The budget was supposed to be all about protecting the vulnerable, being fair and creating jobs. Enda Kenny said it. Brendan Howlin said it. Michael Noonan said it. None of them delivered on it.
In his speech to the nation Enda Kenny offered a narrow understanding of vulnerability. He was going to protect the children, the old and the sick. Are people trying to live on less than ten thousand euro, at risk of poverty, not vulnerable too? However he did not even deliver for the children, the old and the sick as all were targeted by health and social welfare cuts.
Fairness is far from equality. It is a minimal goal. None of them defined what they meant by it. It seems fairness is being given the very limited meaning of sharing the pain among all groups. Vincent Brown captured how the budget did not even achieve this limited understanding of fairness when he questioned Brian Hayes as to how much pain he was suffering under this budget. The Minister of State was nonplussed. He stumbled and stuttered. He finally concluded that he suffered the pain of the 2% VAT increase. How fair is that?
This budget was supposed to be for jobs. It cut the training and support allowances for Community Employment Schemes. It took 6000 public sector jobs out of the equation. The capital expenditure cuts took out another 7500 jobs. The diminished capacity of the low paid to spend will also depress the number of jobs in the private sector.
If they really meant to protect the vulnerable, to be fair and to create jobs they should not have delivered a budget that merely continued the Fianna Fail/Green strategy. In 2010 this strategy deepened poverty from 14.1% to 15.8%, increased deprivation by 30% and increased child poverty from 18.6% to 19.5%. At the same time the number of high net worth individuals (with over one million dollars at their disposal for investment) increased by 5%. The Fine Gael/Labour budget means the poor will continue to get poorer and the rich will continue to get richer.
Claiming our Future campaigned for a different model – a model that would not have left Brian Hayes stumbling for an answer as to the pain he was experiencing. Claiming our Future sought a tax led model that would have taken on the powerful and taxed the significant wealth in our society. We are the seventh wealthiest country in the EU and still our tax take as a percent of GDP is the fourth lowest.
The budget should have included steps to tax assets worth over one million, to tax financial transactions, to increase the tax on incomes over one hundred thousand and to eliminate tax breaks for the wealthy. A tax led approach would have been fairer, it would have protected the vulnerable and it just might have moved us towards being a more equal society.