Lenihan accused of 'insulting the unemployed'

Fri, Nov 6, 2009, 00:00

FR SEÁN HEALY of Social Justice Ireland has accused Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan of “talking nonsense” and being insulting to the unemployed.

Fr Healy who has previously famously addressed the annual Fianna Fáil think tank on the subject of social justice, said “with due respect to the Minister he is talking nonsense.

Fr Healy was speaking after Mr Lenihan hinted yesterday morning that social welfare rates would be cut as an incentive to recipients to find work, and as an alternative to further taxes on lower incomes.

Mr Lenihan told reporters “there is a lot of pressure on wages and the idea that the Government should add to that by a big increase in tax on the lower paid, while leaving social welfare entirely alone . . . creates no incentive to work.”

But within hours Fr Healy said he found “that kind of a comment from the Minister to be insulting to people who are unemployed and are struggling to try to get their way back into the employment ladder. Most people I know who are on social welfare would take up a job, any half-decent job in the morning.

‘‘It isn’t the welfare rates that are preventing them from taking up a job – to suggest otherwise is ridiculous.”

Speaking at a pre-budget seminar organised by Social Justice Ireland Fr Healy said one in six people in Irish society was living at risk of poverty with incomes of less than €12,000 a year for a single person, and €28,000 for a household of four.

“We can deal with our economic problems, we can deal with our fiscal problems and our budget balancing problems without targeting Ireland’s most vulnerable people.

“We can do it by increasing the tax take while still keeping Ireland a low tax economy, not by increasing income tax rates but by having a fairer tax system with a broader tax base,” Fr Healy maintained .

He claimed Government could raise Ireland’s total tax take to 34.9 per cent of GDP and still be a low-tax economy according to the EU body Eurostat.

He proposed this should be adopted by Government as a target which could be achieved over a number of years through the development of a fairer tax system.

Details of an alternative budget proposed by Social Justice Ireland include: increasing taxation in the coming year by €1,869 million, reducing current expenditure by €1,507 million and reducing capital expenditure by €750 million.

Included in the proposals are a carbon tax with protection for those on low incomes, increases in taxes on tobacco and alcohol, a levy of 1 per cent on corporation profits and an increase in capital gains tax to 40 per cent.

It also called for the development of a site value tax on non-agricultural land and an integrated social welfare tax system.

Social Justice Ireland also advocated a 20 per cent increase in charges for private patients in public hospitals, a reduction in the public sector pay bill of €520 million, increases in overseas aid and the sacking of more then 1,000 employees of Anglo Irish Bank.