As the dust settles on Budget 2019, I’m posting snippets of my post budget speech made the day after it was announced to argue that there is no doubt but that inequality is growing and this budget will only fuel that growth..
The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, called this a “caring budget” in his budget 2019 speech and there are some aspects that may be caring but in reality, the cost of living for many means this is more like a public relations budget. The reality in this budget, as it pointed out, is that those with higher incomes have gained up to ten times more than the amount gained by low-paid workers.
The USC reductions and income tax band changes might give the perception of rewarding the sacrifices of the working population after a tough decade but in reality the cost of living and the post net pay costs do not do anything to improve the standard of living of many. We have to look at the reality. The reality for workers on good salaries is that home ownership is likely beyond them and that the public health system means that private health insurance is now a necessity and not a luxury, not to mention educational costs. This low total tax intake will not be sustainable in future. We know 8.3% of people live in persistent poverty and 21% of the population have experienced deprivation. We know the homeless figures, the numbers living in inappropriate accommodation, the numbers waiting on hospital appointments and the number of children and young people waiting on assessments and psychological services.
The Minister said our economy is growing at a “healthy pace”. What exactly does economic growth mean.. economists and statisticians will tell us what economic growth is about but what do those terms mean to those citizens here who are living in poverty? I would like to ask what it means to those people who featured in a report commissioned by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice called Stories of Struggle, which was launched by the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty. Their experiences were of living below the minimum ethical essential standard of living. The stories were very clear on the implications for those families in terms of their physical and mental health and educational attainment. The department needs to do more to secure jobs that are vital to communities. We have positives in economic growth. The unemployment rate is low and emigrants are returning but there are challenges in housing, health, climate change, Brexit and our debt. We need a fiscal policy that is not just about economic growth but a fair and just taxation system, sustainability, transparency in governance and decent services for all. They might be clichés but they mean a lot. They are about the vision we want for Ireland. Is our vision for a more fair and equal society?
We have a budget here that appears to give a little to many which would indicate a major deficit in the ideology of fair and progressive budgeting and consequently, an opportunity to make a real difference was missed. While the European Anti-Poverty Network welcomed the €5 increase – and obviously an increase is much better than a decrease – I question spreading the increase so widely instead of focusing on one particular group, for example, those with a disability. We know they need an increase of €20 to €25 to make a real difference in their lives because they have extra costs and challenges that we do not have. Each year the Disability Federation of Ireland hopes the budget will address the inequality and, including this year, it has been disappointed every year. It is particularly disappointing when Ireland has finally ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. There was an opportunity to address the systemic inequalities for those with a disability, inequality which has almost been normalised post crash. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has a further €150 million for disability services and it will be interesting to see where it goes. The Minister of State mentioned services for those who have left school. I hope they will be quality services because I have met many people with a disability who are in services that are not addressing their needs. They are certainly not providing any stimulation for those young people.
On housing, there is a role for landlords and developers but not for a total reliance on them to provide the necessary housing. Is it too much to ask that words like “ethical” and “morality” should be applied to landlords and developers also? HAP has a role but it is not the answer because HAP tenants are competing on an open market with those who can pay more. It is money down the drain. The priority has to be to prevent people becoming homeless. I see a movement of people out of homelessness but no sooner is one family out of homelessness than another is into homelessness. It is ironic that so many years after Davitt, Parnell and the Land League, we are still looking at two of the three Fs, namely, fair rent and fixity of tenure.
There were positive points in the budget but it is not coming across with the radical changes that are needed in order to make a real difference in the majority of people’s lives.