Budget 'unfair' and 'regressive'

Wed, Dec 5, 2012, 00:00

There has been much criticism of today’s Budget measures, particularly among organisations working with vulnerable members of society.

Children’s charity Barnardos has described measures as “regressive, unfair and unsustainable” which “disproportionately targeted” low income families despite rhetoric on fairness from Government.

The charity was “appalled” at the €10 flat rate cut to child benefit. While reform was needed, such a move was “an attack on poor families”, it said.

“As a result of this Budget, a family of three children will lose an additional €606 per year due to changes in child benefit and back to school allowance,” said Barnardos’ head of advocacy Catherine Joyce.

On cutting of the PRSI allowance, Barnardos’ chief executive Fergus Finlay questioned how it was progressive that workers on low incomes will pay the same PRSI increase as those on higher incomes.

Children's Rights Alliance has described the combination of cuts to child benefit and the back to school allowance “devastating”.

Chief executive Tanya Ward expressed surprise at the cutting of the HSE child and family services budget by €5 million, when a new child and family support agency is to be established next year.

“In fact, it is an appalling move when the people of Ireland went to the trouble of voting to better protect children,” she added.

Changes in the Budget “give a lie” to Government “rhetoric” on protecting vulnerable people, the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) said.

The increase in prescription charges, the drug payment scheme, the cost of solid fuel and the reduction in child benefit and the abolition of the PRSI credit will “have a severe effect on social welfare recipients and those on low pay,” the SVP said in a statement. It welcomed the protection of basic social welfare rates and changes tax relief on charitable donations.

The NGO alliance for older people, Older and Bolder, was “alarmed” by changes which mean people over 70 earning €600 to €700 per week will no longer be eligible for a medical card. They will receive a GP card instead, it was announced today.

Older people with incomes “just above the new threshold” would be hit hardest by the loss of the card which does not offer the same range of supports as the medical card, Older and Bolder director Patricia Conboy said.

She welcomed the maintenance of the State pension at current levels but described the property tax as “unforgiving” for older people.

Older people's charity Alone said the measures announced in the Budget would have “a further knock-on effect on the ability of a large percentage of older persons to make ends meet”.

Alone chief executive Sean Moynihan expressed disappointment at cuts to telephone and electricity allowance. “These benefits are not used as discretionary spending by older people but form an essential part of their weekly budget,” he said.

A 20 per cent cut to the respite care grant is a “back-door attack on disability provision” Inclusion Ireland has said.

The annual payment to carers is down from €1700 to €1375 and this comes “on top of nationwide cuts to respite provision by the HSE”, the organisation said.

Concern over the telephone allowance was also raised by the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) because phone access can help to counteract a sense of isolation among people with sight loss.

There has been negative reaction to property tax, rental income and social housing measures in the Budget.

Housing charity Threshold has warned that low-income tenants in the private market may be impacted negatively by today’s Budget.

Director Bob Jordan said the new property tax and the payment of PRSI on rental income from 2014 means that many buy-to-let landlords may increase rents or exit the sector. With demand for rented accommodation increasing the organisation fears that “poorer tenants could be pushed out”.

New Beginning, which supports struggling homeowners, described the new property tax as “throwing water at a drowning middle Ireland” to “pay debts not properly belonging to them.”

Housing charity Respond has questioned Nama’s ability to deliver social housing unit, as announced in today’s Budget with the allocation of €10m.

It would only have an impact if Nama “drastically changes” the way it works with the voluntary housing sector as the “contract or lease” it offers to housing associations was “not acceptable”.

The Budget has made it more difficult for unemployed people to return to work and training and will further undermine the social insurance mode, The Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed said.

It has criticised the cutting of the duration a person can receive non-means tested jobseeker’s benefit to 9 months and the cutting of the cost of education allowance.

There was much criticism of measures in the education sector.

Students on the margins have been punished, the Union of Students in Ireland said as the qualifying income for the maintenance grant has been cut by 3 per cent and the Student Contribution Charge has increased by €250.

Cuts to teachers’ maternity leave entitlement was described as “regressive and unfair” by the primary school teachers’ union Into. The move means that pregnant teachers will no longer be entitled to time in lieu for some holidays that fall during maternity leave, it said.

“In most jobs a woman retains her entitlement to her annual leave which may then be taken after maternity leave. Teachers do not have flexibility over holidays and so had time in lieu to compensate,” the union said in a statement.

An extra 0.5 per cent cut in the capitation grant for primary schools would mean “already indebted schools would face bigger deficits next year” Irish Primary Principals’ Network president Gerry Murphy said.

The two point increase in the pupil-teacher ratio for fee-paying schools would have a “severe impact” and could result in the loss of 100 jobs across 55 schools, Ferdia Kelly general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body said.

Unions have also been critical of measures.The Irish Congress of Trade Unions general secretary David Begg said the budget could cost up to 40,000 jobs “due to the ongoing extraction of money from the economy”. “The abolition of the PRSI Allowance is particularly harsh and sees working families lose €5 per week,” Mr Begg said.

Retail and bar union Mandate said the scrapping of the PRSI exemption was a “direct hit” on the incomes of the lowest paid earning less than €18,000 per year and made a “mockery” of Government claims to protect the vulnerable.

The Garda Representative Association has criticised the announced closure of 100 Garda stations and the amalgamation 28 districts to 14.

It was the “biggest fundamental structural change in policing since the foundation of the organisation…and it has been done without proper public consultation,” GRA President John Parker said

While “the cost savings are minimal, the service lost to the community will be immeasurable,” he added.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has said the extra taxes and charges announced in the Budget would “will make any outcome on the extension to the Croke Park Agreement very difficult and highly improbable”.

Submit your budget queries to experts from The Irish Times and PwC who will answer questions until noon on December 6th.

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