Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 26 Jan 2022

Vol. 1016 No. 7

Cost of Living: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

— the annual rate of inflation in Ireland has risen for fourteen months in a row reaching 5.5 per cent in December, the highest in over twenty years;

— the rise in inflation is being driven by increased costs for electricity, home-heating oil and gas, higher rents, housing costs and mortgage payments, and rising prices for food and fuel;

— the National Minimum Wage only increased by 30 cent per hour, or 3 per cent, in January, which is well below the current rate of inflation;

— the €5 increase in weekly social welfare rates in Budget 2022 is not enough to keep pace with rising prices resulting in a real cut in living standards for those on fixed incomes;

— the Department of Finance reported a record tax take for 2021, with Value Added Tax (VAT) alone raising €3 billion more than in 2020, and €1 billion ahead of projections;

— the Irish Congress of Trade Unions issued guidance in December to private sector unions that they should seek pay increases in the range of 2.5 to 4.5 per cent in 2022; and

— Ireland is the most expensive country in the European Union (EU) for housing costs, with record rents, the highest mortgage interest rates in the EU, and a chronic lack of supply that caused house prices to increase by 14 per cent in the year to November 2021;

recognises that:

— the soaring costs of food, heating, fuel and housing is causing real hardship and putting more people at risk of poverty;

— VAT is a tax on consumption which disproportionately impacts on the less well-off, and rising prices, in particular on energy and fuel, is resulting in a VAT windfall to the State;

— rising prices will cost some households an additional €1,300 this year on their gas and electricity bills after prices rose by over 27 per cent in 2021, while petrol and diesel fuels rose by 33.7 per cent;

— increased economic growth, global supply concerns, and the situation in Ukraine will influence future fuel price rises;

— the proposed €100 off energy bills is tokenistic, not enough for those who need it, and poorly targeted;

— measures to control rents have failed, with annual average increases nationally of 5.3 per cent over the last decade, and the most recent Residential Tenancies Board report showed an 8.3 per cent increase on an annual basis in the third-quarter of 2021, while rents in Dublin are now more than 40 per cent above pre-crisis levels;

— the average Irish mortgage interest rate of 2.79 per cent is more than twice the EU average of 1.31 per cent, costing households over €2,000 a year, with no action to date from Government to bring this down;

— Ireland has the second highest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development household spend on childcare costs, with couples spending an average of 24 per cent of income and single parents spending 29 per cent of their wages on childcare costs;

— despite the constitutional commitment to free education, parents and guardians pay significant out-of-pocket costs to send their children to school; and

— since the publication of the Sláintecare Report in 2017, progress on the abolition of patient charges and the rollout of the free general practitioner care is taking too long;

acknowledges that:

— the failure to act on the cost-of-living crisis in a whole-of-Government way will further reduce the living standards of millions of Irish people and condemn more people to poverty and homelessness; and

— the key factors impacting the rising cost of living are within the regulatory and fiscal control of Government; and

calls on the Government to:

— urgently take a whole-of-Government approach to tackling the soaring cost of living;

— introduce an immediate rent freeze and a roadmap to reduce Irish mortgage interest rates to the EU average;

— provide an emergency energy costs relief package for households, which should include a temporary time-limited reduction in the VAT rate on energy and fuel up until the next Budget, and for the Minister for Finance to seek an EU derogation to allow for the long-term retention of the historic 13.5 per cent rate on electricity and gas after such a temporary VAT cut expires;

— introduce additional targeted supports for those in energy poverty by widening access to the fuel allowance, and commit to the introduction of a refundable carbon tax credit for low-income households to support the long-term phasing out of fossil fuels;

— support pay increases for workers across the economy in line with the rising cost of living;

— legislate to enhance collective and sectoral bargaining laws and frameworks to ensure that working people obtain a fairer share of the wealth they create;

— transform the National Minimum Wage to a living wage;

— provide for increases in social welfare payments linked to the rate of inflation, with a long-term commitment to bring weekly rates up to the minimum essential standard of living;

— introduce a windfall levy on excessive profits made in the energy, transport, housing and food sectors due to rising prices;

— take comprehensive action to make education free, introduce a universal public childcare model, bring forward the cap on childcare fees, and accelerate the implementation of Sláintecare; and

— meet any additional costs of living with Covid-19 through 2022, including the proactive provision of antigen tests and FFP2 and medical grade face masks.

Inflation is at a 20-year high. The headline rate is now running at 5.5%. Such a rate has not been seen since Charlie McCreevy was in his pomp. According to the price comparison website numbeo.com, Ireland is the 16th most expensive country in which to live, and this is even before housing costs are factored in. None of us in this House will need a website to tell us that working people throughout this country are finding it harder and harder over the week to make ends meet. Our own lived experience and that of the people we represent tells us that ever-rising heating, electricity, transport and food costs are keeping far too many people from their sleep. “Crisis” is an all oft-used and much-abused term, especially in this Chamber, but a cost of living crisis is exactly what we are living through, though you would not think so from the Government's lamentable response to date. This Government just does not get it. The sheer timidity and lack of imagination in response to the effective slashing of the living standards of hundreds of thousands of families and individuals has left an awful lot to be desired.

We should reflect for a moment on what the soaring cost of living means in real terms for the people in early 2022. We should look behind the cold data and statistics. The price of the basic staples, namely, bread, milk and butter is up by 10 to 30 cent since Christmas. Pasta, which is the basic foodstuff a struggling parent will always rely on to feed the kids, is up 6.4% in a year. Rents were up 8.3% on an annual basis in the last quarter of 2021, according to the Residential Tenancies Board. Motorists are having to spend on average an additional €500 per year to keep their car on the road. On energy costs, the Central Statistics Office, CSO, says consumers were paying 53% more in December 2021 than they were at the same point in the year before. Conor Pope, writing in Monday’s The Irish Times, was right that when you add up the real impact rising prices are having on everyday essentials, namely, the things we have no choice about buying, a worker on a modest wage would have to earn an extra €4,000 per year before tax to maintain the same standard of living he or she enjoyed in 2020. I tell the Minister of State that people are in very real trouble and in very real difficulty. Without a package of meaningful actions, living standards will fall severely this year; make no mistake about it.

John Hume famously said: “You can’t eat a flag”. You cannot eat good GDP numbers either. It would of course be churlish not to recognise how well our economy is doing as we put - we hope - the darker days of this phase of the pandemic behind us. However, before we start congratulating ourselves on the performance of the economy, we should ask ourselves a few very basic questions. What purpose has a burgeoning economy if the fruits of our productivity and of our labour are not deployed to help people when they need it most? I refer to real help to stop people from falling into fuel poverty, real help to ensure people can make the rent at the end of the month and real action for those who exist on the breadline to further put sufficient food on the table. People read that we took in more in income tax last year than ever before. A party like mine, that is dedicated to the principle of work and to the principle of the dignity of work, is of course made very proud of our country by that. People also read that big corporations that provide good jobs for skilled workers paid a record amount in corporation tax last year. That is very good too and that is objectively the case.

People have also read we are raking in VAT. As the Minister of State is at the Department of Finance, he knows well that this State took in €1 billion more than it bargained for in VAT last year. This is a phenomenal sum and much of that would have come from a windfall from the VAT levied on energy and fuel. This itself raises big questions for Government. VAT represents the second largest source of tax revenue for the State. VAT, as the Minister of State knows only too well, is a tax on consumption. We all pay it; we do not have a choice. There is no option but to pay VAT when we buy goods and services. The point is the impact of VAT hurts some more than it hurts others and it is the least well-off who bear the brunt of the VAT burden when prices go up. They need help from the Minister of State and the Government to keep the wolf from the door.

To help working people throughout the country through the crisis and to help them make their hard-earned euro stretch a little further, the Government absolutely must look again at the need to reduce the VAT wedge on energy and fuel bills. We do it in the knowledge there is a layer of complexity involved, but this is eminently doable and a further EU derogation is achievable if the political will exists to do it. It is a question of political will. If the Government can achieve this, as we are calling for, we can ensure too the rates do not then go back up to the standard rate of 23%. I am appealing to the Minister of State not to rule that out. Our understanding is other EU member states that are led by some of our colleagues in the social democratic movement are currently interrogating this approach.

This ought to be a temporary six-month measure. It would be time limited and temporary to take us through this emergency period and would be reviewed in October’s budget. I will give a little bit of context. A six-month drop in VAT on fuel and energy would cost around €200 million. This is the same amount the Government will shell out on the electricity bill wheeze but with a bigger and more effective impact for those who need help the most, because as I said earlier, VAT hits the poorest the hardest. The truth is the now €113.50 electricity bill rebate is a bit of a gimmick. That is all it is. It was dreamed up on the back of an envelope and we are still waiting to see the legislation to allow it to be introduced. Too many will get it who evidently do not need it and too few who really need support will end up getting far too little. Instead, the Government should focus its attention on how to return some of that €1 billion unexpected VAT windfall to the pockets of those who need it the most.

We saw in today’s Irish Independent that the big energy firm Energia paid out €30 million in dividends for the previous financial year. That will not sit well with consumers reading that this morning when energy prices are going up and up. That in itself makes an argument to impose a windfall levy on energy companies that are experiencing supernormal profits at the expense of working people throughout the country.

It is also important to note energy and electricity price rises are not only impacting on residential consumers. The phenomenon is impacting on jobs and businesses too. I know for a fact it is costing jobs and I will tell the Minister of State why. Workers at the Premier Periclase plant in Drogheda are in the teeth of this storm and this is a case in point. I am using this example to illustrate a wider point. They are on temporary lay-off because the firm, which is a very large consumer of energy and fuel, has been tipped into examinership as it struggles with enormous bills from Bord Gáis and without any sign whatsoever of Government support or any understanding as to the experience it is going through. This is something we are likely to see much more of this year, absent a comprehensive set of actions from the Government. A whole-of-government approach and response to this very real world crisis is needed.

However, there is little or no sign of action coming from the Government. There is no urgency and there are no ideas.

The Minister of State might dismiss the problem of inflation as transitory, but we do not. The Governor of the Central Bank, Gabriel Makhlouf admits that the impact of the rising cost of living is uneven. Of course it is. In other words, rising prices hit the poorest the hardest. That is what he meant to say. I will break it down for the Minister of State. Even when this current spike dissipates, it is likely that Ireland will still have higher rates of inflation than the EU average. This requires determined and longer term Government attention.

This issue is the real-life, on-the-ground, urgent financial, economic and political issue of this year and it ought to be treated with the seriousness it deserves. We have put forward time and again constructive proposals to protect living standards, but our calls have so far fallen on deaf ears. If the Government had listened to our warnings in the run-up to budget 2022 last October, there may have been no need whatsoever for this motion today. It was clear then that a 2% increase in social welfare rates would not cut it, and it has not. What we now have is a real, effective cut to the living standards of those who depend on the State for their income. We accept there are international circumstances feeding into the situation, but the most acute price rises in recent months, which are fuel, energy, transport, housing and food, are all subject to one form or another of Government policy or regulatory control. People are looking for action from the Government. They demand action and intervention. We request that the House supports this motion.

I wish to share the remaining time with Deputy Bacik.

Last Friday, the Taoiseach asked us all to get back to what we are good at and what we should be doing. What the Minister of State should be doing now is dealing with this issue because it is going to be the biggest issue by far facing the country. We accept a percentage of the colossal level of inflation is due to international factors, but when we break it down to the level of ordinary people's lives, between the rates of increase in diesel and petrol, home heating oil, the basic staple diet of bread, butter and milk, and electricity, families are facing an increase of €3,000 to €4,000. They cannot take it. The sum of €113.50 is laughable.

The Taoiseach put himself in a bind yesterday when he spoke about workers and the fact he does not believe they should be looking for what are pretty modest wage increases, while the Tánaiste was saying the complete opposite and agreed with what I said in the House. I will say it straight out. We are the Labour Party. We work with trade unions all the time. They are going to make wage demands and we are going to bloody well support them. The Minister of State is not doing his job. Real politics is back. He will have to deal with this. It will not wash at all to offer €113.50 to somebody who is facing increases of €4,000.

We asked some families to give us their experience. One elderly lady said:

My only income is the State pension. It is impossible to keep going with the increases that I am now facing. This Government do not understand it up there.

Another woman told us the real impact it is having on her family:

The cost of my grocery shop has slowly increased by at least €50 per week. That is a basic enough shop of staple food, no drink, just veg, meat, fruit, etc. Since October I have put €1,140 into my oil tank. My car diesel did cost €70, it now costs €107. [These people are budgeting, and they are going to fall over.] I have had to add €100 extra per week to my household budget to buy the same things I did last year.

This is the one that really got me, as you can imagine, "My sister works in a supermarket, and she said people are putting items back at the till when they realise the scale and size of their bill."

There is increasing food poverty due to inflation, higher utility bills and higher fuel bills. Another person who got on to me said that they have to return to the workplace in Dublin. They did commute there two times a week, but now that they have to work full time and pay rent, it basically means they must give up their job because they cannot survive.

With all of these inflationary measures, this is not just affecting one size of family or a certain dynamic of family. It is affecting those who are poor, who are on the poverty line, and it is affecting single people who are having to move because other changes in how we live our lives change how they do things. It is affecting working families. It is affecting those who have to pay mortgages. It is affecting everyone at a certain level. There is a huge amount of worry and fear out there that the Government does not get. I told the Taoiseach yesterday that the Government is not living in the real world. The Minister of State should please bear this in mind; there is a very short window to deal with this. My colleague, Deputy Nash, has put forward proposals to facilitate and help the Government. It is simply untrue to say those tools are not available.

I am pleased to speak on the Labour Party motion on the cost of living. This is a timely motion, as my colleagues, Deputies Nash and Kelly have pointed out. This is an issue that affects everyone across Ireland today. As we are moving into a new phase of the pandemic and all of us are cautiously optimistic, as we have seen the lifting of most restrictions at the end of last week, nonetheless, what is coming into stark focus now is the reality of increased costs for so many families, individuals and households throughout the country. What we have learnt throughout this pandemic is that the old way of doing politics simply is not good enough any more. We need to ensure we build on those collective values of solidarity that saw us through the toughest times in the pandemic and that we build on what are social democratic and socialist principles of greater roles for the State in intervening to address growing inequalities. I was very struck by the Oxfam figures showing the wealth of Ireland's nine billionaires increased by nearly 60% since March 2020 while for most people wages have stagnated while prices have increased. This is at a time of global insecurity, with Russian troops massing on the border in Ukraine, and consequences that Deputy Nash has spelt out of which we are all very aware in terms of rising prices for energy and serious implications for many in the manufacturing and other sectors throughout the country.

I want to focus on two areas in which the Government can make a real difference if it addresses them and takes up the challenge of greater public sector investment in public services and greater and more targeted measures to address them. There are two issues on which people in my constituency in Dublin Bay South and throughout the country are really being squeezed. Childcare is a significant issue given the massive costs. Ireland has the second highest household spend on childcare in the OECD. In my constituency, I hear daily and weekly from couples and individuals who are scrambling to make ends meet and to meet childcare costs, yet we know that across the sector while parents are facing unaffordable fees, staff are being paid at below poverty level in many cases. Many childcare and early years professionals are seeking to leave the sector as they are simply unable to afford to continue to work in it. Crèche and childcare providers are leaving the market and are no longer providing the service because they too are not getting the supports. I have called for a Donogh O'Malley moment where the Government takes up what Labour Women have called for in our equal early years campaign, where we take up the challenge and bring into play a proper, universal, public, community-run childcare system that is affordable for parents and that provides good quality childcare with good supports and recognition for childcare professionals and early years educators. This must be done. We have heard promises of reform from the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, but there has been no delivery and parents still face high fees.

Then there is the cost of housing. In my constituency, 44% of all households are in the private rental sector. We are seeing unaffordable hikes in rents and the Government has failed to take action on progressing the Bill that I and Senator Moynihan pioneered and that the Dáil debated in September, which would, among other things, have frozen rents for a three-year period. Our renters' rights Bill would have brought in significant positive reforms for those renting and would have sought to address this serious cost and increase that so many families and individuals are facing.

What we want to see with this motion is a better Ireland than we have seen to date. We want to see an Ireland in which the collective principles of solidarity are built upon in which the State takes up the challenge of investment in public services and in which targeted measures are taken by the Government without delay to address rising costs and rising prices and, in particular, to target childcare and rent costs that are crippling so many families.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:


— that the annual rate of consumer price inflation, as measured by the European Union's Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices, has picked up sharply in recent months, reaching a multi-decade high of 5.7 per cent in December;

— that the recent increase in inflation is partly a result of temporary factors related to the pandemic, which are expected to ease gradually over time;

— that the key drivers of inflation in recent months are 'base effects', the imbalance between global demand and supply that has emerged as economies re-opened, and increases in global energy prices;

— that Budget 2022 contained a large range of measures to protect households from the rising cost of living, including a personal income tax package worth €520 million next year and a social welfare package of over €550 million;

— that the Fuel Allowance was increased by €5 per week to compensate lower income households for the additional energy costs they are likely to incur;

— that there were also increases in the allocation of Early Learning and Care and School-Age Childcare to ensure childcare prices do not rise;

— that the Government has also approved an Electricity Costs Emergency Benefit Scheme payment of up to €100 to be made this year to an estimated 2.1 million domestic electricity account holders;

— that in relation to the housing market, the Government's Housing for All strategy outlines the Government's plan to increase affordability and housing supply by targeting the delivery of, on average, 33,000 new homes per annum out to 2030;

— that €4 billion was allocated towards housing in Budget 2022 and this includes €2.6 billion in capital funding, which will be used to deliver 9,200 social homes, the vast bulk of which will be new builds;

— that while the price lenders charge for their loans is a commercial matter for individual lenders, a review of the retail banking market is now underway in the Department of Finance and will consider how the banking system can best support economic activity, assess competition and consumer choice in the market for banking services and consider options to further develop the mortgage market;

— the need for the provision of better healthcare, including via Sláintecare, and that the Government has set aside significant resources in that regard;

— that in terms of wages, the Government has increased the National Minimum Wage each year since 2016, with the aim of making the average minimum wage worker better off;

— that a recent report published by the Economic and Social Research Institute found that this policy has been successful in making the average minimum wage worker better off financially over that period;

— that while inflation expectations currently remain well anchored, second round effects, i.e. higher inflation expectations feeding through to wages, pose a risk to the inflation outlook, with the likelihood increasing the longer this temporary period of high inflation lasts; and

— that Ireland is a small open economy, where wage growth in excess of other economies erodes our competitiveness and puts future jobs and economic growth at risk;

recognises that:

— the Government has been proactive in limiting the fallout from higher rates of inflation;

— to support households and firms, the Government has made available €48 billion of fiscal support, one of the most significant policy responses of any country in the world;

— this has led to a significant increase in the general Government debt of around 11 per cent of national income; and

— Ireland's public debt is almost a quarter of a trillion euro as a result and among the highest in the developed world on a per capita basis; and

acknowledges that:

— the recent rise in inflation is primarily the result of global factors and consequently largely beyond the reach of Government policy, though domestic factors are also at play;

— inflationary pressures are partly the result of temporary factors related to the pandemic, which are expected to fade over time;

— the recent increase in inflation is having a significant impact on the cost of living for Irish citizens;

— while the Government has committed to a range of measures to mitigate the impacts of increases in the cost of living on citizens, it must pursue broadly neutral budgetary policy in order to contain domestic inflationary pressures; and

— it is crucial that we do not have an inflation 'chain reaction' that would damage our international cost competitiveness."

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the recent increase in consumer price inflation and I look forward to a constructive discussion on the issue this morning. In my opening remarks I will outline both the causes of the recent increase and highlight the Government's response. Let me begin by stressing that the Government is acutely aware of the cost of living pressures being faced by Irish households. My remarks will focus on the European measure of inflation, the harmonised index of consumer prices. The rate of inflation is running at 5.7% according to the latest data. I am conscious this is the highest rate since November 2000 and that this is squeezing household disposable incomes while also weighing on the profits of firms and employers. Of course, we should not pretend Ireland is unique in this regard. The rate of inflation has picked up in almost all advanced economies. The latest figures show rates of 7% in the US, 5.4% in the UK and 5% in the euro area. In all countries, these sorts of figures are multi-decade highs. Ireland is no different.

Clearly, the biggest driver of headline inflation at the moment is the sharp increase in energy prices. Demand for oil and other energy products such as natural gas has increased sharply following the reopening of many economies in the second half of last year. At present, the wholesale price of oil is around €77 per barrel, broadly in line with the average pre-pandemic. However, this level is much higher than the abnormal levels that prevailed during the first wave of the pandemic, thus boosting the annual comparison. Around two percentage points of the 5.7% rate recorded in December are due to energy prices. This is what is known as a base effect and is also a feature, for instance, in the sharp annual increase in the cost of airline tickets we have seen. These base effects are expected to drop out of the annual comparison over the course of this year. This is what underpins our assessment that the current very high rate of inflation is temporary and that it will begin to ease from the second quarter of this year. Additionally, the increase in international gas prices is more complex and relates to increased demand from certain parts of the world. This is in part as a result of extreme weather events, lower than expected gas supply and low gas reserves. Unfortunately, Ireland, along with the rest of the EU, is a net importer of gas and, as a result, a price taker on international markets.

More fundamental is the second factor at work, which is the imbalance between global demand and supply that has emerged as economies have reopened. Most advanced economies have recovered strongly from the pandemic and this has boosted demand. However, congestion at ports, unavailable shipping capacity, and the closure of factories in Asia mean supply has recovered more slowly. This mismatch between demand and supply has put upward pressure on prices. These supply chain problems are the reason for the sharp increase in car prices, for instance.

This brings me to the third factor, which is more of a domestic than external issue. This is the rebound in demand in our own economy due to the relaxation of restrictions. Indeed, the rebound seen last year, particularly in the second quarter, was far higher than many expected and is a direct result of successful Government policy to support and protect incomes, jobs and businesses. In fact, household incomes increased by almost 7% in 2020, among the highest in the EU, and grew strongly last year as well. With incomes actually increasing during a time when normal consumption was impossible, household savings surged, rising by €23 billion since the pandemic began.

It is therefore inevitable that the easing of restrictions would lead to a rapid unwinding of pent-up demand and, in doing so, put upward pressure on prices if these savings were to flow into areas in which supply is already constrained. Supply is constrained in many areas, in part due to labour shortages. While the Omicron variant led to only a temporary slowdown, it no doubt worsened the supply constraints. Finally, it also worth mentioning that Brexit is also having an impact on Irish inflation, with higher trade costs due to non-tariff measures being passed on to consumers here.

The Government's primary response to mitigating residential price inflation is to increase supply. New figures from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage show there were more than 30,700 housing units that had commenced construction in 2021. The pipeline is strong. Furthermore, the Housing for All strategy outlines the Government's plan to increase affordability and housing supply by targeting the delivery of, on average, 33,000 new homes per annum out to 2030. Housing for All also aims to provide more than 10,000 social homes and 6,000 affordable homes for purchase or rent per annum, which will help to mitigate affordability challenges for our citizens. Some €4 billion was allocated towards housing in budget 2022, the highest amount ever. In that regard, the level of resources being set aside for core spending is significant, almost €93 billion in 2025 compared with just over €70 billion in 2020. This additional spending will provide for new expenditure measures, including for priorities such as Sláintecare. That goes against the suggestion there is a lack of public sector investment. The opposite is the case.

I will now turn to the issue of wages. In the same report, Ireland was reported to have the second highest minimum wage in the EU. Even when accounting for differences in price levels, the Irish minimum wage was found to be one of the highest across the EU. We must bear in mind, however, that Ireland is a small, outward-looking economy where wage growth in excess of other economies erodes our competitiveness and puts future job and economic growth at risk. It is crucial, therefore, that we do not trigger an inflation chain reaction, a wage-price spiral, that would damage our international cost competitiveness as an open economy that relies on exports.

Let me now turn to the Government's response to the recent increase in consumer price inflation. In formulating budget 2022, the Government was acutely aware of the cost of living pressures that currently confront Irish households. For this reason, it contained a large range of measures to protect households from the rising cost of living. In fact, analysis of budget 2022 carried out by the Department of Finance showed that the gains from the net budgetary package are greatest for those on the lowest incomes, highlighting the progressive nature of the budget package. The budget measures included a personal income tax package worth €520 million for this year alongside a social welfare package of more than €550 million. In terms of specifics, the fuel allowance was increased by €5 per week to compensate lower income households for the additional energy costs they are likely to incur due to an increase in the carbon tax. There were also increases in the allocation of early learning care and school-age childcare to ensure childcare prices do not rise. That is very important for families mentioned by previous speakers.

On foot of the significant increases in energy prices of late, the Government further approved an electricity costs emergency benefit payment of up to €100 to be made this year to an estimated 2.1 million domestic electricity account holders. The benefit to each electricity account holder, including the VAT effect, will be €113.50. The Labour Party has done nothing but call that a gimmick and a wheeze. It is €113.50 and I think people will appreciate that. I reject any notion that it is a gimmick or a wheeze. It is a direct subsidy to every household to deal with the rising costs of electricity.

While the Government is keen to do as much as it can to alleviate the cost of living pressures for households, this needs to be considered in the context of broader budgetary policy and our current financial position.

Overall, in response to the pandemic, the Government has made available €48 billion to shore up household incomes and provide a lifeline for firms while supporting our social, community and cultural life and employment. This is one of the most significant policy responses of any country.

It should be clear that, as well as providing effective policy measures to support the recovery, the Government will do as much as is feasible to alleviate the cost-of-living pressures for households. This support, however, comes at a cost and has led to a significant increase in general Government debt of about 11% of national income. As a result, Ireland's public debt amounts to almost one quarter of €1 trillion, among the highest in the developed world on a per capita basis.

The rapid rise in consumer prices is certainly unwelcome and the Government is conscious of the impact on the people. We have responded in a proactive manner and in line with policies taken in other jurisdictions. Some of the drivers are outside of our control but our policy response will help mitigate their impact. I am confident the rate of inflation will begin to moderate as this year progresses. I look forward to constructive input from Deputies during the debate.

I am sharing time with Deputy Ó Ríordáin.

The Minister of State's response was quite telling, not least when he stated, “This is what underpins our assessment that the current very high rate of inflation is temporary and that it will begin to ease from the second quarter of this year.” We all read the economic reports from the likes of the Economic and Social Research Institute and we are all well versed on economic affairs at this stage. I think what the Minister of State is signalling to the House in response to the motion is that, by and large, the Government is hopeful everything will return to some degree of normality, as will the 2.5% of that 5.7% increase attributed to the cost of energy, but the cost of energy runs through everything we do in society. Whether we are buying a packet of biscuits or pasta, fuelling our cars or heating our houses, it runs through everything we do. I believe the Minister of State's contribution was signalling to the House that the Government is going to be largely non-interventionist in how it approaches the cost-of-living increase. It is hopeful, on a wing and a prayer, that costs will decrease in the second half of this year and, therefore, it will not do a whole pile about it. That is unfortunate. At a time when people expect a response from, and intervention by, the Government, the response from the Minister of State and the Government is unfortunate.

There was something discomfiting about hearing the traffic reports from AA Roadwatch on "Morning Ireland" earlier. The tailbacks and delays at the usual junctions left one with a sense that the gains in respect of quality of life derived from people being able to work from home were evaporating before our very eyes. I hope we will not squander those gains on quality of life and I hope the considerable financial savings people have made by working remotely will not be wiped out by rising fuel costs, in particular for those commuters stuck on major orbital routes around cities such as Dublin, Cork and Limerick and many towns I could mention. The Minister of State made reference to the annual rate of inflation and we all acknowledge the increase, which is at an all-time high. Even so, it will not be long before the gains workers have made from not having to spend hours in the car will be wiped out by the exorbitant cost of petrol and diesel.

There is an opportunity to address the cost-of-living crisis. The Taoiseach informed the House yesterday that he believes increasing wages is not the answer because of what he believes is the danger of a wage price spiral leading to higher inflation, and the Minister of State referred to the same dynamic. I do not know whether that is Government policy, given the Tánaiste was asking the private sector after this week's Cabinet meeting to increase wages. He stated, “Where employers can afford pay increases, they should do so.” That is typical of the mixed messaging of the Government and its inability to deliver one coherent message. The people are listening closely to messages from the Government. Incoherence leads only to further anxiety and this needs to be addressed.

The Taoiseach did not offer solutions yesterday when responding to Deputy Kelly's raising of the issue of spiralling costs across the range of goods and services. Through this motion, we have put forward some solutions. One such measure the Government could consider to address the spiralling costs of energy would be to actively widen access to the fuel allowance for households that are fuel-impoverished. A low-income household would benefit greatly from a refundable carbon tax credit and this would signal a clear transfer from the richest in society to the poorest working families. Another solution would be to provide increases in social protection payments that would keep pace with the rate of inflation, something that was not done in the most recent budget, with a long-term commitment to bring up weekly rates to the minimum essential standard of living.

I do not know whether Fianna Fáil backbenchers are listening to what businesses are telling them at present. I spoke with a primary producer in the agri-food sector on Monday, who informed me his monthly gas bill has increased from €10,000 to €36,000 over recent months. This is really biting in both rural and urban Ireland and it is having a major detrimental effect on businesses' ability to continue to employ people, as was highlighted by Deputy Nash. It is beginning to squeeze the ability of employers to employ people in the economy, and that has to be taken note of.

I congratulate my colleague Deputy Nash on putting forward the motion. We did not just start talking about the cost of living today or yesterday. In every budget proposal the Labour Party has put forward in recent years, we have chosen direct State intervention instead of tax cuts because we believe in that. The Minister of State, the Government and the Tánaiste in particular will point to the €500 million worth of tax cuts they have put forward as some kind of cost-of-living intervention but they will not make the difference. What my party colleagues and I have spoken about consistently in the context of education relates to trying to put to bed this lie about free education. The Government decided to give back €500 million last year in its budget. Many of those tax cuts were for people who do not really need them. If the Government had taken €40 million, it would have been able to make every schoolbook in this country free for good, at both primary and secondary level, just as is the case in Northern Ireland. Families do not pay for schoolbooks in Northern Ireland because the state intervenes and provides them for free, yet here, parents every September have to scramble around with schoolbook lists to try to purchase books for their children. Imagine a genuine republic that said to its parents and children that their schoolbooks for their education will be free, just like in Northern Ireland, but the Government did not do that. It gave tax cuts instead.

As for voluntary contributions in the school sector, effectively fees, I have proposed legislation that would ban them. The school managers will say that, in order to properly finance the replacement funding, we would need about €46 million. If that is the case, let us do that. Let us make the State intervene and ensure no school will ever again have to ask for a voluntary contribution, because it is not voluntary. Parents feel as though they have to pay it. That is another positive State intervention that could be made instead of a tax cut.

As my colleague Deputy Sherlock stated in the context of rising energy costs, about one third of the cost of running a school relates to energy costs, and that proportion will increase, not least because of the rising cost of energy but also because the windows are all open and the children are freezing. Of course, the energy bills will increase and that will be passed on to parents again, whether by a voluntary contribution or a fundraiser. Is there not something repulsive about a school community having to raise money to keep a school going? Is there not something pathetic about that in a republic? Parents have all these conversations with their school about money, and parents who are feeling the squeeze are then less likely to come to the school gate, to hang around or to attend school events or a parent-teacher meeting in case they will be asked for money, whether that is book money, the voluntary contribution or a payment for this or that event.

Let me explode the Minister of State's brain for a second. Imagine a genuinely free education system which the Government would prioritise over a tax cut for those who do not really need it.

What motivates me and our party is the fundamental difference between what the Government is trying to achieve and the rhetoric it comes out with, and the day-to-day lives people are living and the vision we would have as to how a genuine social democratic country with State intervention would make people’s lives better rather than telling them they are on their own. We tell them to buy their schoolbooks and expensive school uniforms. We put them under compulsion to pay for a voluntary contribution and make them feel under compulsion to go to a school fundraiser to pay for the energy bill. We are not just saying this today or yesterday or because of this motion. We have been saying this every year in every budget proposal that is put forward by my colleague Deputy Nash. That is the difference. When it comes to the hard choice between tax cuts and direct State intervention, the Labour Party believes in State intervention to genuinely tackle the cost of living and education, which should be free.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Labour Party for bringing forward this timely and appropriate motion. We all know that people have had it extremely hard for the last two years with the Covid-19 pandemic. So many people lost their jobs or were out of work for periods of time and some were on reduced hours as a result of necessary closures to deal with the pandemic. We also know that many businesses have struggled to keep their doors open. Now as restrictions are easing, ordinary workers and families are faced with a crisis that they have been facing for some time but that has reached a peak, namely a crisis in the cost of living. This crisis has grown over the years as the Government continues to fail to tackle the big issues of the day, such as housing and the cost of childcare.

In October, my colleague Deputy Kerrane conducted a survey on this and she has been leading on this issue. The survey was specifically on the cost of living and we had 14,000 respondents and 6,000 comments about what ordinary workers and families were experiencing in the cost of living. The Minister of State will know that 14,000 respondents is a massive number, which shows the scale of the crisis. The level of response is indicative of same. It was truly shocking to see that 55% of those who responded were working full-time. They said that the cost of living was pushing them further into poverty and that they were struggling to pay the bills, keep the house warm and keep the lights on. That is a failure of this Government.

We need action from the Government that is commensurate with the scale of the crisis. We are all acutely aware of the geopolitical pressures that have led to a rise in the price of energy and we are all aware that inflation is at an all-time high. However, the Government cannot blame external factors for its lack of action. I heard the Taoiseach yesterday blame Russia and Vladimir Putin during Leaders’ Questions for the rise in the cost of living. Again, we are all aware of the geopolitical nature of some of these price rises but the Taoiseach can hardly blame them for his lack of action or for the fact that childcare costs continue to rise. Housing rents and prices have risen year-on-year due to Government inaction and the lack of supply of affordable housing so that people can get their feet on the property ladder.

We need something that the Government cannot say it does not know about and for which Sinn Féin has been calling for a long number of years. We need a three-year ban on rent increases and renters need to see one month’s rent going back into their pockets. We need to see a stop to the carbon tax hikes which are increasing the burden on those suffering from fuel poverty. We need to see the Government stand up to the insurance companies and ensure that ordinary people stop getting ripped off with rising premiums. We need to see a full plan of action on childcare costs. My colleague Deputy Funchion has a clear plan for same, something we have outlined in our budget proposals and she has outlined time and again, which would cut the cost of childcare by two thirds. The cost of childcare is prohibitive and is locking people out of the workforce, especially women. The Government must legislate to ensure that all workers earn a decent living wage. It was slightly laughable that the Minister of State mentioned in his amendment that we need to be concerned that wage growth in excess of other economies erodes our competitiveness. I did not see that concern when we saw the increase in the wage of the Secretary General of the Department of Health and I did not see that international comparison then. The Minister of State can correct me if he disagrees but it would appear to me that this attitude is targeted towards people on low wages.

I want to raise the issue of people in Galway city and county who are struggling to get by as a result of the cost of living. I have been knocking on doors in Galway city every week and it is this issue that comes up most. We see that people are struggling to keep a car on the road and that car is necessary for them to drive to work as a result of the lack of buses. They are also struggling to keep their homes adequately heated during the cold winter months and they are finding it increasingly difficult to put food on their tables. Last week Social Justice Ireland told us that one fifth of people are living in poverty when their housing costs are factored in and that 300,000 people were forced into poverty last year. We need action from Government and we need it now.

We are emerging from a pandemic and walking straight into the teeth of a cost-of-living crisis. We have among the highest costs for housing, childcare and energy in Europe. Inflation is at its highest level in 20 years at 5.5% in December and wages are staying the same. Low earners are extremely vulnerable. The 3% or 30 cent rise in the minimum wage will not go anywhere near making up for the huge increases facing families in costs for rent, food and energy. I heard the Taoiseach responding to Deputy McDonald yesterday when she raised this issue on Leaders' Questions and his main defence was that there are global issues. We accept that there are global issues affecting the cost of living but why is Ireland the most expensive or among the most expensive in Europe when it comes to paying for necessities?

We are among the most expensive in Europe for rent, home energy costs, childcare costs and mortgage rates. People cannot cope with it anymore. Food bills are expected to increase by over €700 this year and it will cost more than €500 to run a car this year. Petrol and diesel have shot up in price by one third in the past year alone. Rent has increased by 8% and house prices are up 14%. Lighting and heating increased by 53% and there have been 35 energy price hikes in the last year. Irish mortgage holders are paying over €2,500 per year more than their fellow Europeans due to mortgage interest rates. This has been the case for decades and the Government has done damn all about it. It is unsustainable and unbearable for people. Families are being pushed into extreme pressure and poverty. It is frightening that the Government is doing nothing about it. The payment of €100 from the Government will not even touch the cost increases that families are experiencing. The benefit of that payment will immediately be cancelled out by increases in energy bills.

We need to see the living wage become a reality and we need a proper rent freeze. What we have is clearly not working. We need urgent action on the matter of fuel and household energy costs. The Taoiseach and the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, need to step up. They have to meet the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities and the energy companies to come up with solutions. People simply cannot tolerate these price increases and we need urgent action from the Government. At what stage will the Government stop turning a blind eye to this? The people outside of here can see that the Government is ignoring the problem, putting them further in debt and putting them under further pressure. I ask the Government to tackle it for goodness' sake. We are coming out of the pandemic and now is the time to tackle it. The Government must stop turning a blind eye to it.

The cost of living has gone through the roof. As Deputy Munster said, we have among the highest prices in the world in a range of areas, including housing, energy and others.

Workers and families across the whole country are suffering. The cost of living for many workers and families in Laois-Offaly has reached an unbearable level. Renters in rural areas have been hit hardest by the increases in the cost of living. Rents in County Laois have gone up 7.6% in the last year while in County Offaly, they are up a whopping 10.4%.

The Minister said that increasing the supply would deal with the housing inflation and that alone. That is what he indicated. It is not true. He will recall what happened with house prices and rents when record numbers were being built in 2005, 2006 and 2007. They went through the roof. That is the situation with house prices. That alone will not do it. I support increasing the supply, which is a factor, but that alone will not do it. That needs to be gotten into their heads of Government Ministers.

Renters are also in the least energy-efficient homes as they tend to be poorly insulated. The carbon tax hikes are hitting those people in rural areas hardest due to the lack of public transport, the need to commute by car and a dependence on solid fuel or oil to heat their homes. Many households have seen their incomes drop during the Covid-19 pandemic while inflation has caused energy bills to soar. Food and rent costs also increased massively. This is putting pressure on people's finances.

Our party carried out a survey in November, undertaken by Deputy Kerrane. Replies from 14,500 people, three quarters of whom were working, found that the vast majority were struggling to cover even the basic essentials. Fuel poverty is on the increase. People must cope with increases in carbon tax, rents spiralling out of control and childcare costs that are among the highest in the European Union.

We have seen little urgency from the Government to address the cost of living and provide real household supports. We have put forward a number of proposals to ease the burden on workers and families, of which these are only some. The Government has failed to freeze rents. It has brought in Mickey Mouse rent controls in some areas and in many areas, it has not introduced any controls. Most areas in my constituency do not have them. The Government has left loopholes. We also want to give renters back an 8.5% tax rebate on rent paid. The Government needs to legislate to end dual pricing and other measures within the car insurance industry. It needs to introduce a living wage. The Tánaiste yesterday was again talking about a living wage. The Government needs to stop talking about it and put a living wage in place. It needs to halt any further increases in carbon tax.

To conclude, these kinds of measures are needed. The Government cannot do everything but there are measures it can take to tackle inflation and the cost of living. Government Deputies cannot continue to sit on their hands on this issue.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. I find it quite ironic, however, given the role of the Labour Party and its austerity agenda, which caused so much hardship for the people of south Kildare and the Portarlington area of County Laois.

While it was in government, the Labour Party presided over a range of savage cuts such as the removal of the bereavement grant, the increase in the pension age, a doubling of the student contribution fee, the cutting of rent allowance and child benefit and the introduction of water charges and local property tax. I could go on but my time is limited. In the words of one of my constituents during the previous election, the Labour Party became more blueshirt than the Blueshirts themselves.

This motion means well, however, and comes hot on the heels of a Sinn Féin motion on the cost of living. Our motion was critical of the Government's approach but also proposed a range of solutions that, if implemented, would turn the tide in favour of struggling workers and their families. I support this motion notwithstanding the Labour Party's track record in government.

Many people who attend my clinics are at breaking point. There are families who make the choice between food and fuel on a weekly basis. We are living in the 21st century but families are living in circumstances that belong in a Charles Dickens novel from the 19th century. Charities like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are literally saving lives. They are taking the place of the State in supporting vulnerable citizens who are being left behind by this Government. It is wrong; the Minister knows it is wrong and it must change.

Urgent action is needed to address the cost-of-living crisis. Our older people have been given minimal increases in their pensions. The reality is that multiples of the increase will be taken back in a stealth of carbon taxes and everything else. A fiver increase has been swallowed up by the doubling of utility bills. The Minister and everyone else knows it is not sustainable.

Finally, I will say a brief word on minimum alcohol prices. Alcohol is not an essential item but it might as well be for some low-income families with addiction issues. I understand the intent behind it and we should be doing more to encourage a reduction in alcohol consumption. The mind boggles at the way in which the Government has introduced minimum pricing instead of increasing excise duty and ring-fencing the money to address addiction and the harm caused by excess alcohol consumption. This Government has handed a gift to alcohol manufacturers and sellers. It is out of touch and running out of time. Things will not change until we have a change of government.

Last year, Sinn Féin launched its online survey about the impact the increase in the cost of living was having on people's lives. Some 76% of people who responded to our survey said they were very concerned about the impact while 95% said they believed the Government was not doing enough.

We have heard that the Government intends to take €100 off electricity bills in March at some stage. While anything that takes some pressure off people is welcome, the Government needs to do much more than this to address the plight so many households are facing as energy bills and the general cost of living soar. In reality, those who are suffering as a result of the huge increase in the cost of living need more than the €100 that will go into the pockets of providers. These same families face hikes of €1,300 this year on their energy bills. Because the Government refused Sinn Féin's attempt to get this legislation through the Dáil before Christmas, people in dire straits will have to wait until March to see the small difference this will make. Imagine the debts some people will have no choice but to run up between now and then.

I am aware of a single parent who wants to improve her job prospects after a spell of illness by signing up to a master's degree. She has been told she does not qualify for the back to education allowance and that she will have her jobseeker's allowance taken away from her unless she packs in her education immediately. She has a 15-year-old son who is relying on her and yet she is being blocked from engaging in education to improve their lives. She now has a decision to make on whether to give up her education, as the State is advising her to do, or face head-on the obstacles this Government is putting in her way.

Another family, again, a single parent and her daughter, are living at home with the mother's ex-husband. She cannot afford to get a place of her own and has been denied the housing assistance payment, HAP, because she exceeded the limit by a couple of hundred euro. They are stuck in a situation they do not want to be in but are confined because of the cost of living and the unavailability of affordable and adequate housing. These are some of the people who are not being given a chance.

In a major research project last year, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul found that nearly 20% of working people had cut back on fuel and electricity due to costs. This Government is out of touch and has abandoned people on this issue. The costs of childcare, putting food on the table, meeting rent, finding a place to live and getting to and from work are rising.

In government, Sinn Féin will expand the eligibility for the fuel allowance. We will establish a discretionary fund which will assist households with heating and electricity costs, especially those who find themselves struggling with debt this winter season. We will set up State-run childcare, reducing fees for the parents by two thirds while delivering social and affordable homes. We will ban rent increases for three years and cut rents by putting one month's rent back in people's pockets. This Government has no vision that puts people's quality of life first. It has failed on every count and believes that €100 will resolve all ills. This Government is wrong and it does not care.

This year, the cost of food is expected to rise by almost €800 with the running cost of the average car to increase by €500. Rents and heat costs are skyrocketing. They are completely out of control. We are ordinary people. The increase in cost inflation is not just affecting the poorest; it is affecting everyone. I refer, for example, to people's ability to pay for childcare, their mortgage, or college and school fees. We must look at the poorest in society, who will be most affected by this. The cost of heating and food, and petrol and diesel for trying to get to work and school, affects ordinary people. The Government's solution is an increase of €100. It is unbelievable. The Government should be offering solutions.

We have just come out of a pandemic, which many people struggled to get through. They are on a knife-edge. Here we are now at the start of 2022 and many people will not be able to afford to keep a roof over their heads or the heating on. Chefs in hospitals, dental assistants and people who kept the country afloat during the pandemic are getting paid less than the living wage.

The Tánaiste is calling on private employers to increase wages. They should do so, and we support that. However, what happens to public sector workers who are being paid a pittance to work in understaffed hospitals? Those workers will leave and hospitals will be left with even fewer staff members. What is the Tánaiste's answer? The Taoiseach yesterday called for wage restraint but the Tánaiste was in the newspapers this morning calling for companies to increase people's wages. There is an ideological clash between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. We know how Fine Gael has operated and its attitude of letting the market decide things. If we leave ordinary people without support during this crisis, they will suffer and it will be on the watch of the Government.

We are leaving people in the cold, worried about paying their bills and buying food. The Government is standing idly by. The Tánaiste is trying to place the blame away from the Government and a decade of Fine Gael policies that decimated our health service and local authorities. Rents were allowed to go through the roof, as were house prices. Fine Gael has neglected the most vulnerable in society.

There has been a lot of talk about the living wage. We say that rent increases should be banned for three years. A month's rent should be given back to renters every year. Carbon taxes have hurt the most vulnerable. We are looking for action. We are pleading for it. I support this Labour Party motion because it goes to the heart of the lives of ordinary people. We must always remember that those who are on social welfare will be the worst affected but they will not be the only ones. Anyone who is trying to live life, pay bills and look after a family will be affected if the Government does not act.

I thank Deputy Nash for bringing forward this motion, which we support. Some of us have a living memory of significant inflationary pressures. I remember the impact on the country and quality of life during the 1970s and 1980s. It started with the oil crisis in 1973, when prices quadrupled. There was an immediate reduction in the living standards of people. By 1975, inflation had risen to 21%. It reduced over the following years but there was a rise again thereafter and, by 1981, it was back to 20.3%. By 1985, it had reduced to 5.5%. What could be bought for €100 in 1976 would cost €683 today. That is what inflation does.

It does not stop at energy prices. The cost to deliver items to shops rises and increases in the cost of food are partly a consequence of that. The staples are increasing in price, including bread, pasta and milk. That will have a significant impact, particularly on families with a number of children. We must all be concerned about what is happening on the Russia-Ukraine border because we cannot dismiss it. There is a real prospect of further harm.

Even before this spike in inflation, I raised these issues and pointed out that our living costs, before this inflationary spike, were 36% above the EU average. Ours are the highest house prices in Europe. We have the fourth highest energy prices in Europe. We might say we are an island on the west coast of Europe and that is the reason this has happened. However, prices can be compared between the North and South. If we compare house prices between Belfast and Dublin, Cork and Derry, there is a significant difference. Look at food prices. I do not accept that as an argument and nor do I accept that nothing can be done.

This is a Europe-wide, international crisis. We accept that. However, does that not mean there is an opportunity to do something collectively about these issues? Inflation will equally have a bearing on household bills in other jurisdictions.

People are genuinely choosing between heating their homes and putting food on the table. They are genuinely making that decision, as we heard from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul yesterday. A number of people have made contact with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. This is not something we can ignore. It is having a direct impact not only on quality of life but also on the health of the nation.

I agree with Deputy Sherlock's point about the cost of energy for businesses. I raised the issue with the Tánaiste some months ago. I raised the matter of one particular local business with more than 100 employees. That business told me it would not lose business but would not win any new business as a consequence of the rise in the cost of energy.

The Government is gaining by virtue of the fact that increased prices bring in increased levels of VAT. A newspaper today reported that Energia paid out €30 million in dividends as profits soared during the last financial year. This is not a one-way street. The Government must take more immediate action and recognise we have a problem.

I thank the Labour Party, in particular Deputy Nash, for facilitating this important discussion. We are in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. Inflation has leaped to a 21-year high of 5.5%. Families and especially those on fixed incomes are feeling the effects every day. Energy prices are soaring and young families are burdened with rents and incredibly expensive childcare costs. Pensioners and disabled people are unable to heat their homes. Households are depending on the fantastic work of food charities to get by. Women and children are trapped in situations of domestic violence due to the cost of housing. Our cost of housing is the highest in Europe. The cost of goods and services in Ireland is the second highest in Europe. Our fuel costs are the fourth highest in Europe. Ordinary people and families are struggling. Where is the Government commitment to do better?

Our spiralling cost of living starts early in life. Childcare costs are among the highest in Europe. Many families are paying more on childcare than on mortgage repayments. Families in Denmark and Germany are paying a fraction of that cost. Ireland spends 0.3% of GDP on early years care and education, which is well below the UNICEF-recommended benchmark of 1%. Education is anything but free. Annually, it costs over €1,300 to put a child through primary education, over €2,000 for secondary, and more than €12,000 for college, according to research by Zurich. That is over €70,000 across a young person's education and those costs keep rising.

At the other end of life, the situation is equally challenging. Before the budget, the Government knew that the purchasing power of the pension had fallen by €10.24 since 2019 and despite rising prices, a disgracefully low €5 increase has already been eaten up. Fuel poverty is a major issue for older people. We all know about pensioners who are going to bed early in the evening to stay warm and families having to choose between food and energy bills. The Government's €100 credit for energy bills is a limited intervention that will provide only minor, temporary relief to those in need.

The cost of living is even higher for disabled people. The Government's own recent report, The Cost of Disability in Ireland, revealed that people with disabilities face extra costs of up to €12,300 annually on transport, fuel, equipment, aids, medical expenses and much more. It is no wonder we have one of the highest rates of poverty and social exclusion in the EU for disabled people. Families of children with disabilities are consistently failed by the State in its provision of proper education and therapeutic measures. Those with the means to pay for it privately do so, and those who cannot afford it are left on waiting lists. The ombudsman's report criticising personal transport supports described the available schemes as "inadequate, unfair and inequitable". This failure increases social isolation while also reducing employment opportunities. There is a need for targeted social and health interventions to enable disabled people to live independent lives.

Fuel prices are rising. That hits all households. We see more families having to turn to food charities. Somehow, while food prices are rising, primary producers are not making more. Farmers, inshore fishers and small producers are barely getting by. There is no such thing as cheap food. We need to have a serious conversation about food policy in this country. We need a food system that provides affordable and healthy food while ensuring that producers can make a living. A more equitable and sustainable approach can benefit all producers and consumers if we have the political will.

I thank Deputy Nash for tabling this motion on inflation and the cost of living. We are happy to support it. We will move two small but important amendments on the issue of introducing energy price caps and supporting workers who put in pay claims to keep their wages and income ahead of the galloping rate of inflation and rising cost of living. The inflation figures are bad enough if they are just taken on their own terms, at 5.7% in December, and they are expected to be above 4.5% next year. That means if people are only getting a 1% pay increase, they are taking a pay cut. Workers are taking a pay cut. I am on the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. It showed that the State contributory pension has nominal increases but the actual real value of the pension dropped by 2%, so pensioners are taking an income cut. That does not tell the whole story, because inflation figures are averages of the cost of living across the economy. The areas where it is much worse are those that really hit the people who can least afford it, who are the vulnerable, low-paid working people.

The area of housing is a disaster. People end up homeless as a result of the failure of this and previous Governments to control the price of rent and houses. We do not have time to go into the housing debate now, but it is outrageous that the Government refused to introduce a rent freeze. We would go further and introduce rent controls where the Government controls the rent that can be charged, so that rents are linked to incomes, and are affordable for people. That has to be done urgently. Rents increased by 8% last year and 8% the year before that. A critical point is that the income of landlords in that same period went up by 16%. This is a key point about inflation and the cost-of-living crisis. Rents, childcare costs and energy prices are going up and somebody is making money out of it. Landlords are creaming it. The Government's failure to control rents is not just impoverishing people who need housing, but it is enriching people who control the property sector.

This is a basic elementary truth about inflation. For inflation to go up, the producers of goods and services have to increase prices in order to increase their profits. Profits in this economy have shot through the roof. Ordinary workers are stuck on low pay. It is laughable for the Government to talk about high wage rates in this country. We have one of the highest levels of low pay anywhere in the western world. Some 370,000 workers are on low pay in the retail, private security, transport, health and manufacturing sectors. Many are on abysmally low levels of pay. They are poverty levels. The working poor are now being hammered by energy price hikes because of the profiteering of energy companies across the world and in this country. We need to control prices and rents. We need to support workers who are putting pay claims to keep ahead of the galloping rate of inflation.

Listening to the Taoiseach yesterday, his remarks were striking. He warned workers of a potential wage price spiral. After the horse has bolted and workers are experiencing a reduction in income in real terms, he was saying not to put in for wage rises because they might make inflation even worse. In reality, he attempted to blame workers for the inflation that we are seeing. The truth is that inflation is profit-led, not cost-pushed. Let us look at the real examples, such as energy bills. Everybody acknowledges the rapid inflation of bills. Energia announced today that its profits increased by an astounding 50% last year, making money hand over fist, and the Government is letting the company get away with it. It is price gouging, pure and simple. It is time to tackle the profiteers by imposing price caps on the unit cost of electricity and gas. The Minister has the power to implement these controls. He could do it today if he wished but chooses not to do so.

The privatisation and deregulation of electricity and gas companies in this country has been a disaster. Record profits are being made by energy companies while heating bills are going through the roof. Rather than leading to investment in renewable energy, it has led to more and more money being wasted on advertising, telemarketing, and coming up with a plethora of introductory offers with sneaky fine print, making people unsure of shopping around, which is combined ultimately with higher prices and worse conditions for workers. The energy sector should not be run for profit. It should be brought back into public ownership and run democratically as part of an ecosocialist green new deal.

If the Government will not take action to bring down the cost of living, then workers are left with no option but to fight for pay increases higher than the rate of inflation. Workers across the country would be absolutely right and would have the support of People Before Profit to follow the example of the Dunnes workers who won a 10% pay increase recently. There is no reason other workers cannot do the same. What is needed is workplace organising, building the courage, determination and unity needed. I would say the same to public sector workers who are being told that all they will get is the paltry 1% increase previously agreed. The rapid inflation and the Government's refusal to address it makes those agreements obsolete. A 1% raise is a significant pay cut and it should not be accepted.

Simultaneously, the minuscule increases in the minimum wage are not enough. They also amount to a pay reduction. Minimum wage in this country is a poverty wage. Even working a full 40-hour week on the minimum wage would leave someone below the poverty line, unable to pay rent. No worker should be living in poverty. We need to build a movement to fight for a €15 an hour minimum wage to raise the wage floor and raise wages for all workers in this country. That equates to €600 a week before tax, or just over €30,000 a year, a fraction of what Deputies pay themselves. Many of these minimum wage workers are those essential workers who kept shops opened and kept society functioning in the course of Covid. They got a clap but they deserve a raise.

The biggest Internet database in the EU relating to the cost of living ranks Ireland as the sixth most expensive country in Europe in which to live. We are ranked the most expensive for the cost of rent, with only Switzerland and Luxembourg being more expensive than this State. The more frequently updated website, Expatistan, ranks Dublin as the fourth most expensive city in Europe, with only three Swiss cities being more expensive. The Minister's Government, including Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, is presiding over a rapid increase in costs in this State, including costs to families, businesses and to society. Precious little is being done by the Government to put the brakes on these increases in costs that are affecting people throughout society at the moment. There have been 31 separate price increases in energy supplies in 2021 alone.

Farmers who are producing food have seen fertilisers, one of their most important inputs, triple in price in the last 12 months. That will mean an increase in food prices in the family home shortly as well. Energy costs have increased by more than 50%. Inflation in this State hit a 20-year high last November. There is no doubt that there are international factors, but the Government is playing a role in the increase in costs to families at the moment.

I want to mention the issue of housing and supply chains in this State. In the first quarter of 2021, house building was closed down. For four months, no homes were built. A total of 10,000 home under construction were not worked on. We were the only country in Europe that closed building sites completely in the first quarter of last year. Therefore, the country that had the biggest housing crisis was the only country that completely shut down the building of houses. Many of the supply chain problems we are seeing are outworkings of the Government's over-reliance on enormously long and severe restrictions. It is unfortunate that no other party will mention that in this debate.

Fuel is one of the main sources of these price increases. The Government has settled upon a carbon tax policy, which is draconian and blunt. It raises tax years in advance. The Minister does not even know the circumstances that people are going to be living in in two or three years, yet he is setting a carbon tax for those years, which is incredible. Carbon tax is meant to achieve a price to push people away from carbon fuels, but if the market has already achieved that price, then the carbon tax is punitive. It has no purpose other than to hurt many families around the country. The Minister could go to the EU and look for a VAT derogation. I spoke to the Taoiseach yesterday. He said that he has never asked the E U for a derogation on VAT. The only thing that seems to be warm this winter is the Government’s hands, from sitting on them all the time in regard to these issues.

I would bet the Minister all the money that we have that the Government has never gone and asked the EU to set the interest rates to have some level of break in respect of inflation. This is because Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil do not do that. It is a laissez faire political party that allows these things to happen to families right across the country and it is wrong.

First, I take this opportunity thank the Labour Party for tabling this important motion for us to debate here in the House. I am glad the Minister is present.

It is important that we speak openly about what is happening at the moment. In my constituency of Galway East, there is a huge amount of angst over the fact that fuel prices are going up. The reason for this angst is that the car is the essential mode of transport many people in the constituency. It is important to point out that the carbon tax is driving up that price right now, as well as all the other prices. The people who are paying this carbon tax and who need their cars as an essential to travel to work, to draw their pensions or whatever it is, have no other mode of transport. They are getting nothing back from that. It is important that we recognise that the carbon tax are not giving anything back to these communities. They cannot see it. While it will happen, it is not happening right now. We need to look at the carbon tax for people in areas where the car is the only mode of transport. It is ill-timed, given the rising increases.

As a member of the Joint Committee on Disability Matters, I would also raise the fact that people with disabilities who are on a fixed income are really suffering at the moment. They do not have enough money to live, never mind to meet the price increases. An Indecon report stated that for a person with disability, the cost of living is in excess of €9,000 per annum more than for those without a disability. That needs to be examined. The transport support schemes for people with disabilities and the primary medical certificate need to be sorted out as a matter of urgency. The resignation of the appeals board again shows that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way we are trying to support people with disabilities. I ask the Minister to take that on board as a matter of urgency.

It is all very well to talk and criticise or whatever, but we need to provide solutions to these problems. The first thing that should be done is that anybody who is on a fixed social welfare income and who is in fuel poverty should have their income linked to the consumer price index as a baseline. The reason for that is that they will achieve the same income regardless of where inflation is going. On top of that, we should look at how we can repair the stagnation in their incomes during the recession when the Government did not give increases in social welfare. People who are retired and people who are in fuel poverty deserve something more than what they are getting at the moment. I ask the Government to look at this in a meaningful way.

I refer also to agriculture and food production. One of the biggest challenges facing farmers right now is the cost of fertiliser. People might ask what that has to do with the cost of living. It will directly feed into the cost of food. It will directly feed into an increase of the cost of milk, meat and whatever will be on the shelf. That is not scaremongering. This year, fertiliser costs three times the price that it did last year. That is continuing unabated. It is important that we look at that in a way that addresses the problems that are rising with inflation. I do not believe that increasing wages will solve all the problems. It may add to further inflation. We need to be careful about how we manage this. Some people will say that some of the increases that are happening now will abate and we will end up getting back to normal. However, the reality is that if the price increases stagnate now, they will remain at that level. That is a hell of a lot higher than they were this time last year.

There has been more inflation and price volatility in the past 11 months than there has been in the previous 12 years combined. Fuel and electricity account for approximately half of current inflationary pressures. Green policies are the main cause of this. Inflation forecasts are unusually uncertain due to ongoing changes in the global circumstances. Covid-19 has disrupted global supply chains, transport and manufacturing, mainly because of pandemic restrictions globally. The rushed and ill-conceived policy changes being brought in by this Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party Government to meet climate change targets are likely to increase inflationary pressures significantly in the long term, especially for fuel, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office in its January report, Inflation Issues for Ireland 2022.

Housing, land and rent prices have increased significantly due to the demand. They are likely to continue to do so depending on supply. Irish farmers are experiencing a nightmare with input costs as fertiliser prices have hit record high levels in the past several months, with all three groups of nutrients, potash, phosphate and nitrogen more than doubling, and even tripling in prices in some cases. Average fertiliser prices a year ago were high at a cost of €300 per tonne. Today, prices have skyrocketed, with calcium ammonium nitrate, CAN, fertiliser costing Irish farmers more than €600 per tonne. Urea costs more than €900 per tonne.

The latest EU data indicates that inflation across the eurozone rose by a further record 5% in December alone. This destroys the Government’s argument that inflation is transitory because increased price pressures remain high. Rising consumer costs on everything from groceries to home heating and electricity are having a crippling impact on Irish workers and families. Many households have experienced a significant income drop due to the Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns while outgoings continue to climb. This is putting huge pressure on families and finances. It is putting many into financial crisis situations. In west Cork, every weekend there are people in my clinic offices telling me that they cannot continue and that they cannot afford to pay the bills that are being put before them.

I am glad to speak to this motion. Farmers at present face the high cost of fertiliser and the high cost of feed for the wintertime. The high cost of energy is affecting every household in this country and there is a high cost of fuel. People are suffering and they are finding it difficult. That is why, although I am not a climate change denier, I have always questioned, and will continue to question, the carbon taxes that are being imposed, as well as the effects that they will have on people throughout the country and, particularly, in rural Ireland.

The people I represent in County Kerry are being adversely affected and they will continue to be.

There is one thing I have to do and I cannot let this go because we have to tell the truth when standing up inside here. When we see a party like Labour coming along with a motion like this, it has to be reminded-----

Get off the hobby horse.

They are the same Labour that started out, when they were in power-----

The Deputy’s father had a list.

When they were in power-----

The Deputy should get over that. Move on to the motion.

Deputy Healy-Rae has the floor.

I am going to say this, even though they might try to shout me down. This is the same Labour-----

Pay the money you owe back to the State.

The Acting Chairman will have to stop the clock because I do not want to eat into my colleagues’ time. I want to make the point.

Are you enjoying the dividends?

The point is that this is the Labour who wanted to put a water tax on every person in this country.

Pay attention to the motion. People are suffering. People are hungry. People are cold.

This is the Labour who did away with the death grant.

Acting Chairman-----

Order, please. We will have to put back the time, to be fair.

The Deputy should pay attention to the motion. People are hungry and cold.

Is the clock stopped?

Deputy Healy-Rae is like a stopped clock.

The time has to be given back because this colleague of mine does not have the decorum and the manners to shut up.

Are you going to shut up?

That is unparliamentary.

Are you going to shut up?

Talk to the motion.

I am talking to the motion.

The Deputy is not. He is abusing the motion.

The people who are moving the motion are the people who wanted to put a water tax on everybody in this country and said they would turn off the water if they did not pay the tax.

Talk to the motion.

These are the people who did away with the death grant; they attacked every woman in this country; they did away with their pensions; and they hurt them beyond belief.

He is obliged to talk to the motion.

I want to compliment the old Labour we had in County Kerry, when we had people like Breeda Moynihan-Cronin and the Spring family, good people who were involved in Labour, not the people who took power like them and who did what they did.

You are a disgrace.

You are a scandal, shouting down a colleague.

Pay back the money you owe to the State.

I call Deputy Richard O'Donoghue.

I am going to remind the Labour Members here today, and I can talk louder than them if they want me to talk louder. They are the hypocrites of the Dáil.

The Deputy is an empty vessel.

They are the same people, when I was here in November in a truck, highlighting the fuel costs, who voted for carbon tax.

They are the same. They are the same people who did not go out to the truckers who came up here to protest at the amount it was costing for fuel to feed the people of Ireland.

The Deputy abused his position.

They are the same people who have been the cause of the rise of inflation in every house in this country.

The Deputy is a joke.

Take a left and become a right winger.

They are the hypocrites of this Dáil. Where were they when the farmers came up here about the rising costs of farming? Where were they when the fuel costs were rising through the roof?

The Acting Chairman needs to do his job.

There is a motion before the House.

I asked the Minister to put a freeze on the fuel tax that was being taken in so that if there was a fuel increase, we would not be paying extra tax on it, and these clowns over here are the ones who voted for it.

Acting Chairman, do your job.

These clowns that I am looking at here are the ones who are the absolute hypocrites of the Dáil.

Acting Chairman, do your job.

Let the whole country see.

I am sorry, I have not used my two minutes because Deputy Michael Healy-Rae’s clock was not stopped.

These are the same hypocrites.

Do your job, Acting Chairman.

We expect the Chair to act independently.

Thank God for social media because every vote they have taken has been against the people of Ireland. They voted against rural Ireland every time.

There are huge financial burdens on people in this country, particularly on low-income families and elderly people. I am very mindful of the struggles that many rural farming families face in terms of rising costs of fertiliser and a very unfair and unjustifiable carbon tax that was imposed on people.

I note in particular that the motion highlights the fact the average Irish mortgage interest rate of 2.79% is more than twice the EU average of 1.31%, costing households more than €2,000 a year. In many cases, that can be the making or breaking of families, and in this case it is the breaking of families because they are obviously being charged a lot more than the EU average. That is something the Government must tackle. There is no excuse for that but there has been no action to date from the Government to bring this down. It has to happen.

The second issue I want to highlight is that Ireland has the second-highest OECD household spend on childcare costs, with couples spending an average of 24% of income and single parents spending 29% of their wages on childcare costs. This can be a factor that pushes women out of the workforce and it needs to be addressed. Obviously, we need reform of the childcare sector and services and how that operates, but we also need to ensure that families receive proper childcare value for money and that the service providers are in receipt of proper interventions to allow them to continue in their businesses.

I am very concerned by the fact the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has said its calls for help this year will be at the highest level in its history and that it could reach 200,000 people by the end of this year. That is deeply alarming and is something we must address collectively. I call on the Government to stand up for people, in particular low income families and working families, who are being treated appallingly in this country, as well as for our pensioners.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion on the cost of living and I thank Deputy Nash for putting it on the agenda.

We know that, over the past 14 months, inflation has risen by 5.5%. That 5.5% is just a figure but the reality of that 5.5% is increases in basics such as bread, milk, butter, pasta and other groceries. It is estimated that the weekly shop for the average family is up by €15 a week, or €780 a year. If we add in extra costs like energy, which is up by €500 per year, and another €500 for petrol and diesel, it is heading towards the €2,000 mark. To recoup that in wages, when we take account of income tax and PRSI, a person would need an increase of somewhere between €3,500 to €4,000 in their pay packet. The typical pay for 50% of wage earners is €34,500 so a €3,500 increase means a 10% rise. If a person is one of the 25% earning less than €21,700 a year, they would be looking for a 15% pay increase, and that is just to stand still and not even to get ahead of it.

We live in a very unequal society and the key factor is a very unequal distribution of pay. Between 2010 and 2019, the higher paid managers and professionals had a nominal wage increase of 20%, whereas most workers' wages were at best stagnant and low skilled workers in the public sector saw a nominal fall of 3% and, in real terms, 10%. Yesterday, the Taoiseach was appalled at the notion of what he described as a wage spiral, but this is precisely what is needed to challenge the huge inequalities in our society and the huge disparity in wealth and incomes that increased during the pandemic. The Taoiseach should look at the latest report on wealth from Oxfam, which points out that wage increases do not cause inflation; they reduce profits.

The motion calls on the Government to legislate to enhance collective bargaining laws and frameworks to ensure that working people obtain a fair share of the wealth they produce. I would fully support such legislation but I would also say to workers, especially low-paid workers, not to hold their breath and to join a union, get organised and fight for what they need and are entitled to.

I fully agree that the €100 credit on energy bills is tokenistic. The Government needs to do much more in targeting measures to help those on the lowest incomes. The €5 weekly increase across the board in basic welfare payments was not enough to keep pace with inflation, even before these increases. To make up for the fact there was no increase in the provisions in the previous two budgets, this would have needed at least a €10 per week increase. It is crucial this is now remediated. A 30 cent increase in the hourly minimum wage is a joke. Some 630,000 people live at risk of poverty, including some 200,000 children.

These are the people who will be hit hardest by these increases and this is before we consider the cost of childcare, with single parents paying 30% of their income on it, the huge increases in rents and house prices, interest rates and the fact that mortgage interest rates are double the EU average. We need a revolution. We need a mass movement of workers not just to demand change but to achieve it and, after 100 years, to create the republic we never got.

I thank the Labour Party for bringing forward this motion. While I do not support it, it is a very valuable opportunity for the Dáil to reflect on where our economy, society, citizens and workers stand today as we continue to see very significant change and new pressures in our economy, with which I will deal in my statement.

I acknowledge some common ground on the issues being raised by the Labour Party and the analysis I and the Government have regarding where we are. I acknowledge that for many families, workers and employers, particularly small and medium-sized employers, just as we hope we have put the darkest days of the Covid-19 pandemic behind us along with the significant economic insecurity and anxiety and the basic fear workers had to confront in recent years about whether a job would still be available once we defeated this pandemic, many families, businesses and workers find themselves dealing with a cost of living crisis, with prices of their key essential utilities and services rising far more quickly than was the case in their recent experience. I acknowledge the added level of worry and challenge this presents to many at the moment, especially those on fixed and low incomes. I acknowledge the points made by Deputies Nash and Howlin and others in recent days.

However, I will make two points that have not been present in the debate today. The first is that as we exit this pandemic, we have a national debt that is more than a quarter of a trillion euro. Many of the different demands I heard articulated here this morning regarding spending and doing more do not reflect the fact we now have, on a per capita basis one of the highest levels of public debt in the developed world. That matters too for the living standards and prospects of the citizens being discussed today.

The second point is to underscore that while our economic prospects are changing and getting better in terms of job retention and creating more jobs in the future, we cannot forget the risks we were aware of before we entered the very dark days of this pandemic. These risks have been raised with me by some in this House and many outside it regarding where we stand with corporation tax in the future, with a reliance on corporation tax revenue that has deepened as we have moved through the darker days of this pandemic. Of course, that revenue was coming in at exactly the point where we needed it.

The further area of difference, which is telling in this debate, is that when we have had many debates in this House regarding the state of our economy during the pandemic, they have been dominated by the question of how we can keep jobs, how we can ensure those on the pandemic unemployment payment have a job to go back to and how we support the viability of employers at a point when we are asking them to close. I acknowledge the role of the Labour Party regarding ideas it brought forward during the pandemic and its support for many measures brought forward by the Government to deal with Covid. Seeing the debate that broke out across the Opposition benches, I acknowledge that if it was not for the role played by the Labour Party and some of the Deputies putting forward this motion during the equally dark days before the pandemic hit, we would not have an economy that was in recovery and national finances that were in such good condition before the pandemic hit. It is a point that will not be acknowledged by others but I acknowledge the role played by the Labour Party in getting us to this point.

Having acknowledged the areas where I agree and disagree with the Labour Party, before I address what the Government has done and is willing to do, I again say we recognise the challenge and understand the added anxiety and worry many workers, families and businesses are facing, but this is exactly what guided the introduction of the measures in budget 2022 that are being implemented. These measures were about how we deal with a cost of living we expected to increase, the clear warning signs of which became apparent across October, November and December. It is the reason we brought forward a range of social welfare measures dealing most importantly with the key rates, such as increases of €5 that make a difference to those on those rates, although I acknowledge that with the existing pressure, those people will be looking at how they deal with a cost of living that is increasing. This is the reason the Government brought forward not just a change in the key rates but also changes in the qualified child allowance, energy payments and the working family payment. We made increases in those payments in anticipation of the challenges many are facing at the moment. It is also why, through the Minister for Health, the Government brought forward measures to help families with the affordability of healthcare relating to GP care and prescription costs, again recognising this is adding to the cost that many are facing. It is also the reason the Government brought forward measures to slow down and, where we can, freeze the increases in costs many are facing regarding childcare.

The Government has brought forward measures and put forward a package to deal with the challenges that exist at the moment, but it is also the reason we brought forward changes and increases in personal tax credits and measures to increase the amount of income at which somebody will pay the lower rate of tax as opposed to the higher rate. We brought forward measures that make a difference to every taxpayer in the country. This House resisted and voted against this measures. The reality is that, if I had not brought forward those measures, the Deputies who voted against them would be here today accusing me of presiding over stealth charges. They would be accusing me of not making changes that are needed for low and middle-income workers to make a contribution to their after-tax pay rising with the cost of living. That is an essential area of difference. This Government and I believe affordable changes relating to personal taxation at a time when the cost of living is an increased burden for many is a core part of how we can respond to the challenges we face.

I heard Deputy Paul Murphy make the point that as wages and the cost of living increase, for some taxes, particularly income tax, in many cases this will automatically make a difference to the level of personal taxes collected by the State. I believe that at a time of rising inflation when wages are changing, for this and other reasons, it is very important to use a share of that to help workers deal with the increased cost of living. It is a reality that this is a measure that was opposed by many who support this motion today.

It is also why, through the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, the Government recently introduced a measure to help with the increased cost of energy at a time when this cost is really biting for many.

Again, I hear from many descriptions that it is tokenistic and should go further. The key argument I would make to the House this morning is the importance of seeing all these measures in the round. The measures I have just detailed, which are worth between €1.2 billion and €1.3 billion, have been implemented through the budget. Those further changes were introduced this year to help with what we acknowledge is a rising challenge for many.

I heard Deputy Joan Collins conclude by saying what we need is a revolution. What we need is progress. With the State having shown its ability to stand by citizens at a time of such challenge, we are seeing the effect of our efforts now as our economy shows the signs of beginning to recover very strongly. The Government will use the proceeds of that recovery that has been delivered by the stamina and resilience of our country, combined with the right decisions by this and the previous Government, to continue to do all we can to make a difference in what we acknowledge is a rising burden and cost and an additional source of anxiety for many.

I will share time with my colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith.

I commend and thank my friend and colleague, Deputy Nash, for crafting this motion, which addresses the most serious and fundamental issue facing Irish society and our economy. I would have thought it would have united this House in collectively trying to find solutions to the real hardship that affects people. It is disconcerting there are still Members here who want to make political capital rather than try to solve real issues that affect all our citizens and constituents.

My colleagues have covered a broad canvas in this debate but at its core is the real challenge of the crisis being faced by ever more households to meet the cost of everyday living, including heating, transport, food, clothing and rent. It has all been put in very stark detail to the House. The sums for a growing number of families simply do not add up, and the consequences are depression, despair and a sense, which we all are hearing increasingly in our offices, that working people are working ever harder and they just cannot keep going because it seems the harder they work, the deeper they are sinking into debt.

I want to touch on the issue of work and pay. Members will have read of the research done by the Irish Tax Institute in conjunction with KPMG. It took a look, on a worldwide basis, at tax rates on income in 2021 and what it set out is no surprise to us. Ireland has the most progressive tax regime on income in the OECD. High earners here pay relatively high taxes. On an income of €150,000, an Irish worker pays an effective tax rate of 43%, almost the same rate as a German worker but more than double the rate of a Singapore-based worker, more than 40% more than a US worker and 9% more than a UK-based worker. At the other end of the spectrum, thanks to Ireland’s progressive system, workers here on €25,000 pay an effective rate of 12.5%.

However, the most telling issue that came out of that analysis is the high proportion of Irish workers who do not pay tax at all. Fiona Reddan in an article in The Irish Times yesterday quoted Revenue figures that tell us that in 2022 almost 1 million earners will not pay income tax and 797,600 will not pay either income tax or the universal social charge. That is 27.8% of all income earners. That is less than last year when it was 30%.

The lesson I want to highlight from that is not an issue related to taxation, which we have worked hard to achieve - the Labour Party, in successive governments, has helped build that progressive income tax platform and it has been one of issues upon which we focused - rather it is to point out to the House the fact that far too many Irish workers exist on low pay. We have partially masked that through our tax system and income transfers through the social welfare system through what was formerly known as the family income supplement and now known as the working family payment. One million workers do not earn enough to pay tax. Too many Irish workers are paid too little. That is the simple message. Workers need a break.

We built two economies, one where at least a third of our workforce is barely getting by, that 30% I mentioned, and cost pressures are now putting them under, and a second economy where tech, medical devices, ICT and pharma and many professionals servicing those are thriving. I am delighted to see a thriving sector of our economy but we cannot have two parallel economies, one doing really well and one where people cannot get by on the wages they are earning. We have to address that reality. It was depressing to hear the Minister of State’s comments at the beginning of this debate and the Taoiseach say yesterday that somehow workers looking for wage increases will cause wage price spirals. The real issue in our economy is a skills shortage. Those with those skills who are already reasonably paid will get more but we cannot leave 30% of the workforce behind. I hope the realisation that we need to address low pay in our economy will be one of the outcomes of this debate.

A debate on flexible working arrangements is currently taking place and we cannot miss this opportunity to introduce strong flexible work legislation because it has cost of living benefits in areas such as transport. People are being pushed back into overcrowded buses and trains, the fares for which are expensive, and into their cars, which emit carbon and damage the atmosphere, when we could provide stronger protections to enable them to work from home and to be as productive as they were during the past two years but also to enable them to save money and improve their quality of life, which is unquantifiable in many ways, and reduce their cost of living in areas such as transport. The Government has promised a National Transport Authority flexible tax-saver ticket but we have not seen the details of it. If flexible work arrangements are to be introduced in any fashion, such a ticket will be required. Half-price fares for those under the age of 24 have also been promised but there is no sign of that being delivered. There seems to be some sticking point about that. The measures promised seem very far away from being delivered.

In the area of health, there are cost of living issues related to GP costs for families. Children aged eight and over are still excluded from the free GP scheme. I raised a Topical Issue matter on dental care this morning. Medical card holders with additional needs have to pay out of their own pockets for emergency dental care. These are real, emergency cost of living issues for people. We seem to be moving beyond the pandemic in terms of politics but there is still a role for the State to provide antigen tests and FFP2 masks to help suppress the virus throughout 2022.

I have been following the entirety of the debate and I thank my colleague, Deputy Nash, for leading on it. I have seen the work behind the scenes and how much we as a party believe in this issue and have pushed it earnestly, honestly and with some integrity. That has been acknowledged by the vast majority of the Opposition and I thank those Members for that. Those are Opposition Members who have crossed swords with us down the years and will do so again because we will differ on issues. They know that when we or any other party bring forward a measure, be it a motion or a Bill, that is coming from the right place and will help people, they will support it. They may make amendments to it, and we will accept the People before Profit amendment to motion, and make good contributions on it in the Dáil. That is why it is very disappointing when we see theatrics in the middle of a debate and Deputies who are more worried about a clip for their local radio station or their TikTok accounts than dealing with the substance of what is being discussed.

In this debate the Opposition has reflected what we are saying, namely, there is an issue with low wages in this economy. We need to see wages rise. The Minister is an avid cinemagoer, an avid reader and likes to listen to music, but if he were to go to a cinema, a bookshop or buy traditional music and ask the retail or service workers in those establishments about this issue, he would know they would be struggling with the cost of living because the vast majority of them are living on low pay or below the living wage.

That is what needs to change and that is at the centre of this motion. Social welfare rates are so far behind the rate of inflation that any increase provided for in the last budget and, indeed, the previous budget has been wiped away and evaporated and it has had no real impact in improving the quality of life for those people.

We are also proposing a windfall levy tax on energy companies and others. That has worked in other jurisdictions and it would work here. These are practical solutions. Like everything we bring forward, this is a pro-worker motion that will help people in every part of Ireland. We do not see Ireland as being divided. We see one country and every region of it needs help and assistance from this Government and this House. That is where we are coming from and where the vast majority of Opposition Members are coming from when they contribute to debates like this. I commend this motion to the House and I hope it will receive support.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time today.