Today’s media are full of post-Budget analysis. The Irish Government is hailing the end of austerity Budgets, stressing the fairness inherent in Budget 2015, and the Budget’s role in encouraging sustainable recovery. Is austerity over for people living on low-incomes? Is it party-time?
Well, let’s start with some of the positives.
Firstly, we didn’t suffer the dreaded €2bn ‘adjustment’ (Government code for cuts) that would have resulted in more of the cuts to services, welfare payments, and increases in taxes that have been the hallmark of all Budgets since 2009. There were no social welfare cuts; indeed, Child Benefit was increased by €5 per month per child, with a promise to increase it by the same amount in Budget 2016. The most substantial and meaningful spending commitment in years on social housing was forthcoming. There was a partial restoration of the Christmas Bonus for some social welfare payments. Government heeded the calls of SVP and extended the €100 Water Subsidy to recipients of Fuel Allowance, who we know struggle on low-incomes . Low income earners (under €12,012 per year) will pay no Universal Social Charge.
But some choices were made by the Government are questionable. The failure to support one parent families in their attempts to enter the workforce is puzzling and inequitable; they continue to be penalised through loss of income on returning to work and inadequate access to training and employment schemes. That so many social welfare payments and charges stood still (the Prescription Charge, the Drugs Payment Scheme threshold, the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance, Social Welfare rates – I could go on) hurts people as the cost of living continues to rise and people continue to feel the effects of Budgets past.
And these negative choices were made within the context of a 1% cut in the top rate of income tax.
Arguments have been made for balance – that Budget 2015 was fair as everyone gained something. This argument presupposes that we were all equal going into Budget 2015. This is not the case. For many people assisted by SVP, there is no party. They continue to be hurt by austerity.
But the Budget isn’t over until the Welfare and Finance Bills become law. There is still time to make changes: To ensure that those outside the income tax net can receive help with their water bills, and one parent families can be supported rather than pushed further into poverty.