The budget has dominated the news in the south for the last weeks. A series of leaks from Ministers had raised heightened fears around likely budget measures by the government.
These fears were entirely justified for those on the receiving end of a series of swingeing cuts and stealth taxes. There is no disguising what has been a savage Budget which leaves struggling families and working people to carry the can for the greed, incompetence and corruption of others.
In his broadcast on Sunday evening the Taoiseach talked about fairness and said, “You are not responsible for the crisis”, and then proceeded to make ordinary citizens pay for the greed and corruption of the political elite, the bankers and the developers.
As this government has protected the wages and pensions of those at the top of the political system so too has it shielded bankers. Twenty two of the top fifty Anglo Irish Bank executives are still in place and nineteen of them are earning over €175,000 per year.
During his Sunday night broadcast the Taoiseach mentioned jobs 15 times and spoke frequently of the need to create work. “Work provides focus. Work gives us independence. Work gives our families hope”. He said.
And then he introduced measures that will costs jobs. The €750 million cuts to the capital budget will mean between seven and nine thousand less jobs. The government is also committed to cutting 6,000 public service jobs. The money taken out of the pocket of low and middle income families is money taken out of the economy –out of the local shops – and this will also cost jobs.
The government has already accepted in its medium term fiscal report published at the start of November that there will still be 390,000 people on the dole in 2015. And it would be much worse but for immigration which since the start of the year has seen 54,000 of our mainly young people leave for foreign shores.
Today there are 444,000 people on the live register. That is 15,000 more than when Fine Gael and Labour won the election. It is an indictment of their policies and a reflection of their failure.
The budget will have a devastating effect on some of the most vulnerable in this society.
• The government has introduced a cut of 20% in the fuel allowance.
• They have cut child benefits: despite the pre-election promises the cuts in child benefit will cost a four child family €432 in 2012 and €768 in 2013.
• They have introduced punitive measures targeting those in part time employment at a time when there are 444,000 people on the dole.
• They have also introduced cuts to disability allowance and mental health provision and payments to lone parents have been cut.
• Community nursing homes are to be closed and there will be a €100 household charge from next January.
• At the same time as introducing this scrooge-like Christmas budget the Taoiseach sought and secured a €35,000 a year pay rise for a political crony – a former press officer for Fine Gael who has now been appointed as a special adviser to Minister Richard Bruton.
The government choose to go after children, the disabled, lone parents, widows, carers.
The media spin for Labour party spokespersons in particular was that the budget would protect social welfare payments and it would not cut the basic unemployment rate.
But the truth was different. The cut in the Fuel Allowance from 32 weeks to 26 weeks is an attack on older people. More of them will now experience fuel poverty – in other words colder homes for more months of the year. Child benefit – a red line issue for Labour during the election campaign – was cut; disability benefits for the under 18s were abolished; lone parents were targeted; widow and widowers pensions were attacked; the back to education allowance was cut; and the cut in rent supplement will hurt people on low incomes.
Community Employment schemes and community projects which frequently provide the safety net for vulnerable citizens – our young and sick and elderly –will be severely damaged.
The government also deceived citizens over the actual size of the cuts being introduced. It claimed for example, that social welfare cuts were €475 million. But that is just for 2012.
• In a full year social welfare is cut by €811 million.
• Health is cut by a total of €797 million.
• Education by €316 million.
What sort of society will there be next year after these cuts have wrought their damage and the government introduces another 2 billion plus of cuts?
And all the while that Fine Gael and Labour are cutting and slashing at those who can least afford it they have handed €20.7bn, of taxpayers money over to the banks, including €3.1bn to Anglo Irish Bank. It will pay another €3.1 billion to Anglo Irish in three months time.
As Pearse Doherty said in the Dáil, “No wealthy person ever died from having to pay more taxes?”
And he’s right. 5,000 citizens die prematurely every year because of inequality in areas like health. Up to 2,000 people die each winter due to cold related illnesses.
In light of this budget with its cuts and stealth taxes how many more this winter?
This budget is the same old story from this conservative government and despite the Taoiseach’s claims, the fact is that those at the top have not made sacrifices.
The choices this government took – and Labour should be ashamed – was to demand that our young and elderly, citizens with special needs, our carers, our sick, lone parents, women, citizens on low and middle incomes and the unemployed pay for the greed of the golden circles, the political elites, the developers and bankers.
Sinn Féin firmly believes that Irish people have the intelligence, the will and the ability to build a real republic, to reorganise our affairs and to create a fair society based on equality.
• That requires a fairer tax system that targets wealth and lifts the burden of the least well off.
• It requires real investment in health and education services.
• It demands a job stimulus package which will get people back to work, and increase state revenue. That’s the way to reduce the social welfare bill.
• It means the end to bailouts for bad banks and bondholders.
• It means the elimination of wasteful public spending.
• And the end to excessive pay and pensions in the public sector.
The Irish people cannot afford to subsidise rock and roll life styles for former Taoisigh or special advisers when Special Needs Assistants are being cut.
The 90th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty which partitioned Ireland is a reminder that decisions can have far reaching and negative consequences.
Sinn Féin believes that economic recovery is possible based on a strategy of fair taxes, investment in jobs, debt restructuring, growing the all-Ireland economy and protecting public services and those on low and middle incomes.
The Irish people deserve better. We deserved a better, fairer budget. There is an alternative. It is based on equality and fairness.