Sunday, December 9, 2012

Calling time after the budget

The budget last week has been rightly called the worst austerity budget yet. There are so many odious measures in the proposals that have either not been considered properly from an equality and anti-poverty perspective or the alternative, which is even worse, is that conscious choices were made by Fine Gael and Labour to further punish those on low incomes. I would like to believe the Bonaparte statement applies in this case: "never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence" but my fears are that this budget is very much the result of planing by Government.
Top of my list of awful measures is the cut to the carers respite grant. Of all the people society should be supporting, those who look after the sick, disabled and terminally ill are amongst the most important. The measure of a civilized society is in how it looks after the most vulnerable, and if we don't properly support those who care for the most vulnerable with suitable breaks and respite, then we are effectively punishing the recipients of this care. For an overall saving of around €25M this measure can only be seen as cruel and miserly.
Next on my hitlist is the removal of the PRSI allowance. Any measure which impacts identically on people who earn €20k and €200k is not fair by any measure. Lower income earners feel the loss of €5 per week a lot more than higher earners. It can be the difference between putting on the heat in the morning and sending the kids to school from a cold house. For better off people (me included) it is the choice of not having an extra pint on a Friday night in the pub.
The introduction of a property tax is to be welcomed but yet again the government have made the wrong choice in the matter. Instead of a site-value tax which encourages efficient use of zoned land, they have gone for a property-value tax. Now when a homeowner invests in double-glazing, an extension or an attic conversion for their home, the have the dubious benefit of increasing their tax liability for all eternity. The property-value tax also has no impact on zoned but unused land. A site-value tax would encourage this land to be developed or rezoned back to non-development status. Instead we still have massive land bank, zoned for residential use, that sit idle waiting for the next boom. I guess most of those are in the ownership of FG voters.
Other measures that are wrong in my view are the cut to child benefit (should be taxed instead), further increases in DIRT (shouldn't we be encouraging saving?), increase in the student charge at 3rd level (the funding of the whole sector needs to be reviewed) and the reduction in the time period in which jobseekers benefit is given.
I'm no economist, but even I can see that the net effect of this budget is further hardship for those at the bottom with those nearer the top getting away pretty lightly. I'm part of a pretty well paid, double-income, single kid, negative equity household and we could definitely afford to have been squeezed a good bit more. Over the course of the recession our lifestyle has changed (fewer pub nights) and our expenses have increased (child care) but we still have enough to get by on quite comfortably. It is not true to say that everyone is feeling the pain equally. Those at the bottom, whose voices tend not to get heard are being punished the most.
This is something that Labour should not be tolerating, let alone being complicit in. Our leadership has failed the membership and those who voted for them. It is time now for the party to take a long hard look at our continued participation in this government. It is clear that our views and policies are being ignored by Fine Gael and it might be best for everyone if they were let run the place as they see fit. Yes, an election in February/March would destroy the parliamentary party and probably see an FG minority govt propped up by Fianna Fail, but it is about the only honest way forward for a Labour Party that has betrayed so many people.
In the future, voting no to coalition in the O'Reilly Hall will be like having been in the GPO on Easter Monday. Everyone will claim to have been part of that faction. Well I was one and at the time I accepted the will of the majority (85%) of the delegates and adopted a wait and see attitude. Now it is clear that our greatest fears have come to pass and no amount of "It would be worse if we weren't there" can make that better. This has been a massively blue budget, just like the PfG was a blue document. We in Labour should stop deluding ourselves to think we can curb the excesses of FG and actually implement any sort of progressive platform with our coalition "partners".

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