Share the Wealth in Budget 2001
We carry here an edited version of Sinn Féin's 26-County Pre-Budget 2001 Submission.
Economic growth as we know it in Ireland today does not mean an improved quality of life for all citizens. This fact has been demonstrated more clearly in the year since the Budget of December 1999 than in any previous period. Dark clouds are beginning to obscure the sunny prospects for the Irish economy and society.
The myth of the Celtic Tiger has been exposed.
Inflation has risen far beyond expectations. Industrial unrest is spreading. The housing crisis continues. There is growing pressure on service users and service providers in our public health and transport systems. Our education system is not meeting its potential while those on lower income are denied full access to learning. The need for a proper Childcare infrastructure is more urgent than ever.
The fundamental inequalities in Irish society cannot be concealed by any amount of hype about economic growth. A quarter of children and a fifth of adults are in households with less than half average income. The gap between the wealthiest in our society and the least well off continues to widen. Budgetary policy in the past three years has actually speeded up that process.
Current inflation rates are wiping out gains made by many workers under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF). The inadequate minimum wage, which was only implemented this year, has been overtaken and does not, in any case, apply to all low-paid workers. All the focus has been on `wage inflation' when, in reality, increases gained under the PPF were long overdue. Inflation is being driven by massive profiteering by property speculators and the building industry, which continues to push up housing costs. Profits in other industries and services are outstripping wages.
Sinn Féin's approach to the economy is distinctive, radical and rational. We are not prisoners of the unbridled free market thinking which has dominated the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Coalition. We reject their primary economic policy of cutting taxes in a way which has disproportionately benefitted the higher paid. This crude device worsens the structural inequality in the Irish economy. In Budget 2000 three times more was spent on tax reduction than on social welfare increases. This discriminated against people outside the labour market and against workers on low income.
Our people need, demand and deserve public services of the highest standard which enhance the quality of life for all citizens equally. A workforce which is equitably taxed is more than willing to pay for those services which they have elected the government to provide. ``From each according to their ability and to each according to their need'' is a principle of fairness which is widely accepted by Irish people but which this government has effectively abandoned. In successive budgets it has addressed greed not need.
As a State with among the lowest tax takes as a percentage of Gross National Product in the EU there is much scope to increase taxation for those who can most afford it. Failure to do so, and continuing the policy of tax cuts for big business and the very wealthy, will damage the long-term ability of government to build infrastructure and provide public services.
Sinn Féin called on the government in the last three budgets to use its unprecedented resources to eliminate poverty, end the housing crisis and redress regional inequalities. We had a right to expect major progress on these issues.
Instead we have seen the poverty gap widened, the housing crisis unabated and economic growth and development still concentrated along the eastern seaboard and in parts of the South.
Last year's Budget co-incided with the publication of the National Development Plan. If the Plan is to be truly National then the chapter on North/South co-operation must not only be fully implemented but significantly expanded. The creation of an island economy must be made central to the implementation of the National Development Plan and to social and economic planning in general.
Budget 2001 may well be this government's last opportunity to frame a Budget that really tackles the gross inequalities in Irish society. Sinn Féin believes the priorities must be:
Concentration of resources on the provision of health, education, transport and social welfare services which enhance the quality of life of all citizens.
Taxation justice not crude tax cuts that benefit the wealthy.
The creation of accessible and affordable Childcare infrastructure and generous Childcare support for parents and children.
An all-out attack on the housing crisis.
Target for elimination of waiting lists by local authorities, with an immediate target of 70% of applicant units to be provided with suitable accommodation within two years of their being on the list.
Massive State investment in a comprehensive Social Housing Programme, funding the local authorities to house our citizens.
The control of land prices with a statutory ceiling on the price of land zoned for housing to stop speculation and reduce soaring housing prices. A constitutional amendment to allow for this if necessary.
Statutory control of rents in the private rented sector, strengthened laws to set standards for accommodation and more resources to implement those regulations.
A renovation grant of up to £5,000 to assist home-owners to improve their properties.
A special grant to encourage utilisation of urban and rural derelict sites for new domestic dwellings.
Sinn Féin believes that Budget 2001 presents a golden opportunity to accomplish two things:
Remove the low paid completely out of the tax net.
Initiate a complete reform of the tax system focusing on all areas of the tax code, including the loopholes and tax avoidance schemes built into the present system.
Sinn Féin proposes one clear-cut radical measure to tackle low-pay poverty - major increase in tax free allowances. This would mean, for example, doubling the single person's tax free allowance to £11,400. A single person would not pay tax unless he or she earned over £11,400 per annum and would not pay the higher rate of income tax until their earnings exceeded £28,400 per annum.
Agriculture and Rural Development
Sinn Féin believes there is an urgent need to act and formulate a strategy to resolve the crisis in Irish farming. Across Ireland, rural communities are disappearing. Families are leaving the land because their holdings are deemed not to be commercially viable.
Over the years since the last GATT Treaty in 1993, successive governments have been involved in a holding operation seeking to maximise the gross amount of EU grant aid funding for farming. There has been little thought given to the inequities of how these funds are distributed or of their long-term impact on Irish farming.
Now the Minister for Agriculture and Food has announced over £16.7 billion in spending on farming over the next five years. Elements of the plan such as the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) and the £532 million earmarked for forestry are welcome. However, there needs to be a recognition that in order to succeed any new programme on rural development needs to be built up and developed by the communities directly affected by rural underdevelopment.
Sinn Féin believes that progressive social welfare spending should aim to eliminate poverty. In Budget 2000, three times more was spent on tax reduction than on social welfare increases. This is totally unacceptable and must not be repeated in Budget 2001. Therefore, Sinn Féin proposes:
Full implementation of Programme for Prosperity and Fairness social welfare commitments in this Budget.
Payment of ALL Budget increases immediately (December 2000/January 2001).
To maximise their effect social welfare resources should be spent in the following way:
Increase the personal rate of Contributory Old Age Pension by at least £10 and provide larger increases in other age-related payments to bring the personal rate of all payments to older people up to at least £106.
Non-Contributory Old Age Pension to be means-assessed on an individual basis i.e. husband or wife to be assessed against their own generated income and not that of their spouse of partner.
Make substantial progress towards a target of £100 per week for the lowest rates of social welfare payments by increasing the personal rates of all non-age-related payments by at least £14.50. This would bring the lowest payment rates up to £90.50 per week.
Comprehensive review of training, staff organisation, work practices and pay in the health services to end the inequality between well-paid consultants who operate profitably in both public and private practice, and the hard-pressed staff of public hospitals who do most of the health care work. The grip of a minority of consultants on the purse strings and organisational structure of the health service must be broken.
Major increase in health spending in the Budget designed to eliminate waiting lists.
The progressive reform of the health care system and extension of the medical card scheme to achieve an Irish National Health Service to provide free care and medication for all who need it. This in the context of extended co-operation and integration of health systems on an all-Ireland basis.
As a first step to an Irish National Health Service, provision in this Budget for Medical Cards for all persons under 18 years.
Increased level of grants for students from low-income families.
Fairer system of grant allocation.
Special measures to provide student accommodation in the context of addressing the overall housing crisis.
Continuing overall priority and increased budgetary provision for primary education.
Increase primary education funding from £50 per pupil per year to £120 per pupil per year.
Reduce the average class size to under 30.
Radical action on remedial teaching with increased numbers of teachers and real access to remediation to all schools.
More flexibility in determining staffing need of schools to ensure that schools are not left understaffed.
Targeted funding to reduce class sizes at second level.
Equitable funding for all schools in the secondary sector.
People with Disabilities
The rights and needs of people with disabilities must be a government priority.
Sinn Féin proposes:
An Independent Living Fund for people with disabilities with a start-up of at least £10.8 million in 2001. Direct payments to people with disabilities and their Personal Assistants. Increased and secured financial support for those providing services, including day resource centres and personal assistance services to people with disabilities. End of dependence on CE schemes for such work.
What value economic development if the children of the nation are not properly cared for? We must ensure that children receive the best care at all times.
That includes care by parents in the home, care by other family members, paid care by childcare workers in the home, early childhood education, crèches and other facilities provided by the community or voluntary sector or by private concerns.
In addition to the resources earmarked in the `National Development Plan' a further commitment is needed, which will really show the determination of the government to prioritise this issue.
Therefore Sinn Féin proposes that:
We need a Childcare Strategy that values equally all children and parents, ensures the provision of quality regulated Childcare services and prioritises the needs of children and families experiencing disadvantage and social exclusion. We need to establish a State-assisted and state-wide Childcare Service, in urban and rural areas, in tandem with existing service-providers such as the Border Counties Childcare Network.
The Budget must include immediate action to make Childcare affordable. Sinn Fein
Substantial increase in Child Benefit. The commitment made in the PPF should be implemented in full in Budget 2001. This would involve an increase of £33.50 per month for the first and second child and an increase of £44.00 for the third and subsequent children. This would bring the payment for the first and second child up to £76 per month (about £17.50 per week) and it would bring the payment for the third and subsequent children up to £100 per month (or about £23 per week).
Weekly payment increases and Child Benefit increases to be introduced at the same time in January 2001 or as soon as practicable thereafter.
Rationalise all Child Dependent Allowances (CDAs) to a single rate of £17.00 per dependent child. There are currently three rates of CDAs (£13.20, £15.00 and £17.00); most are payable at the lowest rate, though recipients of One-Parent Family Payment and Invalidity Pension get the £15 rate and recipients in receipt of Survivor's Pension and Deserted Wife's Benefit get the highest rate.
Bhí sé geallta ag an rialtas Bille Teanga a chur os comhair an Oireachtais i 1999. Anois ní bheidh sé ann roimh lár 2001. Tá sé seo míthaitneamhach. Bheadh sé mar chuspóir ag an Bille seo ní hamháin cearta teanga a chosaint ach iad a chur chun cinn. Taobh leis an mBille tá gá le maoiniú ceart don Ghaeilge ón Stát. Le blianta beaga anuas tá an maoiniú seo tar éis sleamhnú. Má leanann an sleamhnú seo ní bheidh an Stát féin ná earnáil dheonach na Gaeilge in ann Bille Teanga a chur i bhfeidhm.
Molann Sinn Féin