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Poverty: warning as budget 2013 nears

Several members of the Oireachtas called for a discussion on poverty.  In the Seanad, David Cullinane (SF, labour) told of how, according to the Irish League of Credit Unions, 1.82m people were now left with less than €100 per month of disposable income once they had paid their household bills (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 17th July 2012, 976).  69% of people had less money at the end of the year than the previous year. Social Justice Ireland had shown that the gap between the rich and poor had increased, that low income families and people out of work were suffering because of austerity.  More people were now living in poverty.  The Central Statistics Office showed that the top 10% had seen their disposable income increase while everyone else had seen a reduction.  The Combat Poverty Agency had been disbanded by the previous government.  There was a need for a constructive and worthwhile debate on the causes and effects of poverty and what government could do to reduce the numbers.

 

On the following day, Katherine Zappone (ind, Taoiseach nominee) also quoted social Justice Ireland figures showing how the 2012 budget had imposed the greatest income reduction on those with already the lowest incomes – they lost 2% to 2.5%, while the wealthiest lost less than 1% (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 18th July 2012, 1009, 1017).  Regressive indirect taxes like VAT, along with welfare cuts, most affected those who could meet them least.  The Europe 2020 strategy had set the objective of reducing the numbers living in poverty by 20m by 2020, but the Social Protection Committee there had shown that this was not on track.  The government here had reduced its poverty target commitments under the programme.  A change of approach was needed at EU and national level.  We had had seven years of fiscal adjustment, but within that there were choices of discipline which could have better protected those at most risk of poverty.  She asked for the Minister for Finance to come to the house to discuss the government’s measures against poverty, budget 2013 and targets in the run-up to the Irish EU presidency.  For the government, Maurice Cummins (FG, labour) told the Seanad that the Minister for Social Protection would come to the Seanad to address these points on 11th October for two and a half hours.  He spoke of how the government was now taxing wealth and had increased taxes on capital gains tax, capital acquisitions tax and deposit interest retention tax.  The government was applying a balanced  approach.

 

Both John Halligan (ind, Waterford) and Joan Collins (PBP, Dublin SC) asked about the forthcoming 2013 budget and asked for assurances about social welfare levels, avoiding cuts and equality and poverty audits (Dail Eireann, Debates, 17th July 2012, 8-9).  The Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, told them that she would be holding a pre-budget forum in the autumn to which a wide range of organizations, like the Society of St Vincent de Paul, would be invited.  The department would analyze the distributional and poverty impact, but she could not make any commitment about what would or would not be included, although she shared their concerns.  Joan Collins, though, quoting the figures of the numbers in poverty, said she wanted to see ‘a more aggressive approach’ to auditing how changes would have an impact on people.  Joan Burton pointed to the achievements of the government in protecting social welfare rates and added that our system of payments and supports for older people meant that our pensioners were among the least at risk of poverty in the European Union. Joan Collins argued that current government policy was making the situation worse.  The British establishment had created the National Health Service at a time when the country was heavily in debt.

 

Thomas Pringle (ind, Donegal SW) spoke of how social welfare cuts had ravaged the low income people of the country and the poor were becoming poorer: surely the Taoiseach would agree that there was something profoundly wrong? (Dail Eireann, Debates, 18th July 2012, 560-1).  The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, though told him that his government had renegotiated the troika memorandum, the minimum wage and the universal social charge, as well as not cutting social welfare basic rates, while increasing taxes for capital gains, capital acquisitions and deposit interest.  The government was very conscious of people on housing lists, the homeless and the low paid.  Thomas Pringle spoke of how the Society of St Vincent de Paul now saw the situation  of low-income families as critical.  We had the fourth lowest tax take in the European Union and if the Taoiseach took the decision to move that toward the average, he would be doing a great deal to ensure that those on the lowest incomes would not carry the burden.

> Government policies on child poverty: Dail Eireann, Debates, 19th July 2012, 1377-8.

> Priorities in Ireland’s presidency of the European Union: Seanad Eireann, Debates, 18th July 2012, 1018-1042.