The 26 County budget announced this week for the 2017 fiscal year was marked by derisively meagre and delayed increases for those in deprivation, while generous measures were implemented to benefit bankers, developers, and landlords.
On welfare, state pensions, dole for the unemployed, carers’ allowance and disability supports are all up by just five euro from March next year, with even smaller rises for unemployed people under 26. Even at this, there is no confirmation of the exact date when the increases will take effect.
The Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed said the rise in the allowance for unemployed would have been more welcome had it commenced in January, the traditional starting point for such changes.
On housing, a tax rebate initiative appeared designed to increase profits for banks and developers and actually exacerbate the very grave housing crisis. The scheme gives an income tax refund of five per cent for first time buyers of new-build homes up to a value of 600,000 euro.
Sinn Fein’s housing spokesman Eoin O Broin denounced the help-to-buy scheme, which was blamed for a sudden price rise for eligible properties.
He said: “Clearly this scheme, in addition to being a bad idea in general, also has some particularly foolish elements: 600,000 euro for a starter home? 500,000 euro? 400,000 euro?
“They’re not starter home prices. But the fundamental flaw is it’ll push up prices. On that grounds, we’re saying the government should withdraw the scheme. “
The budget statements also brought an increase in tax relief for landlords on mortgage interest, as well as tax reductions for those renting rooms in their property.
But Mr O Broin pointed out that, at the same time, capital spending on social housing remains less than half what it was in 2008, despite a small increase.
“150m euro extra is not only insufficient - it is an affront to those families, especially homeless families, in desperate need of social housing,” he said. “The Minister will claim that government simply does not have the money and that this is the best he can do. I do not accept that.”
Other measures announced in the budget include a small cut in the income tax levy, the Universal Social Charge, which will be cut by 0.5 per cent across the three lower bands; and a childcare subsidy to be available for all infants aged six months to three years worth 960 euro a year, regardless of means.
Sinn Fein Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD criticised what she described overall as “an unimaginative and uninspiring Fine Gael - Fianna Fail budget.”
She characterised Budget 2017 as being unfair and lacking in vision vision for the future.
“It will be a massive disappointment for so many people who year after year bore the brunt of the draconian cuts and austerity measures in successive budgets without any respite,” she said.
“This budget failed the ‘squeezed middle’ and despite the hype did little for our most vulnerable. This budget does nothing to address the capacity issues in housing, health, transport or education.”
She condemned a decision to immediately raise pay for politicians by several thousands euro, while postponing the planned five euro a week increase for those on social welfare. She called for the government to “put a stop” to the pay increase for politicians, rather than deferring it.
Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe defended the salary increases under which Cabinet Ministers are to receive 4,000 a year euro for the next three years and TDs 5,000 euro over the next two years as part of general pay increases.
“Everything is now tied in to how we treat public and civil servants,” he insisted. There’s the issue in relation to Ministerial salaries that we will revisit because I don’t want to be in a situation where people feel in the future that there’s any kind of unfairness going on.”