Poverty-reduction measures ‘fall short’

A LOT more could have been done in the Budget to make a real difference to the lives of Ireland’s poorest children and pensioners, campaign groups claimed last night.Social Affairs Minister Seamus Brennan said his €1.4 billion budget package — €300 million more than last year — was focused on eliminating child poverty and increasing pensioners’ incomes.

Mr Brennan said all child dependent allowance rates would be increased to a new maximum rate of €22 per child per week from January, and child benefit would be increased by €10 a month from April.

Mr Brennan said he was also delivering on the Government commitment to bring State pensions to €200 a week, with the contributory pension increasing to €209.30, an increase of 16 and the non-contributory pension increasing to €200, up €18.

St Vincent De Paul (SVP) said that while moves made by Mr Brennan to tackle poverty were welcome, it believes he could have done more to help the country’s poorest families.

“A more targeted approach could have been taken to assist those most in need, particularly those on social welfare and low paid employment,” said SVP vice president Prof John Monaghan.

Ireland’s largest children’s charity, Barnardos, welcomed the €10 increase in child benefit, along with the changes in child dependence allowance, but felt the minister could have gone further to make a real difference to the lives of 100,000 children living in consistent poverty.

“Overall, we would give this budget six out of 10, with the additional remark ‘could have done better’,” said Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay.

The national organisation for one-parent families, One Family, were disappointed with the dismal increase in the top-up payment targeted at those with children dependent on social welfare — it was the first such increase in 12 years.

“The nature of the increase means that children in one-parent families, who are the poorest family type, will only receive a paltry €2.70 increase in child dependent allowance (CDA) per week,” said One Family’s policy manager Candy Murphy.

Age Action said it was concerned that the Government had decided not to do more to help Ireland’s poorest pensioners at a time when the State’s coffers were bulging.

But Combat Poverty director Helen Johnston said measures they had recommended had been delivered on and believed the Government was moving in the right direction in terms of tackling child poverty.

Ms Johnston said Combat Poverty had calculated that the increases in CDA, child benefit and the 50% increase in the back to school clothing and footwear allowance meant that a child in a family in receipt of social welfare would get an additional €9 per week.

But SIPTU said the Budget would be seen as “miserly to mothers and children” because of the Government’s failure to adequately increase child benefit, extend it to all families or raise the amount paid to women on maternity leave.

Source: BudgetForum.com

FG Budget Reaction Part 1

Complete lack of childcare measures in Budget ‘07- Stanton

Fine Gael Social Affairs Spokesman, David Stanton TD, welcomed some of the increases in today’s Budget but said that Minister Cowen missed major opportunities by all but ignoring childcare and once again, neglecting spouses who stay at home.

‘There are few surprises in today’s Budget but the lack of innovation from this Government, especially when it comes to childcare provision, is profoundly disappointing and highlights just how quickly the Government is running out of steam.

‘While the introduction of some measures that Fine Gael has long been calling for, particularly pensions increase and providing a half-rate for carers, is welcome, major opportunities have been missed particularly in the areas of childcare, carers and child poverty.

Childcare
‘The Government completely ignored childcare provision and, despite the massive increases in crèche costs that are coming in the New Year, the early childcare supplement will not be increased by one penny. Spouses who stay at home were similarly overlooked and there is nothing on after-school care.

‘After 10 years in power, Fianna Fáil and the PDs have once again refused to implement any paid parental leave and families are further left behind as there is still absolutely no paternity leave. The increase in maternity leave cannot hide this.

‘Increasing the income disregard for children to €15,000 will do little to encourage take -up as, once a childcare provider earns €15,001, they are liable to be taxed on the full out. Last year only 3% of all those eligible to apply for the tax relief refused to do so and it is clear that a similarly small take-up is expected this year.

Carers
‘I warmly welcome the adoption of Fine Gael’s policy of allowing carers receive the State pension along with a half payment of the Carer’s Allowance. However, the 3,000 carers that are under 18 have, once again, been ignored in the Budget and with billions to spend, this is inexcusable.

Child Benefit and Child Poverty
‘Increasing child benefit is welcome but the question has to be asked, how much benefit will €2.50 a week be to hard-pressed families. As admitted previously by the Government, adopting a second-tier payment targeted at child poverty is the most effective way of alleviating this social blight yet this was completely absent from the Budget.

‘Today the Government showed a complete lack of imagination and their missed opportunities are to be rued by carers, all those who are involved in and use childcare and the thousands of children in poverty in Ireland.’

Budget 2007: no surprises, no imagination & no reform

Commenting on Budget 2007 today (Wednesday) Fine Gael Deputy Leader and Finance Spokesperson, Richard Bruton TD, has said it contains no surprises, shows no imagination, and won’t bring any reform of how taxpayers’ money is spent. It represents a Government running out of steam and out of ideas.

‘The key issue here is not the Government’s ability to spend, it is their ability to deliver decent public services. This is the Government’s tenth year in power. In the last five years, Minister Cowen has raised and spent more than €258,000 million. But people are asking: why has a Government that made so many promises, which had so much money, still let down so many people who depended on them?

– We were promised an end to waiting lists. Instead still have hundreds of people on trolleys and thousands more on waiting lists;
– We were promised Zero Tolerance. Instead criminal gangs have got the upper hand;
– We were promised a Metro by 2007. Instead we have day-long congestion on the M50 and a bus service which has received no extra buses for five years;
– We were promised affordable homes in sustainable communities, but instead inept policy has abandoned first time buyers to hopeless lotteries and long commutes from distant green field sites where no facilities exist.

‘This is the Government’s ten year legacy. These are not the problems of success, they are the problems of failure: failure of vision, failure of courage, failure to plan, failure to reform, failure to manage.

‘Fine Gael welcomes the measures in Budget 2007 to support small and medium sized enterprises, as well as the increased provisions for older people. However, this Budget will not help the hard-working families who are struggling with childcare costs, and are facing a 6% hike in VHI policies and higher fuel charges.

‘And he missed a major opportunity to reform stamp duty which remains a major impediment to anyone trying to get on the housing ladder. Targeted reform of stamp duty as advocated by Fine Gael would have eased the burden facing first time buyers. Furthermore, the increases in mortgage tax announced by the Minister will be eaten up by rising interest rates, and taxpayers are still seeing no reform of how their money is being spent. This Budget has plenty to say about spending, but says little about its impact on the ground or at the frontline.

– Will it shorten A and E queues? No.
– Will it make our streets safer? No.
– Will it speed up traffic? No.’

Hundreds on trolleys, thousands on waiting lists, no new thinking in Budget ‘07 – Twomey

Govt has ensured private health insurance will continue to rocket

Fine Gael Health Spokesperson, Dr Liam Twomey TD, has said Budget 2007 contains no new thinking on health and looks set to continue the Government’s record of failing to deliver on their promises.

‘This is now the tenth Budget from a Government that is out of ideas, out of imagination and clearly running out of steam. They have failed to end waiting lists with numbers heading for 29,000. They failed to deliver the 3,000 promised beds by more than two thirds. Already in the first few days of December numbers on trolleys in A&E have exceeded 200.

‘This Government is addicted to stealth taxes and in this Budget the 25% increase in the cost of private beds in public hospitals will see private health insurance costs, which have already increased by 25% in the past two years, continue to rocket. On top of this the Health Minister herself has admitted that her private hospital plan will drive premiums up even more.

‘While additional funds for long-term care and the provision for home care packages for elderly people are welcome, the long-term care package must recognise the shortage of inpatient beds for convalescence and rehabilitation which is leading to acute beds being occupied inappropriately. Failing to do will see the knock-on effects of hundreds of patients on trolleys and thousands of operations cancelled continue.

‘I welcome the proposed increase in the subvention rate, which has remained untouched since 2001 despite significant increases in nursing home charges, however there is work to be done on qualifying criteria which see many elderly people who should be eligible turned down. I must wait for further details of the Health Minister’s plans for the elderly but it is still my strong contention that the Government is pursuing a route that may see many forced to sell their homes to fund their nursing home care. It is deeply disappointing to see that there is nothing in today’s Budget to ensure that the Leas Cross scandal is not repeated in Homes around the country.

‘The proposals which Fine Gael has put forward would, at a relatively modest cost, have made a real difference to patients. In Government we will develop 15 Urgent Care Centres as an alternative to A and E and provide of 1,500 step down beds to free up acute beds. In contrast, this Government, after 10 years in power and approaching a cumulative spend of €70 million on health, produces a Budget with no new thinking, no imagination and a clear signal they are running out of steam.’

Budget overlooks vital psychological services in Education – Enright

– Real needs in Education overlooked in Budget
– No new ICT initiatives means Ireland’s ‘knowledge economy’ will continue to be built on sand

Olwyn Enright TD, Fine Gael Spokesperson on Education and Science, has today (Wednesday) sharply criticised the Government for failing to use Budget 2007 to overhaul vital psychological services in the education system, and to underpin the ongoing development of Ireland’s ‘knowledge economy’.

Deputy Enright also commented that Government spending for 2007 will not address many of the endemic problems in the education sector because funding is neither being focussed at areas of real need, nor being accompanied by real reform. ‘I am deeply disappointed that the Minister for Finance has completely overlooked education in his Budget 2007 speech, ignoring the monumental problems which our education system faces today.

‘Earlier this week, I called on the Minister for Finance to prioritise two key areas within his budget. Firstly, 50% of primary schools are not covered by the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS). An additional allocation of €5 million, on top of the amount set aside in the recently published estimates, would allow NEPS to provide a service to all schools. However, this issue has been overlooked once again, and thousands of primary school children will continue to fall outside the scope of this service next year.

‘Secondly, it is simply disingenuous for the Government to pledge allegiance to the development of Ireland’s ‘knowledge economy’ without backing up this commitment in a tangible way. The Government should have used Budget 2007 to ramp-up support for maths, science and ICT in the education system. No new initiatives in this area means that Ireland’s ‘knowledge economy’ will continue to be built on sand.

‘From 2002 to the end of 2007 more than €41.5 billion will have been spent on Ireland’s education system, but this expenditure has not resulted in the type of radically improved education system that Irish children and young people deserve. A lack of focus, and a lack of reform, has characterised the approach of this Government to education spending:

– 30% of children from disadvantaged backgrounds still have serious literacy problems;
– Almost one in five young people leave school without a qualification;
– Many children with special needs, or psychological problems, are left behind in our system;
– An unacceptable number of buildings are substandard, with science labs, computer facilities and sports infrastructure being particularly poor;
– Absenteeism is rife, with 47,000 school children missing more than 20 days of school a year. This is equal to a full year of school over the primary cycle;
– 111,000 primary school children are in classes of 30 or more.

‘This isn’t just about spending money. Budget 2007 should have set out key priorities in education for the coming year, and funded them accordingly – priorities like improving literacy, keeping children in school, and equipping young people with the knowledge and the skills they will need as adults. Instead, education is overlooked, showing where the real priorities of this Government lie.’