worth saying that we live in a State that historically and in contemporary terms is deeply inequitable. Whole communities in cities and towns across the State have histories of intergenerational poverty and deprivation. Those are the facts. It is also worth saying to a Government that is supposed to be listening, that some children are going to school with hungry bellies and sometimes live in mouldy, damp, cold flats. That is certainly a reality in the constituency I represent in the north inner city of Dublin.

The Minister says she is listening, well she should listen to this. On Wednesday night at 11 o'clock a man telephoned my office. He was from Cork and had been a trade union man and a Labour voter all his life. He was crying because his wife, who is due to retire at the end of next year, had discovered that her pension expectation under the Minister's legislation would be cut by €29.80. By introducing the additional PRSI bands to the contributory State pension, the Minister has in effect cut this woman's expected pension entitlement by just under 15%. That is her story, so I hope the Minister is listening to it.

The Minister's budget fact sheet claims that pensions will not be touched, but they have been. It seems astonishing that in the changes she has made, it has not occurred to the Minister that this measure, in particular, is very anti-woman. The Minister talked about this choice with reference to international comparisons and equity. She says she wants to align the rate of pension paid with the contribution made, which may be all very well in theory, but what is she saying to women who chose to work part-time because they were raising a family? Is the Minister saying that their contribution is valueless and worthless?

Since I only have a short time left, I will focus on the changes and cuts to community employment schemes. I was in my constituency this evening in Buckingham Street where they were lighting the Christmas tree, although there was not a lot of Christmas cheer. The community employment schemes that employ huge numbers of people, not just in my area but across the State, are about to be wiped out by the decisions the Minister is taking.

That is not so. We will check in June 2012 and remind the Deputy of what she has said.

Let me give one example, which concerns a meals-on-wheels service in Glasnevin. Their training and materials budget will be slashed from €24,000 to €11,500 per year. They cannot function on that basis. Others have told me of circumstances where the money the Minister wished to allocate to them for their number of participants will not even cover their insurance. They cannot function on that basis. The decisions the Minister is taking in her social hardship Bill, when matched to other decisions in education and health, will mean mayhem in communities across the State.

The sad thing is that the Minister knows that but she has taken these decisions nonetheless. I hope she is listening because if she is, she will know that those affected know full well the consequences of these cuts. It beggars belief that a Labour Party Minister would stand over all of this.

Tá na ciorruithe sa bhuiséad seo ag cur isteach ar na daoine is boichte sa sochaí seo. Tá sé deacair a thuiscint go bhfuil lámh ag Páirtí an Lucht Oibre iontu, mar tá cuma ar an scéal go bhfuil na ciorruithe cumtha ag Fine Gael.

Most people will judge this budget over the next couple of weeks and by then they will have seen the effects and bones of what it means to them. We should judge it as to whether all sections of our society are treated fairly, and the least well off are protected. So far, the omens are not good. We have seen mainly Labour Ministers standing over what are glaringly unjustifiable decisions. What planet was the Minister on when she thought that disability could be cut from anyone aged from 16 to 24? The ensuing roll-back is an example of the complete disconnect between herself, her Department, her party and the ordinary people.

The huge cut of 66% in the training and materials grant from €1,500 to €500 is a death-knell for community employment schemes throughout the country. In the case of Finglas meals-on-wheels, which delivers 600 meals a week to senior citizens, people with mental health problems and those with referrals, it will be the death-knell of this project. Some 33 people are employed there, 27 of them on CE schemes. After 18 years' service to the community, they are gone at the stroke of a pen. Glór na Gael in Ballymun is another example of CE losses. Local GAA clubs across the country will be affected, including ones in my own area such as Erin's Isle, Setanta and other community projects that do invaluable work throughout their communities.

We also know that cuts are intended in the drugs task forces. Such projects are on their knees after years of austerity, leaving them with no alternative but to cut frontline services. We are cutting resources to the Garda Síochána and closing down Garda stations such as Whitehall, while limiting other stations such as Santry and Cabra. The cuts the Minister has put in place will have major consequences in terms of crime, as well as other effects.

We have consistently argued that this is not necessary, and there is a better way. There are wealthy people who may even agree that they can make a bigger sacrifice. The trick is to ask them. Having a cap of €100,000 on wages in these crippling times would be a price worth paying for the sake of the country, its people and our children. There should be a new tax rate on earnings over €100,000 and a wealth tax of 1% payable by those with assets over €1 million. The gambling debts of bondholders should not be paid. At tomorrow's summit the Government should stand up for the rights of the people by stating the current position is unacceptable.

We all accept that there is a budget deficit that must be closed. I am pleading with the Minister to reconsider, however, as the cuts to community employment schemes will have detrimental effects across the country. I spoke to the Minister's colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, who has worked on projects such as the local drugs task forces with me. She knows how people are suffering and how meals on wheels services are being delivered in Finglas. She knows the line on which people are treading. Therefore, I plead with the Minister to row back on the cuts to community employment schemes as a matter of urgency.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Bill. We are in a privileged position to be able to voice our strong opposition to the measures included in it. As a public representative of thousands of citizens who will be adversely affected by the calculated decisions made by the Government, I am acutely aware of the increasing hardship in store. It is essential that those of us who value fairness and equality and care about the welfare of all citizens, particularly the most vulnerable in society, give voice to their anger. I am in no doubt that many of the people to whom I refer believed in the Labour Party before the general election last February. They believed in the words of the party leader, the Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, and the then finance spokesperson, Deputy Joan Burton, now Minister for Social Protection, when they attacked the Fianna Fáil Governments of recent years which brought the State to the brink of ruin.

Debate adjourned.