This Bill will implement the seventh austerity budget the Irish have endured since the economic collapse. The Government has said it will be the last such budget but the reality is that the Government is wedded to the principle of austerity. It takes a view of the poor, those on low wages, the unemployed and young people that, in its mind, justified and necessitated the use of austerity measures.
While this is the seventh austerity budget, it is very definitely our second austerity Government. Fine Gael does not believe in adequately funded public services but in undermining them. It does not believe in the public good but in private profit. The Labour Party believes whatever it is told it has to believe and, with honourable exceptions, spouts the arguments of elitist right-wing neoliberalism with gusto, to a level not even heard among most Fine Gael Deputies. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton is a fine example of this. Nowhere can a greater defender of attacks on the poor be found. The Minister for Social Protection is a disgrace to the principles on which the Labour Party was founded. In this budget, she will oversee the cutting of social welfare rates for those under 25 years. Anyone who cannot find work and who is under 25 will be expected to live on the paltry sum of €100 per week. This measure, which is an extension of a previous cut, will see people fall into very bad circumstances. The previous cuts resulted in some young people, especially those coming out of care, becoming homeless and having to resort to emergency accommodation.
The Minister claims core pay has not been cut. This will not be much comfort to those who will become homeless due to yet another cut to the tiny sum on which they live. The Minister for Social Protection insults us and the intelligence of the public when she responds to this reality by claiming we have no faith in young people and that she is investing in them. It is sickening to have to listen to such utter rubbish. It is sneering nonsense.
Young people are being kicked when they are down and given one option, namely, to leave the country. Many young people have chosen to leave, helping Fine Gael and the Labour Party claim they are tackling unemployment. Many more will go in the coming months due to this budget. The Government is literally forcing our children out the door and calling them layabouts, thereby adding insult to injury.
Another cut made by this Government and overseen by the Minister for Social Protection is the cut to rent supplement for couples. This is on top of a previous cut to rent supplement, which also contributed to making some people homeless following its implementation. The Minister knows this because groups such as Focus Ireland told her so. They compiled reports on the effect of this policy, which the Minister, Deputy Burton, dishonestly claimed would help to lower rents.
These cuts to very vulnerable people, who literally have nothing to get back in terms of discretionary income, are totally unjustifiable and damaging to overall society. They come in the context of 112,000 people on social housing waiting lists, nearly 100,000 people on rent supplement and 30,000 people or so in the rental accommodation scheme. Rent has increased year on year and 5,000 people are homeless.
Never has the housing need been so high in this State or so severe, yet this budget targets those very people who are struggling most to obtain adequate housing. I have in the past made the clear point that this budget will make people homeless. Given this assault to people with a housing need, one would hope the housing budget would receive some kind of boost to offset the potential damage. The Government was certainly intent on making it look like that. It claimed it would invest €30 million in providing 500 homes. Five hundred is a drop in the ocean. One might think every little helps but the problem is evident when one examines the figures. Local authority housing funding is being cut by €15 million. Funding for voluntary and co-operative housing is being cut by the same amount. This supposed boost is just the repurposing of existing funds in a headline-friendly package. It really sums up the Government. All it is willing to give working-class people is spin, and it really believes it is very good at it. However, one cannot eat spin or build houses with it. All the fraudulent column inches claiming something is being done will not change that.
Housing has been cut by 10%, having been cut year on year since 2008 by a total of €1 billion. Somehow, Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, cannot see that spending €30 million is not a boost when there is a cut of €60 million. She claimed that people with disabilities would comprise a specific focus in the provision of new housing through the budget. This does not stack up with the numbers. Adaptation grants were cut by 40% last year. Dublin City Council had to close its scheme for the year as the money had run out by the summer. The new grant money included in this budget is money to help people to extend their houses. I do not doubt that, for some, having bought a small home during the boom that is now unsuitable and unsellable, a new extension is essential to their comfort. However, it is scandalous that it is possible for someone to get a grant to subsidise the construction industry to build him or her a pool room while elderly and disabled people go without basic upgrades to their homes to make them accessible.
Other cuts in the budget, representing a policy of continuing austerity, include the abolition of the bereavement grant, which helped poor people, especially the old, to afford the cost of a funeral. Increased prescription charges on top of the previous charges are also a feature. Medical cards have been cut. Some tens of thousands of people will be affected as a result of the cuts to medical cards under the budget.
There have been cuts affecting local drugs task forces. I have been a member of the Finglas–Cabra drugs task force for more than 12 years. Year on year, there have been cuts. The cuts affecting many of the drugs task forces have been across the board. The Finglas–Cabra drugs task force is the least subsidised in the country. It gets the least money, yet there will be an across-the-board cut rather than one that accounts for the specific needs of each task force. The Finglas–Cabra drugs task force is one of the most active in the country.
There have been cuts to maternity benefit. The cut to the telephone allowance for the elderly, which helps pay for an alarm system, is putting the lives of the elderly at risk. The savings in this regard are so minuscule that it does not make sense to cut the allowance, thereby putting people at risk, particularly those in vulnerable or rural areas and isolated locations where people do not have family present or where people do not come to visit.
This is a budget that attacks the poor, vulnerable and working-class people as a whole. It is a budget by a party that holds this approach as a matter of principle, and that party is supported by another that does not know what principles are about.
There was, is and will be an alternative, that is, a fair and equal approach to how a society and economy should be run. Sinn Féin gave the Government the opportunity to embark on that path again this year and it was rejected. We will continue to put forward the path to that alternative.