Protecting the social fabric
Over one million adults are left with €50 to spend each month after they have paid essential bills, according to a national survey of personal spending commissioned by the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU). This illustrates the difficult challenge that faces the Government in framing the budget on October 15th. The need to cut spending and raise taxes to achieve overall savings of close to €3 billion is accepted. But how best to do so, without increasing the financial burden on those least able to carry a heavier load? For the Government, that will be a major concern in deciding the terms of the 2014 budget, as individuals and households struggle to balance their budgets, but find their costs rising faster than their incomes.
The survey, which tracked income patterns, does offer grounds for encouragement. It presents a mixed, but generally improving, financial picture compared to a year ago. Fewer people are now left with no money to spend each month, after paying bills. And the ILCU chief executive, Kieron Brennan, has welcomed “continued signs of disposable income stabilisation”. Nevertheless, nearly half of all adults surveyed – almost half a million – are still struggling to pay their bills on time. And, for some, doing so has involved considerable personal sacrifice: with less spent on food, and with health and insurance cover reduced in order to make bill payments.
The financial difficulties facing individuals and households are replicated in the increased funding problems that confront Irish charities. They too have been victims of the downturn. Over the past three years, according to an umbrella group that represents over 1,000 charities, the income of charities has fallen, as public donations have declined. It has meant they are less able to help those in society who are unable to help themselves. With charities without the financial means to do more when public demand for their services was never greater, and with spending cuts adversely affecting State services, a major concern must be to ensure that an acceptable level of public services can be maintained. And this, the umbrella group feels, can best be achieved by a more organised and planned approach to the provision of those services.
As John Dolan, chief executive of the Disability Federation has pointed out, the forthcoming budget must not just be driven by fiscal considerations, and the sustainability of the public finances, however necessary. It must also be concerned with the achievement of sustainable social outcomes. An economic recovery that both manages in the process to protect the social fabric, and to avoid damaging piecemeal budgetary cuts, is no doubt what the Government hopes to engineer. October 15th will be a test of its skill, and political resolve in that regard.