Budget 2016 has provoked much comment across the North County. Many commentators believe that it is a give-away budget, with the Government keeping a keen eye on the upcoming General Election in the Spring. Some believe that it will give the local economy a much needed shot in the arm. Others take the opposite opinion and say that it is a wasted opportunity to provide real relief for cash strapped citizens.
With such diverse feelings on the Budget, with opinion divided down the middle, the County Leader invited local public representatives to discuss the merits or demerits of the Budget. Here’s what they had to say.
Dr. James Reilly TD – Fine Gael
Budget 2016 is prudent. It increases expenditure by €1.5bn between tax cuts and increased spending. The Government is determined that the economic recovery, which is well underway but still fragile, should continue. The best way to achieve this is to make work pay. Therefore cuts in Fianna Fáil’s Universal Social Charge (USC) are crucial. We have raised the threshold for entry into the tax to €13,000 which means that over 700,000 people at work no longer have to pay it at all. By reducing the rates at different bands; the 7.5 per cent rate drops to 5 per cent, the 3.5 per cent rate drops to 3 per cent and the 1.5 per cent drops to just 1 per cent, workers will take home more money in their pay packets.
Other barriers to work must be addressed; one of which is the cost of Childcare. I have secured an increase of a third (€85m) in the annual investment in the area with a rise from €260m this year to €345m next year. We are investing in an extension of pre-school. From September of 2016, children over the age of 3 will be able to enter pre-school and stay till they go to primary school – an average of 23 weeks extra. To increase flexibility, there will be three entry points; September, January and April. During the next year we will increase the places on the Community Childcare Subvention programme. Our objective in that regard is to design an entirely new system for affordable, accessible, high quality childcare for those who need it. So as more money becomes available the threshold for eligibility will increase. I am also pleased to have secured €15m for a programme to help special needs children in pre-school years. The earlier the intervention the better the outcome for the child.
It is very important that we maintain the ‘virtuous circle’ of more jobs, meaning less people on social protection and more people paying some tax which gives us more money to invest in important services like childcare, health, education, housing and policing while at the same time putting more money back into workers’ pockets by reducing income tax. Work then becomes more attractive, more jobs are created and the circle grows. We want this recovery to be fair and to be felt in every household in Fingal and around the country.
Brendan Ryan TD – Labour
The Budget announced two weeks ago is the first Budget in many years in which people in Fingal will begin to see some tangible benefit in the their incomes and indeed in some services. The provision of an extra early childhood care year for children aged 3 to 5 will be a great benefit to hard pressed parents struggling to provide childcare. Childcare is a key issue in Fingal and one that consistently comes up on the doors. The extension of the free GP Care scheme to children aged up to 11 is also very welcome. I have received such a positive response from parents to the initial rollout of the scheme and I am glad that Labour is delivering a further rollout, which will benefit the vast majority of pupils of primary school going age. The measures in relation to the Universal Social Charge will benefit low and middle income earners and further assist families in making ends meet. I am pleased that The full restoration of Child Benefit and the Respite Care Grant to pre-crisis levels is a further indication of our recovery and the ever improving health of our economy. This is a real recovery Budget. It is not a give-away Budget and it is not a Budget which will solve every problem facing the people of Fingal. It is a prudent and responsible Budget which places low and middle income people and families at its centre. The recovery is still delicate and there are many who still need to feel this recovery, but I am confident we are on the right track and can look forward with some optimism.
Clare Daly TD – ULA
Budget 2016 is the Government offering crumbs in return for votes. The pitiful increase in spending announced by Minister Noonan in this year’s budget unfortunately, will not come close to addressing the social crisis created by years of austerity.
The increase of E750 million amounts to only 4 per cent of the E21bn cut from public spending since 2008, it represents little more than an election stunt. The government gave back some of the entitlements that they stole from the people in the cynical hope that they will vote for them again.
The top 20 per cent in this state now own 73 per cent of the wealth. The top 300 individuals personal wealth increased by €13.5 billion last year, and not a single measure was put in place to tap into those resources in fact these wealthy people got wealthier as a result of budget 2016.
Meanwhile Capital investment is only at half the level of pre austerity spending. The announcement of a E57 million investment in housing is only one third of what was invested in 2007 and worryingly the low spending is set to continue up to 2019.
While I welcome any reversal in cuts it has to be acknowledged that the vast majority of austerity measures remain in place. This budget should have been an opportunity to address some of the structural damage imposed on our communities but the government instead continue a policy of tax breaks for the already wealthy and the gap between them and the rest of us continues to grow.
Alan Farrell TD – Fine Gael
Budget 2016 is the first true opportunity for this Government to give back to the Irish people who have made hard sacrifices on the road to building a sustainable economic and societal recovery.
Changes to USC announced as part of the budget will mean, on average, an extra week’s wages for low and middle income earners, once the new rates are introduced in January. People who go out to work will bring more of their money home with them and they will be in a position to spend their cash in local shops and businesses. The Fine Gael tax calculator allows people to see exactly how much extra cash they will have as a result of Budget 2016.
Budget 2016 also announced changes to Capital Acquisitions Tax (CAT) or the inheritance tax, as many of us call it. Inheriting land, the family home or other assets, from a family member should provide people a helping hand and not be a burden. Budget 2016 will widen the band, for children inheriting the family home or farm, on the amount that can be inherited before tax must be paid, from E225,000 to E280,000.
This year as part of Fine Gael’s Standing Up for Small Business campaign, we asked the self-employed what assistance they needed and they called for changes to tax. It is therefore very good news that Budget 2016 will begin the process of tax equalisation through the introduction of an Earned Income Tax Credit of E550 per year for the self-employed. These people make a huge contribution to the local economy.
Families are being supported in this budget not only by lowering USC, but also by providing a E5 increase in child benefit. The free pre-school year has been extended to children aged 3 to 5 from next September and free GP care will also be provided to all children under 12. I know families are under pressure due to all the costs that they have to meet and I feel that these measures make a small but significant difference.
Investment in An Garda Siochana in terms of personnel, vehicles and technology is also a high priority for this Government. 550 new Gardaí are already on the beat with 600 to be recruited in 2016. 370 new Garda cars are on our streets with a further 260 to be delivered before Christmas. Legislative measures are being introduced to tackle burglary and longer sentences for prolific criminals.
Budget 2016 increases the funding allocations for social housing to E414 million and invests a further E17 million in emergency accommodation for those who are homeless. This is on top of the E3.8 billion social housing plan to deliver 35,000 houses over four years. The measures introduced in Budget 2016 are sensible and affordable steps. They will keep the recovery going and make it possible to continue to improve services into the future.
Sen. Darragh O’Brien – Fianna Fáil
Budget 2016 as ‘a give-away gimmick’ which offers nothing for working families. For a Government that is supposed to be prudent, it is bizarre that they borrowed to make this a give-away budget.
You have to worry what their priorities are Working families continue to be squeezed. The free childcare places policy is a farce, there are still hundreds of people on trolleys in hospital emergency departments in Dublin and throughout the country and the whole issue of mortgage repossessions and homelessness was not addressed in the Budget.
This Government has also failed to protect pensioners or to provide security in old age. The E3.00 increase to the State Pension falls well short of what was needed to offset the raft of punitive measures brought in by this Government. These include increasing the prescription charge from E0.50 to E2.50, the significant reduction in the income threshold for the over 70s medical card, the attrition of the Household Benefits Package including abolishing the telephone Allowance, the reduction in the Fuel Allowance from 32 weeks to 26 weeks and also the abolishment of the E850 Bereavement Grant.
Furthermore the E3 increase is not applicable to those in receipt of the widow’s/ widower’s pension (under age 66) or those in receipt of the invalidity pension.
The Minister for Finance was blowing his trumpet about the E595m of cuts to the Universal Social Charge he announced on Budget day, but we have not heard a word from him in relation to the impact of the failure to increase tax bands and credits in line with inflation. In total the government is expecting to take in a record E19bn in income tax in 2016, E800m more than this year. Taxpayers will pay more tax, as the income tax bands are not being adjusted to take account of expected inflation. The various personal and PAYE tax credits should also have been increased to mitigate the impact of inflation.