Senator Zappone makes statement on Budget 2016


Independent Senator Zappone made a statement in the Seanad on Tuesday, 13th October following the announcement of Budget 2016.  The Senator expressed concerns about how the recent budget will help to tackle poverty, emphasising that those who suffered most under austerity should now be benefitting most.  Watch the video or read her full speech below.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Today Ireland has money to spend. It is the peoples' money so it must be spent properly, for all of the people. It must be spent in a way that ensures that those who suffered most in the austerity years will benefit more than those who suffered less. This is the formula to tackle inequality and to spread the money fairly so that more people can participate in driving the economy.   No one wants a charity model for the economy. The young, the long-term unemployed, third level graduates, people who are disabled and the elderly do not want charity, they just want a level playing field. I spoke with a woman in Tallaght last week who said that her widow's pension had been reduced by €78 per month over the past three budgets. I do not see that increasing in the figures for 2016, which were released today. I know many of the people who are in the one-in- seven category of the population who live on an income which is less than that which marks the official poverty line. Of these, 15% are people who stay at home - mostly women - and another 15% are students. Not surprisingly, 20% of those who are unemployed live below the poverty line, which, in monetary terms, is the equivalent of €202 per week. Even more surprising is the fact that the 12% of these individuals who are at work are poor. I question how this budget improves their living standards. Will they be better off proportionally than those who did not suffer as much? I do not think they will if we have a 50-50 split to spend the people’s money by reducing taxation and increasing investment in public services equally. This was not the ratio used when we cut €30 billion out of both our economy and society between 2008 and 2014. We took €30 billion out by cutting public services by 70% and increasing taxes by 30%. I think a better rule of thumb for equality would have been a 70-30 split to ease the burden and offer hope to those whose living standards are below the fairness line.

I am not sure that I heard the word "poverty" being used in any of the preceding contributions but perhaps I missed it. It does not appear until page 75 of the expenditure report, and that is in the context of reducing poverty and hunger in Third World settings, which is telling. I welcome the added funding to tackle homelessness but I wish these funds could have been made available earlier in the year. We have over 1,300 homeless children in Dublin and throughout 2015 an average of 250 people per month in emergency accommodation in South Dublin County Council. We are all aware of the immeasurable social costs which accrue when a child has to spend a year in emergency accommodation. My question is: when did we become aware that our revenue streams would be significantly higher than were forecast – we are €2.3 billion off in that regard - and was there an opportunity to act sooner? Many households that rent in the private sector will be disappointed that the reported rent certainty package is not included in today’s budget. Rents are rising and we need to stabilise the market. However, I think we need to remember that the landlords involved mostly on a small-scale basis and are struggling too. The unaffordable, unstable rental market need to be reformed in a mutually beneficial way. That is why I put forward policy and investment proposals to stabilise rents through the introduction of a number of voluntary tenancy agreements to provide more rent certainty for tenants and tax incentives for the landlords who sign up to them. My proposals include social and solidarity tenancy schemes, both of which could unlock supply considerably quicker than the magic wand of NAMA. The proposals could offer something for those landlords in negative equity and people who are homeless right now and who are obliged to “self –accommodate”, that is, those who - even in light of the support available from the various homelessness teams and authorities - take on the responsibility of seeking a place in which to live. Those schemes are also being put forward for the thousands who will soon be seeking refuge on our shores. The proposals are currently being costed by the Department of Finance. Perhaps some of the additional €69 million for social housing announced earlier today could be used to fund them.

I would increased funding to be provided for Traveller housing, for permanent accommodation and to ensure safety so that tragedies such as the fire at Carrickmines will not happen again. While flying flags at half-mast represents a very appropriate response regarding the grief of the nation, the requisite deeds should follow this symbolic act if it is to the mean what it should mean. From 2007 to the present, funding for Traveller housing has been reduced from €70 million to €4.1 million.

I now turn to the issues related to child care and early education for children. I have advocated in favour of investment in affordable early years education and care for the past 15 years. I wholeheartedly welcome the Government's decision to invest in our children and working families by means of the extension of paternity leave, the provision of €15 million for children with disabilities and the focus on evidence-based care. The sector will require additional funding to meet the increased demand and I acknowledge the Minister referred to the restoration of capitation fees, which are essential in the context of delivering quality services. It is critically important to provide appropriate pay and working conditions for those in the sector so I look forward to reading the fine print of the Minister’s proposals. Many people who currently work in the sector are obliged to go on the dole in the summer months because they do not have yearly contracts. If the capitation rates have not increased sufficiently for stability and professionalisation of work in the sector it will not be possible for the sector to provide the kind of quality for children from the age of three as put forward in the budgetary proposals today. It may not even be possible for the sector to provide the additional places from September 2016, places that the Government and I agree we so dearly want.

I will conclude on the budget changes relating to lone-parent supports. This is another welcome initiative. In the six previous budgets, lone-parent supports were cut repeatedly and disproportionately and this resulted in more than 60% of those living in lone-parent households experiencing deprivation. The rate in this regard is 30% higher than that which obtains among the rest of the population. The controversial measures to restrict the eligibility to one-parent family payments were met with public outcry. I organised a public forum here in Leinster House for lone parents and brought their concerns and views forward in a Private Members' motion which called on the Government to engage in a comprehensive review of its policies. One of the key requests from lone parents was that the income disregard for those on the jobseeker’s transitional arrangement would be brought into line with the other one-parent family payment. I am glad the Government listened. I still believe, however, that it is a relatively small step after the six years of disproportionate cuts experienced by this group.

I welcome the reduction in teacher ratios in primary and post-primary settings. I also welcome the encouragement for entrepreneurs and the support for small businesses. As I have done in the past, however, I request that the supports for entrepreneurs and small businesses be extended a little bit more generously to those who are operating within the social entrepreneur sector, particularly within their own communities.

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