The coalition government’s budget has been slammed as an attack on the young and old, the sick and the infirm, on new mothers and young workers.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan unveiled a 2.5bn combination of cuts and taxes that has unmistakably pointed a generation towards the emigrant ship.
A drastic cut in unemployment benefit for those under the age 25 has seen their weekly subsistence payment impossibly cut in half, from 188 euro to just 100 euro per week. For those aged 26 years, the payment is cut to 144 euro per week.
The new rates are unsustainable as living incomes and have given young people no doubt but that their government wants them to leave.
Minister Noonan said ‘the ends justified the means’.
“One of the primary tasks of this budget is to lay down the conditions for a successful exit from the bailout program at the end of this year.”
The government’s austerity program over the past three years has been blamed on conditions laid down by the European Union and the IMF for its bailout of the insolvent state, following the financial collapse under the Fianna Fail/Green party coalition in 2008.
While government officials have said that young people make the easiest target for cuts -- most student protests this year have been sparsely attended and ineffectual -- pensioners, traditionally the most politically active sector of Irish society, have also been targeted through a number of cutbacks.
The telephone allowance, worth 9.50 euro a month, will be abolished in the new year, while a tightening up of the eligibility for the over-70s medical cards will mean tens of thousands lose free health care.
About 35,000 older people will immediately lose their full medical cards, while a further 100,000 pensioners have been predicted by government auditors to lose the cards following a “review”.
Pensioners also face uncertainty over their final journey with a decision to abolish an 850 euro grant for funeral costs.
Labour Minister Brendan Howlin said the scrapping of the bereavement grant was the fairest way of taking money from older generations. Other options would have been more difficult, he said.
“We’ve done our level best, as with all social welfare payments, to maintain what we call a threshold of decency,” he said, without irony.
Sinn Fein Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty described the coalition government’s third budget as “a major mistake”.
“The cuts to the bereavement grant and young people’s jobseekers’ allowance are brutal and mean,” he said.
“The opportunity to give people a break has been missed once more and the burden has been put onto the most vulnerable once more.”
The leader of Republican Sinn Fein, Des Dalton, said the “Leinster House “political elite had targeted the most vulnerable members of society in order to protect the interests of the wealthy.
The new policies were “reminiscent of the Poor Law mentality of the 1840s, when starvation or the coffin ship were the only options that were provided”, he said.
Richard Boyd Barrett TD of People Before Profit also denounced the government for a budget in which he said corporate profits and the very wealthy were protected.
He flagged other government proposals, such as those to cut mortgage interest supplement, increased prescription charges and increases in tax on savers as “vindictive and inexcusable attacks on the most vulnerable.”
Following a decision to uniformly reduce maternity benefit to just 230 euro per week, the national Women’s Council said the budget was “anti-women”.
The following are the key measures introduced by the 26 County Minister for Finance Michael Noonan for the forthcoming fiscal year:
Bereavement grant of 850 euro to families of dead people scrapped
OAP telephone allowance of 9.50 euro a month scrapped
Dole payment for unemployed people under 26 to be cut by up to 47%
Maternity benefit to be cut by 13%
Phasing out of mortgage interest supplement
Cuts to the invalidity pension
Rent Supplement minimum contribution to be cut by varying amounts
Child benefit for third and subsequent child down 10 euro
Mortgage Interest Relief to be phased out
Subsidy for OAP TV licences to be reduced by 5m euro
35,000 over 70s to be cut from medical card
GP only medical card for all children under 5
Prescription charges to go up by 1 euro
Cuts to hospital services
Capital Gains Tax and Capital Acquisitions Tax to increase
DIRT tax on savings to go up from 33% to 41%
Property tax to double next year
Pension tax relief for high earners to be capped at 65,000 euro
No change to income tax bands, rates and credits
No change to 12.5% rate of corporation tax
Wine to go up by 50c
Pint, spirits and cigarettes to go up by 10c
Cigarette sellers charge to go up 10 fold
Benefits in training schemes to be cut
College registration fees to go up by 250 euro