Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 24 Oct 2013

Vol. 818 No. 3

Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

When I was trying to structure my comments on this wide-ranging Bill, I tried to figure out where to start and where to finish. It is normal for the social welfare Bill that is introduced following a budget to cover many areas. I am mindful of the context in which this legislation is being introduced. Last week, the Government Chief Whip promised to provide adequate time in future for discussions on legislation. The Taoiseach made a similar promise during the Seanad referendum campaign. We were told that all future Bills would have a pre-legislative stage. The Joint Committee on Social Protection is meeting today to consider the general scheme of the proposed gender recognition legislation. It is good that this positive legislation will benefit from a pre-legislative stage. By contrast, the legislation we are dealing with today was published at the last minute - yesterday morning - and we are expected to have read it, understood it and be able to debate every aspect of it in time for this debate. After the Second Stage debate concludes tonight, we will meet tomorrow for a Committee Stage discussion on all the amendments we can muster and those the Minister will propose. Additional amendments are always brought before us when legislation is being rushed in this way. That is not the way to do business.

During the summer, when the Taoiseach was trying to find reasons to abolish the Seanad, he told the public he was genuine about Dáil reform. We were promised that we would be able to deal with legislation in a proper fashion. This is not the way for us to approach a social welfare Bill that affects the public. When it was decided to bring budget day forward to October, we were promised that we would have adequate time to discuss the social welfare and finance Bills prior to their passage and their coming into effect in January. This is another example of a promise that has been broken. We were promised that new legislative stages would be provided for and we were promised that we would be given adequate time. When the budget used to be presented in December, it was traditional for the social welfare legislation to be rushed through before Christmas so that certain social welfare changes could come into being in January. We would deal with other measures that had been announced at a later stage. Even though budget day has been moved back to October, we are rushing this legislation once again. I am keen to make my opposition to this process clear once again. Our feelings on the matter were made known earlier today.

Many low-income groups are being targeted in this legislation. Each of them will feel the impact of these budgetary measures very acutely. The measures in question are being introduced following five austerity budgets, each of which involved the Government putting its hands into the pockets of social welfare recipients and low-paid workers. The little money those people used to have has been removed bit by bit. This budget provides for more of the same. It is appropriate for me to start at the beginning by speaking about the maternity benefit cut. I will work my way from the cradle to the grave before concluding by discussing the substantial changes that are proposed with regard to the bereavement grant. Indeed, the grant is being abolished. There cannot be a more substantial change than that.

For many new mothers, maternity benefit is their only income during their maternity leave. This latest cut to maternity benefit follows the reduction in maternity benefits that came into effect in July of this year, following last year's announcement that the benefit was to be subjected to a Labour Party-imposed tax.

The majority of maternity benefit recipients will see their weekly payments cut by €32. That is a cut of €832 over the course of their six months' leave. For those mothers who are fortunate enough to have the maternity benefit supplemented by their employers, the cumulative impact of this Government's cut and tax measures could shrink their benefits by up to €126, to a payment as low as €135.70, a potential loss, between the tax and the Minister's cuts, of €3,276. That is a substantial reduction for people who are in many cases suffering a loss of income in the first place and who have all the additional expenses that come with a newborn child. Barnardos described the cut to maternity benefit as anti-parenting, callous and unsupportive. It pointed out that Ireland lags behind many EU countries in offering only six months' maternity leave and no paid paternity or parental leave.

This fresh round of cuts will exacerbate the financial pressure on women and force them back to work early. We live in a world that is in many ways enlightened, yet we seem to be going back to the dark ages because we are trying to put cuts in place that will force women to go back to work early, despite the changes made over recent decades. Remarking on the cut to maternity benefit, one person who e-mailed me asked whether the coalition deliberately chose 6 January 2014 for the commencement of the reduction in the rate of maternity benefit since this is the feast of the Epiphany when the Three Wise Men came to visit the new born Jesus, bringing gifts, and not tearing away at the straw in his manger. As Gaeilge that date is Nollaig na mBan. What type of present is the Minister giving pregnant women when she seeks to diminish their protection, their maternity benefit?

Although the Minister did not announce a cut in child benefit this year, the cuts in benefit to the fourth and subsequent children were formally announced last year and will take effect in January. Any parent could tell the Minister that the anguish around this cut is still ripe. In the wake of last week's budget announcement I received much feedback from the public, some of which I will use in my contribution here. One constituent wrote that while the cuts did not directly affect her, she is always concerned for those who are less well off. The Government promised everybody that it was concerned because it said in the programme for Government that it would protect the vulnerable. So much for that promise. My constituent went on to say that "it is despicable that it was announced there were no cuts to child benefit this year when they knew this was coming down the line".

Denial and deception have become the Minister's PR modus operandi. She says it is not a cut, that she is discontinuing one rate and introducing a lower one, that existing recipients are not affected, and that they will simply not get their anticipated increase. It is not a core payment because it is not paid weekly. That was another promise, that the Minister would protect core payments. It is not a cut, the Minister says, it is standardisation. If the Minister is so mortified about making this cut, the answer should not be superficial spin. Instead, she should not make the cuts. There are alternatives. I will return to these.

My constituent pointed to a simple truth that should have informed the Government budgetary approach but clearly did not: "Larger families are being targeted when, by their very nature, they are likely to either have less income because one parent is at home with the children, or higher childcare costs if both parents work". Nothing has been done in this budget or in the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill to address that truth.

I turn to the issue of young unemployed people and those who will be employed soon. Section 9 provides for a cut in young people's jobseeker's allowance rates and section 10 provides for a cut in supplementary welfare allowance for those under 26. In another dimension I would welcome the consensus reached in this House over the matter of payment rates for young jobseekers, but regrettably that consensus no longer exists. In budget 2010 Fianna Fáil cut dole payments for those under 25. Fine Gael and the Labour Party voted against the proposal, arguing vociferously, together with Sinn Féin, that it did nothing to address the shortage of jobs, that there were not nearly enough places in education and training and that it would simply drive more people to emigrate. Fast forward to budget 2014 and Fine Gael and the Labour Party are cutting the bill for young jobseekers even further than the Fianna Fáil Party ever contemplated. With Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil argues against the measure it once favoured, finally realising it inflicts extreme hardship. I welcome its conversion on the road to Damascus. It is a pity the Minister and her Government have jumped off that road and are now implementing Fianna Fáil policy.

My party has been the one constant throughout all this betrayal and opportunism. At one time or another, all parties were on the side of Sinn Féin in this argument. I urge the Minister to bow to our shared logic on this point because the cut to young people's jobseeker's allowance and supplementary welfare allowance does nothing to address the shortage of jobs. There are still not nearly enough places in education and training, and this will accelerate the emigration of young people. These cuts are wrong and discriminatory. The Minister believed this once and maybe in her heart of hearts she still believes it but her actions do not reflect what is in her heart. Her spin does not stack up.

This is no balancing act, as the Minister would have us believe, because between the service support and income support, the cut to jobseeker's allowance and to supplementary welfare allowance is in the order of €32 million. The Minister is adding only another €14 million to activation. That leaves a black hole of €18 million. Perhaps the Minister can clarify exactly where that €18 million is going because her own backbenchers and the Fine Gael backbenchers are peddling a lie that €42 or €46 million is available to be invested in activation or in additional activation measures. The Department has confirmed that the €32 million saved from social welfare payments makes up part of its overall budget reduction, part of the overall €229 million that the Government is taking out of the pockets of the least well-off in our society.

The only additional activation provision for young people is a small youth guarantee. How adequate is the funding for this? The National Youth Council of Ireland reckons it represents just 5% of the estimated annual cost of what is needed for a genuine youth guarantee scheme. The council estimates that the cuts will affect 20,853 young jobseekers next year alone. The numbers will grow year on year as people emerge from schools and universities and no jobs are available. This budget guarantees only an extra 3,250 places in education, training and work experience. There are 32 jobseekers for every job vacancy advertised. They are the latest figures. There are 32 people looking for each job that is vacant.

Young people cannot be incentivised into places, paid or otherwise, if those jobs do not exist. There are 18,000 fewer young people in paid employment compared with when this Government took office. There have been around 20,000 unpaid internships under the JobBridge scheme in that time. A sum of €100 in jobseeker's allowance plus €50 as part of JobBridge on a 40 hour week equals €3.75 per hour. Is that the new minimum wage the Labour Party is creating?

This Government is making the implicit assumption that young people's parents will cover their costs, but this is not possible for many either as a consequence of household financial realities or family breakdown. The cut will inflict severe hardship and, in some cases, destitution on young people. A parent's means are taken into account when determining eligibility for jobseeker's allowance for a young person living at home. The payment goes to a young person who is living in a low-income household. The cut will affect the entire household.

Research from the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice demonstrates that the cost of a minimum essential standard of living for a young adult living in the parental home is forecast to rise to €183.99 per week in 2014. The cut in rates of jobseeker's allowance and supplementary welfare allowance leave the payments far short of this. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul draws the obvious conclusion and states that "this will result in further stress, struggling and hardship for low income individuals and families". For others, the cut will cause homelessness. Since the young person's rate was first cut by Fianna Fáil in budget 2010, every homeless service has reported an increase in the number of homeless young people. Focus Ireland estimates that a couple of hundred young people will be pushed into homelessness by the measure this year and makes the point that even short periods of homelessness can have devastating and lifelong consequences for young people. Most homeless hostels charge between €50 and €75 per week. How can a young person or any person for that matter afford this out of a payment of just €100 or even €144? Focus Ireland also argues that the emergency accommodation provided to these young people is expensive to run and costs the taxpayer considerably more than is saved by the reduced rate of the payment.

I understand the Department has invited Focus Ireland to work with it to develop a pilot community employment scheme to meet some of the needs of these young people, and while Focus Ireland welcomes that opportunity, as do I, it has also stated that this project-based response is time-consuming to construct and will only be able to respond to a small number of affected individuals and only in Dublin. There is a need to accelerate the funding for these types of schemes. It should not be a pilot scheme at this stage given what has happened.

I will turn to the other measures in the legislation, in particular those targeting workers. Illness benefit and injury benefit are cut in sections 4 and 7. The number of days without payment is being doubled from three to six. That is a cut of €112.80 and someone will suffer the consequence of it. There is no statutory entitlement to sick pay, which means in some cases the sick person will suffer the loss. The fact that one is sick does not mean one's mortgage and other household outgoings are reduced. If anything, the opposite is the case as utility bills may rise due to the fact that one is housebound in that period. One might need to increase the heating in the house during that period or visit a doctor to get a certificate, which can cost up to €70 in some parts of this city. That is before one pays for medicine. Many employers offer their staff sick pay and this is to be encouraged. In those instances, this cut adds to the costs of employers, many of whom are struggling to retain jobs as it is.

Mortgage interest supplement is being abolished in the absence of effective action to tackle the mortgage arrears crisis. Last year's budget announcement in respect of mortgage interest supplement was extremely disingenuous. Last year, the Minister introduced a rule which prevented people accessing mortgage interest supplement for 12 months. For many struggling families, this was undoubtedly a glimmer of light because they knew that after a year of engaging with the bank, they could possibly rely on the mortgage interest supplement but now, ten months later, the Minister has extinguished that light altogether. The scheme is being abolished in the absence of any other income support for home owners who lose their jobs or in the absence of a substantial increase in social housing. The paltry amount announced in the budget will not address the huge number of people on the housing lists throughout this city and country. It is paltry in the extreme and will not affect all those who face eviction because of repossession due to the ineffective approach of this Government and previous Governments to the mortgage crisis. The policy rationale put forward for abolishing the scheme is that it was always intended to be a short-term support. The rent allowance and rent supplement scheme were supposed to be short-term supports. Will the Minister target them next?

The cut to the invalidity pension for those aged 65 means 65 year old disabled pensioners are looking at a cut of €36.80 per week or €1,914 over the year. Invalidity pension is paid to people with the requisite contributions record who cannot work due to long-term illness or disability. Most will have been receiving illness benefit for the previous year. The rate of invalidity pension for those aged under 65 is €193.50 and currently for those aged 65 it is €230. Recipients would have anticipated that they would move to the higher rate when they reach the age of 65. The higher rate is discontinued, as it is termed, from January for people who turn 65 after that date, so they will have to wait until they are 66 when their State pension kicks in to achieve the higher rate. This cut is like the abolition of the State pension transition already provided for by this Government in a previous budget which kicks in from January. We also opposed that measure as it will force many 65 year olds onto a pointless year of jobseeker's benefit while they wait for their State pension to kick in at 66. I heard what the Minister announced earlier but what she announced is that there will be a reduced jobseeker's payment because a person will not be forced to look for work once they are aged 62 and upwards.

We will not have a reduced rate. It is the same rate.

I did not say there would be a reduced rate. I said it would be reduced in that the criteria will not be imposed on a person. Why did the Minister not keep the State pension transition where there was no obligation on a person to seek work? All the Government is doing is removing that.

That was Fianna Fáil. Ask them; they will tell you.

All the Government is doing is removing the obligation to seek work. Why not introduce a State transitionary pension once again for those who are aged between 62 and 66 which would be a recognition-----

There was no State pension for those aged between 62 and 66.

There is no State transitionary pension because it was only for one year. Why does the Minister not introduce one instead of having a different type of jobseeker's benefit for those aged 62 and upwards, which we will announce today in case the Minister does not know?

Would the Deputy not welcome it? That is very odd.

I would welcome it if the Government addressed it properly and gave people forced at that age onto jobseeker's payments a higher rate to reflect the pension rate to which they should be entitled and to which they would have been entitled in the past.

Section 18 announces pension trustee discretionary powers. This gives board discretionary powers to pension scheme trustees which would facilitate the shrinking of occupational pension payments made to those who turn 65 after 1 January 2014. This measure is being introduced in the absence of safeguards or even a decent lead-in time to allow people to make other arrangements.

This power to reduce pension benefits is being given to all trustees, including those who preside over schemes that are not currently in deficit or which are making their way out of deficit. It is a pity this issue was not properly discussed. We probably will not have a proper discussion on the effects of this measure because of the tight timeframe for passing the Bill.

The bereavement grant offered a small assistance towards the cost of funerals for workers with a solid contributions record. It provided a mere €850 towards the crippling costs of burials. The Association of Funeral Directors has stated that the average cost of a funeral is €4,000. I know from personal experience that the figure is significantly higher in this city, even for those who are frugal in their arrangements. The director of Massey Brothers undertakers has said more than 70% of people using its services are currently supported by the grant and suggested the cost of a funeral in Dublin is as high as €10,000.

The issue of the telephone allowance is glaringly absent from this Bill. The abolition of that allowance will increase fear and isolation among older people, the mobility of whom is often limited. A large proportion of them live in rural areas and have families who emigrated. Furthermore, personal alarm pendants depend on landlines. While the telephone allowance is worth only €9.50 per month this year, it was €22.60 last year. Under this Government, two budgets in a row have taken €271 from the annual budgets of those over the age of 70 and certain people with disabilities. Given the isolation these people experience, not only in rural areas but also in the cities, and coupled with the cuts to home help services, people will be living in greater fear and isolation. Many of them cannot get out of their homes due to mobility problems. In regard to those whose children have emigrated, some use Skype to keep in contact but the Minister is taking that away from them by removing the telephone allowance.

Also absent from the Bill is a reversal of the changes to the one parent family payment despite the absence of the credible, Scandanavian-style child care that the Minister promised would be put in place. She should keep her promise that the minimum age would not be reduced until that system of child care is in place. The minimum age is due to be reduced to 10 years in 2014 and to seven years in 2015.

With a long transition period, of which the Deputy is aware.

I am aware of it. It is a long transition arrangement because she is kicking the Scandinavian model of child care to touch.

We are developing it.

When people voted for the Minister's party they thought they were voting to protect social welfare payments. She promised to protect the core payments but she has not done so. The programme for Government promised to protect the vulnerable but this budget is, once again, going after the vulnerable. We outlined our alternatives but the Minister rejected them. Many others have made proposals. The youth organisation, SpunOut, has made several imaginative suggestions, although I do not fully agree with them. It suggested that the bank levy could be substantially increased to avoid social welfare cuts. The Minister rejected that, just as she rejected proposals from TASC and the trade union movement. She has made the decision to cut €219 million from the social welfare budget. That cut hits local economies up and down the country. She has acknowledged that social transfers pay dividends to local economies and help people out of poverty but she is increasing the likelihood that people will fall into poverty or that small shops will close.

I reject this Bill in its entirety. I might welcome one or two small changes, which I will address on Committee Stage, but as it stands it will have devastating consequences for young and old in this State, and anybody who depends on social welfare.

This has been a terrible week for social protection in Ireland. This Social Welfare and Pensions Bill, like the budget, makes swingeing economic attacks on the elderly with its callous snatch back of tens of thousands of medical cards, on the young with the savage cuts to their jobseekers' allowances and on pregnant women with the callous cut to maternity benefits, among many other attacks.

As we discuss social protection today, the Irish State stands ashamed in front of the world for a situation in which a bigoted busybody sent an ignorant and bigoted Facebook message to a journalist to the effect that a child in a Roma family has blonde hair and blue eyes and, I quote, "It's a big problem with missing kids, the Roma robbing them to get child benefit in Europe". On foot of this, journalists and two powerful State agencies, the Garda and the HSE, swallowed an assumption based on the most abysmal ignorance and racial stereotyping to the effect that it is impossible for a Roma person to be blonde and blue eyed and peremptorily removed children from their homes in Tallaght and Athlone. It is pathetic for the Taoiseach to say that he believes this was done in good faith. So-called good faith arising from ignorant and bigoted assumptions is not a basis for child protection policy.

It is a mandate for injustice against social minorities. The scandal of the Roma children removed from their homes occurred because of the stereotyping that is done by the establishment in this society. This Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition, and the Minister, Deputy Burton, have consistently reinforced another bigoted, ignorant and cynical stereotype in regard to social welfare recipients, unemployed people and, especially, the youth to the effect that they are lazy and feckless shysters. The reality is that in August 2013, 32 people were unemployed for each notified vacancy. The outrageous slander against the young unemployed is used to justify savage cuts to the jobseekers' benefit, continue the disastrous austerity agenda and save the financial market system of Europe by saving the banks and bondholders from the fruits of their reckless speculation in the Irish property bubble.

In the 1979-83 Tory Government in Britain, a certain employment Minister called Norman Tebbit - now Baron Tebbit - advised the growing army of unemployed victims of Thatcherism to do as his father allegedly did in the 1930s, and get on their bikes and stay on their bikes until they found a job. In this Government's disgraceful attacks on the young unemployed, the Minister for Social Protection is rapidly emerging as the Baroness Tebbit of the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government.

There is the headline.

Baroness Burton's prescription for the young unemployed in Ireland who are denied a job in the scorched earth of the austerity ridden economy -----

He is still fighting the socialist battles of 20 years ago.

----- is to work for €50 per week for employers who are looking for free labour at the taxpayer's expense.

He is stuck back there.

The other alternative is that the young in their tens of thousands should spread their wings on every tide to far flung places across the earth. It is not so much a case of exporting them like cattle, as de Valera said - which was due to his own obscurantist economic policies - as of exporting our youth by the plane load like sophisticated human computer chips carrying with them huge knowledge, talent, education and social investment.

Another shameful epoch in the failure of Irish capitalism.

The Government is intent on making the working class pay for the crisis of its system. There was and is an alternative - wealth taxes, other taxes and significant investment in job creation. This is the socialist alternative that we fight for and for which people should mobilise and organise in order to change the policy of this odious Government.

Good man. That will be item No. 1 on tonight's "Six One News".

The Minister and the Labour Party have repeatedly claimed that they have protected core welfare payments. The Minister did so again today, claiming that the basic rates of core payments would not be changed. This is a narrow interpretation and does not stand up to scrutiny. I presume that, for a Labour Minister, the core welfare payments are the jobseeker's benefit and allowance, the old age pension, disability and illness benefits, the lone parents benefit and carer's allowance. I will leave child benefit aside for now.

The failure to increase rates in line with inflation represents a real cut. Substantial increases in energy costs impact more severely on those on low incomes. Yesterday's announcement of a sharp increase in public transport prices will also most affect people on low incomes.

There has been a direct cut in the basic rates of jobseeker's allowance for 22 to 25 year olds. Is this not a direct cut in core payments? One cannot differentiate between those aged over and under 25 years. There has been a reduction to nine months in the length of time over which one can claim this allowance. This is a cut to benefit entitlements. Part-time workers' entitlements have been changed from six days to five days. The change in the entitlement to the old age pension is also a cut. The Minister has increased the pension age as well as the number of stamps required for contributory pensions.

The Minister's claim is empty. It is a pretence. In reality, her budgets have targeted the most vulnerable. Under this Administration, not a single welfare payment has not been cut and not a single entitlement has not been restricted or reduced. The Government and the Minister in particular like to dress up benefit cuts in job activation measures. Cuts in the benefits for young people are a blatant attempt to force them into low-paid, precarious employment, but even those jobs do not exist.

The decision to continue the reduction in the earnings disregard for lone parents is a cut, as are the removal of the one-parent family tax credit and the discontinuation of training allowances for lone parents. How are these cuts meant to encourage lone parents into work?

Labour will undoubtedly claim it was successful in limiting welfare cuts to €290 million. In reality, these cuts could have been avoided. Deputy Burton is the Labour Minister of the Department of Social Protection. A 0.5% wealth tax would raise €250 million. She had that choice, but she failed to make it. The Nevin Economic Research Institute, NERI, and TASC support this figure conclusively.

I cannot conclude without addressing the cuts in the telephone allowance and maternity benefit. I am opposed to both cuts and have tabled amendments to the Bill. I congratulate our pensioners who came out in their thousands on Tuesday.

They have suffered under Fianna Fáil and the current Government in the past six years - cuts in home help hours, the abolition of the Christmas bonus, last year's €20 million cut in the fuel allowance, cuts to household packages, including telephone allowances, and increased prescription charges. Many elderly people who live alone in isolated communities use their landlines for their emergency alarm systems. The telephone is crucial to reduce their isolation. The cut is a mean, cruel and unnecessary attack on our elderly.

I cannot understand how a Minister from the so-called Labour Party could cut maternity benefit on top of last year's cut. It affects the most vulnerable people, who cannot organise a challenge to her decision.

I call on the Minister to reverse the cuts and to consider the 0.5% wealth tax. Taking the €250 million is a choice, but she has already made hers.

The measures contained in the Bill and the manner in which it is being rammed through the Oireachtas comprise a litany of broken promises. I cannot refer to the Bill without mentioning the guillotine. In the Government parties' election manifestoes, they committed to changing the guillotine. Under the programme for Government, they were to tackle the significant overuse of guillotines to ram through legislation. Instead, 64% of Bills have been rammed through the Dáil in this way. So much for curtailing the use of the guillotine except in emergency situations, as promised.

The Minister has no mandate to use the guillotine in this situation, but neither has she a mandate to implement the Bill's measures. Remember the 2011 general election and the cries about burning bondholders, not another cent for the banks, Labour's way, not Frankfurt's way, and how Labour would protect the vulnerable? Remember the infamous Tesco advertisement guaranteeing that child benefit would not be touched? All of those promises have been broken in this Bill or in previous budgets.

Dishonesty is destroying our political system, its reputation and politicians. It erodes confidence in the integrity of democracy. The responsibility for changing this situation lies with us all, but particularly with Ministers, the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach. Surely, the Minister should make a start by withdrawing this scurrilous legislation, which is an attack on social welfare recipients. It will affect people from the cradle to the grave.

I referred to the Tesco advertisement. Child benefit was slashed last year and has been slashed again this year. On 1 January, child benefit payments in respect of the fourth and subsequent children will be cut. This is another broken promise.

Core welfare rates for people under 26 years of age are being attacked. John B. Keane wrote a play called "Many Young Men of Twenty Said Goodbye", but he did not know the half of it. Thousands of young men and women have been forced by the deliberate actions of this Government to seek work and lives outside this country.

The Bill imposes a significant cut to maternity benefit of up to €32 per week. This is a serious and vicious attack on young mothers. Illness benefit will be cut, in that none will be paid for the first six days. This represents a cut of more than €100 per individual. When one reaches 65 years of age, the invalidity pension that one receives will remain at €193.50 instead of increasing to €230.30. The rent allowance and mortgage interest supplement will either be cut or, in the case of new supplement applications, stopped completely. Older applications will be wiped out over four years.

The most despicable and saddest cut of all in this budget is to the bereavement grant. The most dishonest statement from the Minister and her colleagues is that one can go to a community welfare officer at the Department of Social Protection and get it there. The Minister knows she has also cut the exceptional needs payments this year, so there is no hope of getting the grant from community welfare officers.

I am absolutely opposed to this Bill.

I call Deputy Mick Wallace who will be followed by Deputy Finian McGrath and Deputy Clare Daly.

The Social Welfare and Pensions Bill includes a number of measures that specifically disadvantage certain groups. Working mothers, the elderly, sick people and young people were targeted by measures that have, yet again, not been equality-proofed. We have certainly not been provided with any impact analysis of the cuts that will penalise certain members of our society.

To place the burden of austerity on the shoulders of those who were too young to have anything to do with the economic crisis, but who might actually get the country out of the mess it finds itself in, is unjust, short-sighted and foolish. The effective export of our young people is aptly described by a young unemployed woman from Wexford named Lisa. Here are her own words, which I found on a website called "We're Not Leaving":

I want to work. Let's get that out of the way first. I desperately want a job. You see, I graduated from college in May and moved home to Wexford — a county as synonymous with suicide and unemployment as potatoes and strawberries. I moved home and I sent out my CV, but nothing...

I'm a graduate of TV and media production, which means I have a select group of skills that aren't all that useful to many. A Mickey Mouse degree you might call it, but I have a very good CV. I've won national competitions, a scholarship, and have three highly useful internships kicking about.

About two months ago I made the decision to move to Dublin to seek work in the media industry, with only my jobseeker's allowance to get by, which was then €143 a week. Let me break that down for you: €87.50 for rent, €18 for the Luas, €20 put aside for bills, and that leaves me with €18 for food and recreation. For two months I've been unemployed and seeking work in Dublin. To describe the experience as moving on two timelines is appropriate. On the one hand, nothing's happened, but on the other I've had half a dozen near-misses and near-jobs but I'm still exactly where I started, though arguably poorer and far more lonely in a city of a million people who don't know my name.

The harsh realities of job seeking is a slap in the face. It's draining and horrible and makes you feel utterly insignificant. How long can you answer questions about what makes you special before you start to doubt your words or ponder the truth of it? What makes me special? Nothing. I have all the same skills of those thousands of graduates. And I go into these job interviews and I really do try, but now the Government turns around and they issue the biggest "F--- you" to under 25s.

I've come to realise that the JobBridge scheme is probably where my future lies, and I thought it was manageable: €194 a week would give me a little breathing space and I could continue to live frugally and put aside €20 a week to pay my bills and it would be okay, but no. The Government has cut JobBridge to €150 for me now. This is a full-time job we're talking about here - 40 hours a week, 9 to 5, at €3.80 an hour. If this wasn't a government scheme, one has to wonder about the legality of it. The minimum wage is just under €9 an hour; JobBridge is less than half that.

Realistically, I can't afford to live on €150 for nine months. My money, simply, will run out and I don't have rich relatives or anything of the sort I can rely on. Scambridge, you might call it, because that's what it is. It's cheap labour. The rate for under 25s who sign on from January is €100 a week and the thing that baffles me is that we don't differentiate between those who live at home and those who don't.

There was nothing for me in Wexford, so I had to leave. I couldn't live on €100 a week. Add in the cheaper tax on flights, and you have to wonder if maybe there is no disconnect and that the Government sees the situation for what it is. Thousands of us fight for the same jobs. Are we a lost generation? I can't get a job because I don't have the experience, but the leeway in, JobBridge - a scheme that arguably takes up space of positions that would have previously been full-paid actual jobs - is too meagre a wage, so where does that leave me? I don't want to leave but I live in an Ireland that no longer values people like me. Do I have any choice but to go?

Lisa from Wexford.

I welcome this important debate on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill. It is a sad day for this country and a sadder day for its citizens when one looks at the measures included in this legislation. Before going into the details of the Bill, it is a bad day for the country when one hears that over 100 children with Down's syndrome were turned down for medical cards in recent weeks. This is a national scandal. It is a disgrace that a child with a recognised disability should be denied a medical card.

What the hell is going on in this country? Is this the Minister's new politics? Is this her new Ireland? What about the vulnerable and weak people in this society? Where are the Minister's moral and ethical values? Where is the just society influence in this legislation, given the way in which sick, elderly and disabled people are being treated?

These are the fundamental questions which need to be answered. The equality agenda is being ripped up and hammered. Only yesterday, we saw the dormant racism and prejudice that exists in Ireland concerning families and children living here. Would the Garda and the HSE go charging into a white, middle-income family from Dún Laoghaire or Castleknock looking for birth certificates? Would members of the Government do so? They should ask themselves that question.

As regards the Bill before us, what about the words "social" and "welfare"? What about the welfare of these children? We need to wake up and not just have wishy-washy statements to the effect that we are not a prejudiced country. Racism is out there and it must be dealt with. Similarly, sectarianism in the North must be dealt with. We must be vigilant and should cop on. I urge the Government and the Minister to wake up to these issues because we are talking about the welfare of citizens.

One in four families with children are one-parent families. Over 500,000 people live in one-parent families. Almost one in five, or 18.3%, live in a one-parent family. There are 215,000 one-parent families, which is 25.8% of all families. Some 87,586 of these are currently in receipt of the one-parent family payment. Those living in one-parent households continually experience the highest rates of deprivation. Almost 56% of individuals from such households have experienced some form of deprivation.

We have a lot of discrimination and poverty in this country. As my colleague Deputy Joan Collins mentioned earlier, the Government ran away from a wealth tax. It was given an opportunity to impose a 0.5% wealth tax which would have brought in €250 million. However, it is not trendy in the media or in the Cabinet to tax the wealthy because they are well protected themselves. That is the real agenda which we must speak out about in this regard to this Bill.

The decision to cut the jobseeker's allowance payment for young unemployed people without children aged 22 to 24 to €100 per week - and to €144 per week for those aged 25 - will inevitably cause hardship. In particular, it will cause hardship for young unemployed people in vulnerable families and communities. The Government must ensure that every young unemployed person receives a comprehensive employment and entitlement service. The decision to cut the rate for those aged 25 is particularly harsh as measures designed under the proposed youth guarantee scheme will not apply to them as they fall outside its scope.

The Government has attacked elderly, young and disabled people, which is disgraceful. Sadly, the telephone allowance has also been cut. We have a major problem in this society.

We have a major problem with this Government. This Bill should be about the social protection of our people and the welfare of our citizens. Sadly, it is not. It is an attack on the young, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Shame, shame, shame. I urge rejection of this Bill.

There is no doubt that there can be no economic recovery without a return of people to work. That is a fact. What we have had from this Government is a lot of talk about jobs with precious little being delivered. One could say this budget, like many of the statements from the Government side, is conjury and trickery in terms of on the one hand giving something and on the other taking something back. This Government is robbing elderly people and vulnerable citizens of their medical card entitlements while throwing them the sop of free GP care for under fives. Nowhere is this conjury more clearly demonstrated than in the context of jobs. The Government tells us that jobs are being created while at the same time glossing over the fact that hundreds of thousands of people have been driven from these shores. It glosses over and manufactures the figures by hiding tens of thousands of people in schemes. It ignores the fact that there is still more than 400,000 people unemployed and presents a budget which provides for the creation of a miserly 34,000 new jobs. Even if that number of jobs were created - the Government claims that number of jobs were created last year - it masks certain trends.

During the second quarter of this year youth unemployment and unemployment among women increased, the very groups of people which this Government is targeting in this Bill. This has now become a bit of an ideology. Slashing social welfare benefits does not create jobs. As stated by other Deputies the problem with youth unemployment is not that young people cannot be bothered to work or need to be driven out of the country but that there are no jobs. I would like the Minister, Deputy Burton, to respond to those from her own ranks, the economists in the Nevin Institute, who have said that rather than assist in the creation of jobs budget 2014 will result in the loss of up to 30,000 jobs. It makes sense. Everybody can see it.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, introduced the budget and spoke about economic growth while hiding the fact that the domestic economy has been decimated and has shrunk over the past number of years. Taking from people's pockets by way of necessary social welfare payments will not positively alter that situation. The Minister has been challenged by the trade union movement to produce the research which states that lowering social welfare benefits for young people creates jobs. I have not seen it. I would like the Minister to produce it but I know she cannot because it is a fallacy. It does not exist. This is not about getting people back to work. It is an ideological counter-revolution against the social wage and the welfare state, not this new-found jargon of welfare dependency, which I think the Minister has previously referred to as "lifestyle choices" but a crusade against the welfare state, which was when trade unionists and ordinary people fought a battle for an equal and fair society, wherein the state would act as a distributor so that people could have a basic right to health, education, a roof over their heads, a pension when they retire, food on their tables and affordable sanitary services.

The reality is that budget 2014 is the State acting as a distributor of wealth but this time out of the pockets of the lower and middle-income earners and social welfare recipients and into the pockets of the wealthy. We now have one of the most unequal societies in the world. Budget 2014 makes it even more so. That is the view of every organisation which has scrutinised the budget. The reality is that there is no difference between the Tory Party and the Labour Party in Ireland. The Labour Party's targeting of the young people is very much driving their earning, learning and emigration from this country.

As stated by my colleague, Deputy Collins, the title "Minister for Social Protection" should be changed to "Minister for Wealth Protection". The Minister has cut more than was demanded by the troika. There have been no cuts to wealth and corporations are not even to be forced to pay the effective rate of taxation. This Government has pauperised the young, targeted the old, sick and vulnerable and stood on its head the ideology of Connolly and Larkin, the party of whom the Minister is a member.

The next speaker is Deputy Joe O'Reilly, who is sharing time with Deputy John O'Mahony.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Budget 2014 has brought with it a certain amount of scaremongering and embellishment of the facts by those opposed to it simply because it does not stand up to forensic criticism of the type they would like. They are playing on the fears of vulnerable people.

It is important to put on the record of the House the fact that this year's budget has resulted in the protection of all core social welfare payments, ensuring that those who are most vulnerable are protected. I salute the Minister, Deputy Burton, on that achievement. I welcome that, among other measures, there are no new changes to child benefit, the fuel allowance, free travel, free TV licence, electricity and gas allowances and the over 80s allowance. I welcome also that the State pension, carer's allowance and half-rate carer's allowance are all protected. In the context of the bailout, sorting out our national finances and taking our country from bankruptcy to progress, this is an enormous achievement. Savings are made in the Department by getting people back to work rather than cutting rates of payment.

One of the failures of the previous Administration was that there was never any real control over the social welfare system. There were no genuine reforms and no effort was made to reduce the number of people on the live register. At that time an unemployed person was treated as unemployed rather than a jobseeker. Since taking office in 2011, the Minister, Deputy Burton, has radically overhauled the system. Live register figures are at their lowest since May 2009 and every day we see real progress being made in this area, to the extent that 3,000 jobs per month are being created in the private sector. Today, we learned that Dairygold is to provide 100 additional jobs in Cork. Recently, Wellman International, which is in my constituency, announced a €5 million investment plan at its plant in Mullagh, County Cavan, ensuring a protected future for the 260 local people employed there.

Unemployment can no longer be seen as a long term reality for people in this country. In this context, I welcome the outstanding success of JobBridge from which up to 65% of participants have obtained job placements. I also welcome JobsPlus which offers €300 to an employer who takes on a young person who has been unemployed for six months and €400 per month in respect of a young person who has been unemployed for two years. It is a very exciting programme, as are many of the other initiatives in this area. The correct supports need to be in place to assist people to get back to work, whether this is through additional training or further education. We need to make it as easy as possible for individuals to engage in the process. For this reason, I welcome the introduction of the new one-stop shop for employment services, Intreo.

Instead of registering for welfare payments with one agency and then registering at another agency for help with getting employment or further training, everything will now be carried out by the same agency. Some activation measures will include one-to-one meetings and this will provide a complete picture and will enable the person to undertake the right training, which will focus on customised employment supports, client profiling and monitoring of the client's progress. An increased capital allocation of €15 million was provided in the budget for the roll-out of Intreo centres across the country in 2014. In total, €1.8 billion will be spent in 2014 on supports to help jobseekers become job-ready, which is almost €85 million more than the projected spend this year. That is an extraordinary success in the context of where we are at present.

Much has been said about the new rate of the jobseeker's allowance for those aged 25 and under, and this is dealt with in sections 9 and 10 of the Bill. It is important to clarify that this new rate is applicable to new entrants only and will increase to the standard rate of €188 when the individual turns 26; our prayer will be that they will not remain unemployed at that time. This will be coupled with a back to education rate of €160 for young people in training, and it is important that the incentive to do that is there. Our young people are our future and that is why I join with the Minister when she said that we have to be more ambitious for our young people. We must not consign them to unemployment and to a life of dependency. We need to minimise the risk of young people, who sign on the live register at 18, becoming welfare dependent.

The news that 1,000 places on the Department's Tús scheme are targeted at young people and the ring-fencing of 2,000 additional training places on Momentum for those under 25 are all welcome assurances. However, it is important to note that for many young people, further education and an academic life are not for them. I firmly believe that the youth guarantee scheme will play a central part in ensuring that those young people are supported and encouraged. The construction industry is not what it used to be and the potential for skill-based apprenticeships is minimal. However, we have a responsibility to every young person in this country and we cannot ignore those who are interested in taking up a skill or trade. As it is not possible to get a master for a craftsperson, we will have to provide simulated apprenticeships in training centres at college. Apprentices could work on extensions to schools and on other public works. A young person who cannot get an apprenticeship as a plasterer, block layer or carpenter due to the collapse of the construction industry must get the full apprenticeship training in simulated conditions and in conditions as near to reality as possible. That is crucial. Unlike Germany, we departed too much from the traditional vocational model of schooling in this country, and that gap needs to be bridged.

We have the new home renovation scheme and school buildings programme, which I believe should be linked to the apprenticeship scheme as far as is possible in respect of health and safety, insurance issues and so on. I know that the Minister for Education and Skills announced a wide-ranging review of apprenticeships earlier this year in order to examine the future of apprenticeship training in Ireland, focus on work-based learning and ensure a closer alignment of the current needs of the Irish labour market. I echo this by calling for a liaison between local businesses and industries in every county, to establish their current and future personnel needs. If training is to be provided, it is critical that it is relevant to the young person and that the young person has the aptitude and will benefit from it. We should also carry out a survey of our industries in an area on what employment opportunities they currently have, the opportunities they expect to have in the future, and growth areas in which they are involved, and we should try to marry training to that. This is critical and I commend that liaison to the Minister.

This Bill is extraordinarily friendly to our elderly, in spite of the cynical scare mongering and populist political nonsense coming from the Opposition. It is a very progressive move that people between the ages of 62 and 65 who are long-term unemployed will be excused from the training option should they so wish. At that stage of their lives, it is a humane and correct response, although if they wish to train then that is a different issue. They will also their directed to their bank account and then they will go into the pension system. That reform in the Bill is good.

I welcome the Bill and the very attractive part of it, the job activation dimension. Empowering people in personal development, training and giving them the opportunity to get into the labour market is the critical thing. It was a smug elitist middle class response to leave them there, ignore them and patronise them with welfare payments. Thank God we are moving from that. This is the central plank of the Bill and that is why it merits our applause and welcome.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill and the adjustments that are being made following last week's budget. There are many things I welcome in the Bill. We all have a few concerns as well and I will refer to them later. As Deputy O'Reilly pointed out, the State pension, the carer's allowance, fuel allowance, electricity allowance, free travel and half carer's allowance have not been touched. There was also a lot of fear that child benefit might be reviewed again but I welcome the fact that it has also been protected. I am delighted that free travel has been protected because, as I have also said many times in this House, it is important it is preserved for the people who really deserve it, such as those for whom travel is a lifeline so that their isolation can be reduced. It is very important that it is not abused in any way. I congratulate the Minister on the fraud measures she has brought in over recent years and these measures need to be applied here as well so that we always have free travel for those who need it and it cannot be exploited by anyone who might abuse it.

When this country was bankrupted five years ago, it was a daunting task to ensure that these core measures would be protected, and I welcome the fact that this has happened in the budget. The fact that there are 34,000 extra people employed means that there are 34,000 extra taxpayers rather than social welfare recipients. That has enabled the Minister to do a very difficult job in a fair way in this budget. When we look at countries like Greece, where people in similar circumstances have not been protected in any way like here, it shows the fairness and the upfront way that the Minister has met the challenges presented to her.

There are a number of areas of concern that I would like to see examined again. There has been much talk in recent days about medical cards. We all met this in our constituencies, but I am reassured by guarantees that people who need medical cards will get them. Some genuine applications in recent weeks and months have been handled badly within the system and there is no point in trying to say anything else. It is important that this is addressed, but the fact remains that an additional 250,000 medical cards have been provided by this Government since coming into office, 74,000 of them discretionary medical cards, resulting in more than 1,868,000 people having full medical cards.

Those are not figures of a Government taking medical cards from people. Discretionary medical cards are awarded to people who are unable without undue hardship to arrange GP services for themselves and their family, even though their means exceed the HSE's income limits. In these cases, social and medical issues are taken into account when considering whether undue hardship exists for the applicant. One issue on medical cards needs to be reconsidered. The income limit for a couple aged over 70 is €900 and €500 for a single person. I believe the limit should be €1,000 for a couple.

If current employment trends continue as we all hope they will, there will be a natural decrease in the need for medical cards. If an extra 34,000 are working this year and they were not working last year, it is safe to assume that a proportion of them would be delighted that they no longer need a medical card and will be able to meet their medical needs from their own resources because of their new-found job and salary.

There has been much comment about the ending of the bereavement grant which I understand was not claimed by some people who did not know it was available. Again the full facts did not emerge in this regard. It was important to preserve the payment of the State pension or other social welfare payments for six weeks following a person's death, as was done. If there are individual difficulties, families will have recourse to seek assistance with the cost of the funeral under an exceptional needs grant. Again the most vulnerable people are being protected by a grant, in this case of up to €2,000 for a funeral, if individual circumstances warrant it. There is also a once-off payment of €6,000 where there is a dependent child. It is important to give all of the facts.

The removal of the telephone allowance for landline rental has caused upset and concern, particularly in rural areas. It is accepted that this was money that was going directly to telephone companies. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, needs to work with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, on alert schemes and pendant alarms. It is important that people do not lose communication thereby feeling isolated and living in fear. We need to set up a system to protect those who may have been affected by this provision.

I have noted that 34,000 extra people are working this year compared with last year. I welcome that 1,200 new teachers are to be appointed in the next year and that Garda recruitment will recommence. We have heard of the 3,000 people a month. It is obvious from the straws in the wind and those announcements that there will be an increase in employment. This will mean people will move away from social welfare dependency and become taxpayers and contributors, which will ease the decisions that need to be made in future budgets. It is important we keep on that pathway in coming weeks and months.

The Government has had to take many difficult decisions on social protection in the past three years. Some 250,000 people lost their jobs between 2008 and 2011. The Government had to face that issue at a time when the cupboard was bare and the country was bankrupt. It has met that challenge in an upfront way as shown again in this budget. I hope it will take into account the concerns I have expressed. A few things need to be tweaked and some assurances need to be given. Overall a good job has been done. It is important for us to protect the vulnerable and elderly. Much has been talked about the youth guarantee and the importance of providing jobs, training and so on. It is important those are delivered on in coming months and years in order that we not only get out of the bailout but make life better for all, young and old. We need to have fewer people unemployed and more people in employment.

I wish to share time with Deputy Sean Fleming.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I have listened to the contributions from the Minister and other Members opposite. A number of things have been said about the protection of income and of basic rates in the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill. The income of the elderly has been cut substantially over the past two years and it has also happened this year.

On the cut to the telephone line rental allowance, the line that has been given out is that the technology has moved on somewhat and the number of people depending on landlines has decreased considerably as they move on to mobile phones. That is fine for those living in urban areas with full mobile phone coverage, but people in isolated rural places have been screaming to get mobile phone coverage in recent years. Owing to the geography of parts of my constituency and elsewhere, on this day last year some people had difficulty getting access to Saorview to get television coverage. A huge amount of money was expended to ensure television signals were beamed into them.

Many elderly people are living on their own, possibly because their families have moved into cities and towns. The local provincial newspapers constantly report on rural crime and recommend that we should be more vigilant and watch out for our elderly neighbours. One elderly gentleman came to my clinic on Monday morning with a bill for almost €500 for the particular phone-based security system he selected. A cut to the phone allowance is unacceptable. It would be better to state the facts, which are that this is a simple and straightforward cut in their income. We need to ensure the truth is being told.

Another area of concern is the cut in the bereavement grant. As Deputies, we often deal with people who are bereaved, as there is considerable paperwork when a spouse or other family member dies. Throughout the country and particularly in rural areas people put aside some money to ensure their funerals are paid for.

When they leave this world, they want to go out with dignity and without any debt left after them. Everyone would have factored in this. Many people say the social welfare system is too generous. One could argue that in some limited cases the system is too generous but in this case the person concerned would have paid PRSI all his life. It is a contribution scheme and the stamps and contributions are paid and then the relatives claim for the benefit at the time of death. This is a retrograde step. It is something that people would have factored in. People are concerned about it and they are coming to us as a result. Quite rightly, people would have factored this in. These people would have been lifelong savers with credit unions and would have factored in what is available at the end in addition to the State grant. Many people come to all Deputies to help them with their affairs immediately after a bereavement in the family. Now we have to explain that it has been cut although they may argue that they have contributed.

In the overall context there is an attitude to the effect that the social welfare system is too broad and generous and people are spinning that attitude. There is a notion that people are on the system but that they should not be on the system. I maintain that 95% of the people on social welfare, especially on the jobseeker's allowance or benefit, want to get back to work. The last place they want to be is on the live register. If they were able to get a decent job they would. The notion or perception that they are better off on social welfare because of the benefits does not make sense. If we do the sums on the financial side, they simply do not add up. By and large, people on social welfare are on the lowest rung of the ladder and are simply trying to make ends meet. On the human or personal side, they are far better off working.

This is where the Tús initiative and the rural social scheme, which helps people with farm assist payments, come in. These have been of great benefit especially in rural communities. The schemes have been administered by the Leader companies throughout the country and they have given remarkable benefits. I have seen a vast number of people who have benefited from these schemes but the people who have benefited most, particularly in rural Ireland, are farmers' wives or spouses, those who would have stayed at home to look after the families. Then, when the families were reared they were at a loose end and then they began to reintegrate into the workforce. They have a remarkable amount to contribute. They have run a household on a shoestring and probably a farm budget as well for many years and they have done very well for the family as a result. Now these people tend to go back into the workforce, especially under the rural social scheme, because it gives more years.

The Tús scheme has great potential and was brought in by Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, who was the Minister responsible at the time. I have seen people who have been out of the workforce for several years through no fault of their own and people who have been in difficult family circumstances and unable to get into the workforce for a raft of reasons, whether bereavement or illness and so on. These people go back on the schemes and integrate into the society and there is great potential there in respect of the Tús scheme and the rural social scheme.

On the other side, let us consider the fact that the means test for farm and fish assist payments are being cut and what is allowable or otherwise on those schemes has been cut further. This makes it more difficult for farmers or their spouses with small holdings or a low-income to access these schemes. It is penny-pinching and it is a matter of the Minister cutting off her nose to spite her face because it will not deliver any long-term savings to the State. The position of people will be further eroded or they will be moved out of society rather than integrated into society through the rural social scheme or the Tús scheme.

There has been a spin or a perception circulated during the week from the media and other circles to the effect that the elderly have been recession-proofed. They have not been recession-proofed because their cost of living has increased dramatically and their income is the same as in recent years. Furthermore, as they get older they encounter considerable expenses. There have been comments on local radio and elsewhere relating to prescription charges. If we tot up every 50 cent added, every €1 cut here or there or every €1 taken off the telephone allowance, it is directly and absolutely taking from their incomes. These people have worked remarkably hard all their lives. By and large, the elderly of the country are dependent on the State pension. No one had vast amounts of money during their lives such that they were able to save for retirement. They are dependent on the State pension and on the household package and the State benefits that follow. There is a view that by cutting one or chipping away at this or that we are not attacking their core income but no one is codded by that. The Government is taking these benefits from them and making it more difficult for them to live.

I have a major issue with the changes to the entitlements of the elderly and death grants in the Bill. Recently, I spoke with the Minister. All the schemes should be expanded more to encourage more people into employment.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill. I realise the time for the debate is short and it will be concluded tomorrow. I will run through some of the headlines in the Bill. Then we will ask ourselves why we are doing this and perhaps discuss some of the specifics in more detail.

What we are doing today is increasing the number of waiting days for which people will be eligible for illness benefit to save €22 million. We want to cut €30 million from women on maternity benefit and people getting adoptive benefit. We want to take €17 million from people by eliminating the bereavement grant. We want to take €32 million off young people by cutting the jobseeker's allowance. We want to take €42 million from people through abolishing the telephone allowance. We want to take €5 million from people through the reduction in the supplementary welfare allowances for persons between 22 and 25 years. We want to save the €12 million by abolishing the mortgage interest supplement for all new applicants and by winding down the scheme for those who are in receipt of it already. We want to cut €5 million from those in receipt of the invalidity pension at age 65 years. We want to claim €21 million from people in respect of compensation awards. All of this adds up to a great deal of money. The question we should be asking ourselves is why we are doing that.

We all know there is a financial difficulty in the country although I hope we are successfully working our way out of it at this stage. However, there is a reason we have this level of cuts, including €290 million in the Department of Social Protection. I am disappointed the Minister is not in the House to hear me say this because, to some extent, I have sympathy personally for her. The Minister has been let down by her senior party colleagues in government. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, and the Minister's party leader have let down the Minister for Social Protection by forcing this level of cuts. They came in and threatened her with €400 million of cuts and then they settled on €290 million and the Minister thinks she has achieved something but, in truth, she knows in her heart the reality is otherwise. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, forced her to cut €290 million from people in receipt of social welfare payments. These are probably the 20% of households in Ireland with the lowest level of income. The simple question that I imagine the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, would be asking is how much are we taking from the 20% of households in the country with the highest income in this budget. The answer is: not a tosser. Those on the highest incomes in the country, the best off 20% who could pay a little more, are not being asked to contribute anything in this budget, while those among the 20% with the lowest income are being asked to contribute €290 million by way of cuts to their payments. When I consider the overall shape of the budget, this is where the situation has gone awry.

Last week, the Minister, Deputy Howlin, announced his expenditure adjustments would be €1.6 billion but the taxation measures would only amount to €0.9 billion. Consequently, two thirds of the €2.5 billion adjustments being made in this budget are falling on those who rely on State services. Moreover, out of that €1.6 billion, cuts of €1 billion will be taken from health and social protection. In other words, the cuts are affecting the lowest-paid people, as well as those who rely on the health services, while simultaneously not increasing taxes. The majority of the additional €0.9 billion is a result of extra money coming from the property tax. However, everyone who will experience cuts in social welfare payments arising from today's measures, including the elderly and those in receipt of disability allowance or invalidity pension or the figures I have just mentioned, will also be obliged to pay double the amount of property tax next year, as they will be paying for the entire year. While this is also the case for the better off, this will affect those who are experiencing cuts on foot of the legislation under discussion today. Not only are they experiencing cuts but will be obliged to paying property tax for the full year, which constitutes a further cut on them.

The Minister of State opposite will smile at this but it raises the basic question as to what the Labour Party is doing in government when year in, year out, its members come into this Chamber only to implement a Fine Gael agenda. More power to Fine Gael, as it has its mandate to be the largest party, but the Government is implementing a Fine Gael agenda. The Labour Party members of the Economic Management Council, namely, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, concede year in, year out that two thirds of the adjustments should take place on the expenditure side, which fall proportionately-----

Deputy, there is perfect harmony-----

The Minister of State must express his concern for the Labour Party.

----- which is more than would have been said for the relationship between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats.

Were Fine Gael concerned for the Labour Party, it would be asking those who can pay a bit more to do so but it rightly looks after its own voters. My disappointment is not with Fine Gael, because that is its nature. Members understand who it is that Fine Gael looks after, that is who they are, but I did not believe the Labour Party's identity would allow it to fall in like a puppy behind Fine Gael.

The Government is putting the interests of the country first.

That is my criticism of the Labour Party. Fine Gael is doing what it does, that is its nature and it is in its DNA to look after the better off and to force the cuts on the lowest-paid people.

Essentially, this is the reason Members are discussing these cuts today. As for the cut in jobseekers allowance for young people with a consequential saving of €32 million, my colleague highlighted that the Department of Social Protection is now advertising jobs in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which is an extraordinary development. However, in the case of young people in Ireland whose allowances are being cut by €44 per week, from €188 to €144 or from €144 to €100, this represents a loss of €2,288 per annum from a young person. That is a phenomenal cut to ask anyone to accept. Not only is the Government doing that but it is doing it to people it is encouraging into the workplace through the JobBridge intern programme. At present, they get €50 as a top-up on their payment but any young person who is on that programme at present and is in his or her early 20s will suffer that cut of €44 per week. The Government had been encouraging them to go out to work by stating that depending on their age, they would receive €144 per week plus an additional €50 top-up but now it is taking €44 per week from them. It is no wonder the Government is advertising jobs in Canada, New Zealand and Australia when this is how it treats young people at home.

The cutting of the bereavement grant has been covered well by my colleagues. All I have to say is it is a lousy thing to do to families at a time of loss. The savings will amount to €17 million and I expect that approximately 20,000 families will suffer a bereavement this year who will be unable to get this grant, to which they would have been accustomed in previous years. In respect of the maternity benefit cut, I like the wording that was used. This is a cut of €32 per week or €832 in total for a woman on maternity leave, which will affect approximately 45,000 women this year and which comes on top of the recently-introduced taxing of maternity benefit. However, the Government has used the new word "standardisation" to describe it even though it actually is a cut of €32 per week for those affected. On the abolition of mortgage interest supplement for a saving of €12 million, I will not rehearse the argument. I am aware the Minister does not like to pay out that payment at all. It is the only cash payment by the State to people in financial difficulties or who have trouble with their mortgages and the Government is abolishing it. What else are the banks to do except to follow the Government's lead? When banks see the Government cutting the only cash payment it makes to people in mortgage arrears, it is a cue for the banks to follow likewise and to try to put people out of their houses. The changes in respect of illness benefit represent an additional cost to many small employers, as they now will be obliged to pay it for an additional three days, even though the Government has claimed this was a pro-business budget.

When I consider the position in respect of job activation, I agree with the philosophy that a person who loses his or her job should go to the relevant jobs office or whatever it is called to sign on for work and ascertain what is available, after which the payment will be processed, as opposed to the traditional method in which one went in to collect one's money and six months later, might get an offer of a job in Canada. That is the reverse way of doing it and no one can claim that a situation in which there is only one staff member for every 800 people in receipt of jobseeker's allowance is a real method of trying to encourage people into work.

The telephone allowance has been highlighted by my colleagues. However, the Government is not simply taking this away from all pensioners and everyone over 66 years of age. I stress again that all these people will also be obliged to pay a full year's property tax next year, which will be double what they paid in 2013. The Government also is cutting the telephone allowance for people who are under 66 years of age who are in receipt of disability allowance. I could understand it if the Government thought there was a means test for elderly people, in a similar manner to what is being done in respect of the medical card, although I might not agree with the figures the Government picked. However, the Government has made a budget proposal seeking to cut the telephone allowance for people in receipt of disability allowance, for those in receipt of invalidity pension and from everyone in receipt of the blind pension, as well as those in receipt of disablement payments. That is an horrific thing to do and it comes back to the basic reason, which is that there is an excessive number of cuts in the budget and an insufficient demand of those who could afford to pay a little more to so do.

The next speaker is Deputy Harrington, who I understand intends to share time with Deputies Mitchell O'Connor and Kyne. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2013 and in addressing the Bill it is important to provide at least some elements of context. In a budget adjustment of greater than €2.5 billion, it is clear that for a spending Department such as the Department of Social Protection, which has an annual expenditure of approximately €20 billion, the idea it would remain untouched is ridiculous. It was always going to face a significant cut in the budget and while that was necessary, it was not and is not pleasant. There is no getting away from this and I have listened to Members opposite speaking ad nauseam about how we found ourselves in this position and who repeatedly have stated that default should have been the option. At a time when the State is borrowing almost €1 billion per month simply to pay the day-to-day bills, the reality would have been an overnight reduction in Government expenditure of between 40% and 50%. That would have condemned the most vulnerable in society to penury. Both social welfare clients and middle income earners would have been taking to the refuse bins simply to survive. However, this has not been mentioned at all.

Members opposite also have spoken about figures and I listened to the previous speaker, Deputy Fleming, speaking about cuts to this figure and reductions in respect of this or that scheme and overall, he mentioned about eight or ten of them. I will provide two figures for Deputy Fleming's consideration concerning the personnel, payroll and related systems, PPARS, project in which €160 million was lost from the Exchequer and e-voting, in which a further €60 million was lost to the Exchequer. Taken together, these two items alone would have dealt with this budget adjustment for social protection. Moreover, this does not take into account the €7 billion the Members opposite squandered and wasted in Government mismanagement over a ten-year period. The present Government is dealing with that and while the Opposition can talk about how this is a crisis born out of the collapse in Lehman Brothers or a crisis born out of a world financial catastrophe, this was a crisis born out of complete incompetence in the State. Members opposite mention budget cuts in schemes that have been targeted. As I stated, they are unpleasant but they are necessary.

I have concerns, chief among which is a trend I have noticed in respect of budget reductions and announcements in recent years, which is that they have taken place against those who have contributed under the benefits scheme. The jobseeker's benefit and the bereavement grant are schemes to which people would have contributed but in the case of the former, it has been reduced in duration from 15 months to nine months. Similarly, the bereavement grant is another benefit scheme.

Even though reform is taking place there are still areas where further reform is not only desirable, but essential. While the social protection offices have combined with FÁS or the new service SOLAS and the community welfare service has combined with the Intreo service, the pace of reform is appallingly slow. In many cases progress is held up because many of these offices had questionable long-term contractual lease arrangements with developers dating back to the period between 1997 and 2007 or later from which they cannot move on. If we wanted to provide these services in a one-stop shop, particularly in rural areas where the services are dispersed, that could not be done. The ideal provision would be to have an arrangement whereby a person who has lost his or her job would go to an Intreo office and the first point of contact would be a Department of Social Protection official. The person would then be quickly moved on in the same office to the next booth and would meet an official who is knowledgeable about the services provided by FÁS or SOLAS and job activation initiatives In that way the person on his or her first contact with a departmental office would have a route back to a possible job that matches his or her skills. There is a major unemployment problem in rural Ireland and those engaged in the construction industry took a massive hit in my constituency of Cork South-West. Despite the hysterics we have heard, there are still people in rural areas who worked in the construction sector who are looking for work and some of the measures in the budget will greatly assist them. I know of people who, having lost their jobs in the construction sector, went to a departmental office to participate in job activation initiatives and who were matched with positions that defied logic. They were given opportunities in the hi-tech IT sector. Unfortunately, the officials concerned simply engaged in a box-ticking exercise. That mentality is changing but it is not changing fast enough.

A debate on the efficient use of personal public service, PPS, numbers has been ongoing and I cannot understand the reason that issue has not been resolved by now. Why are PPS numbers not used more efficiently in all Departments? There is still a major lack of communication among Departments with regard to them. There was the case of the chid the HSE had concerns about in recent days where the child had to be handed back. That type of issue should not arise in this information age when every Department has an IT section but those sections only speak in-house, as it were, and do not communicate with each other. PPS numbers are not being used to counter fraud. Those numbers are not used by the franchise section of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government for voting purposes. We are all familiar with looking at a register of electors and picking out the people who have died in the past three or four years. That type of thing happens across Departments and we will see similar examples of that with regard to medical cards and GPs' offices. There should greater scope for accessing information through PPS numbers.

I propose that further reforms should include a one-stop-shop for means assessments. I cannot figure out the reason that separate means testing assessments are carried out by the Department of Social Protection, the Department of Health, the Department of Education and Skills and other Departments that award means tested payments or grants and by the local authorities. A significant portion of every Department's expenditure, budget and resources goes into a complex detailed wasteful exercise of means assessment when a one-stop-shop should be in place resourced with people who have an expertise in this area. Each Department has different criteria, thresholds, limits and vagaries with regard to means testing but all means assessments should be done through a one-stop-shop. Fundamental savings would be achieved if such a unit providing such shared services could be established as soon as possible.

I spoke to a man this morning who comes from north County Dublin who told me that he works two days of the weekend in a bar. He is a casual claimant and claims for the remaining four days. He told me he has no intention of taking up work that has been offered to him on several occasions in that trade unless he is guaranteed a pay rate of €12 an hour. He is a bright guy and has done the sums. The only way it will pay him and allow him earn more than simply breaking even is if he gets €12 an hour. How is the Department going to deal with situations such as that? Five years ago one could possibly have walked into a job that paid more than €12 an hour but that day is gone. If one does not have a skill or a profession one will only get a job that pays the minimum wage rate or a little more and one will have to work up one's pay, but that message is being lost or is not being communicated. That point was not mentioned and people cannot see the wood for the trees. We see it happen in every town and constituency where people make decisions like that man and one cannot blame them. These are not statistics, these are people who have families who want to protect their incomes. They want to do the best for their children and they genuinely want to work but they are trapped. It is only human nature for them to make such decisions

There are many issues that need to be further teased out. I broadly welcome the debate. It is unpleasant to take €226 million from this budget but I congratulate the Minister on achieving something that was difficult but had to be fair and had to be seen to be fair. Anybody who says anything different belies the fact that we have a very progressive social protection system and taxation system, which should not be forgotten.

The social welfare system is an essential service providing both a safety net and a springboard to help people at their most vulnerable. Since the economic crisis more and more people have had to avail of this service. By the close of this year, the Government will have spent €20.3 billion on social welfare. This accounts for nearly 40% of total Government expenditure. Thus, we can ill afford inefficiencies and inequalities in the system.

I therefore welcome the provisions of section 11 which seeks to further combat social welfare payment fraud. Social welfare fraud demands serious attention. The majority of the people availing of social welfare have been victims of the circumstances of our economy and would prefer to be engaged in the workforce. However, in some cases there are people who are less willing to engage and are even taking advantage of the system through fraudulent actions. This provision also takes measures to assure taxpayers, who are funding this system, that this service is fair and providing to those most in need.

I also welcome the new arrangements for older jobseekers. It is only fair that people aged 62 and over, who have greatly contributed to society and are equipped with great life experience, would not be penalised for not engaging in training or other supports required of younger jobseekers.

I am a strong advocate of healthy eating and tackling childhood obesity. I welcome the provision of funding for 100 new school breakfast clubs. This is clear evidence that the Government is investing in the health and educational performance of future generations.

I recognise that tough decisions have had to be made in budget 2014, cuts with which many are not satisfied, and I sympathise. However, the Bill attempts to strike a balance between reaching the savings necessary while not negatively impacting on the social welfare and pension recipient.

This Bill plays an active role in encouraging people to explore various education, training and job opportunities, particularly young people. As a former principal, I know parents want to see their children sufficiently educated and equipped as best as possible with the relevant work skills.

The Bill reduces an early reliance on jobseeker's welfare and instead encourages job and education initiatives. I therefore welcome the reduction of the JobsPlus eligibility threshold in terms of the duration of unemployment from 12 to six months. That will lead to 1,500 additional recruits under the scheme in 2014. The Department of Education and Skills has also committed to ring-fencing a minimum of 2,000 additional training places for those under 25. Those training places will help facilitate young people's transition onto the work ladder.

I recommend the Minister increases communication with the public on the outcomes of this Bill. I have been contacted by a number of constituents who are confused or unsure about the way the different provisions in the Bill will affect them and their families. Those fears can be alleviated by better and clearer communication. I am hopeful the Bill will ensure a more effective and efficient social welfare service that can protect those most in need.

Earlier this week I was criticised on social media for tabling a parliamentary question on social welfare policy and spending. I was slightly puzzled as I found it difficult to understand why people felt it was inappropriate that I would table a question on how €20 billion, or 40%, of our State spending is allocated. I firmly believe that a Deputy who is disinterested in the way State money is being spent is failing in his or her duty to his or her constituents and also to taxpayers.

In any debate on social protection it is important to ask the purpose of it and what we are trying to achieve. Social protection represents a helping hand. It is a support for a person in need experiencing a difficult time. It is a positive influence in our society and is the very definition of solidarity - a promise that the State will intervene in cases where people must overcome challenges and traumatic events. Those are not ideals shared in all countries throughout the world but they should be in any democracy.

Social welfare, however, is not something that should support the minority of capable citizens who choose not to work. That is particularly true at a time of great stress and constraints on our State finances, when every euro counts more than ever before and there is an added obligation to ensure those most in need are supported. We must always be mindful of those who are unable to work due to illness or disability.

Despite significant economic pressures the Government has been able to protect core social welfare rates in budget 2014 including the State pension, the invalidity pension, illness benefit and the disability allowance, the survivor's pension and carer's benefit and allowances. That is in addition to protecting pupil-teacher class ratios, student grant levels, the €1.3 billion budget for special needs and learning resource education, the weekly fuel allowance, and announcing the provision of free general practitioner, GP, care for every child under the age of six. Free travel has been protected as well. These are real and concrete measures that reflect the Government's commitment to tackling poverty and protecting the most vulnerable in our society, as agreed by the two parties in the programme for Government.

The Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, is Minister for Social Protection at the most challenging time in the history of the State. No other Minister has faced such immense challenges, problems and issues. The Minister must be commended on effectively managing the Department and overseeing the continued payment and support of well over 1 million of our citizens. That is happening only a few short years after a time when it was not certain the State would have the finance and wherewithal to provide weekly payments.

This is also the Minister who introduced the one-stop-shop for jobseekers, known as the Intreo service, something that was talked about for decades but which the Minister and this Government have been able to do. That allows one-to-one tailored assistance which will better meet the needs of the young and the not so young.

The flip side of social welfare is getting people back to work. Increasing the number of jobs means a decrease in the number of people requiring social assistance. Job creation is the number one priority of Government. We have experienced 15 consecutive months of increased employment with an extra 34,000 jobs being created in the past 12 months, 4,200 of those in the west. The success of existing measures can be seen in the 7.5% fall in unemployment figures for Galway last month. Nationally, the live register has fallen below 400,000 for the first time since May 2009. There is quite a distance to go but budget 2014 builds on this success with a range of measures that are pro-jobs and pro-local business.

I was particularly pleased, and it relates to this area although not confined to this Bill, about the decision on maintaining the 9% VAT rate for the tourism sector, which was particularly important, the abolition of the air travel tax, the welcome announcement in Shannon this morning of the additional flights, and the €8 million to be invested in the Wild Atlantic Way. These are all measures that will get people back to work. We must continue to work hard to ensure our efforts at assisting social welfare claimants as well as the efforts at reform are focused on assisting genuine, honest citizens. A job is central to a person's self-development and self-worth. It is vital we create the best conditions possible to ensure as many people as possible can find employment, and the social welfare system plays a huge part in that.

Before the budget I met a number of groups, including, in my area, the Knocknacarra Community Active Retirement Group and the Moycullen Active Retirement Association in my village. At that pre-budget meeting in Moycullen, they raised four main issues about which they were concerned. One was that the State pension would be protected and maintained, another was the free travel scheme, the third was the household benefits package, and the fourth was medical cards. I was confident enough at that meeting to be clear in my view that the State pension and the free travel would be protected. I was not as clear, and that has come to be true, about the household benefits package. It is regrettable that cuts have had to be imposed but, as I explained, the choices are quite limited.

On the medical cards, it is not an issue for this Bill but we must have much clearer communication from the Health Service Executive, particularly to the elderly, on what is allowed and the changes that have taken place to ensure they are not scared by letters that are somewhat threatening or difficult to follow. The language should be couched in a more caring way. I commend the Minister and support the Bill.

The next speaker is Deputy Gerry Adams who I understand is sharing time with Deputy Michael Colreavy and Deputy Brian Stanley. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Is deas é an Teachta a fheiceáil anseo mar chathaoirleach. Is deas é an tAire a fheiceáil chomh maith.

In last week's budget the Minister introduced a range of austerity cuts and tax measures that are a direct attack on low and middle income households and which will hurt the elderly, the sick and the very young. She is attacking citizens from the cradle to the grave as she demolishes the most basic social protections, and this Social Welfare and Pensions Bill is the cutting edge of that assault.

The previous Teachta Dála who spoke said he needed a little clarity. I will give him some clarity. This legislation extends waiting time for illness benefit from three to six days, makes swingeing cuts to maternity benefit, cuts adoption benefit, scraps the bereavement grant, slashes young people's jobseeker's allowance, cuts young people's supplementary welfare allowance, phases out mortgage interest supplement, gives broad discretionary powers to pension trustees, and cuts the invalidity payment level for 65 year olds. I do not know what further clarity the Deputy is seeking, and we have been given only nine hours to debate this Bill.

When the Labour Party went into Government with Fine Gael, it said it was doing so to blunt the worst excesses of that party. Not only has the Labour Party failed miserably to do that in respect of this Bill, it has not even secured a reasonable amount of time for a Dáil debate on the issue. That will probably not surprise the Deputy. Labour Deputies are not exactly queuing up to actively support his leadership's austerity policies.

This budget is also a repeat of the previous two, and we are going down deeper as people's social protections are actively demolished and vandalised. Last year's Social Welfare and Pensions Bill saw a cut to child benefit which the Minister in opposition so eloquently defended two years earlier when Fianna Fáil was prepared to cut it. In the December 2009 budget she described child benefit as keeping bread on the table and keeping many families afloat. Clearly, she did not believe that or did not mean it. We have also had Labour's commitment to oppose water charges and its promise to burden share with bondholders - the famous "It's Labour's way or Frankfurt's way".

On the property tax, in opposition Deputy Eamon Gilmore stated: "We have to remember that many people have already paid a family home tax on their residential home in the form of stamp duty". We got one version in opposition and a very different version in government. This year, households will bear the brunt of a full property tax bill.

As for the Taoiseach, he says he is for political reform and greater transparency and accountability.

Only last week he promised a pre-legislative stage and less use of the guillotine but this Bill will be rammed through. The Deputies from the Government benches, including those who want greater clarity, will be like voting fodder rolled out to vote on the Government's position. It is an insult to the intelligence of those citizens who will be affected by this Bill. It shows that this Government has no respect whatsoever for the Dáil or the citizens.

Millions of euro will be cut in income supports for young unemployed people. The Aire Stáit, Deputy McGinley, coming from Donegal, must know the number of people who are out of this State - people who have left this island because they cannot live here. He must understand how parents see the future. They will not see their grandchildren, other than on Skype. Their sons and daughters are playing Gaelic games in Brisbane, Birmingham or Boston. The cuts to the jobseeker's allowance for young people and to the supplementary welfare allowance are clearly intended as an incentive to emigrate. In the past four years, first under Fianna Fáil and now under Fine Gael and the Labour Party, 300,000, mainly young people, have emigrated. I still cannot get my head around that figure. Some 1,700 are leaving every week. Everywhere I travel, especially in rural Ireland, I hear distressing stories about families which have been sundered by the blight and scale of emigration, which is unparalleled in modern times and which is doing huge damage to society, communities, in particular rural communities, although not exclusively, and to families. It is a shameful indictment of this Government and of successive governments that citizens have no expectation that they can be born, grow up, live, work, prosper and grow old in the land of their birth. That is a scandal.

There is complete indifference to the devastation this Bill and other taxation measures and cuts contained in the budget will have on the elderly, the young, the sick and the unemployed. The changes to the provision of medical cards are a disgrace. These are vindictive measures which will affect, in particular, older citizens who have contributed so much to the State during their working lives and who are worried. I attended the demonstration the other day. People are outraged at the reduction in the over 70s medical card and at the ending of the bereavement grant. The Minister of State is bound to have constituents who want the security of knowing somebody will not be burdened when they die but the Government has taken that from them. The axing of the telephone allowance will result in increased social isolation. The buttons used for security will not work unless there is a landline.

There has also been an increase in prescription charges. The Minister, Deputy Reilly, when in opposition, told us he would not increase prescription charges but would get rid of them. However, he has increased them twice. There is devastation and continuing low morale and the game of politics - the profession of politics - is continuously being brought into disrepute.

What do the Labour Party Ministers say to this? They say lots of things during an election campaign. What can I say about the Taoiseach? When Fianna Fáil introduced these measures, the Taoiseach attacked them. Five years ago in this Dáil and sitting on this side of the Chamber, the Taoiseach said: "To take away your rights to have a medical card beyond the age of 70 years – I reject it! The cheek of them. Shame on them". What has changed? If it is shameful for Fianna Fáil to attempt to do this, is it not shameful for this Government to do so? What is the difference? Cad é an difear idir Fianna Fáil agus Fine Gael? Cad é an difear idir Páirtí an Lucht Oibre, Fine Gael agus Fianna Fáil. Níl difear ar bith eatarthu. Níl dabht ar bith nach bhfuil difear ar bith eatarthu.

The programme for Government states that the Government is committed to completing and implementing the national positive ageing strategy so that older people are recognised, supported and enabled to live independent full lives. The programme for Government also states, "We will support older people in living in their own homes and communities for as long as they wish and will facilitate this by ensuring that the eligibility criteria for the home helps and the Home Care Package Scheme are applied consistently". How do these commitments stand up now that the Government has cut home help hours and services, cut nursing home provision, scrapped the telephone allowance and cut medical cards and invalidity payments? All of this very actively undermines the ability of older citizens to live independent lives.

Fine Gael has a narrow ideological economic view which is to the right of the Tea Party in the USA but what is worse is that this is being done under a Labour Party Minister. James Connolly would turn in his grave. My colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, and others will bring forward amendments. I have little hope that the Government will listen to, or take on board, the constructive suggestions we make. I appeal to Government Deputies to be men and women, to stand up for what they were elected to do, to recognise the great harm this Bill will do and to vote against it at every opportunity today and tomorrow.

In the time available to me, I would like us to think about the process used to prepare and present this budget. My party colleagues will speak about the impact of it, which I did last week, but I would like us to think about the process used to prepare and present it, which was very clever. Myles McEntee, when covering the Fine Gael conference in Limerick for a Sunday newspaper, said the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, were like the Blackadder and Baldrick of Irish politics and that they had a clever plan. The clever plan was in the preparation and presentation of the budget.

The preparation was statements and leaks to scare people witless in the weeks coming up to the budget. As we got a little closer to the budget and, in particular, at the conference in Limerick, the talk was that it would not be so bad and that people would like what they saw in it. We then had the presentation on budget day which highlighted the very few positives and masked the negatives in the detail. That probably would have worked for the last Government because the Opposition did not perform as it should have done. However, on budget day, when the Ministers highlighted the positives and masked the negatives, we had good people who drilled down into the detail which exposed the full horror of this budget and the impact it would have on the people. The positive body language of the Ministers when they walked into the Chamber changed within two or three hours because they knew the cat was out of the bag in regard to the budget and that the public would understand very quickly the impact it would have on their day-to-day lives and the lives of their families.

The response to our analysis is certainly not to debate it but generally consists of saying Sinn Féin wants the Government and the country to fail. How ludicrous can one get to say Sinn Féin wants the Government and the country to fail? Why would anyone want to perpetuate the suffering the good people of this country are going through? Talk about inability to debate and cheap political posturing. When that does not work, the Government looks at what is happening in the Six Counties. It is a pity successive governments did not have the same concern for people in the Six Counties this Government professes to have now when it fears engaging in proper debate.

So much for intelligent debate.

This regressive Bill, like the budget that preceded it, will lead to further plundering of poor people and middle income earners. It will hurt children, families, the elderly, the ill and people with disabilities. It offers no vision and no hope. It contains no decency. Why were the salaries of people like us not reduced? Why were we not hit? Why are we not hurting as much as fathers, mothers and young jobseekers out there? This budget will not have the same impact on us as it will on unemployed people. We should be taking a greater hit than the unemployed. This Government will not touch us. In particular, the Government will not attempt to take any more money from the wealthy people of this nation. The previous Government's policies of cutting, slashing and deporting are being continued.

When I was at a public meeting in Carrick-on-Shannon a few months ago, I was asked a profound question by a person in the audience. Why and how have we come to a stage where the people of Ireland who elect the Government fear that Government rather than respect it? I think all of us should ask ourselves that question. The solution is in the answer. We need to get back to doing the decent thing and the right thing. In its pre-budget submission, Sinn Féin-----

As it is now 2.42 p.m., I must suspend the sitting for an hour in line with this morning's Order of Business. When we resume this debate, the Deputy's colleague, Deputy Stanley, will have the remaining five minutes in this slot.

I am sure he will use that time well.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 2.42 p.m. and resumed at 3.42 p.m.